Saturday, 31 January 2015
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Preserving the Body of Knowledge of the UK's Defence and Aerospace sector

2015 will see the UK go to the polls in May. The outcome of the election is unclear, as opinion polls give no major party a clear lead. Predictions of the result range from another coalition to a short term minority government holding a further election in the autumn. The outcome is important for the UK's defence sector, as 2015 is also the year another Strategic Defence and Security Review is due. Decisions taken under either economic or political pressures could have implications far beyond the 5 year period of the next SDSR, or of the next Comprehensive Spending Review. Sir Brian Burridge, the Vice President Defence in the trade association ADS, expressed his concerns in a recent interview with Nick Watts Deputy Director General of the UK Defence Forum, and Editor of its recently published collection of interviews on startegic perspectives.

"The UK's influence in the world and its seat at the 'top table' has traditionally been a blend of our diplomatic capability, our economic capability and our military capability. In that respect we are still regarded as a first division player, the only premier league player is the United States. In European NATO only two countries can deploy significant force; ourselves and France." This position derives from a deep understanding in the UK of how best to use the military instrument effectively. Sir Brian defines this as 'The Body of Knowledge".

Stories which have emerged in the media over the weekend relating how General Sir Nick Carter the Chief of the General Staff is culling 'middle management' in the British Army underscores the challenges that the service faces in the post – Afghanistan era. Yesterday service personnel from the last Herrick deployment to Afghanistan received a 'welcome home' from parliamentarians in Westminsterto thank them for their service; and well done too, says Nick Watts

The challenges facing the British Army is the topic for the latest policy paper released by the UK Defence Forum [Grey Paper 176]. The challenges faced in the post-Afghanistan era are many: a Strategic Defence and Security Review due this year, and continuing austerity which threatens defence spending. As General Carter's move signals, the greatest threat is change. The Army cannot 'swan on' regardless of how the wider world is changing, and it will need intellectual agility to adapt to this new era.

The army has never been great at change; the cultural resistance tends to come from tribal loyalties which Carter's move seeks to quash. If the army is to be adaptable in the face of the requirement to prepare for contingent operations, it will need well motivated people who have a good understanding of what they are doing. Modern service chiefs also need to be able to argue their corner with the Treasury, as they will be the budget holders for their services. General Carter's move will create some small wiggle room when it comes to apportioning funds.

A smaller army plainly needs fewer middle management one and two star planners. But those who remain will have a full agenda. Re-basing forces from Germany to the UK will keep them busy until about 2019, although 70% should have returned by the end of 2015. Recruitment and retention will be a challenge in an army which has been making people redundant. The army will need 8,500 officers and soldiers to complete their training by 2017/18 to maintain a steady state. Recruiting people to the Reserve will also need managing – as it has run into trouble.

A significant challenge will be to maintain its relevance. This may seem like a paradox in an increasingly unstable world, but an army of 82,000 regulars, the planned strength on completion of the Army 2020 restructuring, has got to be able to generate sufficient forces to be credible. The army will need the right equipment to be capable.

If the ruling Al-Sa'ud family of Saudi Arabia didn't already know how important the country is in world geopolitics, the wall to wall coverage of the passing of King 'Abdallah and his replacement by half-brother Salman should provide them the answer. The coverage is split, some praising 'Abdallah as a reformer, and fervently hoping that Salman is a "moderate", others concentrating on conservatism of his rule, the beheadings, the whippings and the servility of women in this obscured oil kingdom. Whatever the truth, Saudi Arabia is a country that excites passion, often directed at its staggering, ostentatious wealth, obscurantist conservatism or lamentable human rights record. The reality is that it is a country easy to judge, but much harder to understand; a reflection on the reign of 'Abdallah and the early actions of Salman provides just such an opportunity to understand. What is clear in the smooth transition to Salman is that the core tenets of Saudi Arabia and the Al-Sa'ud – stability and continuity – will remain. There is to be no radical rupture with the past leading to instantaneous reform, but no return to the past either.

Like the state he ruled, 'Abdallah was often seen at odds with the modern world around him; a nonagerian ruler with a stammer ruling a country where 60% of the population is under 30, and twitter usage is the highest in the world. 'Abdallah was a man of his country, and the tribal traditions he emerged from, a deep conservative unwilling to challenge the fundamental status quo of religiosity and patriachy, says Charlie Pratt..

After months of vicious internecine fighting of a tortured complexity, a ceasefire has been called in Libya. The fighting between the two main protagonists - the Libyan National Army allied to the international recognised government in Tobruk, and the Islamist leaning Libya Dawn coalition, dominated by militias from Misratah and under the leadership of a "National Salvation Government" in Tripoli - has crippled Libya, earning it the unenviable sobriquet of 'Somalia of the Mediterreanean', writes Charlie Pratt.

If that remains far from the truth at present, it may not be so forever. The recent round of fighting has been the most brutal seen in Libya since the revolution. This time there is no hated dictator to get rid of, instead each side seems to be fighting against each other for little more than a dwindling slice of the revolution's poisoned inheritance. This fight is about power, and I fear that until one side wins, there will be no reconciliation, and no future in the historic gem on the Mediterranean coast.

Marking the passing of those who have served this country in the armed forces. Contributions from comrades and family on the next page welcome.

The 156 defence personnel named in the New Year Honours List for 2015 are listed on the next page.

Two hundred years ago today, the Treay of Ghent was signed to end the North American War, 1812-14. Sir Bob Russell (MP for Colchester in Essex) looks back on a war now mainly forgotten, and a book which reminds us what was at stake.

Totalitarian states are notorious for rewriting history, but they are not the only ones that do so. I am appalled that Britain is equally guilty of not telling people about all their nation's history—choosing to ignore parts of it. In 1812 British forces had burned down the White House, and among those who probably torched that and other public buildings in Washington were soldiers from the 1st Battalion the 44th East Essex Regiment, which had spent the previous years fighting the French in the Mediterranean.

Marking the passing of those who served in this country's armed forces with distinction. Memoirs from comrades and families welcome

Introduction to a British perspective on developments in European Defence, by Sir Nick Harvey.

This is a febrile moment in British politics, with our election just five months away, with our electorate more volatile than ever before, and with the outcome more difficult to read than any election for many decades.

But what I can say with absolute certainty is that whatever colour or stripe of government emerges next May, it will have to continue to grappling painfully with our unsustainably large deficit in public finances. And as part of that challenge, it will have to conduct a Strategic Defence and Security Review next summer – as all our political parties have committed to follow the practice agreed in 2010.

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