'Each man takes the limits of his own field of vision for the limits of the world'
-- Arthur Schopenhauer, Essays and Aphorisms

'Artists are tricky fellows sir, forever shaping the world according to some design of their own'
-- Jonathan Strange, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

Thursday, 6 March 2014

Unknown Unknowns Muddy Soldier Sorcery of Army 2020 and Defence Committee’s Critique

When trying to get a point across, it helps if you can point at something.

Published today in two volumes, the Commons Defence Committee's critique of Army 2020, 2012 (and Army 2020, Update 2013) in I and II volumes crystallises distinct problems for the Army going forward: uncertain threats (nothing to point to); absence of consultation (creating problems which would have been avoided); difficulty of recruitment the cost of deploying reservists; and, force reduction dictated by economic concerns impacting national security.

Unknown threats are highlighted in Army 2020 stressing an ‘increasingly uncertain future' and the requirement of ‘competing decisively with the full spectrum of competing of potential adversaries’ (meanwhile, the reservists should be integrated into the army within ‘clearly defined roles’). This is horizon scanning. And Horizon scanning isn't sexy, and to prevent being "wrong", it leads to the amorphous indistinct identification which proliferates Army 2020.

The Army should be excoriated for the insertion of these phrases in the Army 2020 documentation:

“conflict is constant and inevitable”

“We don’t choose wars, they pick us.”

No wonder then that the Defence Committee noted that “First, the MoD has failed to communicate the rationale and strategy behind the plan to the Army, the wider Armed Forces, Parliament or the public.”

If you can't point to a Fulda Gap, or a Karbala Gap, then creating a coherent identity is problematic. Without a known threat, however, the identity can still be developed which increases recruitment and develops the Army career path. Increasing civil affairs aspects of the military (as in QDR 2010), will allow Army chiefs to develop scholarly aspects of war fighting capabilities, making the profession more attractive to academic high achievers. As a corollary, this academic symbiosis makes the Ministry of Defence identifiable in the public realm. Rather than sponsoring research through DSTL and Global Uncertainties, a fledgling National Defence Academy can be created, along similar lines to West Point, which has garnered much praise for the creation of the CTC, in response to training deficits apparent in the wake of 9/11.

Army 2020 mentions “language training”, but geographic interest by the military is ephemeral and episodic; culture training is time much better spent, which can also lead to a wide variety of Phase Zero deployments. Lessons learned from Defence Cultural Specialist Unit can be absorbed and used to effect, and collaboration with senior social scientists from the Human Terrain System such as the recently departed Dr Christopher King should be considered. Such developments will augment and clarify elements of the New Career Development Framework.

Regarding reduction, the Army 2020 highlighted force reduction and expansion and integration of reservists (following from the Future Reserves 2020 Review), implementing proposals in the 2010 Strategic Defense and Security Review and developed through the Army’s Three Month Exercise:

“Army 2020 will create an integrated Army of 112,000 personnel by 2020. In order to achieve this, the Army has already begun a programme of redundancies to reduce Regular Army manning levels. Two further tranches of redundancy will be required over the next five years to bring the Army’s Regular strength down to around 82,000 by 2020. The Reserves are currently recruiting to increase their manning levels to a trained strength of 30,000 by 2018.”

Army 2020 lists three amorphous core purposes of the Army: Contingent capability for deterrence and defence; Overseas engagement and capacity building; Civil engagement and homeland resilience. Given the absence of any particular threat, force reduction to proposed levels is not only possible but inevitable. A spectre may haunt the Armed Forces, but it is less a foreign foe and more the global economic landscape.

Fighting insurgencies has severely impacted the Armed Forces. To combat IEDs, technological solutions were developed, such as the MRAP in the US. A programme so costly that it led to a debate in the august journal Foreign Affairs. Snatch Land Rovers are out and Warriors are in, meaning that the trend is for increasingly costly technological enterprises, even against the most technological rudimentary of enemies. The Joint Strike Fighter makes Augustine's Law seem more relevant and more meaningful than satirical as each defence budget arrives. Meanwhile, a logistical problem of long term significance is unfolding in Afghanistan as regards equipment.

The complex wars also exacerbated problems with recruitment; there has been a notable absence of public recognition or clamor for heroism in Iraq and Afghanistan; and Syrian intervention was an important identification of the current public appetite for foreign adventures. As with myriad military adventures of the past, we will salute the immense bravery of the dead, but knowing why they died may be more difficult. In Iraq, security at home was then changed in 2006 to a narrative of securing justice for the Iraqi people. In Afghanistan, both security and justice were developed as narratives simultaneously throughout the later stages of the conflict.

This lack of consultation foregrounded in the Committee's report therefore stems from military performance in impossible conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. This is exacerbated by hedging in the British military going forward. Are we preparing for a big war in a big war? A small war in the midst of a big war? Smaller wars in small wars? If you don’t know who you are fighting against, you don’t have a coherent idea of self. In such a shadow, training exercises must be interesting, and against a full spectrum of possible threats, there’s relevance in national security for working out how to take down this chap:

After the massacre of Byzantine forces at the battle of Manzikert in 1071, Byzantium itself was never again able to field a sizeable army of its own, but relied heavily on mercenaries. Historical lessons are myriad and clear; economic and human resources dictate responses, after the threat has been identified. Somebody at the MoD should sit down with senior figures and employ a deductive nesting approach to future force configuration. Starting from the top, developing a vision statement which is more than bland aphorisms, it will be necessary to actually leverage expertise and place a lot of eggs in a single basket. That identity will be invaluable for developing and continuing interoperability with the military behemoth (which is currently having exactly the same debate) recruitment, training, teaching, academic and civilian interaction.

“Who are we?” is the question that needs now to be answered.   

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