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Defence Secretary's speech to the Royal United Services Institute, 26/06/2003

I am grateful for this opportunity to address you today.  I am aware that many of you are here primarily for a conference on the future of land warfare.  I can assure you that I will touch on land warfare in this speech, but in the context of the development of defence policy and the Armed Forces more widely.

Nearly a year ago, in July 2002, I addressed RUSI on the subject of "The New Chapter: a Blueprint for Reform".   My theme then was change: not change for its own sake, but essential change, modernisation and new thinking in defence - to ensure that our Armed Forces can respond to the changing strategic environment.

Since then our Armed Forces have faced - and continue to face - the challenges of operations in Iraq.  Those operations have demonstrated the qualities of courage and professionalism for which they enjoy a world-wide reputation.  The tragic losses suffered by our Armed Forces on Tuesday in Iraq remind us of the risks and dangers they face, and the huge debt of gratitude which we owe to them.

One of the questions which I have often been asked over the last 3 years as Defence Secretary is this: why are Britain's Armed Forces so consistently successful in the wide range of tasks they undertake?  Or put another way : why do they consistently and reliably rise to the challenges they are set, even in the most difficult and demanding of circumstances?

There is obviously no single answer, but I have reached two preliminary conclusions:

First, successful Armed Forces are the product not simply of the inherent qualities of Service personnel, but also of the decisions taken by the Ministry of Defence on how they are trained, organised, equipped and supported.

Secondly, our Armed Forces are successful because the Ministry of Defence and the Armed Forces have never been content to rest on their laurels, but have been prepared to take sometimes difficult decisions to change and modernise capabilities and organisations and, where necessary, discard those that are no longer effective.

As the strategic environment, technology and society change, so the Armed Forces must respond.  We need only look at the media reporting of the campaign in Iraq and compare it to the Falklands campaign just over 20 years ago to sense the scale and pace of technology-driven change, with reporters able to broadcast live across the world what they see within seconds using equipment carried in a single bag.

I intend to publish in the Autumn a Defence White Paper which will set out   comprehensively our  vision for ensuring that the United Kingdom's Armed Forces remain among the most effective and flexible in the world - and thereby a continuing force for good.  This afternoon, my purpose is to give you a progress report on our developing thinking on tomorrow's defence as we move through the 21st Century.                           

Operation TELIC in Iraq was the largest scale deployment of recent years.  But it has not been the only one.  Our personnel have been engaged around the world - for example, in the Balkans, in Sierra Leone, in Afghanistan and, most recently and on a much smaller scale, in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

There will be an understandable tendency for debate on the future size and structure of  the UK's Armed Forces to focus almost exclusively on the lessons to be learnt from Iraq.  But Iraq does not represent the only kind of operation our Armed Forces might be required to undertake.  Nor can we sensibly plan balanced Armed Forces purely on the lessons of one operation.  We must not be seduced into the old error of planning to fight the last war: the contrast between Afghanistan and Iraq, two operations within 18 months of each other, could scarcely be more telling.  

In discussing therefore our judgements about the future of the Armed Forces, I first want to look  more broadly at the kind of world in which we believe our Armed Forces will be operating.  I will then look at  the concepts, force structures, processes and, most importantly of all, the people that we will need to respond to the inevitable challenges and opportunities presented by change.

At the broad strategic level, we can see certain trends:

        Continuing globalisation is likely to mean that the United Kingdom becomes even more open as a society and more dependent on broad stability elsewhere in the world, particularly with key trading partners in the European Union, United States, and increasingly with Asia.

        While conflict between states is likely to become rarer, certainly in the United Kingdom's areas of key interest, other threats will develop.

        But countering proliferation and terrorism will continue to take up more of the armed forces effort.  The threat from non-state actors will continue to require multilateral responses.

        There is a danger that the next 30 years will see the emergence of new WMD powers as the technology proliferates and technical advances make production easier.

In responding to these challenges, we must recognise that the treatment of these issues are not exclusively or even primarily military.  But to the extent that military security is involved - and, of course, the risks are high - it is best managed through alliances, partnerships and cooperation.  The United Kingdom is a regional power with extensive global interests.  The protection of those interests is, almost by definition, better achieved with friends and allies.

NATO and the European Union, in their differing but mutually supportive contributions to our security, will continue to occupy key positions in our planning.  NATO will remain the basis for our collective defence, for crisis management in the Euro-Atlantic area and for facing together new threats to our security.

The multilateral nature of our future will therefore set a premium on the capacity of our forces to inter-operate with those of other countries.  Most importantly, it is highly unlikely that the United Kingdom would be engaged in large-scale combat operations without the United States, a judgement born of past experience, shared interest and our assessment of strategic trends.

At the same time, the United States is likely to remain the pre-eminent political, economic and military power.  But the issue is not whether the United States decides to develop a unilateral or a multilateral approach over the long term.  Whether it finds itself in that position or not will depend on the role played, and on the persuasiveness, and ultimately the capabilities of its allies.

Naturally, we do not have an infallible ability to read the future.  In some areas, the world will experience shocks - events that were not foreseen and that have a fundamental impact on the course of events.  We can therefore be clear that the overriding characteristic that we shall look for in our Armed Forces over the next 30 years is the ability to respond to events and security challenges with speed, precision and flexibility.

This will require change in the Armed Forces.  But not change in everything - not change in the core qualities and values of our Service personnel themselves.   The blend of courage, adaptability and pragmatism which we have seen on the streets of Northern Ireland, in the Balkans, in Afghanistan and, most recently, in Southern Iraq has become almost a British trade-mark recognised right across the world.   We would be foolish to want to change that.  But  we need to ensure their ability to respond  to the changes and security challenges around us.  The Government is determined to put  in place the programmes and capabilities necessary for this.

Historically, military capability has been measured in terms of available combat power: by numbers of units or the volume of equipment.  This reflected, it has been suggested, the essentially attritional nature of warfare for much of the 20th century.   While volume alone did not guarantee victory, there was always a question of whether we had enough volume to ensure success against possible opponents.

But, in today's environment, advances in technology mean that it will be our ability to reconfigure forces and equipment rapidly to deliver critical effect at the right moment, according to the particular situation, that will determine success.  Measuring the capability of our Armed Forces by the number of units or platforms in their possession will no longer be significant.

We are now able to bring force to bear with ever-greater precision, from a wide variety of platforms, to attack and reduce the combat power of an adversary.  And the astonishing speed with which we can increasingly operate can destabilise an adversary and bring decisive effect, causing him to give up even though many of his military forces may remain.

The experts call this approach Effects-Based Operations.  They focus on undermining an opponent's ability to exercise effective command and control of his forces rather than simply on battlefield attrition.  Effects-Based Operations are not new - just as asymmetric warfare pre-dated the appalling events of 11 September 2001.   But a process is being developed that provides a better understanding of what effects we might be able to achieve and how best we might achieve them.

We saw the potential of this approach in Iraq.  We saw not only the extensive use of precision guided munitions such as Enhanced Paveway, cruise missiles and Storm Shadow, but also examples of greatly reduced time intervals between the gathering of intelligence and the passing of targeting instructions to delivery platforms.  This demonstrated how the concept of Networked Enabled Capability is delivering military effect today.  By rapidly degrading the Iraqi command and control capability, the Coalition achieved a strategic objective that was more demanding than that of the 1991 Gulf Conflict with the use of much less ordnance.  By thinking about capability jointly rather than as a series of separate platforms, we can greatly multiply the influence the UK Armed Forces will have on events in the future.

At the heart of effects-based operations are people.  The soldiers, sailors and airforce personnel who apply their skills and their training to the tactical situation they are in and use the appropriate equipment to deliver the required military effect.

Effects-Based Operations and the continuing trend towards expeditionary and multi-national operations will have an enormous impact on the skills required of Service personnel in the coming years and the way in which we train them.  The success of the strategy for taking Basra depended on a combination of networked technology - exemplified by pinpoint strikes on Baathist headquarters in the city - with the patient abilities of British soldiers trained to cope with the demands of urban warfare against irregular forces.  They were able to gain the trust of  local people, gather intelligence and then act decisively against the enemy.

The importance of our soldiers, sailors and airforce personnel will not be diminished by the introduction of new technologies and concepts.  Rather the importance of our people will be further enhanced.  The introduction of the Personal Role Radio in operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, providing modern and reliable communications at section level, is already changing the way our troops operate on the ground, giving them a decisive operational edge.  And, in March, we announced the selection of Thales UK to lead the assessment phase of the Future Integrated Soldier Technology or FIST project.  This will bring the benefits of new technology to the soldier by providing an integrated suite of personal equipment to enhance dismounted close contact capability.

The introduction of new sensors, networked through digitised information systems and able to link directly to a variety of platforms capable of delivering precision weapons creates potential that can only be unlocked and deployed to best effect by Service personnel with the highest levels of training and professionalism. 

The "New Chapter", effects-based operations and the current general trend of deployments have demonstrated the need for new approaches to our force structures.  In particular, experience suggests that for many assets, such as deployed headquarters and logistical support, conducting several smaller scale operations is actually more demanding than one or two larger operations.  It is exactly these frequent, and often concurrent, medium and small-scale operations that have been the pattern since the SDR - with a new operation arising on average about once a year.   A deployment on the large scale, such as Operation TELIC, has occurred less frequently.

We know that, in large-scale operations, we need to have balanced, flexible forces able to meet the most demanding tasks and look after themselves.  However, as we are likely to enter into such commitments only as part of a wider coalition, we would expect to be able to exercise considerable discretion over what to contribute and what tasks to take on.   Paradoxically, it is by ensuring that our Armed forces have the flexibility to carry out a wide range of operations that we preserve for ourselves this ability to choose.

While we therefore must retain the capacity to undertake the most demanding large scale operations as part of a coalition, it has become clear that we should as well structure our forces with a focus on the more frequent demands of concurrent medium and small scale operations, while ensuring that we are still able to prepare for and generate capacity for the less frequent large scale operations at the notice required.

The likely pattern of operations places a premium on those forces which tend to be required for every operation, whether large or small.  These are the elements that act as multipliers of combat power by enabling more rapid manoeuvre, more rapid deployment, better intelligence and target acquisition, greater accuracy and therefore the ability to undertake operations more quickly and at lower cost in life and materiel.

Investment in these capabilities makes it possible to change the structure and scale of the other elements in the force structure.  We need to get the balance right to ensure that the combat capability available is relevant to the warning times and types of task on which it is likely to be used.  This is not to say that we can do with less combat capability - quite the reverse.  But it is no longer a matter of simply generating high numbers of combat forces if they cannot get to the crises in time or link up and operate effectively with other forces and allies when they do.

The Spending Review 2002 settlement resulted in an additional 3.5 billion for defence.  The Defence Budget is rising.   In announcing the details last year, I said that the new money was for reform and modernisation.   But it would be a failure of ambition simply to invest the new money in new systems while carrying on as before with the rest.  The MOD's financial planning system is very sophisticated - the product of years of experience and refinement.   But it can encourage a certain inertia.   So in the forthcoming planning round I will be asking our Top Level Budget holders to think radically about the way they deliver their outputs, partly by setting them some stiff "stretch" targets as they are known in the acquisition world.   These targets are not decisions.   And this will not be a "cuts" exercise.   The aim will be to give us options - planning flexibility.   At the end of the process, we will make decisions.    In some areas, investment will go down; in others it will go up - perhaps significantly.

The evolution of the Armed Forces will manifest itself in different ways in each Service.  One is increasing flexibility.  The other is the increasing impact of Network Enabled Capability.  It will undoubtedly become an increasingly significant force multiplier over the coming years, improving our capacity to detect and engage fleeting targets, reducing the risk of collateral damage and friendly fire, and reducing sensor-to-shooter times.

We can expect the size and shape of the Royal Navy to evolve in order to optimise the Fleet for joint operations -and provide greater flexibility and capability to project power onshore.  In other words, we will be looking to capitalise on our investment in the new aircraft carriers, Type 45 destroyers, Astute class submarines and new amphibious shipping.  Some of the older vessels in the current fleet contribute less well to the pattern of operations we envisage and some limited adjustments are likely to be needed.

The Army will evolve to meet the trend in expeditionary warfare towards higher numbers of concurrent smaller operations rather than individual large operations.  Whilst recent experience in Iraq shows that a capacity must be retained for large scale operations, we now spend far more time dealing with the unique stresses generated by supporting a number of widely geographically separated smaller operations and meeting the rapid deployments which these operations often demand.

At the same time, experience demonstrates that current light forces cannot provide the combat power required by some of the more demanding types of operation where rapid deployment is needed.  This means that we must shift from the current mix of light and heavy forces representing the two extremes of deployability and combat power to a more graduated and balanced structure of light, medium and heavy forces together with a greater emphasis on enabling capabilities such as logistics, engineers and intelligence.

This will inevitably lead to a different requirement over time for main battle tanks, other heavy armoured fighting vehicles and heavy artillery, offset by a new requirement for medium weight forces based on the Future Rapid Effects System family of vehicles. But I emphasise that this is about seeking a better balance.  The campaign in Iraq showed that a heavy armour capability will remain essential.  There is no question of giving up the tank or of losing the ability to field significant heavy forces when required for the most demanding operations.

With the introduction of Typhoon, the Royal Air Force will enjoy a significant margin of advantage in air warfare over any potential opponent for the foreseeable future.  The emphasis for air power is shifting away from dedicated air defence aircraft to multi-role platforms, equipped with precision guided weapons and enhanced sensors.  This is what the planned programme of incremental enhancements to Typhoon will deliver.  It is also embodied in the Joint Strike Fighter which is due to enter service early in the next decade.  The announcement earlier this month of our plans to buy the next generation of Paveway missiles will represent a further substantial improvement in our precision guided bombing capability. The enhanced accuracy of the new integrated GPS system means pilots will be able to pinpoint specific parts of their designated targets regardless of weather conditions.

All these improvements will count for little if we cannot get forces into the theatre of operations in a timely fashion.  We have made significant improvements to our sea- and airlift capacity.  But more is needed.  The signature of the contract for the Airbus A400M programme is a step in the right direction and the 25 aircraft ordered for the RAF will give us a flexible and robust capability.   We have also reviewed our long-term requirement for rapid deployment of very large items beyond the capacity of the  A400M and we are currently considering options for the permanent retention of a small C-17 fleet.

I said earlier that we would not make the mistake of basing future decisions on the experience of one campaign.  But the operations in Iraq have provided some useful empirical evidence of "what works".  In the main, they have reinforced many points which we already knew.  For instance, that rapid deployment is crucial for the tasks we now face; that precision weapons are indispensable given our opponents' likely  tactics; that being able to operate alongside allies is fundamental; and that it is vital that our forces have the flexibility to shift rapidly from warfighting to peacekeeping - and sometimes do both simultaneously.

Support helicopters and air to air refuelling aircraft have also proved themselves as key capabilities allowing our forces to move and strike with a speed and momentum that denied the Iraqi regime the capacity to react and therefore to draw us into costly static attritional battles.

Enhancing the Armed Forces' ability to respond to change means changing the systems and processes that support them.   We need to accept that change - change in the way we achieve strategic effects, change in the way we recruit and change in the way we manage the process - will be constant and not simply required occasionally to address single discrete issues.  This will place a premium at all levels on flexibility, innovation and improved systems and processes.

Much progress has already been made in these areas - improving joint co-operation between the Services.  The streamlining of procurement and logistic processes through the formation of the Defence Procurement Agency and Defence Logistics Organisation.     While undertaking a huge change management programme, the DLO has also been busy supporting the front line. It has played a key role, working with industry to provide improved equipment for Operation  TELIC.  Achieving a similar scale of logistics deployment in almost half the time taken for  DESERT STORM, together with an 8-fold increase in communications bandwidth, essential to effective operational command and control.

But we cannot relax our efforts.  Despite the significant improvement already seen, modernisation will need to continue and accelerate.  We can be still more efficient.  We can be still more agile in the way we support operations.  We will need to be if we are to continue to achieve the maximum effect from our budget.  We owe this both to the frontline, as well as to the taxpayer.

In my speech last year, I alluded to the launch of the Defence Change Programme.   This pulls together and prioritises a number of the Department's key change initiatives.

The Defence Information Infrastructure programme for example will replace 300 diverse information systems across 2000 locations world-wide enabling the more efficient sharing of management information.

As part of our defence estate strategy, the Core Site Rationalisation initiative will focus future investment on sites with a long-term future, identifying opportunities for the rationalisation and subsequent disposal of others.

We are also looking to improve our logistics arrangements on an end-to-end basis - from depots via ports and airports to the frontline - to ensure that we get maximum benefit from our increased investment in strategic lift.

And the cranes and scaffolding around the building next door remind us that the modernisation drive will go to the heart of the Defence machine.   Through the adoption of  new working practices and a  modern open plan working environment, we will  slim down our London Head Office by over 15%.  This is no mean achievement.   We are also working very closely with the Lyons review announced by the Chancellor in his budget speech to identify any opportunities to reduce still further our physical presence in the South East.

Throughout all this there is another theme of better partnerships with the private sector - not just PFI or outsourcing, though both have their place where they represent value for money, but a better understanding of how the public sector can work closely with industry to deliver better long term results.

Effective Defence Management will help to maximise military capability using the mechanisms that I have just described and many others.  Applying them right across defence, will allow the UK's Armed Forces to continue to deliver at the very highest levels of performance. 

I would like to say a little more about the people that will make this happen. 

I know that the greatest single reason for the superb reputation of the United Kingdom's Armed Forces is the personnel that serve in them.  Their courage, initiative and willingness to take on responsibility at even the most junior levels in the most difficult of circumstances has created the flexibility and success which is the envy of so many our allies.  The decisions that we make about the way in which we recruit, train, reward and retain our people will have as much influence over the future of the Armed Forces as the equipment and technology we place in their hands.  And as society changes, so the Armed Forces will also have to adapt, at the same time as retaining their unique and enduring ethos.

The people in our Armed Forces provide a very special form of public service.

Across the Ministry of Defence we therefore need people who have the skills and ability to deal with the range and complexity of modern operations.  This will mean different manning requirements and different skill sets to meet the changing environment.  It also means our Service men and women will expect routinely to spend significant periods of time away from home on operations.  That said, I am well aware that the periods of separation experienced by some specialisations are already excessive.  We will need to re-balance our force structures to ensure that the burden generated by the expected future operational tempo does not fall on certain individuals disproportionately as it does now.

We cannot afford to think only of our demands - we also need to think of the kind of people society is likely to produce.  If we cannot meet their aspirations and appeal to a more representative cross section of the community we will not have the fundamental resources to begin with.

For both Service personnel and civilians we have to offer first class incentives and conditions of service.  A key attraction to Service life will be the education and training opportunities we provide, ranging from basic skills to trade and professional qualifications and to degrees.  We shall need to be able to offer training, education and on-the-job learning to all of our people - a microcosm of the Government's learning agenda. Managing expectations and aspirations will be even more important in a competitive market place where the demands of the individual are as much influenced by work/life aspirations as they are by considerations of pay and status.  But while the opportunity to acquire trade skills and experience will be important, at the same time we must not lose sight of the uniqueness of military employment, its unique attractions and its unique demands.

These issues have a resonance way beyond Defence itself.  The Services are the largest training and development organisation in the country.  Each year they release over 10,000 capable trained personnel into the domestic employment market.  We also run a series of high-profile schemes which contribute to the Government's efforts to tackle social exclusion:  the 'Skill Force' youth initiative for 14 and 15 year olds - now in 100 schools - and the Army Cadet Force Association's 'Outreach' programme.

Our response to the future strategic environment will be based around flexible  and ever more effective  Armed Forces, Armed Forces that are structured and equipped to deploy globally and rapidly at small and medium scales and that are able to adapt at longer notice for large-scale operations.  The range of tasks they will need to perform will be incredibly broad - from peacekeeping, humanitarian and confidence building operations through to counter-terrorism and combat against a diverse set of potential opponents.  The United Kingdom's alliances will be equally broad and, whilst inter-operating with the United States will be a major focus of effort, that will not be sufficient on its own.  We will need to continue to improve our capacity to operate with our European allies and build in the flexibility to operate with other allies such as Australia, Canada and New Zealand as seen in Iraq, Afghanistan and East Timor.

It is also clear that joint operations will dominate the future of defence.  It is hard these days, to think of any tasks or major operations that are likely to be performed by one service acting alone.  This was recognised in the joint commands set out in the  Strategic Defence Review, but it is not just about joint commands.  It is also about the culture below the command level.  One joint task force is never the same as another.  The mix of forces is always different and the dynamic between components will vary according to the task.  It is vital therefore to build the flexibility into force elements to ensure that they can fit into the capabilities jigsaw in numerous different ways depending on the task at hand.

Flexibility is absolutely the key word.  Flexibility of people, policy, structures and equipment, supported by streamlined support processes.  We are incredibly lucky to have the right raw materials.  The UK's Armed Forces are already amongst the most flexible in the world - a fact proven time and again on operations, and confirmed by our allies.  But defence cannot stand still.  I am therefore looking to the Ministry of Defence to think the unthinkable, to challenge orthodoxies and find new solutions.  That will mean tough choices.  We have no alternative if we are to ensure that our Armed Forces can both maintain their effectiveness and meet the challenges of the future.


Source: UK MoD


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