You are here

Title

Annual RUSI Chief of the Defence Staff Lecture

09 December 2004, 0:00

Click here for the lecture

 

General Sir Michael Walker

It really doesn’t seem twelve months since I was standing here before you all, speaking about the challenges of changing times. RUSI is, in many ways, a fine example of an organisation that identifies the need to change to remain effective, does so, and then prospers. There can be little doubt that in today’s environment, where defence and security issues loom so large, organisations such as this are as relevant now as they have ever been and have a vital part to play in informing decision makers. So it is a great pleasure to return to the Royal United Services Institute and to have the opportunity to address you this evening

This has been another extremely busy year for the UK’s armed forces. Continuing operational commitments are responsible for that. Iraq and Afghanistan dominate the news, but there is much else that we do, much of it unheralded, and it is all too easy to forget that we have forces deployed across the world.

Over the last year alone, over a third of our servicemen and women have been deployed on operations around the world, helping to manage the consequences, or prevent the intensification, of conflict. They are helping to rebuild countries and they are helping to stitch peoples' lives back together. Not only are they doing it in Iraq and Afghanistan, but also in the Balkans, Sierra Leone, The Falkland Islands and Northern Ireland. We still have forces with the UN in Cyprus and based in Gibraltar and Brunei and our aircraft and ships continue to patrol the skies and the high seas around the world. We have smaller detachments of servicemen and women in 74 different countries helping others to help themselves and we have 84 defence attaché sections around the world.

As we face the threats posed to our peace and prosperity in some of these far off places, we continue to rely on the bravery and dedication of our young men and women to protect the things we value; we continue to depend on them to help deliver security for the UK and her dependent territories, and act as a force for good in the world. They have my admiration and thanks, and that of all the Chiefs, for their unstinting dedication and commitment once again this year. I am fiercely proud of them for what they have done, and continue to do.

Whilst our forces have been so busy around the world this year, we have also seen some major shifts in our Defence policy. That we now live in a world where we need to deploy forces so widely to increase security at home, has led to these crucial changes. 2004 has seen the foundations laid for the way our forces will look in the decades ahead with the publication of the latest Government White Paper on Defence.

The need for change is, I believe, widely accepted. But it is the form that these changes will take which has led to controversy – some understandable, some less sensible.

The over-arching reason for the plans set out by the White Paper is military need. An audience like this one will not need a detailed explanation of the drivers behind this, but I’d like to recap briefly on the most basic points.

Much as military planners may lament the passing of the predictability that went with the Cold War, and the threat based calculus that accompanied it, we now have to deal with much less certainty in our planning. Then we knew where the enemy was, we could watch and judge him, and we could even count him. We could also talk to him, negotiate and deal.

Today we often do not even know who the enemy is, much less where. When he does emerge it’s often in inhospitable and remote parts of the world. We see him fleetingly. He emerges briefly, strikes and disappears, blending back into the homogenous mass that is the civilian population before striking and disappearing again. It is hard to envisage anything more starkly different from the symmetrical, land air and maritime battles of attrition that we used to plan for in the Cold War.

We need to be capable of meeting this threat, destroying it, denying it the ground to breed and flourish. To do that we need to be able to deploy faster, but speed is just one element. Once there we need to be able to grasp our fleeting opportunities to fight and win; that means flexible, sustainable and deployable forces.

The stark truth is that we simply have not developed enough of that capability, and we need to – fast. We call this process Transformation, and far from being the result of budgetary constraints or political doctrine, it is now the central pillar of British military thinking.

This doesn’t mean that we have not changed in generations and now we are suddenly rushing to catch up with developments. On the contrary, we have changed constantly to meet new technological, political and military threats. The Armed Forces themselves are unafraid of change – indeed, they have faced changes so dramatic over the last decade or so - changes of a magnitude that would have brought many a commercial business to its knees. But the scale and pace of change now required as we move into the information age is of a new order.

Transformation is about what is new and what we can do differently: it is a marriage of technology and ideas. Not for the sake of it, but through need. In our changing environment it is the catalyst for fundamental adjustments to all aspects of defence including doctrine, equipment, infrastructure, organisation, personnel and training.

Recent events have left us in no doubt that the strategic environment has changed, and will continue to change. The rise of global, strategic-impact terrorism, mass migration and increasing intrastate conflict are all forcing us to take a new approach to our professional work.

If we acknowledge that the main threat to UK security is that the strategic environment may change faster than the UK can acquire and apply resources to meet these new threats, then Transformation must be geared to address this problem.

Technology is a part of this of course. The better linking together of our systems, our people and, indeed, our allies, will all increase the speed of decision-making and effectiveness.

For all that is new, however, some fundamentals remain. This year we have remembered the monumental courage of the men who fought in Normandy sixty years ago on all our behalves. It is worth remembering also that that huge operation depended on the effectives of forces working together, sharing intelligence and equipment. The same is true today in Iraq, yet the equipment and technology has moved on to a level that would have seemed scarcely believable to those who fought on D-Day.

Another anniversary is upon us. Sixty years ago this month the German army launched a lightning offensive in the Ardennes, catching everybody by surprise. One of the factors in the defeat of that operation was the ability of allied units to communicate, albeit often makeshift, and sometimes involving no more than one man and a Jeep!

Today the application of technology works in the same way. It complements the courage and skills of the forces that use it.

As I said earlier, part of this transformation is the flexibility of thinking, which we engender at all levels of command. Allow me to give you an example of the reality at work during OP TELIC. On one occasion when 42 Commando came under fire from a battery of Type 59-1 130 mm towed guns, the firing point was located by the Weapon Locating Radar ARTHUR. This information was passed to a RN Sea King Mark 7 Airborne Early Warning helicopter equipped with Search water radar, which was able to track the gun battery’s hasty withdrawal from their firing position. This information was then passed to an Army Phoenix Ground Control Station, which re-tasked an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV). This intercepted the gun battery and tracked them to a fall back position near Al Basrah. Using the target data gathered by the UAV, coalition aircraft were able to attack the gun battery, whose destruction was confirmed afterwards by the UAV. This linking together of disparate sensors and shooters has not been possible in the past and represents a step change in capability.

Similarly, the Nimrod MR2, rightly named after the ‘Mighty Hunter,’ which for years operated as an anti-submarine platform, today is engaged as an incredibly valuable ISTAR platform in places as distant as the Caribbean, the Arabian Gulf and miles from the sea in the skies above Iraq and Afghanistan.

Such capabilities are not just about the technology involved, but also rely on the professionalism of crews and the years of training behind them that enable such innovation and initiative to flourish. The skills handed down from one generation to another are a rich part of our heritage. Likewise, adaptability is a trait ingrained in the British military character, and one that we must preserve if we are continue to thrive in this new age.

We often refer to technology-based systems as force multipliers, and for very good reason. Used intelligently, these systems deliver effects that enable far fewer numbers to achieve far greater effects, lowering the risk to our troops on the ground.

That is why I have difficulty with those who with one breath agree with this analysis, and then with the next decry it for being a secret plan to “replace boots on the ground”. It is not the stark choice so often presented, but a matter of balance, enhancing the effects of one through the use of the other. We need both. Getting that balance right has been central to our considerations in setting the changes we announced in the White Paper in July.

In a nutshell it said this: we need to look at how effective we are against the new threats we face. Can we get there fast enough, can we work alongside our allies when we do, can we exploit technology to harness intelligence and strike capabilities? The conclusion was often that, whilst we were going in the right direction, we needed to move faster.

Part of that is about investment of course. Billions of pounds will be spent on new aircraft carriers, strike aircraft, weapons systems, and ships and so on. Of course, we have a duty to our soldiers, sailors and air force personnel to get the biggest bang for our buck, and that not only means efficiency, it also means looking hard and honestly at some old systems which are no longer effective.

The forward programme for the RN, with 2 new aircraft carriers and their associated aircraft, the new Type 45 Destroyer, the new Astute Class Submarines and 3 major Amphibious ships is the most exciting for a generation.

And let me tell you a little about this aircraft the Typhoon described in the press as a cold war relic. With this platform the RAF will take delivery of a true multi-role capable combat aircraft, which will be around for the next half century. It would be ridiculous to assume that nothing will change substantially over such a span of years. So we need to be able to adapt our platforms in response to major changes. I would add that having flown in the Typhoon last month, what a stunning and world-beating platform I consider it to be.

But the key here is to realise that capability is as much about sensors, information, weapons and the software that holds them together, as it is about the platform on which they are mounted. The platforms are important, of course, but they are part of a much larger equation. It is changes in the sensor/weapons/software mix that gives us our adaptability. In the case of the Typhoon we started out looking for an air superiority fighter with a secondary ground attack capability. Today we place greater emphasis on all-weather precision attack, while retaining the air superiority role. We are adapting Typhoon accordingly, and we will continue to adapt it throughout its life to keep it relevant.

I absolutely recognise that all this technology is useless if not wielded by sailors, soldiers and airmen with courage, dedication and skill. This has always been so.

Having top quality people on the ground in the necessary numbers to do the job will always be the number one priority. Embracing change and technology to help them do that job is not the same as replacing them, and I hope some commentators will come to recognise this.

Structures will also have to change, not least within the infantry with the ending of its movement in the merry-go-round that is known as the Arms Plot. For it not only adds turbulence to the lives of soldiers and their families as they move barracks, but also denies us access to a significant portion of infantry capability at any one time. The changes that Ministers will announce shortly will be designed to preserve the essential elements of the British army’s regimental fighting spirit, while adapting to the needs of 21st Century military operations.

I cannot pre-empt the announcement. But I will say this to those who will undoubtedly comment adversely on them. One of the great strengths of the British Infantry over the years has been its flexibility and adaptability. To be certain that they can fight and win battles in defence of their country, the infantry has recognised more clearly than many that they need to adapt and modernise. This does not mean that the fundamentally important regimental fighting spirit needs to be sacrificed. Serving soldiers understand that. I would urge those who do not have that obligation to try to do the same.

Moreover, I would encourage those who conjecture that these changes are all about money, to go and talk to these young serving soldiers and officers. They will pretty soon discover that the prospect of more capability with greater operational effectiveness, a better work/life balance and greater job satisfaction are what is driving our military enthusiasm for these changes.

The same rationale has underpinned the wider changes that have been announced in the recent Defence White Paper, Delivering Security in a Changing World is concerned. It has sought to shift the basis of our thinking on how defence is constructed from one essentially focusing on inputs, such as aeroplanes, ships and tanks, to a focus on outputs i.e. the effects they have. This shift is important because it seeks to maximise what we can do rather than what we have.

For example, in Operation Telic the Coalition forces deployed around 600 tanks to Iraq – in simple numerical terms they were significantly outnumbered and we did not possess the 3 to 1 superiority in numbers that military men have traditionally sought. But, through a combination of superior quality, both in terms of kit and personnel, and the ability to focus our resources far more effectively, we were able to re-define the ratios.

But we must also remember that the military is only one part of the solution. What has become increasingly clear over the years is that we as servicemen and women can achieve a great deal, but ultimately we trade in strategic 'first aid.' Treatment, convalescence and cure lie in the gift of politicians, civil servants, humanitarians, policemen, judges, businessmen and the People themselves. Our operations are increasingly conducted in a multifunctional environment and cannot be disconnected from it. Integration with the efforts of others is key.

And far greater emphasis is now placed on conflict prevention and management, for obvious reason. The Department for International Development, Foreign and Commonwealth Office and MOD have set up a shared conflict prevention pool budget as part of the 2002 Comprehensive Spending Review aimed at pooling their respective expertise to best effect.

As we develop these changes in our thinking and to our capabilities we must do more to communicate more widely the rationale and imperatives for them, particularly through the media. From the policy and strategy level to the tactical employment of our forces we need to be more open and accessible and the media reporting needs to be more balanced.

There can be no gain for anyone in putting British military servicemen and women at risk through speculative reports which impact on operational security. You well know I believed this to be the case during the recent deployment of the Black Watch in Iraq. It matters not whether the source is ill-informed journalism or loose talking servicemen and women, the results are clear to see.

The media plays a vital part in modern conflicts and more widely in miltary affairs. Much reporting on military matters is extremely informative, courageous and revealing. Live images and stories beamed from the war-zone help to cement or change public opinion around the world. Serious and well-informed reporting on defence matters are key to helping our nation understand modern military affairs. The solution must be a better and more constructive relationship between the military and the media and we need to make this a priority. I hope we can do so, for there is profit for all of us in this.

The measurement of success in military operations is just as important as in any business. Most obviously this measurement can be gauged as events take place in the theatre of operations. But analysis also has a role to play. Recent quantitative historical and scientific analysis identified the common elements in successful counter-insurgency operations. Among them was having good doctrine and tactics, areas in which we traditionally pride ourselves.

In this area, in which success is by no means assured, the analysis showed that the UK success rate was double that of the global average. This will not be a surprise to many in this audience. This is good news for it underpins the tenets of our training and operations. The challenge will be to continue this in the years ahead as we hone our doctrine, ethos and style making full use of our collective experience.

So while Transformation will certainly add fuel to the fire of military change, there are enduring principles that we believe will need to be maintained. With a review of the British Defence Doctrine due to be completed next year, we are likely to conclude that our war fighting ethos, flexibility and pragmatism, together with the principles of mission command and manoeuvrist approach will endure beyond 2020. Traditional military capabilities will also be examined to ensure that our opponents are even less able to seek out our asymmetric weakness: for example, we are already redressing the intelligence imbalance caused by last century’s shift away from human intelligence towards air and space-based systems.

And finally, people. We still firmly believe that people remain at the core of military operations and at the heart of our future, transformed forces. Effects Based Operations and Networked Enabled Capability must not become mechanistic; we must retain the spark of originality and unpredictability in order to preserve our ability to exercise the operational art and achieve tactical success.

I conclude by paying an unqualified tribute to our Servicemen and women, wherever they are serving throughout the world. Through their spirit, steadfast determination and courage, they have served the Nation well for generations, and continue to do so today. As we transform our armed forces to meet the challenges of the future, we will not loose sight of where our real capability comes from: our people.

Subscribe to our Newsletter

Support Rusi Research