Military Changes On Tap for Ally Across the Pond

September 28, 2010
By Beverly Schaeffer

The United Kingdom is giving its defense structure a good hard look, with plans to revamp its architecture, mission and capabilities. Recognizing the need to move away from a mentality built on Cold War threats, U.K. leaders have commissioned several studies to determine the way ahead. In this issue of SIGNAL Magazine, Robert K. Ackerman gleans insight on the goals of the U.K. Ministry of Defence from a prominent British Army general, in his article, "British Military at a Crossroads." Gen. Sir David Richards, KCB CBE DSO ADC, chief of the general staff, will soon become chief of Defence Staff. Within 10 years, he estimates, the British military will be agile, with greater capability to deal with asymmetric warfare and cyberthreats. The military will place more emphasis on UAVs and on improved intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance, or ISTAR-and on better understanding of the intelligence that's acquired. This includes becoming familiar with cultural characteristics in the area of deployment. Boots on the ground will still be a major factor but on a smaller scale, with tactical forces employing traditional platforms such as tanks, artillery and fighter jets. The civilian government will play a key role in crafting the British military's vision over the next 15 years. Policies will emerge that grow into strategies. The country's ongoing Strategic Defence and Security Review will help shape these goals. The starting point, Gen. Richards says, is the war in Afghanistan, and the British Prime Minister has committed his country's forces to remain there for another five years, ensuring U.K. participation in the ISAF. Gen. Richards previously served as commander in chief of U.K. land forces, which followed his command of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan. He is well versed in the challenges present in the Global War on Terrorism. Other factors that will contribute to changes in U.K. military structure are the global financial crisis, and the military's collaboration with allied military organizations such as the U.S. Army's Training and Doctrine Command. Big-ticket items may be scaled back or cut completely, but ISTAR should skirt the chopping block. It's premature to talk about where reductions will take place, Gen. Richards says, but logistics is a key concept:

In this era, professionals first and foremost talk command and control, and then they talk logistics and then finally tactics.

Deterrence and containment also are factors in remodeling the military's architecture. Afghanistan has been a school for the militaries involved in the ISAF fight against the Taliban. The United Kingdom recognized the need for greater agility, including improving counterinsurgency contingencies, creating hybrid brigades for specific threats, and overcoming cyberspace threats. Cyberspace concerns must be addressed on an international level with allies onboard, according to Gen. Richards:

If you don't have a collective, almost doctrinal, understanding of what we're talking about, we could well pass in the night. Our opponents are much more fixated on either the low tactical level-al-Qaida or the Taliban-or at the higher level, such as the big states that have been looking at this for a long time and I think are ahead in the game.

The United Kingdom plans to undertake the monumental task of restructuring its defense forces, equipping them to face current and future challenges more effectively. Do its plans thus far adequately address the major threats? Or, has it failed to focus more on specific contingencies? Share you ideas and suggestions here.

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