The Hubris of Ozymandias

F35 Lightning

The final article in this three part review of my favourites was published in the Wavell Room in January 2019, while I was still a Fellow at RUSI. I hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed writing it and taking part in the debate which followed:

In the 1976 film ‘The Eagle has Landed’, Oberst Max Radl, an Abwehr Colonel, takes several seemingly disconnected sources and through analysis, and a belief in the Jungian theory of synchronicity, extracts a daring plan to capture Churchill in a bid to end the Second World War.

Since joining The Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) as the British Army’s Visiting Fellow in September 2018, a number of disconnected events have captured my imagination: the accidental sinking of HNoMS Helge Ingstad in mid-November, the Chief of the Defence Staff’s Annual Lecture in early-December, and December’s drone incident at Gatwick Airport.  The shenanigans following the annual RUSI Military Science Christmas Lunch created the synchronicity, as the discussion turned to Percy Bysshe Shelley’s 1918 sonnet, Ozymandias.  The outcome – a belief that the West’s hubristic defence and security policies could be on the verge of implosion.

By the mid-1980s it had become apparent to the then Chief of the General Staff of the Soviet Union, Marshal Nikolai Vasilyevich Ogarkov, that Western superiority in information technology risked overwhelming the Warsaw Pact’s ability to wage war. His calls for reform of the Soviet armed forces, with an emphasis on smaller strike forces enabled by cutting edge technology, fell on deaf ears and Ogarkov was ousted by the Politburo in September 19841.  Five years later the Berlin Wall fell and in 1991 the Cold War ended – a resounding victory for the Western way of war.  That was certainly the assessment of Andrew Marshall, the director of the Pentagon’s Office of Net Assessment, who coined the phrase ‘Revolution in Military Affairs’ which led to the concept of Network-enabled Capability and became beloved of military theorists at the term of the millennium2.

The problem is that the theory was fundamentally flawed, not only is it dependent on a broadly symmetric adversary, it also depends  upon vulnerable networked information. Such is the hubris of the West, encouraged by American hegemony in a unipolar world, that despite the evidence of the changing character of war, the increasingly unsustainable cost of exquisite platforms, and a resurgent Russia and ambitious China, it has continued to configure its Armed Forces for the type of War it did not fight, and which it may never fight.  Experience in Somalia, Iraq, and Afghanistan should have demonstrated that the Western paradigm is far from invincible, what is more, after almost thirty years the world is once again multi-polar.  Not only is the Western paradigm vulnerable to asymmetric threats in Small Wars, it is also threatened by asymmetric threats in Information War – the Grey Zone.  The Western conception of precision warfare is unbeatable, but only in the limited context of a conventional war, and it is cripplingly expensive.

So now we turn to the synchronicity, in early November 2018 the Norwegian frigate, Helge Ingstad, collided with a Maltese tanker in Heljefjord.  The damage was so severe that the warship had to be beached, unfortunately the ship later sank and with her around twenty percent of Norway’s anti-submarine warfare (ASW) capability, and hence a significant proportion of NATO’s ASW capacity in the High North.  The sinking exposes the problem of multi-functional, technologically advanced, and expensive platforms; they may deliver precision effects and are unarguably lethal, but they are built in such small numbers that their replacements cannot be easily regenerated. Not only does their nature preclude redundancy and resilience, they are effectively white elephants– so precious they cannot be risked in the types of war for which they are designed, and so advanced they are of limited utility against an asymmetric threat.

The Chief of the Defence Staff in his RUSI Christmas Lecture, re-stated Britain’s continued adherence  to the Western paradigm of precision warfare. In his speech, he stated his intention to defeat our adversaries in both the Grey Zone and in the three traditional domains of war using superior technology.  His statement reinforced the British military’s belief in technological determinism, that technology is a driver of history, and will win wars.  Technology has, however, never won a war and increased investment in ever-diminishing technological returns is both uneconomical and illogical3.  It is a mistake to conflate technological fetishism with precision warfare. Indeed, expenditure on technology detracts from resilience, not just because of the cost of platforms, but also because other important capabilities such as home defence are left unfunded. In the rush to prepare to fight an unlikely adversary using exquisite technology, we have left other aspects of our defence exposed.

So, we turn to Ozymandias.  When Shelley wrote his sonnet in 1818, he may well have been satirising the fate of Napoleon Bonaparte, exiled to the British island of Saint Helena in the South Atlantic after his defeat at Waterloo three years earlier.  The poem tells of the ruined statue of an ancient king, Ozymandias.  The king was so all powerful he believed his hegemony would last forever, taunting his opponents with the statue’s inscription, ‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings; Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’. And yet, for all the vainglory, his statue and his works lay broken in the desert’s sands.  Much can be learned from the hubris of Ozymandias, hegemony is not forever, superiority can be overcome, and all things return to dust. If the West is to delay its inevitable sunset, it should configure an increasing proportion of its forces to the changed character of war, find alternatives to unaffordable platforms, invest in modern deterrence, and act to safeguard the vulnerable networked information upon which the Western version of precision is predicated.  Reform is not cheap, but reform which leads to a more sustainable and utilitarian defence should be afforded.  It is not the percentage of GDP spent on Defence that matters, it is how the Defence budget is spent that counts; if we wish to stay above the sands, we have no choice.

I met a traveller from an antique land

Who said: “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone

Stand in the desert . . . Near them, on the sand,

Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,

And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,

Tell that its sculptor well those passions read

Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,

The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed:

And on the pedestal these words appear:

‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:

Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’

Nothing beside remains. Round the decay

Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare

The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792 – 1822)

All the best,

Barney

 

NEOPHILIA, PRESENTISM, AND THEIR DELETERIOUS CONSEQUENCES FOR WESTERN MILITARY STRATEGY

Neophilia

Today, I release the second of a three-part post re-publishing some of my favourite articles. This post was originally published by the Modern Warfare Institute at West Point in March 2019 and was the first of my articles to be published internationally. Enjoy!

It is often treated as an assumed truth in Western defense establishments that the world is experiencing a period of political instability unparalleled in over a century. This belief, combined with the observation that technology and its effect on society are advancing at an unprecedented rate, have become key drivers of military transformation. Evidentially, believers in this notion of exceptional instability point to recent, multiple emergent threats to the liberal rules-based system—the Russian invasion of Georgia in 2008 and annexation of Crimea in 2014, Chinese attempts to control access to the South China Sea, and the actions of belligerents in civil wars in Syria and Yemen, for example. At the same time, technologists use advances in information and cyber technology, artificial intelligence, and autonomy, to rationalize their own arguments regarding military transformation. Their case seems compelling from an early twenty-first-century perspective. But perhaps more important than what is seen—the trends of eroding stability and rapidly growing technological advancement—is the lens through which these are viewed. When that lens is characterized by presentism and neophilia, rather than placing the present in the context of history, the consequences might be dire.

Presentism—privileging the observed present over the experience of the past—leads to the “fallacy of tranquillity,” which is “the tendency to find the current era to be exceptionally, even uniquely turbulent, and past eras to seem calm in comparison.” Although our times are undoubtedly uncertain, they are by no means uniquely so. The period between the First and Second World Wars was arguably more complex; indeed, with the exception of the twenty years following the fall of the Berlin Wall, it is difficult to recall a time when international relations were not at least as complicated as those currently experienced. In terms of social and technical change, the era in which we live is actually relatively unremarkable, certainly less disruptive than the Industrial Revolution and the technical evolutions that followed it. Assuredly, some commentators believe that humanity is developing at a slower rate than at any time since the seventeenth century; ours is thus an age of refinement, rather than one of transformation. In military terms, presentism manifests as a belief that the character (and for some the nature) of war is changing, that observed asymmetries are symptoms of fundamental change, and that resultant operational questions are insoluble within the current paradigm of warfare. The effect of such introspection is the diversion of intellectual effort away from practical military problems and into esoteric debates.

Military presentism has many drivers, but is usefully distilled into financial and reputational factors. A quote often, and mistakenly, attributed to Winston Churchill—”Gentlemen, we have run out of money. Now we have to think.”—illuminates the former of these two categories. In general usage, the quote is interpreted as a positive call for greater innovation and adaptation. But in the search for answers on the cheap, and in an attempt to attract finite financial resources, militaries, industry, and academia create and amplify new theories, doctrines, and perspectives, often to negative effect. Arguably, conceptualizations like “hybrid warfare” and the concept of Multi-Domain Operations are the results of this scramble for budget share.

Reputation is important too. Shortly after the Second World War, the influential military philosopher Sir Basil Liddell Hart sought to bolster his reputation as the proto-theorist of Blitzkrieg by influencing former German generals, eager to please and avoid criminal conviction, to provide statements to that effect for his bookThe Other Side of the Hill. This attempt was both dishonest and ultimately futile; historians in the 1990s re-examining the theory and substance of German operations and tactics in the Second World War, found that Blitzkrieg was neither based on Liddell Hart’s theories nor a coherent doctrine. Sir Basil’s case demonstrates the lengths to which theorists will go to preserve, or enhance, their reputation.

The struggle for budgets and reputation is not a matter of harmless semantics and academic sophistry; it endangers military thought and practice. Similarly dangerous, though, is neophilia—the belief that what is observed and experienced in the battlespace is entirely novel. Since the end of the Cold War, there has been a proliferation of new theories aimed at explaining the changing character of war. We have seen the rise and fall of the theory of the Revolution in Military Affairs, witnessed the fervour of the COINdinistas, been seduced by novel ideas of asymmetry, and endured the putative theory of hybrid warfare. In each case, theory was based on a belief that the observable symptoms of warfare were either unavoidably determinist or wholly disconnected from previous experience. In the case of hybrid warfare, disconnected tactics employed asymmetrically by the West’s adversaries have been conflated to create an all-encompassing doctrine that flatters the talents of officers like Russian Gen. Valery Gerasimov, but which is no more coherent a doctrine than German blitzkrieg was in 1939. The result of this theoretical seduction is to tie Western thought leaders into an interminable debate about the nature and character of war and a search for a symmetrical counter to hybridity. The West should learn from its exploitation of Soviet weakness in the 1980s, looking to counter its adversaries’ tactics asymmetrically with its hand firmly on the hilt of its overwhelming conventional superiority.

The threat of neophilia is not merely restricted to the theoretical. Although the addition of cyber and space to the traditional domains of war—land, sea, and air—significantly predates the concept of Multi-Domain Operations, the added domains undermine that concept by fundamentally misunderstanding of the term “domain of war,” the effect of which is to erroneously conflate effect with enablement. Carl von Clausewitz defines war in terms of politics and violence, meaning a domain of war is thus a physical environment in which violence can take place. Cyber and space cannot currently be so defined. Cyber and space, and indeed human thought, which some commentators see as a sixth domain, are in fact enablers of the three traditional domains. Information, howsoever it is delivered, is merely in support to the original domains. That this theory and its effects are directly attributable to presentism is demonstrated by a comparison to historic military activity in the electromagnetic spectrum. Radio waves have been used by militaries to transmit information for over a hundred years, but despite its centrality to command and control, akin to cyber and space, radio was never defined as a domain of war. It is only in the era of satellite-enabled precision that information has been misrepresented as a domain of war. In terms of practical effects, defining information enablers as domains is likely to stovepipe each enabler, and the funding that accompanies it, into the purview of a single service. In the British military, this is exemplified by the ownership of space by the Royal Air Force; while it is not suggested that the RAF completely excludes the other services, the RAF’s budget demands will probably privilege its own interests. This model is similar to that in the United States, where the nascent Space Force will be subordinate to the Air Force.

Ultimately, the cult of neophilia is a symptom of intellectual laziness—a trope built on simplistic memes and the mistake of conflating disconnected occurrences. In defense terms, those who promote ideas like hybrid warfare and non-physical domains are boxing at shadows, in danger of creating a substantial threat where there is none—a digital blitzkrieg. The current age is far less unique than acolytes of presentism would have us believe. Practitioners and academics should therefore be wary of easy explanations and attractive narratives, instead concentrating on countering threats, while understanding that our adversaries asymmetric answer to the West’s conventional dominance comes from a place of weakness. Precision-enabled, combined-arms warfare, despite its dependence on vulnerable networked information, is still the key to success in war.

 

Tempus Fugit: Using Time for Cognitive Advantage

Conscious that I haven’t published a blog since the start of lockdown, I’m going to republish a couple of articles while I get writing. The first was published by ‘Grounded Curiosity‘, my favourite PME site, at the end of March 2020.

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Anyone who has found themselves searching for their house keys when running late for an appointment, will be in no doubt that the perception of time is wholly relative. In those moments, when every second counts, time seems to accelerate, filling the available space on the clock face at an exponential rate.

At times like that, our behaviour becomes increasingly irrational; we look for the lost in the same place, time and again searching in seemingly impossible places; in my case, the fridge or the dog’s bed are particular favourites. Then, out of the blue, recall kicks in and in a Damascene flash the ‘safe place’ is revealed; as memory triumphs, the time between the ticks of the second hand slows, the mind and body relaxes, and logical thought returns. This phenomenon, the cause of panic and poor decision-making in domestic life, can be replicated in the battle space and is at the heart of the struggle for what is termed ‘information advantage‘. This article will examine what happens to the quality of human decision-making when pressure is applied, the advantages to be gained from manipulating an opponent’s perception of time, and how that might be achieved in real terms.

In his 2011 book, Thinking, Fast and Slow, Israeli Nobel laureate, Dr. Daniel Kahneman posits that when faced with a problem the human brain has two replies; the first, System One Thinking, is lazy and instinctive, most likely used when under pressure, or paradoxically when little invested in the outcome, the second, System Two Thinking, is analytical and complex, carefully assessing the available data; typically, this is called upon when time and conditions permit. System One decisions are, as a result, often wrong, based as they are on prejudice and unconnected experiences, they are the type of conclusions that make searching the oven for car keys seem a sensible option. If Kahneman is right, and he has gathered a lifetime of evidence supporting his thesis, then pressure applied to an opponent will force them to use System One thinking, a type of thinking which often leads to poor decisions and increases the perception of the passage of time.

Making an opponent lean on System One, depleting the quality of their decision-making by applying pressure to constrict their perception of time is classic manoeuvrism; winning by not fighting. An examination of decision-making using John Boyd’s OODA cycle proves somewhat instructive, if not entirely comprehensive. Boyd theorised that decisions are made using a sequence of actions: Observe, Orient, Decide, and Act (OODA), these can be coincidental, but they are always part of the decision loop. Essentially, Boyd’s theory runs that to defeat an opponent, better decisions must be made faster, we must get inside our opponent’s decision loop, this is at the heart of information advantage – the gobbledegook which accompanies that phrase is nothing more than window-dressing which, either by the negligent use of language or by design, acts to exclude wider understanding.

possible counter to this theory – that the essence of winning is making better decisions faster and thence translating them into actions just as precipitously – is that advancing technology will imminently allow machines to think faster than humans, without having to resort to System One Thinking. It is tempting to believe that the technical possibility of decision-making by artificial intelligence and machine learning will remove the need for human input or supervision, but that time is further away than is imagined in the minds of presentists and determinists. Machine-learning and artificial intelligence are unlikely to play a part in kinetic decision-making, at least without human intervention or oversight, until targeting and judgement have been significantly improved. Western morality will require considerable technological advance before it trusts the robot with lethal force, indeed that could be a lifetime away. As long as a human remains in or on the loop, it will be possible to place pressure which will force System One thinking.

Back to John Boyd; his first action, Observe, offers perhaps the simplest way to alter an opponent’s perception of time and consequently the quality of their decisions. In his excellent 2018 book, The Eye of War, Dr Antoine Bousquet analyses how camouflage, concealment, and deception have played a key role in the history of warfare for centuries, and explores how today these skills must now also include disguising oneself from the discovery of heat, radiation, and electronic signatures. This is further amplified by the requirement to remain hidden on the post-modern battlefield, particularly underground, highlighted in Dr Raphael Marcus’ book, ‘Israel’s Long War with Hezbollah: Military Innovation and Adaptation Under Fire‘. The rapid development of subterranean warfare and the power of electronic camouflage remains poorly understood and somewhat unpractised by Western armies. The cause of this collective ignorance is either a result of political distaste, cultural and intellectual arrogance, or anti-intellectualism. Whatever the cause, Western armies would do well to pay as much attention to the lessons of Hezbollah’s Operation Truthful Promise and the Israeli responses, Operation Density and Peace for Galilee, as they do to the German Fall Gelb and Soviet Bagration.

As important as it remains to disguise one’s presence, the secret to confusing the enemy is to create multiple options and dilemmas for them. This is done by both displaying that which you wish your enemy to see and by offering both attractive and unattractive targeting options. This is not a novel concept, perhaps the most well-known example of a historic scenario occurred during the Second World War, Operations Fortitude North and South used physical and virtual methods to create an imaginary army in Eastern England, the purpose of which was to deceive the Germans into leaving sufficient forces in the Pas de Calais to resist a second invasion, thereby keeping their reserves away from Normandy. It is important, though, to invite as well as discourage; a fine example of this is provided by the action of Australian and British forces at Tobruk in April 1941, luring Rommel into an area of apparent defensive weakness in order to destroy him.  For our purposes, Observe should not be seen merely as a defensive measure, instead it represents an opportunity to distract, disrupt, and dislocate with multiple options, compressing time and forcing poor and rushed decisions.

Orient – making sense of what is observed – represents another opportunity to squeeze an opponent’s perception of time. In order to understand what they are seeing, the enemy must use their understanding of the world in which they operate, together with the communications and information technology with which they are supplied. Just as that which is observed can be disrupted, dislocated, or pre-empted, so can the ability to understand what has been seen. In an article for War on the Rocks in 2018, Alexandra Stickings and I laid the case for the effect on the Western model of satellite-enabled precision effects caused by a loss of space capability. Whilst, the wholesale loss of satellite, and indeed cyber, infrastructure in a military context is increasingly unlikely (both because of mitigation and the increasing certainty of retaliation) elements such as spoofing and the temporary removal of capability enable the manipulation of time and hence the quality and speed of decision-making.

Decide and Act are no less important opportunities for those seeking to manipulate an opponent’s decisions. It is important, of course, to understand that this denial of cognitive capacity is not a one-way street, the enemy is not a target. For political and cultural reasons, the West’s opponents can make decisions at a speed and of a type which cannot be matched. Using tactics, techniques, and procedures, this advantage can be limited, but can only be turned around by dislocation of command and control architecture. The denial of time and the degradation of decisions may also seem to favour activity in the ‘Grey Space’,  but this is a fallacious perspective. ‘Grey Space’ activity is an enabler of conventional activity; of itself, it is little more than traditional political manoeuvre – espionage, sabotage, mis- and dis-information, they are then a means to an end not an end in themselves, the end is conventional military action.

In conclusion, the mystique surrounding the current buzzwords of information advantage and manoeuvre is unnecessary and counter-productive, it is simply the cognitive degradation of an opponent’s ability to act. Degrading the enemy’s cognitive ability is not the end, rather it is merely an enabler for military action – part of the plan, not the plan itself. Time flies, but it flies higher and faster for the confused and blindfolded.

I will republish another article from another site in a few days time. Stay Safe.

Barney

Covid-19, #BAMBY20 and the War Talks.

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Last night I had to take the regrettable decision to postpone our 55th War Talk as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. Following the change in British government advice, and after a conversation with our speaker, Brigadier Ben Kite, it became clear that continuing with the Talk was untenable. As a result, the Talk has been postponed until Tuesday, 8th September 2020. At this stage, I believe that the British Army Military Book of the Year 2020 (#BAMBY20) will be untouched by the ongoing outbreak.

Those of you who follow the War Talks will no doubt note that we have one final Talk scheduled this season on Tuesday, 7th April 2020. At this stage I do not intend to postpone the final Talk entirely; instead, I am planning to video the Talk for the War Talks You Tube Site  and record it as a podcast for The Wavell Room without an audience. Of course, this is highly dependent on the cooperation of the Speaker, the Army Libraries Information Service, and Her Majesty’s Government but it does present itself as an attractive compromise, keeping our hungry audience sated with informal professional military education, while working within public health restrictions at this difficult time.

A further complication is that we have all but completed our programme for the Eighth Series of War Talks. Whilst the speakers have not yet been consulted, if they are able I hope to publish the Talks digitally, albeit without an audience. The remainder of this blog is given over to details of our forthcoming potential speakers and, in some cases, the subject areas they have previously offered to discuss. After Easter, our first speaker is planned to be Colonel Chris MacGregor, my boss and the Assistant Head of British Army Communications. A true polymath, Colonel MacGregor’s interests are diverse it is likely that he will talk either about the developing strategic importance of cryptocurrencies or about the role of social media in future warfare. Whatever he chooses to speak about, his talk on Tuesday, 28th April 2020 will be hugely informative and engaging.

We plan to deliver two Talks in May, the first by Dr Ziya Meral, Senior Resident Fellow at the Army’s Centre for Historical Analysis and Conflict Research and Senior Associate Fellow at RUSI, will be held on Tuesday, 12th May 2020 with the working title of ‘Turkey, Russia and the Question of NATO’s Southern Flank’. This Talk on a dynamic and evolving series of relationships, will be sure to answer many questions while, I suspect, opening up many, many more. Later in the month on Tuesday 19th May 2020 we are fortunate to have Dr Alison Hawks, Executive Director of the Common Mission Project and the Director of European Operations for BMNT, an American defense company using innovative methods to solve technical problems for the United States’ Department of Defense and the British MoD.  She will introduce the techniques used to find those solutions and discuss how militaries benefit in her Talk entitled, ‘Harnessing Young Talent to Solve the UK’s Toughest National Security Problems’.

June sees no change in the diverse nature of our speakers with Dr Anicée Van Engeland, Senior Lecturer in International Security at Cranfield University talking about her research into Islamist radicalism on Tuesday, 9th of June 2020. Dr Van Engeland recently published a superb and very readable article on the Soleimani assassination and its effects on Iran in the Wavell Room. We are also hoping to have the eminent and sartorially splendid Dr, Peter Caddick-Adams as a speaker in June, advocating for his book, ‘Sand and Steel: A New History of D-Day‘, as a potential winner in the #BAMBY20. A date has yet to be finalised for this event, but another of this year’s BAMBY finalists, Dr Jonathan Fennell of King’s College, London , has agreed to speak on the subject of his book, ‘Fighting the People’s War: The British and Commonwealth Armies in the Second World War‘ on Tuesday, 30th June 2020. Dr Fennell’s book has been shortlisted for a number of military history literary prizes in addition to the BAMBY and we look forward to hearing about it in mid-Summer 2020.

The variety doesn’t stop there! In July our first speaker is Ms. Victoria Taylor, Twitter’s @SpitfireFilly, television historian, and a PhD student at Hull University. Her chosen subject area is the German Luftwaffe of the Nazi period and further details of her air power Talk can be found in my previous Blog. Miss Taylor will deliver her Talk on Tuesday, 7th July 2020 and is followed on Tuesday, 28th July 2020 by the last Talk in our Eighth Season. Our final Talk will be delivered by Dr Heather Montgomery, Assistant Excavation Director at Queen’s University, Belfast, on the subject of her doctorate, ‘Training Kitchener’s New Army 1914-18: An Archaeological perspective on the Irish Experience’, taking an inter-disciplinary approach to the experience of soldiers of the Great War. Dr Montgomery also worked on the excavations in Thiepval Wood and is a fascinating speaker.

The Eighth Season will, if it is allowed to go ahead, offer something for everyone with an interest in military studies broadly defined. From the wars of the past, through current affairs, to the wars of tomorrow, I believe War Talks offers a degree of width not achieved by any other Series. It should also be noted that by the start of the Ninth Season in September 2020, the Series will have delivered 63 Talks in three years, a truly  prodigious number. The Talks are, as always, to take place at Prince Consort’s Library, Aldershot with a start time of 1900 hrs prompt and will be released on You Tube within 24 hours of that timing. We continue to try to move the Talks out into the wider UK, any help in achieving that will be very gratefully received.

Your support, especially at this difficult time, is very much appreciated, stay safe and well and speak to you soon.

Barney

 

 

Integrated Review – A View from the Beaches.

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Last Sunday, incarcerated by the rain, I was pleased to have my boredom relieved by the 1958 classic British war film ‘Dunkirk‘. Leslie Norman’s masterpiece tells the human story of the Allied defeat in the Battle of France and the astonishing effort which evacuated over a third of a million men from the beaches of Flanders in May 1940. The story is not exclusively military – yes, it tells the story of a section of infantry retreating before the rapid German advance, but more importantly it articulates the awakening of civil and military integration; a fusion which would, five years later, result in the defeat of the Nazis. Britain in the Spring of 1940 was not the unified and universally determined place of popular mythology, Dunkirk and the subsequent Battle of Britain forged that mould over the next six months or so. My point? Fusion Doctrine, the latest fad in Whitehall, is not all that original but it is essential.

In the film, Charles Foreman, a journalist played by Bernard Lee, takes his motor yacht across to France to play his part in Operation Dynamo. Stranded by the tide and in general conversation, he is asked how an Army which had shattered the Germans in 1918 could have been so humiliated by its vanquished enemy a little over twenty years later. His reply is that it was a matter of ‘Guns and Butter’, in the seven years leading to the outbreak of the War, the British and chosen butter while the Germans had chosen guns. While this summary is not wholly accurate, it does offer a warning from history: to neglect one’s defence and security is to make oneself a hostage to fortune. These two lessons – the critical importance of the Clausewitzian trinity (military, people, and government) and the need to prioritise defence over other governmental responsibilities – should be at the heart of the recently announced Integrated Review.

As always, things are not that simple: First, defence has been steadily de-prioritised since the end of the Second World War and is no longer seen by government as being worthy of its own pillar of national strategy, rather it has become a subordinate part of wider security. Secondly, while ‘Fusion Doctrine’ rightly recognises the need for a whole of government approach to national strategy, it misses the need to enhance national resilience, by which I mean the British people’s ability to cope with crises, both natural and man-made. Finally, and perhaps of most concern, is the presentism which afflicts public policy. At a recent business launch, the former Secretary of State for Defence, Penny Mordaunt, stated that if Defence believed that the forthcoming ‘Integrated Review’ was just a matter of re-balancing tanks, planes, and ships, it was sorely wrong. While her comments can be interpreted as a rallying cry for Defence to think in a more creative way, they also betray a neophile fascination with aspects of defence which are more influenced by science fiction than empirical design. Together, these factors give considerable cause for concern.

We in Defence do not help ourselves. The current Chief of the Defence Staff has repeatedly displayed his presentist credentials and the Army is locked into projects like Specialised Infantry, Strike, and the Army Operating Concept which are designed to prove its relevance as an arm of national security to a cynical Downing Street. This combination of a failure to correctly contextualise the changing character of warfare and government’s myopic insistence that investment must see an immediate return endanger national security, as does a fixation with five-year reviews driven by the electoral cycle. In short, in pursuit of budget share, all three Services are locked into a pursuit of novelty at the cost of effectiveness – well-trained people and precision combined arms battle are still our best defence, they may need to be blended with elements that enhance that effect (space, cyber, information), but to prioritise the enablers over the effect is to critically endanger UK defence in the future.

So what should the result of the ‘Integrated Review’ look like? It should be whole of government with every department of state pulling in the same direction towards a single strategic objective. It should make societal resilience a central priority with education and healthcare being as important to national defence as our armed forces – if we are to deter our opponents, we must improve both the sustainability of our societal model and the robustness of our people. In terms of the armed forces, the Royal Navy must be given the central role; post-Brexit Britain depends on secure global trading links and only the Navy can do this, does this mean more big ships? Probably not, but it means greater investment in capabilities which support Britain’s future. In light of that, and with a low likelihood of an increased Defence budget, both the Army and Royal Air Force will have to cut their cloth frugally. The Regular Army should concentrate on fighting on land, using information manoeuvre to enhance effect and an expanded Specialised Infantry to learn lessons for the rest of the Army and improve professionalism. The Army Reserve should be re-roled as a homeland defence and national resilience force – to pretend that a Reserve can be effectively equipped and trained on the cheap as a kind of follow-on force is yet another fallacy. Finally, the Royal Air Force needs to reconsider whether it needs a sixth-generation fighter when its strategic role is lift and its tactical role is ground support. Pointy jets may be sexy, but when your enemy is two blokes on a moped planting IEDs, a billion pound aircraft and similarly expensive guided munition is hardly economic.

This blog has been a rapid canter through the problems facing UK Defence as it embarks on yet another politically driven defence review. In an ideal world, a patient government would lay down a national grand strategy and provide adequate finance for all departments of government to serve it, it would ask Defence to match its capabilities to that strategy and understand that it is an insurance policy not a utility bill. Unfortunately, this will probably not be the outcome; ideas of Total Defence, an effective Operating Concept, and conceptual realism will, it is predicted, be subsumed by a wave of presentist nonsense and cost savings which will leave Defence as far less relevant than it was before. On that depressing note I will leave you, I’ll be back in March.

All the very best,

Barney

War Talks and BAMBY20 Updated.

20191201-War Talks – Seventh Season (Jan - Mar 2020)1

Although I’d rather be writing about something more conceptual, an important part of this blog is keeping you in touch with what is going on with the ‘War Talks’ Series and the British Army Military Book of the Year 2020. Our next Talk takes place this Tuesday, 11th February 2020 when Abigail Watson of the Oxford Research Group’s Remote Warfare Programme will speak at Prince Consort’s Library, Aldershot on the subject of ‘Fusion Doctrine in Five Steps: Lessons Learned from Remote Warfare in Africa‘. After that, however, the seventh season of the Series will face significant change.

Unfortunately, due to commitments in Israel, Dr Raphael Marcus has had to bring forward his trip to the United Kingdom and hence his ‘War Talk’. Dr Marcus’ Talk will now take place on Tuesday 25th February 2020, replacing the Talk by Brigadier Ben Kite which will now take place on Tuesday 17th March 2020. Timings and titles will remain the same. A benefit of the change has been that I have been able to organise an extra Talk on Monday 24th February 2020 at Army Headquarters in Andover. This additional Talk will be on the subject of ‘The Post-Soleimani Response from Iran and Hezbollah’ and will be recorded, as usual, for the Wavell Room and the ‘War Talks’ You Tube site.

It has also been necessary to postpone the Talk by Dr Ziya Meral until early in the Eighth Season. Unfortunately, Dr Meral is busy with work in the Middle East, however, I can now announce the title of his postponed Talk will be, ‘Turkey, Russia, and the Question of NATO’s Southern Flank‘. This Talk is currently pencilled in for Tuesday 12th May 2020 and will be the second Talk in the Eighth Season. The first Talk will be given by Colonel Chris MacGregor, Assistant Head of Army Communications and will be a fascinating exposition on the strategic importance of crypto-currency and why we ignore this development at our peril. I have also booked the brilliant young academic, Victoria Taylor, a rising-star in air power history, an Assistant Editor of ‘From Balloons to Drones’, and member of the Herstory Group to speak about her research into the Luftwaffe in the Second World War. Ms Taylor will speak in early July 2020.  The remainder of the Eighth Series is undecided, but it is hoped to reflect the books shortlisted for the British Army Military Book of the Year 2020 (#BAMBY20).

As some of you may have seen, the #BAMBY20 Long-List was published last week. The Long-List Committee was inundated with suggestions, receiving twenty-six nominations from serving soldiers, publishers, and veterans. After removing those ineligible, the field was reduced to twenty-three, and an afternoon of discussion and consideration at Prince Consort’s Library produced the published Long-List. The Long-List of thirteen books will be reduced to around six this month and announced on Friday 28th February 2020. The Long-List has received almost universal praise and I hope that trend continues, there is perhaps a lack of diversity in the nominees, but this is perhaps rather more reflective of the publishing market, particularly in these days of significant anniversaries, than of talent. It is only two years since Dr Aimee Fox won the prize, I am sure she will be joined by another woman writer in the not too distant future. Keep an eye open on the British Army website for the Short-List!!

In addition to the changes above, ‘War Talks’ will be exploiting its relationship with RUSI, The Wavell Room, and the British Army to reach 65 Talks by it’s third anniversary in July 2020. In addition to our intimate audiences at Prince Consort’s Library, we have a social media presence measured in the thousands, and a growing digital audience both as podcasts and You Tube videos. Wavell Room has a new volunteer digital editor and this should lead to faster publication of podcasts, while some investment in microphones and camera mounts should guarantee better quality video for You Tube. In terms of the Talks themselves, next week we hope to see a decision to begin a separate series in the North, spreading the word about informal professional military education. This move has taken too long, I apologise for its tardiness, but would remind you, Dear Reader, that the Talks and, to a lesser degree the BAMBY are a one-man band. I will return with further, more conceptual blogs in due course.

Have a great weekend,

Barney

 

 

Specialised Infantry: A solution, or the solution?

OIP

January has been a busy month. Leave over, I embarked on trips to Northern Ireland and Czechia to deliver Talks to the First Battalion, the Royal Regiment of Scotland (1 SCOTS) and the Permanent Military Experts Panel of FINABEL, a European military interoperability organisation for whom I spoke in Malta last April. In Belfast, I spoke on the subject of adaptability and in Prague on land warfare in the ‘Grey Zone’. I have also spoken to the Salisbury Air Cadet Squadron about the First World War and battlefield tours of the Western Front, and to Headquarters Land about the Future of Warfare and the Danger of Presentism. The latter Talk needs some refinement in time for its next outing at the Land Warfare Centre in April.

In addition, the seventh series of ‘War Talks‘ was launched a fortnight ago with a marvellous Talk by Dr Klaus Schmider of the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst examining the German declaration of war on the USA in December 1941 and continues this Tuesday with a Talk by Melanie Rovery of Janes Intelligence about the future of Unmanned Ground Vehicles. I’m also very close to producing a Long List for the British Army Military Book of the Year 2020  and it is my hope to publish the list on the British Army website shortly. It was, however, not my intention that this Blog should turn into my January summary and so I return to my visit to Ulster.

Last Summer, I bumped into the Commanding Officer of 1 SCOTS at the RUSI Land Warfare Conference in London. I remembered him vividly from my attachment to the First Battalion, The King’s Own Scottish Borderers from 2001-04, albeit as a subaltern not the ‘Top Jock’. In conversation, he asked if I would like to speak at a leadership and development conference he was holding in January 2020. I was keen to play a part and so in the second week in January I headed to Palace Barracks, Belfast. The return to my first Unit was deeply poignant, in many ways very little had changed; although amalgamated, the regimental history, of which I have become a very minor part, hangs in the air as well as on the walls. First impressions can be deceiving though, 1 SCOTS is no museum piece.

Along with four other Battalions, 1 SCOTS are designated as part of the Specialised Infantry Group; small, light role units with an establishment of less than 300 soldiers. In theory, they are volunteer units of highly experienced and skilled infanteers, in practice this is a little more nuanced, but what I found was a highly motivated and professional Battalion; well-led, self-disciplined, and dedicated. My talk about adaptability found a ready home. I found empowered soldiers, not in the vanilla sense that it has come to mean in the Field Army, but in its true sense, with Mission Command at it’s very heart. Highly experienced soldiers anxious to engage and experiment under the encouragement of an excellent Commanding Officer. The only element I felt was underdeveloped was education; despite the efforts of the Chain of Command, the culture seemed impervious to the entry of this vital factor. It was heartening to hear the Commander, Specialist Infantry Group make it clear that professional military education was, however, key to future progress within the Group. The group appeared to maximise the possibilities for adaptability within current Army structures, but is it new wine in old bottles?

Specialised Infantry, in its current guise as an organised concept, is a novelty. Clearly, the British Army has been using its soldiers to train proxies for hundreds of years, but this emphasis on training in different theatres is new, reflecting the trend towards ‘Remote Warfare’, as is the development of a wider capability: filling the gap between Special Forces units and All-Arms Battlegroups. The Specialised Infantry is evolving, sucking in expertise from other Corps to create a new role which seems more at home in the 6th Division, Britain’s Information Manoeuvre formation. All is not well, however, in the Kingdom of Denmark; the Specialised Infantry is under-resourced, appears lacking in a clear doctrine, and is in danger of being little more than a presentist fad.

Specialised Infantry is apparently designed, like the Army Operating Concept, to make the Army a relevant operational piece on the government’s chessboard. It allows the Army to deploy a niche capability, at very little cost, to troubled areas of the world; thus keeping the dustier aspects of warfighting, tanks, infantry fighting vehicles etc and the more theoretical information manoeuvre assets safely at home. The accent is on deployment without loss; waving the flag, but keeping the punch for a highly unlikely hot war. The palpable frustration at being permitted to train, equip, and assist but not accompany proxies is understandable, but unlikely to be assuaged. Specialised Infantry is, I fear, destined to be a curiosity of the peculiar times in which we live. Potentially another cause of its eventual demise, alongside military fashion, may be the loss of the British Army’s reputation as a reference force; the old saying goes that one is only as good as one’s last exercise, ours was Afghanistan and that was almost six years ago. In short, we need to keep our reputation fed.

The real potential of the Specialised Infantry lies not, I would argue, in conflict. Rather it lies in its ability to create motivated and adaptable soldiers acting as a cadre for the rest of the Army. Although it is quite natural for the Specialised Infantry to want to retain talent, and I saw huge amounts of it on display at 1 SCOTS, it must, like yeast, be mixed into the dough if leavened bread is the desired result. Let’s not forget, removing the talent from the wider force, leaves the remainder weakened… Stormtroopers were highly effective in the Spring Offensives of 1918, but when the offensives ground to a halt what was left was the ordinary bit! I was enormously privileged to visit 1 SCOTS, they are as I remember them, amongst the best soldiers in the British Army, they deserve to be resourced better, given clear doctrine, and access to far better military education. Is Specialised Infantry the answer, or even part of the answer. to the changing character of warfare? I think it might be, unfortunately I don’t think that was the question it was designed to answer.

Thank you all and have a great week, more writing will follow now that I’m talking less!

Barney

Service is its own Reward – for most.

honours

Eighteen months ago, I wrote a short blog about the Army’s broken reward system. It observed that Other Ranks, representing around 85% of the Army’s personnel, were receiving only around 15% of the state honours allocated to the Army. They were rather better represented in terms of coins, commendations, and other ephemera, but the Major Reforms of 1992 had been an abject failure in creating a level playing-field for state awards. In June 2018, Other Ranks were awarded around 30% of the MBEs issued, last night’s New Year’s Honours saw this fall to closer to a quarter.

On the face of it, this further fall is rather curious; in a shrinking Army where state awards should be mathematically easier to earn that proposition is true only for commissioned officers.  This suggests that either Other Ranks are failing to produce the level of effort sufficient to merit the award of the MBE, that the current crop of Captains and Majors are working at almost superhuman levels, or a mixture of both. A third option is that the system has become iniquitous.  I do not suggest that the honours graciously bestowed by Her Majesty are undeserved, that is almost certainly not the truth, my feeling is that by the time the deserving Officers are aptly rewarded, there is precious little time remaining for the common soldiery, either to be cited or awarded. The time is therefore ripe for an acceptance that the egalitarian dream of Sr John Major has failed, and that the British Empire Medal should be re-instated for Other Ranks, as it has been in civilian life. Here is what I wrote in 2018:

‘The aim of the review of the Honours system by John Major’s government in 1992 was devised to ensure that the UK honours system was based on the principle of reward based purely on merit. Over time, the system reformed by that government has proven to be no less controversial than the system it replaced, albeit the controversy usually involves the perceived misapplication of political honours. Allegations of corruption in the application of political honours are as old as time and not the concern of this Blog, rather I’m interested in the problems created by a ‘classless’ honours system for the UK military.

One of the major outcomes of the 1992 review was to ensure that the tiers of award available to Officers and Soldiers should be equalised, the review saw the abolition of awards like the Distinguished Conduct Medal, the Military Medal, and the British Empire Medal, and the extension to other ranks of the previously Officer-only equivalents like the Military Cross and MBE. Whilst theoretically fair, in practice, putting Officers and Other Ranks into the same pot has extended the number of non-operational honours available to Officers at the cost of those available to soldiers. In this week’s Queen’s Birthday Honours List, Other Ranks representing almost 85% of the Army’s manpower were awarded less than 30% of the honours to which they are eligible. Almost as if to offset this, it is noticeable that the award of the Meritorious Service Medal has been granted a level of importance far in excess of that which was originally envisioned, and there has been a proliferation of local awards such as challenge coins, commendations and the like to reward Other Ranks, particularly junior ranks. At the same time, Officers are now awarded the Long Service & Good Conduct Medal, an award which from 1830 until last year was the preserve of soldiers, operating to a somewhat different standard when it comes to ‘good conduct’. In the round, 25 years after the application of the Major reforms, reward is heavily weighted away from Other Ranks and towards Officers and Warrant Officers. The award of a certificate or coin does not make up for either the de facto loss of opportunity for a State award, or watching Officers rewarded with the award of the LS & GC under a very different disciplinary standard.

I have been the lucky recipient of coins, commendations, and medals including the LS & GC, and have a number of close friends who have been very deservedly been honoured with state awards including the Conspicuous Gallantry Medal, the Military Cross, and the MBE. Notwithstanding that, the system as currently constituted is broken. The lower level awards are useful incentives and rewards at a time when retention is perhaps the most significant existential threat Defence faces, however, the unfairness at the heart of the system must be addressed. I accept it will prove impossible to roll back the inequity of the LS & GC and that lower level non-State awards should remain, but I would encourage the MoD to re-introduce the British Empire Medal (already re-introduced in civil life) for Other Ranks only. The MBE should also remain open to all in an attempt to deliver the equality and merit-based system envisaged by John Major. Equality based on access to reward, not necessarily on the reward itself; a pragmatic solution which accepts the status quo and delivers the benefits of reward to retention.’

Lets hope that in eighteen months we’re looking at a Honours List with less MBEs reflecting a shrinking Army, but dozens of BEMs, rewarding the effort of our soldiers doing the donkey work on behalf of the lions who lead them.

I promise that is my last Blog of 2019.

All the very best,

Barney

Self-Reliance: Your Country Needs You

Kitchener

Back at the end of October, in the week of my fiftieth birthday, the debate around conscription was re-invigorated in an article by a prominent RUSI colleague, Elisabeth Braw. Elisabeth, a renowned Swedish journalist, has led RUSI’s crusade for an urgent review of Western resilience and modern deterrence for over a year. She has been an eloquent advocate for conscription, speaking to varied audiences across the globe and writing articles for some of the most prominent newspapers and magazines on both sides of the Atlantic. In this week’s blog I’ll attempt to outline the nature of the threats to the United Kingdom, why conscription is a poor solution to them, and what, I believe, would be a better course of action for a government facing Brexit and limited resources.

Some of you might, like me, have enough winters under your belt to remember the Cold War. I was born only twenty-four years after the end of the Second World War and remember vividly the privations of Britain in the 1970s: national strikes, regular power cuts, drought, and the ever present threat of the Warsaw Pact. Perhaps it was the proximity to Hitler’s War that allowed society to cope with the problems of the three-day week? Certainly I think that the memory and mythology of the ‘Dunkirk Spirit’ was useful, as was the widespread experience of National Service, but the key advantage enjoyed by 1970s Britain when comparing then and now was the degree of strategic redundancy within the system. Obviously, I’m not advocating the superiority of an economy based on nationalisation, coal, and high taxation, but it was significantly more resilient than contemporary society, built as it is on just-in-time logistics, the internet, and consumer credit.

The threats to British resilience fall into two camps. First, and I would argue far more likely, and damaging, are the natural threats with which human society has lived, sometimes unwittingly, for millennia. Second, from man-made factors such as competition and what Presentists often frame as ‘hybrid’ or ‘sub-threshold’ warfare. In addition to the very real effects of climate change, such as flooding, we need to be alive to the threat from Space. In 1859 a solar coronal mass ejection hit the Earth inducing the largest geomagnetic storm on record. Known as the Carrington Event it was little more than an atmospheric curiosity to our Victorian forebears, but should a similar event occur in our post-modern world, the electromagnetic pulse created would fry the orbiting satellites upon which our World depends for global positioning, precision timing, and communications and the surface based circuitry and wiring on which we depend for the generation of electricity and its transit. Imagine our World without electricity and everything driven and controlled by it for weeks or months on end!

While climate change and space weather are the most likely threats we are facing, they are not the only threats. In the last fifteen years or so, Europe has been troubled by the perceived threat of a resurgent Russia and the more distant challenge of China, the more pressing of the two has been framed as Putin’s Russia. That Russia has attempted to regain its great power status is undeniable, that it has done so through illegal and often military means is also without argument, but its behaviour is neither novel nor is it something of which the West is entirely blameless. The ‘Grey Zone’, which allows Russian sabotage, espionage, and influence to flourish, is encouraged by both Western political timidity and a failure to address the changing character of war. That is, however, somewhat tangential, Russia’s use of cyber weaponry, military force, political manipulation, and direct action in pursuit of its foreign policy does represent a real danger to countries like the United Kingdom. Arguably, the threat of cyber is somewhat overstated; cyber activity is only effective at a limited, tactical level because to use it at a more strategic level would invite retaliation leading to a kind of spiral reminiscent of the Mutually Assured Destruction of the Cold War. So long as the UK commands a strong offensive cyber capability, it has little to fear from a Russian first strike capability.

If we examine the likely threats to Britain and look at where we need to be more resilient, is there a space for conscription in our defensive arsenal? It is difficult to see how National Service would protect against a Carrington-level event, Russian interference in our democratic processes, or counter-espionage activity on the British mainland. Clearly, the threat of extreme weather events and the damage brought about by low-level cyber activity could benefit from additional manpower, but is a conscript with little effective training really the solution to either of those problems? The UK has little experience of conscription and what experience it does have was far from happy. Those, like Elisabeth Braw, who argue for the re-introduction of conscription in the UK, use the example of the Nordic countries, the Baltic States, and Singapore to demonstrate the utility of national service as a component of ‘Total Defence’. They do so without recognition of  the cultural, structural, and political differences between those nations and the UK and, indeed, the nature of the threat faced. The UK is much larger, less homogenous, and more libertarian than the nations which are held up as exemplars.

If the answer to the particular threats to British resilience is not conscription, then what is it? If we quickly review the most likely threats, it is notable that the Armed Forces may not be best placed to answer those problems. Certainly the Ministry of Defence is well placed to provide manpower and engineering, medical, and logistic expertise in light of a natural disaster, but wider expertise would be required in those circumstances, this is the strength of ‘Fusion Doctrine’ – a whole of government approach. Culturally, Britain has always preferred the volunteer to the pressed man or woman; is it not preferable to accept that in a time when our Armed Forces, equipped as they are for a one-shot, precision warfare paradigm, are stretched, that we not only lean on the Reserve to fight natural phenomena, but we give it to them as a raison d’etre? In addition, we should expend our energy in youth organisations and amongst the newly retired to improve national resilience, going with, not against, the flow of national culture. Education is the key to resilience in a UK context, teaching self-reliance, critical analysis, and practical skills such as first aid should be to the fore. Britain needs to become more resilient, but conscription is not the answer to that question.

Thank you for reading all my blogs in 2019, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year and I’ll be back blogging in 2020.

All the best,

Barney

 

Honesty is the Best Policy (Sometimes).

hms-queen-elizabeth-getting-her-home

From the outset I’d like to say that this Blog is highly polemical and is designed to encourage debate, nothing of what I have written is the policy or opinion of the Ministry of Defence, RUSI, or any other organisation with which I am affiliated, have fun.

Although perhaps difficult to believe now, especially for those who know me away from the Web, in my youth I was quite a sportsman. Well, I say that; I played some representative Rugby and was the Victor Ludorum in my final year at Prep School, but you get the picture. Like many people, I stopped playing almost all competitive sport when I left school, but a career in the Army ensured that I would be called upon to perform legendary comebacks from time to time. It was in one such rare appearance that I discovered a unique talent, nay a gift, for Five-A-Side Football. I had always avoided the spherical ball game, The Beautiful Game, preferring Rugby Union, but on this occasion I was chosen for an inter-company game.  It was clear, most of all to me, that I was appalling, the niche skill of which I am last proud was exhibited in front of goal, where, often with no opposition, my feet could be counted upon to blast the ball at right angles to the goal mouth. I am, Ladies and Gentlemen, possessed of tangential feet!

Now this story might seem to be going nowhere, but please bear with me. My experience in the gym in Gloucestershire had taught me two things: first, that I had absolutely no right to ever play football (soccer) again, and second, that due to the small number of soldiers in Station I would almost certainly have to! I knew that I would have to improve fast – no this is not the start of a training montage – but I also knew that age, physical build, and agility were against me. I did have a couple of talents (that is, I know, not the right word): size, speed, and dogged determination. I set about examining my abilities, making an honest assessment, discovering that I should stay as far away from the opposing goal as possible, concentrating on hassling and harassing the opposition players – preferably, though not exclusively, when they were in possession of the ball. My trademark manoeuvre was to pin them into a small space, enveloping them like a greased glove, and using those unwieldy feet like a windmill. In short, I ruined their game, a guerrilla war where the hunter became the hunted.

This then is the essence of asymmetry and it begins with an honest assessment of one’s own capabilities and where one has gone wrong in the past. The key word here is honest, I was to football what Fred West was to home improvement, I needed to understand that and adapt to the game using what little ability I had. Too often organisations, especially old ones like those in the public sector are not honest with themselves and that lack of honesty leads to further failure. This week has seen a Conservative landslide in the United Kingdom’s fourth General Election in nine years, almost as soon as the exit polls were in last Thursday, those of us watching were treated to the spectacle of a Labour Party expressing the need for a root and branch review, a review which would inevitably find that the cause of the defeat, particularly in its Northern heartlands was an ambiguous Brexit policy. At the same time, there were numerous voices highlighting the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, anti-Semitism, and radical policies as being more important causes of defeat. What is the truth? I’m not a politician and I have no idea, but what I do know is that honesty was, and remains, in short supply. If recovery is the desired state, telling oneself lies about ones capabilities, particularly because it is less painful and most palatable, will lead to only one, inevitable, outcome.

So what for Defence? 2020 will see yet another SDSR, we have had so many of these since the Credit Crunch that I have lost count. What I do know is that we are still trying to bring the first one to fruition and have not been honest about ourselves and our abilities in almost any of them. I woke to Lucy Fisher’s excellent article in today’s ‘Times’ reporting that the Prime Minister’s strategy guru, Dominic Cummings, was to be given the task of sorting-out Defence Procurement, the Department has been around the buoy on this subject since before I was born, perhaps an outsider is the answer? Certainly we are not good at articulating what we need or being honest about what is important for UK Defence. In some ways is this not inherent in a publicly-owned entity? They indisputably serve the nation, but unless strictly policed they resort to becoming a welfare organisation for the employees, a drain on the coffers of state, and a rather third-rate enterprise. Bloated organisations like the NHS, reputed to employ more staff than the People’s Liberation Army of China are a case in point; the cold, grey light of day might be just what the doctor ordered.

So where have we got to with Defence? What has our salami-slicing and can-do attitude brought us to?  The Royal Navy has a pair of immensely capable aircraft carriers, but insufficient escort ships and personnel to operate them simultaneously, they also operate a Continuous At Sea Deterrent which has prevented an unlikely nuclear war, but which can’t stop a couple of clowns from Russian ‘intelligence’ from poisoning our own citizens in Salisbury. The Army stands by the Division as the primary formation, despite its aging equipment, insufficient re-equipment programmes, and lack of manpower, in an attempt to remain relevant to our politicians and credible to our US ally. We also talk about reform, a lot, and gaze into the future, when as we know from the work of Colin S. Grey and Meir Finkel, we can never know the character of future war until it arrives. Meanwhile the RAF continues to develop Tempest, a manned and futuristic fighter aircraft, whose most likely role will be ground support, continuing the strong tradition of the procurement of multi-million pound aircraft being used out of role to drop hundred thousand pound guided munitions on a Ten-Dollar Talib planting an IED.

The problem is that we have not been honest by asking what is Defence for? There is talk of ‘constant competition’, multi-domain warfare, hybrid warfare, sub-threshold warfare etc etc etc, but most of this is just an expression of the fallacy of presentism by desperate men designed to make a good case for budget enhancement. Ladies and gentlemen, none of this is new, it is the same old, same old of great power competition enhanced by the computer chip, the difference is that there is more space to play games in because we are too timid to adequately confront our opponents in battle, what would be a casus belli with a nuclear armed opponent today? Simply put, Defence is for defending: First of all the territorial integrity of the UK, then our supply lines and areas of economic interest, then to support the international structures of which we are a part. Defence, however, is not just about the Navy, Army, and Air Force, it is about using all the levers of power of which warfare is only one. Defence must thus concentrate on the kinetic and leave the soft to those better placed and better resourced.

My plea, my wish to Santa if you will, is for those putting together SDSR 2020 to be honest about what we need to do, to take that to government with humility, and to ask for what is needed to provide this country with the Defence it deserves. At the same time, truly embrace reform, remove the blockers, and make the money go further. Oh and stop with the futurology, business-speak, and politically-correct language. Defence is a fighting organisation, destruction, disruption, and degradation of the Queen’s enemies is the business; social mobility, social engineering and a good brand are just fortunate side effects. We must stop treating those imposters as the main effort. Be honest and concentrate on the job in hand, because tomorrow is closer than you think.

All the best, I hope you’re all having a grand Leave,

Barney

British troops train to fight in Norway's forests

Soldiers from the Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment conducting FIWAF (fighting in woods and forests) training in Norway as part of Exercise Trident Juncture. Ahead of a week-long live exercise, the soldiers adapted to the harsh climate of Norway by training to overcome the extreme low temperatures. These light role infantry troops formed part of the UK-led multinational brigade as part of NATO’s biggest collective defence exercise in over a decade. Exercise Trident Juncture sees NATO and partner nations training and operating together in an Article 5 scenario, ‘an attack on one is an attack on all’. For almost 70 years, the principle of collective defence has been at the very heart of NATO. It remains a unique and enduring principle that binds its members together, committing them to protect each other and setting a spirit of solidarity within the alliance.