Select Committee on Defence Fourth Report


16. Although as we noted above, the debate on the Future Capabilities proposals has been dominated by arguments about numbers and costs, the proposals are, at least in theory, simply the practical expression of the conclusions set out in Delivering Security. Underpinning those conclusions are the defence planning and concurrency assumptions. As General Sir Mike Jackson, Chief of the General Staff, told us:

    There has to be some sort of intellectual yardstick against which the defence effort is judged, and that stems of course from the defence planning assumptions… You may not agree with them, that is another matter, but it is from those assumptions that the force structure is calculated as laid out at the back of the White Paper.[8]

They are set out in Supporting Essay 2 of Delivering Security. Central to them are the 'Revised Scales of Effort'.

17. In 1998 the Scales of Effort in the SDR required of the Armed Forces the capability to mount one large (ie of a similar scale to the force sent to the 1991 Gulf War) or two medium operations (one similar to the then commitment to Bosnia; the other of a combat brigade and supporting elements). In December 2003 the Revised Scales of Effort required the capability to mount, without overstretch, one medium and two small operations (the medium and one small being peace support operations, the other small being an intervention operation) but with the ability also to reconfigure rapidly to two medium and one small (where one of the mediums is an intervention operation).

18. A large scale operation would still be possible 'given time to prepare' and on the assumption that 'we will not need to generate large scale capabilities across the [full] spectrum, given that in the most demanding operations we will be operating alongside the US and other allies, where capabilities such as air defence and naval escorts are less likely to be at a premium'.[9]

19. Alongside these assumptions was a greater focus on capabilities for expeditionary operations (which had been a central conclusion of the June 2002 New Chapter to the SDR) and on 'the importance of the continued transformation of our forces to concentrate on the characteristics of speed, precision, agility, deployability, reach and sustainability'.[10] 'At the heart of this transformation is Network Enabled Capability (NEC) [which]… is about the coherent integration of sensors, decision-makers and weapon systems along with support capabilities'.[11] We discuss some of the specific capabilities which are integral to NEC later in this report.

20. The MoD arrived at the assumptions on the basis of its assessment of the international security challenges which the UK will face in the years ahead. Again we examined this assessment in our report on Delivering Security. Two conclusions from that report are worth repeating here:

    What has emerged in the past six years is the extent to which the Armed Forces have been operating at the limits of what they can achieve. The SDR's planning assumptions provided relatively little resilience to enable the services to re-orientate when called upon to do so.[12]

    It may be rash of the White Paper to state that "we expect to see a similar pattern of operations in the future", just after its predecessor document—the SDR—has had to be substantially amended, not least because unforeseen developments in the security environment have led to changes in operational demands. We are not convinced that expecting things to follow a similar pattern to the recent past is the best way to shape UK defence policy in an era of rapid change.[13]

21. To the extent that defence plans cannot be expected to foresee every future contingency and defence budgets cannot fund unlimited force numbers or capabilities, any decisions on force structures or on capabilities must accept elements of risk. Nonetheless in our conclusions quoted above we identified two broad areas of potential risk from the MoD's policy analysis: a lack of resilience in the face of changing operational demands and too narrow a focus on the range of operational demands which the Armed Forces of the future may face. In this report we intend to look more closely at how the Future Capabilities proposals have addressed those areas of risk.

8   Q 367 Back

9   Cm 6041-I, p 7 Back

10   Cm 6269, p 2 Back

11   Cm 6269, p 5 Back

12   HC (2003-04) 465-I, para 37 Back

13   HC (2003-04) 465-I, para 42 Back

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Prepared 17 March 2005