This article is based on the recent “Beyond 2 per-cent” report issued by the House of Commons Defence Committee on 12th June 2018.
The Defence Committee’s report places particular emphasis upon certain matters by presenting them in bold font. This article will present any such text in bold to ensure the Committee’s concerns are correctly relayed to our readers.
Challenger 2 TES with MCS. Crown Copyright
This article will take a look at some of the issues facing the frontline component of the Army which tend to be pushed to the background by topics such as aircraft-carriers and fast jet programmes.
“There are serious deficiencies in the quantities of armour, armoured vehicles and artillery available to the British Army”, according to the Defence Committee’s “Beyond 2 per cent” report published on the 12th June this year.
“The 2010 SDSR reduced the numbers of Challenger 2 main battle tanks (MBTs) by 40% and heavy artillery by 35%. The Army now possesses 227 Challenger 2 MBTs, a reduction of 89 from 2010, and the number of front line armoured regiments equipped with them is being reduced from three to two.”
In addition, according to the report:
“Challenger is facing a number of obsolescence issues which are being addressed by a £700 million life-extension programme. The Warrior armoured fighting vehicle is also going through a life-extension programme at a cost of an estimated £1.3 billion. Reports emerging from the NSCR suggested that the number of Warriors due to be upgraded would be substantially reduced.”
“The Army is procuring the next generation of Mechanised Infantry Vehicle, a procurement taking place outside of the MDP. We took evidence on this process in April and, at that time, the MoD was not in a position to provide detailed figures on how much each vehicle would cost. A failure to manage costs could put further strain on an equipment programme already under enormous pressure.”
These three paragraphs, published as they are by a Government body in an open document must raise all sorts of flags – not only to the British public but also to any would-be – or actual, enemies. However, these words are only the “warmers into the bank”.
Justin Bronk is a Research Fellow for Airpower and Technology at RUSI; his comments to the committee in oral evidence are published in the report as follows:
“NATO’s firepower is approximately 80% air-delivered, which makes it very vulnerable to infrastructure and airspace denial, and also quite dependent on communications links not being disrupted. We don’t tend to try to drop bombs if we can’t talk to the person who is going to be nearby on the ground. The Russians put an enormous amount of emphasis on artillery. They have put a lot of effort into modernising and making sure that all their artillery—whether 152mm or 203mm—is self-propelled, and in increasing the range and rapid deployability and survivability of those systems in order to out-shoot NATO.”
What Mr Bronk did not say (or was not published), is the added fact that Russians also place great emphasis upon trying to deny an enemy the use of airspace. So, rather like those wonderful GDP ’83 plans that had a few AAC helicopter flying the Soviet gauntlet to replenish stranded Combat-Team outposts, it is hard to feel terribly confident about the level of close-support that might be available on “Day 2”.
The Report has summarised a number of witness statements on the subject of current armoured vehicle deficiencies and produced this somewhat concerning assessment:
“Written evidence has highlighted some of the deficiencies which limit the Army’s firepower, citing a lack of vehicle-mounted anti-tank weapons, the potential ineffectiveness of anti-tank weapons to defeat modern active protection systems on enemy armoured vehicles, a lack of precision in tube artillery, the need for modernisation of rocket artillery to improve range and precision, and a lack of self-propelled artillery, all of which leave the Army, as currently configured, at serious risk of being outgunned by its Russian counterpart.”
As a crumb of comfort, the report adds these lines to the last paragraph (note – they are not in bold):
“A decision on the Army’s Future Indirect Fire System, which would address some of these requirements, is due as part of the MDP.”
Reference has already been made to Soviet air-interdiction possibly preventing our own close air-support from operating – but what of our own, frontline air-defences ? This has been a very poor cousin in the Army’s family for far too long. Point-defence has been available in very limited numbers and many of us probably recall those days when a “ Blowpipe” detachment trundled over the horizon to defend a reserve demolition, armed to the hilt with ….. two missiles. However, modern aircraft do not need to overfly a target, and so even the venerable Rapier is now well beyond its “sell-by range” of some 8km. This is what the Report has to say:
“Air defence is a further requirement against state adversaries, and one which we have noted as a deficiency in previous reports. The April 2017 report noted the deficiency in ground-based air defence for the warfighting division. The Army has only two Regular and one Reserve air defence regiments. Rapier, the outgoing area air defence system, is being replaced by the Sky Sabre system, but only in the Falkland Islands. The principal air defence weapon left available to the warfighting division is the Starstreak high velocity missile, which is short-ranged and does not provide wide area coverage. A layered air defence system is a basic requirement in the face of an adversary like Russia and a solution should be found to protect the warfighting division. This is a major weakness in the Army’s current Order of Battle and should be addressed as a matter of high priority.
Sky Sabre in tests. Crown copyright
It is interesting to note that, although the Committee is fully aware of the planned 2020 introduction of Sky Sabre with its 25km+ range, it still considers the acquisition of a layered defence to be a matter of urgency. This is because Sky Sabre will not be a divisional asset – after all with only one or two air-defence regiments thus equipped there will simply not be enough of them out there. Moreover, new, precision-strike weapons such as the Israeli Rampage or Russian Kinzhal missiles are now being designed specifically to deal with short- and medium-range air-defence systems; these air-delivered weapons have ranges of 90 – 120km and arrive on target within a matter of minutes after launch. So perhaps the Committee has a very good point.
The report touches upon a subject that has long dogged sophisticated armies: how do you afford to build up a War Maintenance Reserve of equipment to replace losses in a fast-moving battle – or war. Here are some thoughts from the Committee:
“The long lead times to manufacture modern military platforms (for instance a Eurofighter Typhoon takes up to four years to build) means that in any conflict without extended warning, the UK would have to fight, at least in the early stages of a war, with equipment currently in service or that which could be either rapidly manufactured (such as missiles) or reconstituted in time of crisis. To this end, the Department should give serious consideration as part of the MDP to how it might in future retain surplus equipment platforms as a war reserve (as both Russia and the US often do) rather than disposing of them cheaply to other countries or even destroying them altogether. Having war reserves of this kind, can add to the conventional deterrent effect of our Armed Forces.”
It sounds easy enough – but the reality is somewhat different – as any current or former serving type will know only too well. Maintenance of military (and especially British) kit is part and parcel of Army life. All the much vaunted advantages of modern standards of systems reliability seem to evaporate once something is painted green. With that in mind, who would carry out the maintenance of WMR equipment to the extent that it could be fielded within a matter of a few weeks even. Or precisely what would this equipment consist of? Current generations of tanks, for example? Or perhaps Challenger 1s – in which case how many current tank gunners could use the older IFCS gun kit ?
That said, there might be advantages in keeping much older kit as it is generally simpler and therefore easier to use – especially by reservists with somewhat limited training time available to them. However, think of the prospect of being in a Chieftain-equipped reserve force going into battle against a force that had already broken though a Challenger 2 regiment – assuming that the log-support and transport elements had managed to get them there in the first place, of course.
The Defence Committee makes it clear that all the various comments and observations contained in its “Beyond 2 per cent” report are addressed in the MOD’s Modernising Defence Programme (MDP) which was explained in TMT’s 2nd July article: What is “Modernising Defence Programme” & why do we have it? However, it goes beyond a mere reference to covering the points when it says:
“The above represents our observations on the areas of capability we would expect to be addressed in the MDP. We ask that each section above is individually addressed by the Department in its response at the conclusion of the MDP.”
(Bold and italicised fonts are reproduced as per the original text in the report.)
The report covers issues across all three Services – as one would expect, but for the purposes of this article we have looked only at those issues relating to the Army’s main equipments. That said, there are of course many other, related problems. Tactical-comms are included in the report and are singled out for attention by the former CGS/current CDS, Gen. Nick Carter. Another major problem is that of manpower with a deficit of 6% in the Army. Life is simply “not easy”.
Without a doubt, the report is a wake–up call to those engaged in looking at our future defences. It sends a clear message that the Army’s ability to fight a conventional war is now marginal – and that we will lose that capability if we do not step up to the mark in terms of spending – but also intelligent and realistic planning. So let’s not have any more of those daft procurement decisions that left frontline soldiers with two Blowpipes to defend against the massed-ranks of Soviet airpower.
By way of a summery, Dr Julian Lewis, Defence Committee chairman, said of the 2018 Report:
“We hope that our report will assist in sparking debate and focusing minds on priorities that should be considered by the Modernising Defence Programme. The Secretary of State was right to remove Defence from the National Security Capability Review which would otherwise have resulted in further disastrous cuts to the Armed Forces, and we endorse his efforts to obtain a better settlement for Defence.
The Government now needs to look beyond the two per cent minimum on Defence spending, and begin moving towards a figure of three per cent, to place our defence policy on a sustainable basis to meet new threats and fill existing financial ‘black holes’. Defence is constantly described as the first duty of government. The MDP is the government’s opportunity to show that it means what it says.”