Flexible Response? An SDSR checklist of potential threats and vulnerabilities - Defence Contents

Appendix: Government response

The Government notes the House of Commons Defence Committee's inquiry, 'Flexible Response? An SDSR checklist of potential threats' and the findings set out in the Committee's report published on 21 November. The UK's National Security Strategy (NSS) and Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR), published on 23 November, addressed the majority of the points raised by the Committee.

The Government shares the Committee's view that to meet the range and scale of threats we face; we must deliver flexibility within both the Armed Forces and the decision-making machinery of Government. The NSS and SDSR lay out in detail our ambition and how this will be achieved and should be considered alongside the specific responses to the Committee's checklist of potential threat areas below.

Cyber attack and espionage

1.  It is clear that potential cyber-attacks pose a serious threat to UK security. They could be mounted by a wide range of state and non-state actors. Therefore, we expect cyber resilience—alongside offensive and defensive capabilities—to be a key feature of the SDSR. (Paragraph 11)

The Government agrees that potential cyber attacks pose a serious threat to UK security. As the Committee will have noted, cyber features heavily throughout the National Security Strategy (NSS) and Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR). We have again judged cyber as a Tier One risk over the next five years. We also recognise that a range of cyber related threats are increasingly likely to materialise and have a greater impact over the long term. The Government will invest £1.9 billion over the next five years in protecting the UK from cyber attack and developing our sovereign capabilities in cyberspace. We will improve our national ability to respond quickly and effectively to cyber incidents through the development of the new National Cyber Centre. The Centre will provide a platform for a number of cyber capabilities, including greater sharing of threat information, improved advice to industry, and a stronger incident response capability.

Responding to the cyber threat is a cross-government responsibility. The Cabinet Office is responsible for coordinating cyber security across Government and the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster has over-arching responsibility for cyber. For the Armed Forces, we will ensure they: have strong cyber defences; are able to project power in cyberspace; are ready to assist in the event of a significant cyber incident; and can respond to a cyber attack as they would respond to any other attack - using whichever capability is most appropriate.

Growing instability in the Middle East and North Africa

2.  The SDSR will have to address the threats arising from the growing instability in the Middle East and North Africa. In particular, it will need to demonstrate that the UK will have the capability to recognise both the existing and emerging threats from these areas, and the capacity to formulate a coherent strategy to counter them both at home and abroad. (Paragraph 17)

We share the HCDC's view that instability in the Middle East and North Africa continues to spread and that this poses a number of very significant threats to the UK and our interests. Whilst these are issues that demand coordinated action across Whitehall, the focus on 'Defence Engagement' and 'International by Design' in SDSR 2015 recognises the need to better understand these threats and to preserve or build stability where we can; and the importance of more closely synchronising these endeavours with our international allies. This is the approach being set out in our Defence strategies for the Middle East and for North Africa. In practice this means a larger, better prepared and better equipped network of Defence personnel (Attachés, Liaison, Loan Service and Exchange) working permanently in the region to enhance our understanding of the threats, influence our regional partners, identify and then coordinate our response. This is supported by a broader (including non-traditional regional partners and non-state actors) and deeper (more complex and longer term programmes) offer of capacity building assistance, helping to build capable, interoperable and well-led security forces in the region by leveraging the UK's well-respected military know-how and our high-end defence capabilities.

As outlined in the SDSR, we have committed to setting our vision for the Gulf region in the Gulf Strategy. Recognising both the opportunities and challenges as well as growing our historic relationships, we will build a more substantial UK military presence in the Gulf.

Increases in extremism, radicalisation and other enablers of terrorist activity

3.  Increases in extremism and radicalisation are allowing terrorist groups to expand both their capabilities and the geographical areas where they can operate. This clearly represents a major threat to the UK and its interests. The SDSR must determine how the UK is to respond, particularly in terms of countering any further evolution of the threat posed by international terrorism and its underlying doctrine. We expect clear roles to be assigned to the Armed Forces in response to this threat, and to see evidence of appropriate adaptation of their capabilities and organisation as distinct from those of the civilian police, anti-terrorist police and the security services. (Paragraph 23)

The Government agrees with the Committee's assessment of the challenges posed by terrorism; the plethora of radicalising factors and how technology, weapons and ideas enable and exacerbate the threat. In order to deal with the complexity of threat we have doubled the investment in Special Forces equipment and capability in order to better understand, gather intelligence, operate and strike at greater reach and speed in the most hostile spaces which terrorist organisations occupy. The Army will reconfigure a number of infantry battalions to provide an increased contribution to Counter-Terrorism (CT) capacity building, and the MOD is looking to increase its CT-focussed staff to ensure that we can better understand and support partner nations in their CT efforts.

In addition, the Armed Forces will take on a stronger domestic role. We have contingency plans to deploy up to 10,000 military personnel to work with the civilian police and security services in order to strengthen resilience in response to any attack.

Non-state actors and hybrid warfare undermining the international rules-based order

4.  In the face of unorthodox and irregular forces operating deniably and in defiance of normal international relations, the SDSR must signal an intention to develop doctrines for unconventional responses, including the use of counter-propaganda to expose the hidden links of covert aggression. (Paragraph 36)

The Government agrees with the Committee's judgement on the challenges posed by hybrid warfare and non-state actors. Whilst these threats are not new and can be overcome, they pose significant challenges that require a well-coordinated response. Work to ensure our national response to these complex threats continues to evolve. We are working with Allies and partners as well as NATO and the EU to ensure the wider international community develop robust strategies to address these threats.

These threats need to be tackled in a holistic way, from deterrence through detection and understanding to response. As set out in the SDSR, we will use the full spectrum of our national power, through a whole-of-government approach, to deliver the most appropriate response. Our responses will not necessarily be symmetric in nature; development and application of the whole-of-government approach will ensure that we can deter and, if required, respond to unconventional threats. Enhancements to our intelligence capabilities coupled with improvements to our resilience will ensure we are best placed to identify hybrid threats, and appropriately respond.

Potential for conflict in the South and East China Seas

5.  We support the UK Government's position that territorial disputes in the South and East China Seas should be settled according to international rules. However, the UK may not be able to rely upon this in the future. We will therefore measure the provision of maritime capabilities in the SDSR against the potential to deploy to a number of areas, including the Pacific. (Paragraph 41)

The MOD acknowledges the Committee's support of the Government's position on territorial disputes in the South and East China Seas. As set out in the SDSR, we will work with countries in the region and traditional allies and friends, such as Japan with whom we have recently held joint Defence and Foreign Ministerial talks where we discussed security in the South and East China Seas, and to strengthen cooperation on settling international and regional disputes peacefully in accordance with the UN Charter and international law. We may not always agree with countries in the region but we believe that direct engagement will enable us to improve understanding, address areas of difference, and help to build stability, whilst protecting the UK's fundamental interests and values. The SDSR sets out the investment that we are making in our Royal Navy fleet and more widely our vision for Joint Force 2025. We remain committed to deploying maritime assets to the region as the opportunity arises, and we have the agility to re-task assets to the region as required. As stated in SDSR, we will increase our maritime contribution to the Five Power Defence Arrangements by including our new aircraft carriers and establish British Defence Staff in the Asia Pacific.

Potential for Russian aggression in Europe and the High North and possible dilution of the commitment to Article 5

6.  The resurgence of an expansionist Russia represents a significant change in the threat picture since 2010 and has implications not only for the UK but also for our allies as well. It is therefore essential that the SDSR sets out a policy to help counter this partial reversion to Cold War politics. In particular, NATO's conventional deterrence of Russia must be credible. This is a vital obligation which we will keep under continual review. (Paragraph 58)

The SDSR describes how we will champion a renewed focus on deterrence within NATO to address current and future threats, and to ensure that our potential adversaries are in no doubt about the range of responses they should expect to any aggressive action on their part. As the Committee has highlighted, Russia poses a challenge which the UK and its Allies need to counter, alongside other threats faced by the Alliance. We continue to make a significant contribution to NATO Assurance Measures and exercises, designed to provide reassurance to NATO Allies and deterrence to the Alliance's adversaries. In addition, NATO's Readiness Action Plan - a key element of the Wales Summit - has worked to deliver highly capable rapid reaction forces. We are firmly on track to deliver the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF) as the Framework Nation for 2017, as well as providing a significant contribution to the Spanish led VJTF 16. We recognise that more work is required and we are pushing to ensure agreement of a robust NATO posture on 21st century deterrence by the Warsaw Summit.

On Article 5, the Committee is right to highlight the challenges presented by Russia's use of sub-conventional tactics and deniable actions. However, as explained in our response to point 8 (Inability to react to sub-conventional threats), we remain committed to Article 5 and we are working with NATO to better understand the modern threat environment and to improve and exercise political decision making alongside on-going improvements to NATO's responsiveness. NATO is undertaking a number of exercises that will specifically address the issue of decision making to identify improvements both at the NATO level and national levels.

Economic dependence on unreliable partners

7.  Whilst foreign investment in capital projects has a positive impact on the UK economy, such investments may open up vulnerabilities in our infrastructure. The resilience of our critical national infrastructure is vital for UK defence and security and we expect the SDSR robustly to address this potential danger. (Paragraph 61)

Protecting and promoting the UK's prosperity is one of the three National Security Objectives of the SDSR. This includes expanding economic links with emerging markets and promoting an open, rules based international trading environment for sustainable global prosperity. The SDSR also sets out the Government's commitments to protecting Critical National Infrastructure from cyber-attack, supply chain disruption and physical security threats.

We have a proper system in the UK for examining whether investments into our country are in the national interest and mitigating risks. Safety in our nuclear power plants is of paramount importance. Any operator of a UK nuclear plant must do so in accordance with the UK's stringent safety and security regulations and legal and regulatory framework enforced by the independent regulator. These provide a range of controls in terms of safe and secure operation, consumer protection, security of UK supply and enforcement of wider contractual obligations.

Inability to react to sub-conventional threats

8.  Adequate defence capabilities and Armed Forces are of little use without adequate decision-making and political will. We therefore expect the SDSR to address both the UK Government's and also NATO's inability to react effectively to sub-conventional threats. (Paragraph 63)

We believe that our decision making framework is fundamentally sound. It is, however, essential that we continue to regularly exercise and test it against the most demanding scenarios.

Activity deliberately targeted by an adversary to be beneath the threshold for NATO response will always be difficult to respond to, but the threat has been identified and work is underway to improve and exercise political decision making alongside on-going improvements to NATO's responsiveness. NATO is undertaking a number of exercises which will specifically address the issue of decision making, in order to identify improvements both at NATO and national level which underpins the process of reaching consensus within the Alliance.

As set out in the SDSR, we stand ready to utilise a full spectrum approach to counter threats to our security. Whilst the Armed Forces remain important they are one part of the spectrum of levers available to us. Although investing in our Armed Forces remains a priority, improving our indicators and warnings, reducing vulnerabilities and building resilience, and helping our partners build their own capabilities and resilience, are also important parts of our approach.

Inadequate training opportunities for UK Armed Forces

9.  Comprehensive training is vital to the provision of a military which can react to a wide range of threats. The SDSR should emphasise how training for the Armed Forces will be adapted, developed and sustained in the face of the much broader and unpredictable challenges which may confront us. Without an adequate range and quantity of single-service, joint and multinational training, UK Armed Forces may be vulnerable to a rapidly changing threat environment. The MOD will also have to set out its training programme for UK Forces' participation in NATO's Readiness Action Plan and High Readiness Response Force. (Paragraph 67)

Armed Forces training is tailored to the operations we are likely to face and we adapt this training as our operational requirements change. Defence Training is designed in accordance with the Defence Systems Approach to Training (DSAT). This is a responsive system which addresses both new and changing requirements through a process of analysis of the training need, design, delivery and feedback from the frontline. We use this approach for both Individual Training and Collective Training to ensure that our training is responsive to changes in doctrine, technology and new equipment. Where there are changes to the knowledge or strategic environments (e.g. lessons from operations) the instructions and associated lesson plans can be changed extremely quickly (within days). When new kit or a complete new training package is required this can take longer, although we accelerate the process for Urgent Operational Requirements.

Operational level HQ staff are trained in a flexible, dynamic environment that considers the varying nature of conflict. A single exercise will endeavour to expose staff to a range of possible military tasks and test procedures accordingly. While a commander may find him/herself in a scenario set in the Middle East, for example, the challenges s/he faces will be broad and have relevance to other possible contingent operations that UK forces may have to conduct. The UK maintains a range of forces at readiness to support operational commanders. At the operational level, the capabilities these forces provide are tested through exercising and analysis, and thereafter, where necessary, adapted through capability development activity.

Examples of our commitment to a broad range of training opportunities include our plans to strengthen interoperability with the US and France so that our Armed Forces are better able to work together when required through regularly planning and training together (SDSR 2015, para 5.32, 5.35). In April 2016, for example, the UK is hosting a joint exercise with France, Exercise GRIFFIN STRIKE, where the UK will provide the Final Validation of Concept (FVOC) of the Combined Joint Expeditionary Force (CJEF), using a single bilateral command structure and up to 10,000 personnel. We have also joined the German-US Trans-Atlantic Capability Enhancement and Training initiative in the Baltic states and Poland, sharing our military expertise and coordinating deployments to develop a more persistent presence (SDSR 2015, para 5.27). Lessons from such international training can then be used to update our own training through the Systems Approach.

To meet the needs of the National Security Community in facing the much broader and unpredictable challenges, a virtual National Security Academy is being established, (SDSR 2015, para 7.19). This will enable knowledge, best practice and doctrine to be shared across the National Security Community and again, MOD training can be updated through the Systems Approach.

Our training also has to keep pace with wider changes in society and as such our training designed through the Defence Systems Approach is accredited to national standards. Thus the MOD and the Armed Forces are the largest providers of apprenticeships in the country (SDSR 2015, para 6.65). 95% of all basic recruits within the single Services are placed on an apprenticeship scheme.

Lack of numbers in UK Armed Forces and gaps in capabilities

10.  Unforeseen crises and conflicts are likely to test the adaptability and capability of UK Armed Forces in the future, as in the past. We are particularly concerned that poor recruitment and retention of Service personnel will prove an early and dangerous vulnerability to our defence and security, particularly in the context of a growing economy and public-sector pay restraint. We judge this as a high level priority to be addressed in the SDSR and expect to see a distinct plan for the successful provision and sustainment of suitable manpower. (Paragraph 74)

Despite a challenging recruiting environment, the three Services are forecast to be in manning balance by 2020. An upturn in recruitment levels and a reduction in outflow will be key to achieving this. The Services continue to maintain operational output, closely monitoring the impact on our personnel of gapped posts, churn and a sustained high operational tempo, particularly for niche cadres.

The single Services have initiated a number of programmes and reviews to introduce structural changes to address current manning issues and improve resilience. As a largely base-rank fed organisation, it takes time to develop and train junior personnel to fill more senior positions and address critical shortfalls. Therefore, until these programmes introduce sustainable improvements, the Services draw on a number of levers, such as extensions of service and financial incentives. Improvements in Candidate Relationship Management aimed at enhancing candidate commitment, the introduction of the Army Recruiting Partnership Project Information and Communications Technology solution in 2016, specialist recruiting teams and renewed advertising are anticipated to deliver improvements in Regular and Reserve recruiting levels across the Services.

Levels of outflow, including voluntary outflow, are closely monitored by the Services and the Defence Board, as are pinch points and intake levels and action is taken by the Services to respond to these. We are identifying early indicators of future recruitment and voluntary outflow trends in order to identify better where to focus resource in the future. We have introduced new engagement structures and flexible working. Continuing policy changes are also seeking to modernise the employment offer and match it better to the expectations and needs of our personnel and their families. We have funded a team and a package of measures to address engineering shortfalls across Defence, and are also working closely with industry and across Government to address shortfalls in engineering and technical trades.

SDSR 2015 (paras 4.51 to 4.57) sets out our approach to the recruitment and retention challenges faced by the Armed Forces.

11.  We are also concerned that certain critical capability gaps—military and political vulnerabilities—are addressed, amongst which the provision of maritime patrol and the ability to (re-)generate mass (including the necessary industrial capacity) for different strategic circumstances are paramount. (Paragraph 75)

SDSR 15 has ensured our Armed Forces can respond to an ever challenging and more uncertain future. Our level of equipment investment (£178Bn over the next 10 years) allows us to fill capability gaps as well as invest in new capabilities. C4ISR (Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance), SF and Cyber related capabilities received particular attention in the SDSR, and we formalised the commitment to aircraft carrier capability 100 per cent of the time. We will procure the afloat support shipping for the whole of the maritime enterprise; we will accelerate the purchase of F35Bs into the early 2020s; and we will buy nine P8 Maritime Patrol aircraft. Taken together with the commitment to the Type 26 Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) frigate, this represents significant uplift in Maritime Power Projection. There has been a further investment in hard power, for example: the commitment to Nuclear Deterrence through CASD; the commitment to 138 F35s in the lifetime of the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) programme; and a refocusing of the Army on the Divisional level of command and manoeuvre. Our ambition to set the deployable Joint Force 2025 at around 50,000 Servicemen and women responds to the requirement to be able to prepare, deploy and sustain increased military mass. This represents a significant increase in the level of ambition for Defence and sends a clear message of UK intent.

The development and delivery of the capabilities which will underpin this force will only be achieved by working closely with industry, both UK and international partners to promote prosperity. We will continue to take appropriate steps to maintain our freedom of action and operational advantage where necessary, investing in critical areas.

12.  We also expect the SDSR to chart a course to address the growing threat of long-range and anti-access fires, both in terms of protection of UK territories and deployed forces.

The threats faced by the UK and our Overseas Territories, as well as our deployed forces and military bases, continue to evolve. Anti Access Area Denial (A2AD) capabilities are increasingly prevalent. We will maintain our commitment to the NATO Ballistic Missile Defence network and support research and development initiatives and multinational engagement through the UK's Missile Defence Centre. Joint Force 2025 places significant emphasis on countering both traditional and non-traditional long range and anti-access threats. For example, the SDSR committed to deliver a new Ballistic Missile Defence (BMD) radar capability which will enhance the coverage and effectiveness of the NATO BMD system, and we will also investigate further the potential of the Type 45 Destroyers to operate in a BMD role. We will invest £1.9Bn over the next 5 years to counter cyber attack and will also extend our capabilities in Space. Collaboration with our allies and partners, both bilaterally and through NATO, is critical to maximise our collective capabilities in this area.

Lack of expertise in Whitehall

13.  The lack of expertise available in Whitehall presents a significant challenge to the UK Government's ability to assess threats once they arise. As it will always be difficult, if not impossible, to anticipate such threats, then Government must ensure that there is a high degree of flexibility both within the UK Armed Forces and the decision-making machinery of Government. Without such flexibility, we shall lack the ability to counter any number of threats, including those which cannot be foreseen. This need for flexibility exposes the "tiered" approach of the National Security Strategy as an inadequate basis on which to erect a Strategic Defence and Security Review. (Paragraph 86)

The level of expertise in Whitehall to understand risks and predict events is considerable and not fairly represented in the findings of this inquiry. Threat-related activity is led by experts in the Cabinet Office who have access to the considerable expertise available from across the UK intelligence community. For Defence's part this is the collection and analysis capabilities of Defence Intelligence, the analytical element of which is a major contributor to Joint Intelligence Committee papers. This analytical capability is both highly flexible and responsive; it can, and does, draw on a wider pool of expertise outside government, including international intelligence partners and academic experts, when necessary.

The Defence Academy will continue to train many Defence personnel and senior leaders and contribute to the new virtual National Security Academy. This will share skills and expertise across HMG. Further details can be found in para 6.63-6.67 in SDSR 2015.

We agree with the Committee's conclusion that flexibility within both the Armed Forces and decision-making machinery of government is essential to adapt to the range and scale of crises and threats we face. As the SDSR concludes, the world is a darker, more dangerous and more unpredictable place than even five years ago. In response we are increasing our ambition to deliver a flexible range of capabilities.

The Government is confident in the National Security Risk Assessment (NSRA). The Government has taken a similar approach to the Committee by producing a list of risks but are cognisant that these can, and will, evolve and change over time. We will in turn be flexible in our response. The NSRA tiering is intended to group risks by magnitude, in order to inform prioritisation in our national security objectives and resources. Tier One comprises the highest priority risks in terms of likelihood and impact.

Risk Assessment is a credible tool used widely by other Government departments, our Allies, and the private sector. The NSRA does not attempt to predict, but indicates relative magnitude of risks, sets out the context and helps decision makers to sensibly judge threat tolerance, resource allocation and in which directions we might need to be adaptable.

The SDSR was not only driven by the tiered Risk Assessment to which the Committee refers. The NSRA was an important input to a comprehensive assessment, which informed our priorities. The NSRA was also complemented by work including papers by the Joint Intelligence Organisation, assessments of the strategic context by individual security departments and the Strategic Trends Programme conducted by the Development, Concepts and Doctrine Centre.


14.  In the weeks and months ahead, we intend to evaluate the SDSR by reference to the 11 potential threats and vulnerabilities identified in this Report. The SDSR must demonstrate adequate awareness of them all, and configure the Armed Forces to provide the flexibility, versatility and ability to expand which are essential for the defence and security of the United Kingdom. (Paragraph 87)

The NSS and SDSR, published on 23 November 2015, provide a robust and comprehensive response to the issues raised by the Committee. SDSR 15 outlines our heightened ambition for our Armed Forces, particularly through Joint Force 2025 (JF25). JF25 will build on Future Force 2020 set out in SDSR 10 and be equipped with a range of new and enhanced capabilities that will be capable of taking on a broader range of missions against demanding scenarios: a more capable force to meet the challenges of today and ready for those of tomorrow. We will deliver JF25 through a combination of greater investment, further improving productivity and efficiency, strengthening the international dimension of our policies and plans, and pursuing a more innovative approach to responding to the threats and risks we face.

28 January 2016

previous page contents

© Parliamentary copyright 2016
Prepared 11 February 2016