The United Kingdom has just left the European Union. How much of a strategic revolution will this be? Not that much: the abyss is elsewhere. The real landslide is much older and London is still adapting to a strategic framework decades old, close to a century. The last battle for sovereignty dates back to the 1940s, when the integrity of British territory was at stake during the Battle of britain. In the 1970s and 1980s, London again faced the prospect of losing territory to the Cold War – a threat on a large scale – and the Falklands War-a smaller but more current. In the first case, the capacity needed was to defend the homeland: little or no mobility was needed, only extensive firepower. But the expedition to Argentina was a reminder of where the British Army had always been most comfortable: expeditions-the ability to hit far, fast and hard. For that, responsiveness and agility are at stake, and such capabilities require careful planning and preparation.
Avoid the German mistake
Germany has a formidable force, with its Bundeswehr, and yet represents everything Britain does not need. Berlin has virtually no expeditionary capability, and the actual military merit of the German army is even open to debate. Germany maintains high military spending both to show respect for its commitment to NATO (although it participates little in NATO operations) and as a means of supporting its large military industry. In short, it doesn’t matter to German commanders and decision-makers what type of equipment they choose, because this equipment is unlikely to ever see combat. Deutsche Welle reports how Germany contributes financially and in some support roles, but participates minimally in actual operations: âBerlin has approximately 980 troops stationed in Afghanistan for NATO’s Resolute Support mission, which aims to ‘train, advise and assist Afghan security forces and institutions âafter the end of the decade-long mission of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). Likewise, German equipment is notoriously too heavy for any kind of rapid deployment, but it was never planned for that In any event. It goes without saying that this is a luxury which the British military, with its active global participation in multilateral operations, cannot afford.
Living with the times
Large heavy howitzers are no longer suited to current UK doctrine, although they were a perfectly valid choice at the time they were chosen. The United Kingdom is now committed, alongside France and the United States, more than with NATO itself, in the endeavor of maintaining a rapid, scalable and powerful force on permanent world watch, in order to ‘act as a brake on local destabilization. Researcher Kenton White writing: âWhile relations between the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the United Kingdom over the seventy-year history of the alliance have not always been harmonious, the country’s main political parties have always shown strong public support. In order to embody this modern doctrine of re-engagement with its American partner, the British equipment must reconnect with its expeditionary past. Tanks should be set aside, at least in their Current form, and the emphasis must be placed on lighter, more air-deployable and more manageable units, so as to leave no refuge for insurgent units. Military equipment must be cheap enough to be purchased in deterrent numbers despite reduced military budgets, and to be quickly replaced in high attrition conflicts. Their design must strike the right balance between the practical capabilities offered by modern technology and an excessive sophistication that does not stand up to the test of fire. The Anglo-French military readiness force, the Combined Joint Expeditionary Force (CJEF), relies on Ability in French and English deploy battle-ready battle groups around the world. Main, if not the only deterrent force in Europe, the CJEF therefore needs its two partners to purchase its equipment accordingly, in order to achieve interoperability. UK Ministry of Defense writing that “the force has reached its full operational capacity and can now rapidly deploy more than 10,000 people in crisis response to accomplish a range of tasks including high intensity operations, peacekeeping, disaster relief. disaster or humanitarian aid â, a feat that no EU force is capable of matching.
Tracks or wheels?
The British Army is currently considering replacing its artillery regiments. What to choose ? And, more precisely: how to choose? Defense expert Tom Bailey writes: âThe British Army will soon begin phasing out its AS-90 Vickers artillery, which is approaching the 30-year mark. With changing types of warfare and significant technological advancements, the replacement will require careful consideration on the part of the staff. This âtime-to-upgradeâ is not just a replacement chore, it is the opportunity to acquire equipment more âin lineâ with current British issues. The current Royal Army howitzers are mounted on tracks, which is suitable for defensive environments. Heavier in configuration, they offer excellent resistance to attack and slow mobility in all conditions, on the flat plains of the homeland. But Britain may opt for a more suitable configuration, given the type of mission it is called upon in the future: solutions on wheels. These lighter and longer mobile configurations open up options that are systematically requested in today’s missions: mobility, transportability, interoperability. Because these systems are lighter, they can be transported by air, while tracked howitzers are limited to land and sea transport to reach their battlefields. Additionally, since tracked artillery cannons cannot operate in mountainous areas, this makes them suitable only for some deployments, not all. Wheeled tubes can operate anywhere, as they have clearly shown in inaccessible areas of Afghanistan, for example, or Mali, with the CAESAR self-propelled howitzer from Nexter Systems.
The Falklands War, while attributing victory to the British, was a powerful reminder of the paradigm of expeditionary forces. Each kilometer of projection will decrease firepower and military capabilities, to the point that England and Argentina, although with extremely unequal nominal forces, found themselves on a level playing field. Britain’s true strategic allies are France and the United States, both of which require high-readiness expeditionary capabilities to accomplish their modern missions. London therefore has the opportunity to strengthen its ties with its allies and to remain at the forefront of the world security scene, but must do so quickly.
Thomas Anders Bailey is an independent business advisor.