The Strategic Defence and Security Review and the National Security Strategy - Defence Committee Contents

Written evidence from Derek M Long

With a background of being a past Board Member of the Communications Information Systems subset of the Defence Scientific Advisory Council (DSAC) (1996-2006), Visiting Senior Fellow Kings College London and a 30 year career in the Royal Navy I would offer the following comments for the Committee's consideration:

1.  DSAC CIS Board Members were given extensive briefs upon MoD equipment needs, the strategies and operational requirements which directed the investments. Throughout my time and over 10 major studies/working parties the individual MoD scientists and uniformed personnel had a good grasp of what was required but frequently the short and rotating time in post, coupled with a lack of knowledge of civil technical advances followed by an extraordinary procurement timescale, meant it was difficult to bring into service systems and equipment that was able to ride the technological second wave. Equally the systems and equipment once in place had an inordinately long service life. In the case of maritime platforms and transport air this was not a problem if module design allowed upgrades during the life—which in the case of a ship might be 50 years or more from raising the requirement to decommissioning the last of the class.

However in programmes such as Bowman or IT systems these timescales frequently mean that a system was delivered into service which was a decade or more behind the civil market.

2.  In the 1990s it was obvious that the US had moved into network centric operations across all military branches and the UK had fallen behind, making it difficult for comfortable interoperability and knowledge sharing. I suspect that the US has moved further ahead and the MoD has failed to close the gap very much at all. Budgets are of course greater in the US but the MoD management has been lax in implementing a tri-service systems engineering approach to integrated operations. Too many programmes remain single service focussed and not multi-task. One wonders if the move to greater sharing with France rather than the US is based more upon our failing joint equipment and technology standards than any political need. The last common bilateral military event was Suez—which was curtailed by the US.

3.  The NSS introduction makes some key points which are highly relevant and rightly widens National Security into non-military contents. Later on in 3.18 it comments on unpredictability which was exemplified by my own service career; the early part was spent in using tactics from WWII, a period of instability and support to civil authorities in Malaya, Borneo, Aden etc. before then moving into Cold War chess play. The Falklands and Iraq came out of the blue. On each occasion existing equipment had to be adapted and new tactical lessons had to be learned. These current NSS strategies will require MoD investment and change.

4.  The SDSR, unlike previous reviews, has been carried out extraordinarily quickly and can be likened to the application of surgeons standards at Trafalgar compared with a modern day neurosurgeon undertaking keyhole surgery.

5.  The MoD Grand Strategic task should be to "direct and provide coherence to overall national, alliance or coalition policy—military and non-military aspects". I would suggest that the SDSR as it currently stands is not compliant with that statement. For example by drastically reducing the maritime lift capability the MoD cannot support the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) by offering off-shore protection to UK citizens in a rapid timescale or protecting trade should the Suez Canal be closed, pirates or terrorism attacks on our North Sea Oil assets and the like. There are in theory, numerous circumstances where our national interest will not be taken up by another nation. There is a need for a mixed blue water fleet able to operate in a self sufficient mode at a distance from UK shores and indeed in other oceans. That investment can be made to last operationally 25-30 years, quite a cost effective investment. It may be that in a more "market driven" government, the MoD should fund the hardware and manpower but if used for the benefit of other departments then operational costs and depreciation should be borne by another ie FCO, International Development, Law & Order (antidrug in Caribbean in the same manner as GCHQ funded the special fit Nimrods and submarines.

6.  The MoD Strategic Level tasks which "determine the military strategic objectives and the desired state with allocation of resources etc" has also been sidelined in the SDSR. The present programme places the mainstream naval aviation into a form of "hibernation" until 2020. It seems to assume that this platform and that which it is built to operate are not for use unless there is a "State" war. As global politics currently stand that may be so but moveable offshore airpower has been used for multiple "peacekeeping" operations such as Bosnia, Kosovo and as "control or power projection" in West Africa and operationally in support of NATO in Afghanistan. The aircrew skill sets and blend of age/experience usually found in operational units will be lost so that the new 2020 squadrons will be filled with new pilots or some who have not flown Fixwing for 10 years. The USN is already flight testing the new F37, thus MoD should review the current operational requirement and consider jumping a generation and extend the life of the Harrier for five years.

7.  The MoD budget remains focussed on the short-term needs to complete operations in Afghanistan. After several years of underinvestment in the wrong equipment the Army is now receiving suitable vehicles—the Mastiff at around £1.3 million/unit. However the lack of suitable air transport means that the UK is dependent upon Soviet and US built heavy lift aircraft to deliver units to the NATO operation. If such vehicles are brought back to the UK and then needed for another overseas military operation which is non NATO then the MoD can only drive them overland or hire in commercial heavy lift. An example of procurement without a systems engineering approach of impact and supplementary support needs.

8.  One could quote many similar equipment examples without crossing over into the social and economic impacts of poor defence planning.

9.  The SDSR requires a thorough review and the current knee jerk budgetary reactions frozen until a comprehensive and cross departmental review driven by the Cabinet Office (rather than the Treasury) has taken place to set the MoD on course to meet the NSS and enable compliance with an ever changing complex world. There is room for some imaginative thinking with better use of civil technology, a return to lease lend with key allies and common anti-terrorist inter-state legislation.

10.  The Defence Committee is the one cross party body which can take a step back to consider these wider impacts.

February 2011

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Prepared 3 August 2011