Why the UK’s Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) announced more traditional military platforms for nuclear, air, land and sea
by Professor David Galbreath
The 2015 SDSR also went further in focusing on those capabilities and platforms that would engage a growing uncertainty in threats to national security along with those that we do know and were highlighted in the review.
The document makes clear that that there is a complex relationship between threats to UK and its allies that require a broader approach. This complexity includes the topics of above of migration, organised crime, cyber threats and terrorism. At the same time, this complexity is mapped onto traditional threats such as a belligerent Russian Federation and an international jihadists movement as seen in Islamic State. While the Government made a decision to spend more on the intelligence communities in order to reduce the degree of uncertainty in gauging threats to the UK, it has also announced more traditional military platforms for nuclear, air, land and sea.
- Nuclear: In the prior 2010 SDSR, there was a firm commitment to replacing the Trident nuclear submarines though the coalition government at the time, not to mention the state of economy, meant that there were some concerns about the degree to which the UK could afford to replace the four submarines and weapons system. The 2015 Review though committed the UK to replacing its nuclear strike capabilities in full.
- Air: The Government has committed to establish two further Typhoon squadrons to those that are already part of the RAF. Further, an additional squadron of F35 Lightning combat aircraft would be purchased as part of the UK’s new aircraft carriers. The Typhoons have been in action over Iraq and soon to be Syria while the F35s will be specifically aimed at protecting naval assets from any aircraft.
- Land: As well as a doubling in funding for Special Forces, the SDSR laid out the establishment of two new ‘Strike Brigades’ that will include 5000 ‘full equipped’, rapidly deployable and, if used, sustainable for a longer deployment. The Review also states that it seeks to bring UK expeditionary forces from 30,000 to 50,000 by 2025. The growth of expeditionary forces suggests that there is a transition in the way that the ‘regular’ British Army will be developed while the distinction between an elite fighting force in Special Forces and now ‘Strike Brigades’ will continue to divide the Army into two broad echelons. This process has been going on since the end of the Cold War but the distinction between the professional elite and the professional mass army, continues to grow.
- Sea: The Royal Navy has been shrinking in terms of the numbers of vessels and seaman since before the Falklands War. The Royal Navy had moved away from a NATO strategy of search and destroy (aimed at Soviet Submarines). However, as the SDSR makes clear, the Royal Navy is being again oriented towards this operational function. An example is the announced plan to purchase eight advanced Type 26 Global Combat Ships to replace the Type 23 Frigates in their anti-submarine role. As the SDSR states, ‘we will maintain one of the most capable anti-submarine fleets in the world’ (p.31).
While these platforms suggest certain types of operations in the future, it is also understood that a future combat mission will be deploying many of these platforms at once, given that cyber, kinetic, and information wars are increasingly seen combined. The UK government not only has to be able to defend against such combined warfare but also to be able to fight with it. The 2015 SDSR goes some way to making this happen.
Professor David Galbreath (https://www.paccsresearch.org.uk/professor-david-galbreath/) is the Partnership’s Conflict Theme Leadership Fellow (http://www/paccsresearch.org.uk/research/research-portfolio/conflict-theme-leadership-fellow/). He is a Professor of International Security at the University of Bath, focusing on the changing character of warfare through changes in science and technology. Professor Galbreath is also Director of the Centre for War and Technology and Editor-in-Chief of both European Security and Defence Studies.