A Guide to the 2020 Integrated Review

 In Land, Defense, Sea, Uncategorized, Air, Forces & Capabilities

By Nicholas Drummond

As life returns to a new kind of normal, a key Government ini­tia­tive that’s back on the agenda is the Integrated Review. This will be the most sig­nif­i­cant recon­fig­u­ra­tion of Britain’s defence and secu­ri­ty needs in a decade. When David Cameron’s coali­tion gov­ern­ment came to power in 2010, it inher­it­ed a mas­sive budget deficit caused by the global finan­cial crisis of 2008. Consequently, the 2010 SDSR was not an attempt to recon­fig­ure Britain’s Armed Forces around exis­ten­tial threats. It was about cut­ting the Navy, Army and Air Force so that net bor­row­ing could be reduced. Defence spend­ing fell by 8%[1]. Headcount was reduced by more than 20%. Renewal ini­tia­tives were delayed, reduced in scope or simply can­celled. A new euphemism: “capa­bil­i­ty hol­i­day,” was used to describe the gaps in our abil­i­ty to sup­port key roles. Despite reduced defence resources, there was no cor­re­spond­ing reduc­tion in for­eign policy aspi­ra­tions. To make mat­ters worse, this hap­pened at a time when a sig­nif­i­cant number of British ser­vice men and women were deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan. It meant that Defence was being asked to do too much with too little. 

Before the Covid-19 pan­dem­ic, the 2020 Integrated Review goal was to align for­eign policy, defence, secu­ri­ty and inter­na­tion­al devel­op­ment. This was a wel­come ini­tia­tive. It makes total sense to rede­fine Britain’s place on the inter­na­tion­al stage by iden­ti­fy­ing the essen­tial roles we must fulfil while only adding the addi­tion­al dis­cre­tionary roles that we can afford. We can then recon­fig­ure our defence, secu­ri­ty and inter­na­tion­al devel­op­ment needs around these new pri­or­i­ties. The real­i­ty of doing this, how­ev­er, is that our desire to be a world power is lim­it­ed by the size of our econ­o­my. If we are forced to adopt a more real­is­tic and reduced set of defence and secu­ri­ty tasks, we will be able to resource them better and thus per­form them to a higher stan­dard. 

However, today we are faced with a sim­i­lar crisis to 2010. The impact of Covid-19 is likely to reduce GDP by 9%.[2]This equates to £4-£5 bil­lion reduc­tion in the Defence budget, close to the same amount that was lost in 2010 and it will be lost at time when ser­vice chiefs were hoping for annual budget uplift to imple­ment mod­erni­sa­tion ini­tia­tives delayed by the pre­vi­ous crisis. A fur­ther con­cern is that the UK has yet to con­clude post-Brexit trade deals with Europe, the USA and other key trad­ing part­ners. This means that the 2020 Integrated Review is unlike­ly to be a budget neu­tral exer­cise. It may involve jet­ti­son­ing as much cost as pos­si­ble so that the ship doesn’t sink. 

Will we see cor­re­spond­ing cuts to National Health Service, Education, and Social ben­e­fits? Not likely. This is because Defence has never been a vote winner. It’s an insur­ance policy and it may be expe­di­ent to give-up fully com­pre­hen­sive cover in favour third-party, fire and theft. 

It doesn’t help the cause of the three ser­vices that they have been accused of mis­man­ag­ing their bud­gets. Navy crit­ics sug­gest that the costs of imple­ment­ing Carrier Strike were sig­nif­i­cant­ly under-esti­mat­ed with invest­ment made at the expense of its core capa­bil­i­ties. Meanwhile, the Army’s detrac­tors have crit­i­cised its pro­cure­ment process­es, saying they reveal an inabil­i­ty to buy any­thing off the shelf with­out adding unnec­es­sary gold plat­ing. The RAF will only buy American air­craft, with­out a com­pe­ti­tion, leav­ing us at the mercy of prof­li­gate US defence firms and unfavourable Dollar-Sterling exchange rates. But these are per­cep­tions not real­i­ty. The ser­vices are get­ting many more things right than they are get­ting wrong. Using one or two mis­steps as jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for deep fur­ther cuts is like cut­ting off your nose to spite your face. 

While Britain’s econ­o­my pre­pares for the double whammy of Covid-19 and Brexit, the world has become more unsta­ble and dan­ger­ous than it has been at any time since the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1963. China’s fail­ure to pro­vide timely warn­ing of the seri­ous­ness of Coronavirus, its hawk­ish aggres­sion in the South China Sea, its unre­lent­ing expan­sion in Africa and Asia; and zero tol­er­ance towards Hong Kong pro­test­ers, show that its mask has well and truly slipped. We should be very appre­hen­sive about China’s com­mit­ment to global eco­nom­ic suprema­cy and the rein­force­ment of its super­pow­er status. We should be in no doubt that we are engaged in a new Cold War stand-off.

Russia remains a threat to the Baltic states and is con­duct­ing an active cam­paign to desta­bilise gov­ern­ments that have sup­port­ed sanc­tions against it. These were imposed as a result of its annex­a­tion of Ukraine ter­ri­to­ry. Recent Russian “grey zone” activ­i­ties have come very close to cross­ing the thresh­old of con­flict. North Korea con­tin­ues to devel­op bal­lis­tic mis­siles and may also be fur­ther­ing its atomic weapons ambi­tions. Iran is still an active spon­sor of global ter­ror­ism. Potential adver­saries all have the same thing in common: they are ruled by total­i­tar­i­an regimes that must retain power at all costs. 

Given the above threats and the ongo­ing need to rebuild UK defence after the most exten­sive post­war retrench­ment, you would expect us to light a fire under mod­erni­sa­tion, like the USA, Australia, France and other NATO mem­bers. Instead, we are antic­i­pat­ing fur­ther cuts. This cannot be right. 

Recent as well as past expe­ri­ence should remind us that con­flicts unfold with unex­pect­ed speed and sever­i­ty giving us a very lim­it­ed response times. Today, we go to war with the mil­i­tary resources we have, not the ones we would ide­al­ly like. Furthermore, when it comes to pre­dict­ing future con­flicts, we have a per­fect record. We haven’t gotten it right once. This means we need a flex­i­ble range of capa­bil­i­ties rel­e­vant to a vari­ety of poten­tial sce­nar­ios. We also have to be organ­ised so that we can ramp-up recruit­ment, train­ing and the man­u­fac­ture of materiel. We need indus­tri­al strate­gies that not only sup­port British jobs, but ensure readi­ness. 

(Above) The Continuum of Competition illus­trates how rela­tions between states can tran­si­tion from a state of har­mo­ny to dis­cord with actions below the thresh­old of con­flict con­tribut­ing to a ratch­et­ing-up of ten­sions. As impor­tant as “Grey Zone” capa­bil­i­ties may be, they are no sub­sti­tute for the deter­rent effect of “Hard Power.

Investing in defence is like build­ing a wall to keep out wolves. Such a wall is use­less if it has gaps. Unfortunately, Britain’s defence has some seri­ous holes along its length. The Royal Navy has only 19 sur­face com­bat­ants and 7 attack sub­marines. The British Army combat vehi­cle fleet has an aver­age age of 40 years. The Army’s artillery sys­tems need whole­sale renew­al. Total RAF combat air­craft num­bers were planned to be 232 Typhoons and 138 F‑35s, but will actu­al­ly be 149 and 72 respec­tive­ly. Pilot train­ing has been out­sourced. Retention of expe­ri­enced tech­ni­cal spe­cial­ists is an issue for all three ser­vices. Accommodation, pay, pen­sions and ben­e­fits have fallen behind the pri­vate sector, erod­ing the Armed Forces’ offer affect­ing recruit­ment and reten­tion.

Meanwhile, we talk about invest­ing in AI, unmanned sys­tems and grey zone capa­bil­i­ties. While new domains like Cyber and Space are undoubt­ed­ly impor­tant, they are no sub­sti­tute for the deter­rent effect of hard power. But our hard power has atro­phied with­out proper regen­er­a­tion since the end of the Cold War in 1990. As we try to pri­ori­tise mod­erni­sa­tion ini­tia­tives, we must recog­nise that the Government’s budget is finite. Unable to fund every­thing we would ide­al­ly like, we must choose care­ful­ly which bat­tles to fight – quite lit­er­al­ly, and spend our money wisely.

So what are our Britain’s immutable Defence & Security roles? There are four over-arch­ing defence com­mit­ments that trans­late into five types of role. Our most fun­da­men­tal task is to the Domestic Defence of the United Kingdom. This obvi­ous­ly includes resourc­ing our armed forces to stop an inva­sion, but this is a highly unlike­ly sce­nario. What is more likely is an enemy within. Sabotage of key infra­struc­ture such as power gen­er­a­tion, water supply, and food supply chain logis­tics could poten­tial­ly be dam­aged or dis­rupt­ed. As an island nation we also need to pro­tect sea routes and ensure North Atlantic secu­ri­ty. We need to pro­tect UK air­space. Many domes­tic secu­ri­ty tasks fall under the respon­si­bil­i­ty of the Police, UK Security Services (MI5 and MI6), and GCHQ. The threat of cyber attack and com­put­er hack­ing could dis­rupt com­mu­ni­ca­tions or affect bank­ing net­works. There is undoubt­ed­ly a need for greater pro­tec­tion against hos­tile attempts to damage us in these areas. There is also a cor­re­spond­ing need to be able to attack the sys­tems of poten­tial adver­saries as counter to ini­tia­tives tar­get­ed against us.

The second pri­or­i­ty is the Protection UK inter­ests abroad (over­seas ter­ri­to­ries) and poten­tial­ly the inter­ests of our com­mon­wealth trad­ing part­ners. This have become a more sig­nif­i­cant respon­si­bil­i­ty to secure future pros­per­i­ty for our post-Brexit econ­o­my. China’s policy of active “belt and road” ini­tia­tives in lesser devel­oped coun­tries could deny us trad­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties with exist­ing and poten­tial part­ners world­wide. This makes inter­na­tion­al devel­op­ment a more impor­tant pri­or­i­ty than it was before. In many respects, such ini­tia­tives require “soft power” not “hard power.” This is not just about secur­ing favourable trad­ing agree­ments for our own sake, it is also part of our global respon­si­bil­i­ty as a key member of the G7 group of coun­tries (USA, UK, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Japan).

Our third key com­mit­ment is Honouring our NATO Treaty oblig­a­tions. Article 5 stip­u­lates that an attack against one NATO member would be con­sid­ered as an attack against all. If China or Iran were to attack the United States, we could well find our­selves drawn into an Asian or Middle East con­flict. Fourthly, as a member of the United Nations, we might be asked to become part of an inter­na­tion­al coali­tion for Action in sup­port of the United Nations. This might involve task like peace­keep­ing, aid dis­tri­b­u­tion. and dis­arm­ing rogue states.

The above four roles imply five mis­sion types with vary­ing degrees of risk and inten­si­ty. At a basic level, our mil­i­tary capa­bil­i­ties serve as a Deterrence. The goal is to make any attack against us appear so costly as to not be worth­while. Next, Hybrid and Proxy war­fare oper­a­tions will seek to achieve for­eign policy goals with­out direct action. Israel’s cyber attack against Iran’s nuclear facil­i­ties used a com­put­er virus that caused its cen­trifuges to spin out of con­trol dam­ag­ing them and retard­ing its nuclear pro­gramme. It also assas­si­nat­ed key nuclear sci­en­tists. While such activ­i­ties “below the thresh­old” can be extreme­ly effec­tive, they can severe­ly com­pro­mise a country’s global image and rep­u­ta­tion for integri­ty. This means that within the grand scheme of things, there is an addi­tion­al domain: “Headspace.” This is an eth­i­cal domain where the values and beliefs that define a country’s con­duct give it moral author­i­ty.

Peace sup­port can include sep­a­rat­ing war­ring fac­tions, pro­tect­ing minori­ties from geno­cide, pro­vid­ing refugees with a safe haven, pre­vent­ing the break­down of law and order, and insti­tut­ing regime change in cer­tain sit­u­a­tions. For many, this role is that of the global police­man. It is con­tro­ver­sial because it can be costly in terms of finan­cial resources needed to pros­e­cute such tasks; costly in terms of the amount of time needed to achieve last­ing impact and change; costly in terms of casu­al­ties; and costly in terms of polit­i­cal fall­out at home, when the ends are per­ceived to no longer jus­ti­fy the means. Recent UK deploy­ments to Iraq and Afghanistan were viewed by some as unwinnable cam­paigns. This sapped sup­port and our com­mit­ment to seeing-through the task.

The next mis­sion type is Limited war. The Falklands con­flict of 1982 and Operation Desert Storm of 1991 are clas­sic exam­ples. Force was used to achieve clear goals over a short period of time. Short, sharp inter­ven­tions can be highly effec­tive tools of for­eign policy.

Finally, there is the Major inter­na­tion­al con­flict. it is the sce­nario we wish to avoid at all costs. This brings us back to deter­rence and the need for nuclear weapons. They rep­re­sent an enor­mous cost, but have been a highly effec­tive in keep­ing the peace over the last 75 years. We main­tain such weapons because they are the ulti­mate sanc­tion; but, equal­ly, we main­tain cred­i­ble con­ven­tion­al forces because these reduce the like­li­hood of having to use nuclear weapons to pro­tect our inter­ests.

Britain has his­tor­i­cal­ly allo­cat­ed spe­cif­ic resources across the five role types. In terms of deter­rence, the Royal Navy’s bal­lis­tic mis­sile sub­marines deliv­er our nuclear capa­bil­i­ty. The RAF’s Typhoon and soon our E7 Wedgetail AEW&C fleets will pro­tect our skies. Our frigates, attack sub­marines and P8 Poseidon MPAs ensure North Atlantic secu­ri­ty. They can also pro­tect our inter­ests fur­ther afield. But, the more tasks you allo­cate to a finite number of ships and air­craft, the more frag­ment­ed they become in their effect. During the Cold War, Britain main­tained a size­able Army in Germany to deter a land grab by the Soviet Union. Today, we have a much reduced Enhanced Forward Presence in the Baltic States, but the goal is the same: to deter Russian expan­sion.

When it comes to Hybrid and Proxy war­fare, we have recog­nised the need to ramp-up our capa­bil­i­ties in these areas.

In terms of Peace Support, we recog­nise the impor­tance of pro­vid­ing dis­as­ter relief and this remains an essen­tial com­mit­ment. But, we have become much more averse to deploy­ing “boots on the ground” for dis­cre­tionary deploy­ments. Behind this, how­ev­er, there is a recog­ni­tion that some­times threats abroad need to be nipped in the bud, before they fully devel­op and impact us at home.

The resolves we need for lim­it­ed wars and major con­flicts are not dis­sim­i­lar. Across each of the five role types, spe­cif­ic capa­bil­i­ties will deliv­er effect. One ques­tion we need to con­sid­er is whether reduc­ing our com­mit­ment to one area will actu­al­ly reduce the over­all capa­bil­i­ty require­ment. A Strike Brigade, for exam­ple, can have util­i­ty across mul­ti­ple sce­nar­ios, where­as sub­marines are more focused assets. Would we want to reduce our sub­ma­rine capa­bil­i­ties? Not at all.

For all these rea­sons, the Integrated Review must be driven by the exis­ten­tial threats we face as well as for­eign policy goals. If money is tight, then it obvi­ous­ly means we can’t be a global police­man. We will need to leave Asian secu­ri­ty to the USA, Japan, South Korea and Australia. Instead, we must be focused on threats closer to home. The over­whelm­ing con­clu­sion is that we must decide what we must do to defend our inter­ests and then resource these pri­or­i­ties prop­er­ly. As we look ahead, we hoping for the best, but expect­ing the worst.

[1] House of Commons Defence Committee, Shifting the Goalposts? Defence expen­di­ture and the 2% pledge. (2nd Report of Session 2015 – 2016) Page 4.

[2] COVID-19 in the United Kingdom: Assessing jobs at risk and the impact on people and places, McKinsey & Company, May 2020. 


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