Friday 17 December 2004

Join up the dots…

It was in the air before this Blog started, when on 5 April, defence ministers of the EU member states agreed in Brussels to continue with the implementation of plans to deploy rapid reaction "battle groups" in international danger zones. The groups, each consisting of 1,500 troops, were scheduled to be deployable by 2007 (see link here), forming a central part of the EU's broader defence ambitions.

The story re-emerged in May with the BBC reporting that the defence ministers had now committed themselves to forming seven such battle groups, all part of a broader strategic plan known as the "2010 Headline Goal" whereby the EU should, by 2010 be able to respond “with rapid and decisive action... to the whole spectrum of crisis management operations."

Then, on 21 November, we get the Sunday Times article telling us that Britain is "to commit more than 2,000 troops to a new 18,000-strong European Union army that will be deployed as a peace keeper to the world’s trouble spots".

Not only that, this force would expand by 2007 to comprise a multinational force of up to 12 elite rapid-reaction battle groups — each with 1,500 soldiers. At least two of these groups would be ready to deploy at 15 days’ notice to humanitarian or peacekeeping emergencies, primarily in Africa. Soldiers from the Parachute Regiment and the Royal Marines had been earmarked for the new force.

Three days later, we get a front page headline in The Times declaring that "Infantry reforms put historic regiments in the line of fire", putting detail to the expected restructuring of the infantry "to create larger regimental formations".

And what is the size of the "larger regimental formations"? Er… about 1,500 men, exactly the size of the "battle-groups" which are to form the core of the new EU Army.

We pointed out this EU dimension in our Blog, at the time, also pointing out that the groups, which would have to a air-portable, would be structured around the FRES concept, which is essential for rapidly deployable expeditionary forces.

As recently as yesterday, we again pointed out the EU dimension and now we are able to look at the text of Hoon's announcement in the Commons yesterday, and what does he say? This is his opening text:

In July, I announced a re-balancing of the Army designed to make it better able to meet the challenges and threats of the 21st century. The changes that I announced then reflect the need both to complement our existing heavy and light-weight capabilities with new medium-weight forces, and to ensure that the Army is equipped, trained and organised to meet the demands of multiple, concurrent and above all expeditionary operations across the full spectrum of military tasks. Reductions in heavy armour, heavy artillery and the infantry will be accompanied by an increase in the number of key specialists, without whom the Army cannot deploy on operations. Our objective is therefore to develop a more deployable, agile and flexible force.
He then goes on to give more detail, in a lengthy quote, which needs careful study:

The future Army structure is underpinned by two complementary changes. First, a move towards a more balanced force organised around two armoured brigades, three mechanised brigades, a light and an air assault brigade, in addition, of course, to the Royal Marines Commando Brigade.

We are moving ahead quickly with the changes required to put that in place, and 19 Mechanised Brigade, based in Catterick, will start its conversion to a light brigade in January. The brigade will be ready for deployment on operations if required in the first half of 2006, when it will serve as the contingent NATO response force. Based in Germany, 4th Armoured Brigade will convert to a mechanised brigade in 2006, and the other brigades will adopt their new structures in a similar time frame. The key foundations on which the future Army structure is to be built will be in place by 2008.

However, it is important to emphasise that we cannot use front-line soldiers if they cannot be deployed and sustained on operations because we lack sufficient supporting forces. In parallel, therefore, we are moving ahead with the second element of the re-organisation—making the Army more robust and resilient and able to sustain the enduring expeditionary operations that have become commonplace in recent years. The overriding requirement is to make significant enhancements to the key specialist capabilities—communications, engineers, logisticians, intelligence experts and other key capabilities. At the same time, we want to make fighting units, including the infantry, more robust by ensuring they have adequate numbers.
The lie – or deception, if you prefer – is in the second paragraph where he talks about 19 Mechanised Brigade being “ready for deployment on operations if required in the first half of 2006, when it will serve as the contingent NATO response force.” Actually it is deception, because what he doesn’t say is that Brigade will be "double-tasked" and will also serve as the first of the EU "battle groups".

Furthermore, everything Hoon tells us about the Army restructuring shows us that it is being tailored specifically to fit the operational demands of the expeditionary warfare of the type envisaged in the "Headline 2010 Goal" set by the EU. We are, therefore, shaping our Army to an EU agenda and that is why he is cutting the regiments. If there was any shadow of doubt, he then reveals it further into his statement. The capabilities are not being cut, he says:

They are being backed up by an impressive re-equipment programme, introducing new communications equipment such as Bowman and Falcon, enhanced intelligence collection assets such as the Watchkeeper unmanned aerial vehicle and Soothsayer electronic warfare capability, modern vehicles such as the Panther armoured reconnaissance vehicle, and looking further ahead, the ambitious FRES armoured fighting vehicle programme, which will modernise the armoured vehicle fleet and form the basis of the medium-weight capability.

These enhancements will directly improve the ability of the Army to deploy, support and sustain itself on the range of operations that we envisage. That can only be achieved as the result of the planned reduction by four in the number of infantry battalions, which will release around 2,400 posts for redeployment across the force structure.
Yet, as we remarked yesterday, Soames, the conservatives and the seried ranks of MPs all missed the point. Obsessed with the detail of the regimental cuts, they all missed the bigger picture.

Yet, in July, when we raised this subject, we remarked that all this was happening without a single debate on the implications, which seemed to be bringing Mr Monnet’s dream of European integration to fruition in a manner that he could not even have imagined. Should not we have had at least a debate about it before Hoon commits us to yet another massive round of European integration, we asked.

Strangely enough, that is effectively what The Telegraph is asking for in its leader today. "It is time we had a proper defence review," it says. "If the Government will not hold one, the Conservatives should." But, as we remarked yesterday, that would mean that the Conservatives would have to confront the implications of the ongoing EU defence integration – and that they are not prepared to do. For the rest of us, however, all you have to do is join up the dots, and it is obvious what is happening.

Friday 12 November 2004

Reflections on Fallujah

Despite the anti-war rhetoric, the dire warnings of a "quagmire" and the predictions of a bloodbath for the US troops, militarily the battle of Fallujah has been a stunning success. and that success has enormous implications for British and EU defence policy.

When they come to study the battle, military strategists will note that the "home team" had the advantages of knowing the ground, had plenty of warning and thus time to prepare the defences and had an apparently unlimited supply of munitions, on top of the inherent advantage of fighting in a congested urban environment which has always favoured the defender.

They will note also that many hundreds of them died, that there were few coalition casualties and that the whole city was secured in less than a week after the troops jumped off.

On the face of it, the military success has to be a testament to the skill, tactics and equipment of the US forces, but what can “European” planners learn from the battle?

The first thing is – as we observed in a previous posting - was the key role of the Main Battle Tank. Working closely with the infantry, they were used to tempt the insurgents into battle, flushing them out in order that other arms could deal with them

Secondly, there was unprecedented employment of aerial surveillance, including the use of hi-tech unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), with on-board video cameras, affording continuous observation of the battle area, giving real time intelligence on enemy movements. Integrated with satellite positioning information, the "intel" enabled directors to give immediate, accurate targeting data to a variety of assets, including ground attack aircraft and long-range artillery.

Thirdly, the complexity of the air war was staggering, as was the extraordinary range of air assets employed, ranging from Cobra attack helicopters, with their Hellfire missiles, AC130 gunships, F-18s and even B2s.

No fewer than twenty different types of aircraft were thrown into the fight and so crowded was the sky that they were layered in stacks above the city, directed by ten teams of ground controllers.

Then there was a negative factor. The much-vaunted Stryker Brigade, using the prototype vehicles that provide a model for the FCS/FRES concepts, were not much in evidence. The MBT and Bradley teams were in the front line - so-called "heritage" platforms - not the more modern platforms, casting serious doubts on the utility of light/medium weight armoured vehicles in urban warfare.

Nevertheless, what the success amounts to is that, as even The Times agrees, the Americans have rewritten the rules of urban warfare. But they have done more than that. They have rewritten the whole book on counter-insurgency and projected the "Europeans", with all their pretensions of a "defence identity", so far into the second league that they might just as well be equipped with bows and arrows.

Any idea that the Europeans, militarily or politically, can even begin to act as a counterweight to US power is strictly for the birds. Not even the combined weight of all the forces of all the EU member states, and not even the best of their technology, could they even begin to match the scale of the US achievement.

They are so far behind that, whether we are on our own or with the "Europeans", it makes no difference. Allied to the US, however, we are at least alongside a winning team. If we ratify the Constitution, however, that will firmly lock us out of that alliance and relegate us permanently to the second division.

Tuesday 9 November 2004

Cheap tanks, but no bargain?

Hot on the heels of the announcement of a new "triple alliance" between Spain, Germany and France, yesterday Schröder was in Northern Spain meeting his counterpart, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, for the 19th Spanish-German summit, alongside meetings of other ministerial counterparts.

One of the key issues raised, it appears, was the EU budget for 2007-2013, with Germany sticking to its stance that it wants an upper limit on expenditure of one percent of the community gross domestic product, against the commission's proposal of 1.14 percent.

This is a particularly sensitive issue for Spain as, since its accession in 1986, it has been the chief recipient of structural and development funds - currently worth some six billion euros annually - and is not keen to see any reduction.

But, while there was no meeting of minds on this issue, both countries have decided to "intensify existing defence co-operation", with German defence minister, Peter Struck, agreeing to lease to Spain on extremely generous terms 108 main battle tanks until 2016, whence the Spanish army will own them outright.

Spain also expressed a wish to increase co-operation with Germany via future acquisition programmes" in several fields, including the Eurofighter jet aircraft programme, naval communications and missiles for Tiger helicopters, while both Schröder and Zapatero spoke up for "advances in European security and defence policy" through greater integration at EU level.

From the school of "nothing is ever what it seems", one is hard put to understand why the Spanish would want 108 second-hand tanks (presumably Leopard IIs) from Germany, as there is neither a strategic nor tactical need for what amounts replacement tanks for an armoured division, when the whole concept of heavy armoured formations is considered obsolete.

Clearly, there is a strong element of gesture politics here. Germany has large numbers of tanks surplus to requirements, so the transfer will cost it little, but this will certainly cement Zapatero further into the "triple axis".

This may also have the side-effect of detaching Spain – once an enthusiastic member of Nato – further from the Atlantic alliance. If this is the true agenda, Spain will have sold itself very cheaply, but the price may be higher than it bargained for if the US takes the hint and walks away from the Alliance.

Wednesday 3 November 2004

Air wars

Despite the agreement of the EU member states to start accession negotiations with Turkey, a tense situation still exists between Greece and Turkey over alleged airspace violations.

With serious violations reported in this Blog in early October, Greece, according to Associated Press, yesterday complained to the EU and NATO about further alleged violations of its Aegean Sea airspace by Turkish jet fighters.

The Greek National Defence General Staff claims that three Turkish F-16s allegedly violated air space near the island of Rhodes, in one case involving the harassment of a Greek army helicopter.

In Ankara, the deputy head of the Turkish military said his country had just resumed flights over the Aegean Sea that had been interrupted during the Aug. 13-29 Olympics.

"In the months of August and September, as proof of its good will toward the Olympic Games in Greece, Turkey had cancelled planned military manoeuvres and had reduced routine flights to a minimum level," Gen. Ilker Basbug said.

He disputed Greek claims that Turkey was violating Greek rights, and said the flights were "indispensable in line with its rights and interests in the Aegean."

"Greek claims that Turkey has increased flights in the Aegean don't reflect the truth, and there is no extraordinary activity," Basbug said, adding that "Greece's flights in the Aegean are far more than those of Turkey."

AP notes that long-standing disputes over airspace and territorial rights in the Aegean have nearly led to three wars between the two NATO allies since 1974, not least because Greece says its national airspace extends to 10 miles but Turkey recognises only 6 miles - the same distance as territorial waters.

One really does wonder how two long-standing belligerents like this can really sit down to talk about accession, and whether Turkey is really serious about wanting to come to terms with Greece.

A small but possibly important "straw in the wind" came two weeks ago when Turkey declined to buy Eurofighters, which would have brought it closer into the EU defence orbit, and instead chose to upgrade its fleet of US-built F16s.

At the very least, this suggests that Turkey, or perhaps the powerful military, is hedging its bets.

Tuesday 19 October 2004

Decision time on the Special Relationship

Tomorrow, I will be giving a presentation in London with the above title, subtitled: "How military technology is forcing Britain to choose between the EU and the US." Much of the text is based on material already published on this Blog, but this is my first attempt to put it all together. It will need refining, so comments would be appreciated from those willing to read what is rather a long piece.

At a time when, according to the headlines, Britain and the USA have never seemed so close – with the Black Watch on stand-by to go to Baghdad in support of US forces – it seems rather odd to argue that the special relationship between the UK and America is under enormous stress. But that is my thesis. In this presentation, I will argue that the relationship is, in fact, at the point of fracture.

The core of that thesis rests on several points but central to it is my definition of the "special relationship". This, in my view, is one forged during the Second World War and tempered throughout the Cold War, to the extent that it rests on our military alliance with the US and is underpinned by close military co-operation between the two countries.

That co-operation is most evident to the expert eye. The separate forces, for instance, share so much of the same tactical doctrines that they are virtually inseparable – the similarities being evident in the very equipment both armies use.The different main battle tanks of the British and US armies – the Challenger and the Abrams – are essentially the same in performance and capability. The British FV432 APC is but a copy of the US M113; the Bradley and Warrior MICVs are virtually identical, and the current tactical thinking, embodied in the FRES and FCS concepts, about which I will have more to say shortly, stem from the same minds. The equipment is defined by the purpose, the purpose is defined by the thinking and the thinking is the same.

The Royal Marines train alongside the US Marines, the SBS train alongside the Seals, the SAS alongside the US Special Forces, RAF pilots alongside USAF pilots. Ditto Navy personnel, where cross-postings on nuclear submarines are an essential part of the manning rostas.

Both forces have an active programme of exchange postings, so that a US-badged aircraft could just as easily have a British as an American pilot. We share equipment, intelligence and, at a strategic level, work as one. The early warning system in Fylingdales is part of the US network of global early warning radars, the AWACs system is an integral part of the US system – and uses US equipment. US fighters based in Britain form an integral part of the British air defence system.

In fact, when the Tornado MRCA project was delayed – the fruits of a European co-operative venture – and the RAF ended up flying combat aircraft with concrete ballast in their noses instead of working radar sets, apart from a few squadrons of Vietnam era F-4 Phantoms, the only effective air defence in the UK was the USAF F-15 fighter wing flying out of Lakenheath.

Thus far, then, the thesis stands, that the "special relationship" is underpinned by military co-operation, and this has translated into firm, joint commitments, most recently in Bosnia, in Afghanistan and in both Iraqi wars.

Now, there is an essential element here, which permits and indeed fosters this co-operation and makes a military alliance work. that boils down to one word: "interoperability". The forces must be able to operate together at a technical level.

At a pedestrian, but nonetheless important level, tanker nozzles must be able to fit the apertures of all the vehicles and aircraft they are going to refuel, irrespective of which force operates them. Fuel specifications must be the same, ammunition must be standardised so that it can be used in the weapons of the different armies, and so on.

Much of this technical harmonisation has been achieved through the aegis of NATO, the "NATO standard" having dominated military logistic planning for over four decades. By and large, the programme has been successful.

However, things are about to change. In fact, we are on the threshold of a military revolution which, in its own way, is as profound as the move from the musket to the rifle, or the horse to the tank, where technology is about to dominate the battlefield. The problem is which technology, built by whom, and whether different technologies are sufficiently compatible to allow functional interoperability.

This brings me to the heart of my argument, but I must first explain something of the military background which has brought us to the current situation.

That story essentially starts with the Second World War and the development of Blitzkrieg, the deployment of massed formations of tanks operating independently as armoured divisions, backed by air support which acted as forward artillery.

The Blitzkreig concept survived the war and became the dominant mode of conducting warfare, but with an increasing level of integration with infantry formations and self-propelled artillery. Integral infantry formations were, in fact, again pioneered by the Germans, with their Panzergrenadiers, riding Hanomag (SdKfz-251) armoured half-tracks, alongside the tanks, as early as 1939 in the Polish campaign.

The Allies came late to using armoured personnel carriers, the first significant deployment being in "Totalize" during the battle for Caen in August 1944, when "defrocked priests" – M7s (105mm howitzers mounted on M4 Sherman chassis, with the guns removed to enable troop transport) - were used to great effect.

But it was not until after the war that the concept of APCs really arrived, in both Soviet forces and in what then became NATO forces. The USSR first used what amounted to an armoured lorry, in the BTR 152, replaced by the eight-wheeled BTR 60, while the US forces adopted the tracked M113 and the British the very similar FV432.

However, although these armoured vehicles operated alongside main battle tanks, their essential role was of the "battlefield taxi", conveying troops to the battlefield where they fought dismounted. Not until the late 1960s did the Soviets introduce the BMP 1, first seen by the West in 1967, which embodied a turret mounted anti-tank weapon and rifle ports, which turned the humble APC into a fighting vehicle in its own right. Thus, the Mechanised Infantry Combat Vehicle (or MICV) concept was born. This was copied by the West Germans, in the Marder and then by the US with its M2 Bradley and by the British with the Warrior, allowing the infantry to fight mounted, alongside the tanks.

However, heavy armoured divisions, now in their final form, were already obsolescent, challenged by the development of increasingly efficient, hand-held anti-tank weapons, such as the RPG-7, and the light-weight anti-tank missiles such as the Sagger, which caused great slaughter of Israeli armour during the Yom Kippur War of 1973.

Nevertheless, the dinosaur of the heavy armoured division survives to this day, and these formations provided the backbone of the armed forces, even in the second Iraqi War. But things were already changing and this is what is creating the problem.

Basically, the strategic emphasis has now shifted from envisaging conventional battles with massed armour, operating from fixed bases, to expeditionary warfare, fought anywhere in the world, often at short notice, independently of established bases. Crucially, the emphasis is on "rapid reaction", which requires speed of deployment feasible only with air mobility. The heavy tank and the MICV are not suited for this type of warfare.

In their place comes the light, wheeled armoured vehicle, the general weight limit being under 20 tons, allowing transport by the military transport workhorse, the C130. However, threats are as great as ever, if not greater, so the challenge was to provide the degree of protection needed, without the weight. The answer is technology or, to be more specific, technology-generated intelligence, which would allow early detection and recognition of threats, with a stand-off weapons capability which could neutralise those threats before they came close enough to do any damage.

That is the Future Combat System (or FCS) concept, a $110 billion project, currently underway for the US Army, mirrored by a similar but less ambitious project for the British Army, called the Future Rapid Effects System (FRES).

Simple though the concept might be, execution is extraordinarily complex, requiring cutting-edge technology to be brought to the battlefield. The idea plays out at several levels.

Firstly, the combat area should be dominated by multiple sensors, providing real-time intelligence on all significant threats. Secondly, that information should be distributed not just to command level but to all combat formations, right down to squad level, giving what is called in the trade, "exceptional situational awareness". Thirdly, that system should be meshed into the command and control apparatus, allowing decisions to be made on accurate, fresh data. Fourthly, this should be linked to long-range "smart" weapons systems, to provide targeting and guidance information, and post-strike data. Finally, all of this is linked to an advanced logistics system which ensures that the right supplies are in the right place, at the right time.

Without going into too much detail about the hardware, the surveillance system alone ranges from satellites, to airborne surveillance platforms – both manned and unmanned – themselves equipped with sophisticated radars, infra-red sensors, high definition video cameras and other devices – to ground-based mobile radars, infra-red sensors, remote, and air delivered vibration detectors, as well as the "mark 1 eyeball".

The key to making all this work, over and above the technology behind the equipment, is "networking". The whole combat formation is linked by a vast computer system - the US system alone requiring 32 million lines of computer code to ensure functionality – analogous to the internet, so much so that the shorthand for the system is the "tactical internet".

Therein lies the seeds of destruction of the special relationship. Even between different US manufacturers producing components of the same system, technical interoperability is such a major problem that industry competitors are forming joint committees to iron out the difficulties. Between different nations, producing their own versions of the system, interoperability problems multiply. Only with the utmost co-operation, backed by political will to make that happen, can ensure that such sophisticated networks, produced by different nations, are able to talk to each other.

Crucially, that political will is not there and co-operation between the US and the UK is breaking down. What started the rot was the realisation by the US that technology released to its trusted ally, the UK, was being passed on to its EU industrial partners, and thence ending up in the hands of potential enemies, such as China – a problem known as "leakage". The concern has intensified with the adoption by the EU of China as a partner in the Galileo satellite positioning system (an essential component of any network), rivalling the US "Navstar" GPS system.

Gradually, for entirely sound reasons, the US has been withholding sensitive technology from the UK to the extent that even though we are development partners in the Joint Strike Fighter project, it is currently refusing to release the source codes for the avionics systems. More recently, Congress refused to authorise a "waiver" from the International Trade in Arms Regulations (ITAR) which would have facilitated the flow of technology to the UK. Then, within the last day or so, a senior US general warned that if the EU lifted its arms embargo on China, technology transfers would all but dry up.

On the other side, within the last week, the UK government has decided to award the contract for its fleet of support vehicles to a German manufacturer, in preference to a choice of two US-led consortiums. The significance of this is that the trucks come equipped with an electronic logistics network, which will subsequently have to mesh with the combat network that will drive FRES. Already, therefore, the UK is making decisions which drive it towards further European co-operation. With the US progressively withholding access to its technology, the technological divide is growing between European and US interests, as each develop their own rival systems.

The situation is thus rapidly coming to a head. If the UK continues down the line of closer co-operation closer with its EU partners, it will also risk complete exclusion from US technology. And with the growing complexity of systems, and the complete strategic and tactical reliance on them, the day will come when forces equipped with European-manufactured equipment will be unable to communicate, much less "network" with US equipment. Forces from the different nations will, therefore, be unable to operate alongside each other in a high threat environment, which means that the Iraqi situation, where British and US forces are fighting together, could no longer be repeated.

Thus, we are in a strange situation. Technology is now driving the politics, conditioning and constraining political choices, and dictating whether or not we can form military alliances. As we move further towards technological co-operation with our EU partners, and if the US continues to withhold its technology, the divide will grow to the point where the special relationship will end. At the moment, the situation is possibly recoverable - but not for much longer. Choices must be made and Britain can no longer fulfil its traditional – or assumed – role of providing a bridge between Europe and America. It is going to have to choose between the two.

Thursday 29 July 2004

FRES – the political implications

Following our Blog on Hoon’s wonder-child, the "Future Rapid Effects System" (FRES), further study and discussion has brought to the fore the considerable political implications of this new military system.

In short, we are looking at 21st Century technology for what now seems to be rather quaintly called our "warfighting community". It amounts to a series of armoured fighting and support vehicles, all based on a common module. Each vehicle is equipped with an extraordinarily sophisticated electronics, the whole forming a fully integrated network so that all the units can communicate instantly with each other, share information, and transmit it back to the command echelons.

So much for the technology, but what makes this important politically is that the system is so hugely expensive that it is beyond the capability of the UK to fully find and develop it on its own. It must either tap into an existing programme – and the only other game in town is the US "Future Combat System" (FCS) - or collaborate with European partners.

Seemingly, without there having been any open debate on the issue – and certainly none that we can see in Parliament – a decision seems to have been made that we will throw our lot in with the Europeans, which means that the US and EU member states will be developing rival systems.

Several issues devolve from this. The first is one of inter-operability – whether the two rival systems can work alongside each other, and whether even they can communicate with each other. Again, there seems to have been no open debate on this issue either but, if the systems cannot be integrated on the battlefield, it means that British forces can no longer operate alongside US forces in any meaningful way. Multilateral operations will be only be possible alongside forces with similar – i.e., compatible – equipment, which would mean that we are locked into working only with our EU partners.

Secondly, although our forces will be almost reliant on highly sophisticated equipment, we will not have total control over its manufacture, or even critical sub-systems – such as the satellite navigation and positioning systems – on which the operational system depends. Nor indeed will we necessarily have control of critical components of the system itself, such as the software codes that makes it work.

As an indication of the sophistication of these types of system, the US FCS is estimated to require 34 million lines of software code, five times more than the Joint Strike Fighter, which so far is the largest defence undertaking in terms of software to be developed.

An analogy is buying a desktop computer – which has an operating system like Windows – but having no access to the operating system and being unable to repair it if it goes wrong. That is fine if you can get a "man" in to fix it, but not so good if it drives combat-critical systems which are under the control of other national political systems, which may or may not allow the release of vital data – or hardware – when it is most needed.

One must no forget, in this context, that the Belgians refused to supply ammunition to British forces during the first Gulf War and, while we were able to circumvent that bit of unpleasantness, it is wholly a different matter when we are relying on unique source codes of huge complexity that can only be obtained from one source.

In short, reliance on our European partners for this technology – albeit on a collaborative basis – could mean not only that we can only operate with their forces, but also that we lose our ability to operate independently, if our partners disapprove.

All of this – without a single debate on the implications – seems to be bringing Mr Monnet’s dream of European integration to fruition in a manner that he could not even have imagined. When, in 1950, he persuaded French foreign minister Maurice Schuman, to launch the European Coal and Steel Community, his idea was that by integrating the two industries (then) essential to making war, he would deprive individual member states of the independent means of making war.

Over fifty years later, dream seems to be coming true, as the equipment different armies of the EU member states is becoming so integrated, and nations so dependent on each other for that equipment, that no single member state will have the ability to conduct military operations without the permission of the others.

That may be all very well and good, but should not we have had at least a debate about it before Hoon committed us to yet another massive round of European integration?

Wednesday 28 July 2004

Another blunder of Eurofighter proportions

There was something particularly revealing about Javier Solana's comments (recorded in this Blog) that "the US must treat the European Union as a full partner in an effective and balanced partnership", and "The European Union has to show the US that it is worthy of that title."

This yet again illustrates a mindset in the EU – despite its inherent anti-Americanism –the intense jealousy of the US. And the outward manifestation is an almost child-like determination to prove that "Europe" is at least as good as, if not better than, the US, in every possible way.

It is that ethos, as much as anything, that has driven the EU to commit £3 billion or more to the Galileo satellite navigation and positioning system – despite the provision by the US of their "free-to-all" GPS system. Much the same thinking drives the determination of the EU to maintain its own space programme, and to fund Airbus with such generous subsidies.

But this thinking is also driving the EU military procurement programme, to the extent that anything the US has, the EU must have too. This is most obvious in the pursuit of the A400M large military transport aircraft, despite the availability of proven US designs, which are undoubtedly cheaper and in many respects better.

However, this drive to match the US now seems to be pushing the EU – and the UK in particular - into making another blunder in military procurement, of Eurofighter proportions in expenditure terms, and drive UK defence up a cul-de-sac from which it may never recover.  That "blunder" is called FRES, standing for "Future Rapid Effects System".

Nevertheless, although it seems to have formed the centrepiece of defence minister Geoff Hoon's recently announced Strategic Defence Review, very few people know anything about FRES. All we know is that Hoon is relying on it as the technological fix that will enable him to cut back on human resources – like soldiers. By this means, he thinks he will have bundles of cash left to give Gordon, to spend on the bureaucrats running schools 'n' hospitals, to say nothing of the 3,500 office chairs in the Department of Defence, at a cool £1,000 each.

That so few people are aware of what FRES actually is can hardly be surprising. Two years ago, Gregory Fetter, a senior land-warfare analyst at Forecast International/DMS, observed that it was "too early to try to figure out what FRES will look like …It's like trying to grab a cloud of smoke."

And, as late as March of this year, Nicholas Soames, shadow defence secretary – in a debate in the Commons on defence policy - noted that defence contractors had been "anxiously awaiting a decision from the Government on the future rapid effects system battlefield vehicle that the Chief of the General Staff requires to be in service by 2009, but for which there is not yet even a drawing".

Small wonder that, in the report of the defence select committee published today, the committee expressed concern that the proposed in-service date of 2009 "will not be met".

So what is FRES?

The quote from Soames actually give some clue. He calls it a "battlefield vehicle", but it is more than that. It is a whole family of vehicles which are intended for the Army of the 21st Century, equipping it for its role as a rapid reaction force. It will enable it to deal quickly and effectively with trouble spots around the world, with maximum efficiency and the minimum expenditure of manpower. At least, that is how the propaganda goes.

For that, the government is preparing to sink around £6 billion into buying 900 vehicles, with an estimated budget for the total costs of ownership over the expected 30-year service life of almost £50 billion. That is a staggering £6.7 million average cost to buy each vehicle and an unbelievable life-time cost per vehicle – yes, each vehicle - of £55.5 million. To say that it would be cheaper to drive our troops into battle in a fleet of top-of-the-range Rolls-Royces hardly begins to illustrate the extravagance.

Whatever the merits of the vehicles – and these will be discussed shortly – the point is that FRES is not a British, or even European idea. It is copied from a US military programme known as FCS, or "Future Combat System". This is an armoured vehicle family designed as a "system of systems", operating in a network, fully equipped with the latest in electronics, combat systems and weapons, all inter-linked through satellite communications. And because the Americans are having it, "Europe" must have it as well.

Furthermore, although Hoon is highlighting it in his own defence review, FRES has very much become a "European" project. Such are the vast development costs that no single European nation can afford them, so it has become another of those joint programmes of which the Eurofighter project is the model.

Already, the European skills at designing just what is needed are coming to the fore. A fore-runner of FRES was the tri-nation programme to develop what was known as the MRAV – the " multi-role armoured vehicle", funded by the UK, German and Dutch governments and managed by the European armaments agency, OCCAR (Organization for Joint Armament Cooperation).

In a mirror image of the Eurofighter project, the French were also originally involved, but they pulled out to produce their own vehicle called the VBCI. Perhaps this was just as well for, after the expenditure of untold millions, the tri-nation consortium produced a prototype which they named the Boxer, only to find that at 33 tons, it was too heavy for airborne rapid deployment.

But the European involvement has not yet ended – not by any means. Despite honeyed words from the DoD to UK manufacturers, the leading contender for building FRES is a German firm, Rheinmetall DeTec. Should its designs be accepted, the outcome will undoubtedly be the formation of another European consortium to build it, as national sensibilities would not allow British forces to be equipped with German-built machines. And, with costs already escalating, we have another Eurofighter in the making.

So where does this leave us?

Here the political element comes in. Effectively, we are committing ourselves to enormous expenditure to buy "state of the art" but wholly unproven equipment, primarily to allow British armed forces to take part in what will almost certainly be an EU "rapid reaction force". The bulk of our new spending on procurement for the Army is being designated to that end. Effectively, to play a leading role in this force, we must have FRES. That is solely because FRES is what the US "rapid reaction force" will have and if the Americans have it, we (the Europeans) must have it too.

However, no one seems to be addressing the question as to whether FRES is actually a good idea – or necessary. Certainly, it may be suitable for the US, which is wealthier and can afford both new technology and maintain its existing force levels. Here, if we have to cut back out forces, in order to buy the technology – as Hoon is doing – we may have the worst end of the deal.

But even in the US, there are serious voices being raised, warning against the over-reliance on military technology in battle zones, noting that doctrine and tactics are equally important, if not more so, and that the human element is the vital factor.

On the UK front, we are getting into an even more serious situation where the costs of military "assets" is now so huge that we cannot afford to use them in combat zones where their loss might be threatened. Where an Iraqi insurgent can buy an RPG7 in a Baghdad bazaar for $20, it is a brave military commander that will risk a machine worth nearly £8 million, when it can be taken out with one round loosed off by a teenager.

Not for nothing, it should be noted, are US forces now patrolling the streets of Baghdad in Vietnam-era M113 armoured personnel carriers. They might not afford as good protection as the proposed FRES – or its US-equivalent – (although neither will protect from an RPG7) but at least they are affordable, and available.

Whether the Europeans will learn this lesson is debatable, and unlikely. Certainly, it looks like Hoon has bought into the European dream – that anything the US has, we must have too. Furthermore, he seems willing to bankrupt our forces to pay for it. There seems nothing now that can stop us lurching into another blunder of Eurofighter proportions.

Monday 26 April 2004

Mr Eurofighter

Heseltine speaks out

It was inevitable that they would drag him out of semi-retirement to make the case for "Europe". Yet it says something for the "yes" campaign that Heseltine is probably the best they have.

And how good is that?

Michael Heseltine is the man who in 1985, overtaken with enthusiasm for "Europe" signed us up to take part in the "European Fighter Project", later to become known as the "Eurofighter 2000". The "2000" was quietly dropped when it became clear, 15 years later, that the aircraft was not going to make it on time and it will be 2005 before it hits squadron service – if at all.

With something like £20 billion spent on it, it makes new Labour's waste of money on public services seem like small beer. And while we do at least get some "schools 'n' hospitals" for our money, for the mega-squllions we have spent on Eurofighter, we get an aircraft which was obsolete before it flew – its technology at least three generations behind the US Raptor.

So detached from reality is our former golden boy that, in his 1987 book, "Where There's a Will", extolling the virtues of "Europe" that he claimed the project had saved the defence budget £100 million. Strangely, that claim was not repeated in his autobiography.

And this was by no means Heseltine's only financial disaster. As the man behind the Westland scandal, it was he that promoted the Anglo-Italian EH101 helicopter project, now known as the Merlin.

It at least entered service, albeit five years late – rendered operabale only with the technical assistance of the US Lockheed Martin company. Even then, it managed to break a new world record for the most expensive helicopter ever built – the Navy versions costing £100 million per airframe. Currently, the fleet spends much of its time being grounded, either because bits keep falling off, or for seemingly intractable gearbox problems.

This is the man who writes in The Daily Telegraph today warning about the "rubbish" we will hear from anti-Europeans about the constitution in the months ahead. Mr Heseltine wants us to "stick to the facts".

But which facts, Michael?