Readiness and recuperation of the Armed Forces: looking towards the Strategic Defence Review - Defence Committee Contents

3  The Strategic Defence Review

The Strategic Defence Review

43. In our earlier work on readiness and recuperation, we had already considered the Defence Planning Assumptions; the future size and structure of the Army; the size of Special Forces; and the Defence Strategic Guidance. Policy in all of these areas had been substantially opened up by the announcement of the Green Paper and the Strategic Defence Review. The latest position with regard to each of these areas is discussed below.

44. On 7 July 2009, the Secretary of State announced the start of a Strategic Defence Review:

    The policy set out in the Strategic Defence Review (SDR) and subsequently adjusted in the SDR New Chapter and the 2003 Defence White Paper, Delivering Security in a Changing World, has stood the test of time. However, it is now more than ten years since the SDR and the challenges facing Defence have inevitably changed in that time. I am therefore announcing that the Government is beginning a process that will enable a Strategic Defence Review early in the next Parliament. That review, to be set in the context of the National Security Strategy, will be designed to ensure that we develop and maintain Armed Forces appropriate to the challenges we face and the aims we set ourselves as a nation. As a first step we will undertake an examination of a range of issues including:
  • the strategic context for defence, including the lessons we have learned from recent operations and the changing nature of conflict;
  • our experience working in partnership with other arms of Government;
  • the contribution defence can make to the projection of soft power—exerting influence to prevent conflicts;
  • technological changes in defence;
  • the scope for more effective processes in defence, including acquisition; and
  • the modern day requirements on and aspirations of our Armed Forces personnel.[45]

    45. On 27 October 2009, the Secretary of State wrote to us setting out the MoD's Strategy for Defence which was being promulgated within the Department.[46] This is a new strategy paper which aims to give greater focus on the main direction of the Department for all staff—unlike Defence Strategic Guidance which as a classified document is not available to all staff. The MoD told us that the primary reason for the Strategy for Defence was to meet the recommendations of the Cabinet Office Capability Review. It was not intended to pre-empt the Strategic Defence Review but to cover the period until 2014 before the Review comes into play.[47]

    Defence Planning Assumptions

    46. The Armed Forces are funded and structured to be prepared for contingent tasks set out in the Defence Planning Assumptions. These Assumptions currently state that the Armed Forces are to be configured to carry out one enduring medium scale operation (involving some 5,000 personnel) plus one enduring small scale operation (with a battle group of between 600 and 700 personnel) and, in extremis, one other small scale non-enduring operation routinely and without overstretch.[48] The Armed Forces have been operating above the level set out in the Defence Planning Assumptions for over seven years. The Assumptions impact on funding insofar as they suggest at what scale the Armed Forces need to be maintained. While the Treasury pays for most of the additional costs of actual operations in Iraq and Afghanistan from the Reserve, the MoD funds the cost of maintaining the Armed Forces at that scale as well as paying for all standing tasks.

    47. The MoD Defence Board revisited the Defence Strategic Guidance in 2008 in order to reflect the differing pressures placed on the Armed Forces by the nature of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.[49] The Board added a new military task: Military Aid to Stabilisation and Development.[50] General Lamb reflected that the Army had been operating at some three times the level at which Defence Planning Assumptions would put them.[51] He clearly found the Assumptions less than useful when working at the current level and tempo of operations.[52]

    48. We questioned the then Secretary of State in April as to whether the Defence Planning Assumptions needed to be fundamentally reviewed and Afghanistan treated as a standing commitment. His view was that the Assumptions should not be seen as a straitjacket to constrain the sorts of contingency for which the Armed Forces prepared but something upon which they based their planning and force generation work. As with any good plan, their planning work had to be capable of adaptation and flexibility.[53] He acknowledged that the MoD might have to look at the Assumptions in the future but he thought them reasonable:

      I do not think the problem, with respect, is about our ability to deploy forces into Afghanistan. The problem is the implications that has for other contingent tasks that we have agreed we should plan and prepare for. It does not matter how you would characterise the Afghanistan operations—as a standing military task, for example, or anything else—the simple reality is that on an operation of that scale it is going to affect the other contingent operating capabilities that you might want to have for your Armed Forces. Changing the designation of the operation in Afghanistan is not going to make the slightest difference to that.[54]

    49. We also questioned the new Secretary of State for Defence in November as to whether the Defence Planning Assumptions needed to be reviewed and if the operation in Afghanistan should be treated as a standing task. The Secretary of State acknowledged that the Armed Forces were still operating above Defence Planning Assumptions as the operation in Afghanistan, with 9,500 personnel, was almost twice the size envisaged of a medium scale operation.[55] He did not, however, think that making Afghanistan a standing task would help in managing the operation in Afghanistan:

      I do not know to what degree that would get us out of the situation that we are in. At what level should it be a standing task? In the spring we had 8,100 in Afghanistan. This is only in the spring. We then put a couple of hundred counter-IED capability in there. We then agreed to an election uplift of 700, which we have agreed to make enduring since. We are on the verge of, I hope, committing another 500. At what level would it be a standing task and to what degree would making it a standing task assist us? Of course, we would have to renegotiate our budget with the Treasury but that would not manufacture pound notes to pay for defence particularly, would it? So how we do the sums ought to be a secondary consideration. … The UOR situation must prevail, the Treasury must continue to pay for those additional costs, but we, after all this time in theatre, have a duty to bend our own core programme, in my view, in the direction of a very important operation. We need to look, even in the difficult financial circumstances that we are in, at what degree we can actually do that, and that is what we are doing.[56]

    50. Defence Planning Assumptions are planning guidelines in support of force generation work. Nevertheless, since they form an important part of the calculations leading to the structuring and resourcing of the Armed Forces, we are concerned that they have become so out of step with what has been happening in reality. The MoD should review the Defence Planning Assumptions as part of the Strategic Defence Review This will provide the opportunity to review the utility and definitions of the Defence Planning Assumptions and of readiness in the light of current and continuing high level of sustained deployment. It should also look again at whether operations in Afghanistan should be treated as a standing task or at least whether account should be taken of the existence of enduring contingent commitments and the need to factor these into defence planning.

    Defence Strategic Guidance and the future size and structure of the Army

    51. The Secretary of State told us in April that the MoD was to issue new Defence Strategic Guidance later in the year based on work carried out in 2008. In addition to this work, the MoD had been actively engaged in the development of the second iteration of the National Security Strategy.[57] He also told us that several strands of work were to be brought together in the Autumn:

      The other elements that you referred to, the Defence Strategic Guidance, Adam Ingram's work on countering insurgent capabilities, the work that CGS [Chief of General Staff] is doing on future arms structures: these are all essential elements of work that is going on. […] I think the autumn is when I have got in my mind the idea of bringing together some of these strands of work, but I think the important thing is to get the work done and to get all of the ducks in a row and then to have something to publish. I am not looking to publish individual little bits of the jigsaw as free-standing pieces of work, because I do not think that would make sense.[58]

    52. The new Secretary of State told us in November that he will not be publishing the Defence Strategic Guidance or any other of these "strands of work" referred to by his predecessor this year but that a revised set of guidance would flow out from the Strategic Defence Review.[59]

    53. General Lamb told us that work was going on in the MoD to look at the structure of the Army, its size and whether the Army and, in particular, the Engineers, the Artillery and some parts of the Infantry need to re-role in response to the nature of the campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan. His view was that the Army needed to increase its size. An army of 112,000 soldiers, compared to the current size of some 102,000, was the number talked of by senior officers in the Army. Such an increase would enable units to be deployed without being backfilled by large numbers of personnel from other units. The practice of backfilling could undermine unit cohesion and make it more difficult to monitor harmony guidelines for individual soldiers. General Lamb also told us that increasing the size of the Army would allow the Army to deliver proper career management and better education for its soldiers.[60] The work to refine the Army's structure was underway under the aegis of the Chief of the General Staff. It drew very heavily on the experience of Iraq and Afghanistan and the changing nature of the campaign in Afghanistan.[61] We were told at the time that this work would not necessarily prevent the practice of using soldiers from other units to backfill units going on operations but could reduce the need for the practice and the number of personnel having to go on operations with units other than their own.[62]

    54. The Secretary of State told us in April that, before increasing the formal size of the Army, the first task was to recruit to the Army's authorised strength which would provide an additional 3,500 soldiers over what it currently had at its disposal—a substantial number. The second priority was to make sure that the operational pinch point trades were recruited up to strength. When recruitment was up to strength, then was the time, in his view, for a debate, if necessary, about whether the Army was the right size.[63]

    55. We asked the new Secretary of State six months later how the work on the future size and structure of the Army was developing. He told us that this work and a value for money study looking at which officer posts were needed would await the Strategic Defence Review. These decisions could not be taken until decisions had been reached as to the nature of the threat faced by the nation and how the Armed Forces should be structured to face them:[64]

      We will flag up the big decisions in the Green Paper so that they can properly be taken in the Strategic Defence Review. That is not to say there are not other strands of work going on in the Department. There is a value for money study going on that looks at whether or not all of these posts and other things are needed. We should not be looking to change the shape of our Armed Forces. I think we would wind up with a great kickback if we tried to change the shape of the Armed Forces without the serious work that is needed through the Green Paper process and through the Strategic Defence Review. So we will try and tee up these issues in big handfuls and make sure that they are dealt with within the Green Paper. [65]

    56. We understand that the MoD wishes to analyse the issues concerning the size of the Army thoroughly and in depthand to await the Strategic Defence Reviewbefore making decisions about the configuration of the Army. However, given the high tempo of operations over the last eight years, it is not surprising that some senior Army officers think that there needs to be a bigger Army. This could limit the extent to which harmony guidelines are broken and permit the deployment of more complete units on current operations. It would also ensure that the Army was able to meet its future tasks and commitments.

    57. The MoD is now delaying much of the work promised to us in its earlier evidence sessions until after the Strategic Defence Review. We accept that many areas such as decisions concerning the future size and structure of the Armed Forces will now await the Strategic Defence Review. However, we see no reason why the MoD cannot provide us with the current Defence Strategic Guidance and related material on national security. The MoD should provide us with the results of its current work on the future size and structure of the Armed Forces.

    58. In October 2009, the MoD published the Review of Acquisition for the Secretary of State for Defence, an independent report by Bernard Gray. In his initial response to the Report, the Secretary of State said that he intended to published a wider, more detailed Strategy for Acquisition Reform in the New Year, to contribute to the related work on the Strategic Defence Review:[66]

      I think we will need to talk about acquisition in the Green Paper but we plan a separate document that will go into more detail about our response to Bernard Gray and the measures that are now necessary.[67]

      It [the Green Paper] obviously will not go into the detail of the other document but it will feed off the work and try to inform the Strategic Defence Review. You have all of the maintenance of national assets and the sovereignty issues that we need to think about as part of our ongoing security for defence capability.[68]

    59. We are also conducting an inquiry into the Comprehensive Approach. We asked the Secretary of State if the Comprehensive Approach would be adequately covered in the Green Paper:

      It is not completed yet and final decisions have not been taken, but I hope that there will be a chapter in there on lessons learned from recent operations and, of course, the importance of the Comprehensive Approach. The progress and difficulties that we have had with progressing that is an important part of that.[69]

    60. Given the public statements from the leaders of the main political parties about the need to reduce public spending both quickly and significantly after the coming election, and the time any Strategic Defence Review would inevitably take, there must be a chance that some financial decisions will be taken before the Strategic Defence Review has run its course.

    61. It is vital that the Strategic Defence Review is set in the context of a coherent UK Strategy, reflecting long-term strategic interests, encompassing UK foreign policy and the National Security Strategy. The Review needs to take full account of the MoD's relationships with other relevant Government Departments such as the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Department for International Development and the Home Office.

    62. The Strategic Defence Review needs to cover the use of the Comprehensive Approach including the need for an augmented capability to promote stabilisation and post-conflict reconstruction. In this area, it will have to encompass the role of the Stabilisation Unit and relationships with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department for International Development.

    63. The next Government will have to accept the financial realities of the day, but we must warn against the risk that an early stringency budget might prejudge the outcome of the Strategic Defence Review. If the Review concluded that the country faced a particular significant threat, the Government would look foolish if only a few months earlier it had rendered itself less capable of dealing with it. It is easy to lose sight of the fact that one of the core businesses of Government is the defence of the country and of national interests, and that is every bit as true during difficult financial times as during more settled ones. The thinking of easier times (when public spending on health, education and social security was increased by much more than that on defence) must not be allowed to continue into these troubled times. The defence of our country must be maintained whatever the circumstances.

    45   HC Deb, 7 July 2009, col 39WS  Back

    46 Back

    47   Qq 429-432 Back

    48   The Defence Planning Assumptions were first drawn up for the Defence Strategic Review in 1998, have been subsequently amended, but have remained basically unchanged. The Assumptions were restated by the Secretary of State for Defence in a Written Ministerial Statement on 11 February 2009 (HC Deb, 11 February 2009, col 59WS) Back

    49   HC Deb, 11 February 2009, col 59WS Back

    50   Q 150 Back

    51   Q 74 Back

    52   Qq 89-93 Back

    53   Q 274 Back

    54   Q 286 Back

    55   Q 407  Back

    56   Q 412 Back

    57   Qq 301-304, 357-365 Back

    58   Q 357 Back

    59   Q 439 Back

    60   Qq 80-82, 347 Back

    61   Q 345 Back

    62   Q 347 Back

    63   Qq 341-343 Back

    64   Qq 438, 448 Back

    65   Q 448 Back

    66   HC Deb, 15 October 2009, col 34WS Back

    67   Q 451 Back

    68   Q 453 Back

    69   Q 457 Back

    previous page contents next page

    House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

    © Parliamentary copyright 2010
    Prepared 10 February 2010