Tag Archives: Army

What’s a poor British Grenadier to do?

The well-informed British defence blog Thin Pinstriped Line looks at the latest of a series of official plans to move the British Army forward. Keep in mind the Brits, besides operating within NATO, as part of UN peacekeeping missions, and in ad hoc coalitions, still see using their army abroad in independent fashions to pursue their own national interests, if they can figure out how to pull off the trick. Canadian have never really had any such ambitions– some further thoughts on the Canadian Army at end.

Be The Army You Want To Be – Thoughts on ‘Future Soldier’

The British Army has announced its new plans for its revised future structure and operational roles. The announcement made by the Secretary of State for Defence sets out how the British Army will be restructured into a force of 73,000 regulars [Canada about 20,000], supported by reservists and civil servants…

By defining the Army as being an organisation more intended to focus on training, assistance and operations in the ‘grey zone’, this plan could be potentially significant. If there is genuine, long term and sustained commitment to growing Ranger Bns [battalions], and using them as long term training teams to enhance capabilities of partner nations, then this will have very positive benefits for UK security.

A long-term plan, which sees training delivered year after year, with sustained regional presence to build relationships that last a career can potentially be a hugely positive outcome. Done well and done with the intention that this is the long term plan, then the future looks positive.

There is always strong demand for British Army training around the world, and having the means to offer it, to build capacity and to deliver to partners could be good news…

…This move to working with partners, letting their forces take the lead in conducting kinetic operations while providing skills, training and niche assets will be a compelling offer – it may prove a policy and permissions challenge, but it is something that looks an extremely positive offer [but how happy will ‘partners” be if Brits stay behind the front lines? and will the UK government wish necessarily to support those “kinetic operations”?].

The bigger question though is what beyond Ranger Bns is the British Army actually going to do? The paper focuses on a return to older missions like supporting the Civil Authorities, and assisting allies, but there feels like there is a gap between low-key low-level training abroad, stuffing sandbags and then moving into the high intensity conflict space where suddenly the Army will be used to deter peer rivals globally.

…the return to a more assertive deterrence posture in central and Eastern Europe by putting more troops and vehicles through on exercises will be welcomed by many NATO partners. This commitment to Europe is a welcome sign of the UK continuing to play a serious and credible role at the heart of European security, and to act as an additional complication in Russian planning for mischief making [Canada for its part has “540 soldiers leading a NATO enhanced Forward Presence Battle Group in Latvia” but they are present simply as a deterrent, er, tripwire–the Canadian Army does not significantly take part in NATO exercises in Europe].

However, as the Cold War showed, the ability to turn up and fight as a coherent worked up battlegroup in time to deter others isn’t easy and requires a huge amount of training and effort. Is the will and funding there to seriously train and sustain a credible force that can reinforce and defend the borders of Eastern Europe as required ?

…Over the last 10 years the Army has tried on several different occasions to reinvent itself and offer new roles, structures and organisational changes – for example the ‘Army 2020’ plan.

In this period there has been the vision of the Army as laid out in the SDSR, the Army 2020 vision and now this vision of the Army in 2025. Each time the answer feels different – different structures, different locations, different unit roles and different objectives – there is a sense of near perpetual change as the Army strives to find a version of itself that it feels comfortable being.

Between1945 and 1990 it had this through the existence of BAOR – it knew that its role was to deter in peacetime, and in wartime expand rapidly to provide enough troops to buy time to avoid the war turning nuclear. Once the war had turned nuclear, then there was no role for it – bluntly the Cold War Army existed to fight for 7-10 days then die [as with the Canadian Army in Germany with NATO; UN peacekeeping was a sideshow, see this post: “Not Remembering Canada’s Real Post-WW II Military History“].

It is perhaps telling that files from this period on planning for home defence struggle to identify a post-strike role for the Army beyond helping the civil power. Yet this structure and reason to exist gave a sense of purpose [emphasis added].

The period 1990 – 2015 was arguably a period of fighting wars that felt familiar, without having to answer the difficult ‘so what’ question about what value this added to British foreign policy outcomes. For all the huge sacrifices made in Iraq and Afghanistan, this tactical set of victories still has arguably resulted in at best strategic stalemate or defeat in both countries [ditto for Canadian Forces’ activities].

The problem then is trying to work out how the Army can avoid these challenges in future – what roles can it take on that avoids the errors of the past, while in the same turn provides relevant assets that can add value to help deliver Government security objectives.

The move to a training focus seems sensible, and one that if committed to, could be a really valuable outcome. But the problem is, lurking behind this sense of opportunity is the concern that we may find ourselves going around this buoy again in another 5 years when the ‘Army 2030’ vision inevitably gets launched.

The other big concern about this document is that for all the talk of impressive new capabilities and investment coming downstream, it remains the case that the British Army will be unable to deploy a modernised divisional level capability until around 2030 – the best part of a decade away [emphasis added–the Canadian Army’s intent is to be able to deploy a combat-capable brigade group, see antepenultimate bullet point at bottom of p. 11 PDF here; that is impracticably aspirational, to be charitable].

…many of the strands in the paper feel like a greatest hits of Defence papers dating back 30 plus years. The call for better integration of reservist and civil servants, and the call to address retention and gapping, and also to make better use of skills and experience to create a digitally enabled workforce – all of these are themes that go back at least as far as 1998, and probably a lot further. (It is also notable that both Space and Cyber remain a ‘new’ domain despite being a military issue for over half a century).

The fact that once again there has been a rallying call to say ‘we must have a better integrated workforce’ not only leads you to conclude that all of the previous commitments to doing so have been a total failure, but also that there is little likelihood that without serious cultural change, this time is likely to be any more successful either…

What is needed is a period to let these changes work through, to try things out and to actually get the new equipment needed and make sure the Army is able to do the jobs it wants to be able to do. Right now it feels that whether it wants to or not, we’ll be hearing in a few years’ time about how Army 2030 / 2035 is the bright exciting future of the British Army…

One might add that the current Canadian government is even unwilling to deploy the army for UN peacekeeping missions to perform any boots-on-the ground roles such as reconnaissance or patrolling that might risk casualties–see this post:

UN Peacekeeping: PM Trudeau and Liberals too Fearful to Meet their Pledges when they Realized the Realities of “Killer Peacekeeping”

In fact one suspects that with increasing natural disasters and the pandemic problem that that government may be trending along these lines:

COVID-19/Natural Disaster Response, or, Canada’s Coming Constabulary/Militia Armed Forces?

Mark Collins

Twitter: @mark3ds

Theme song:

COVID-19/Natural Disaster Response, or, Canada’s Coming Constabulary/Militia Armed Forces?

Whither, indeed whether, three serious combat-capable armed services for this country? Further to these excerpts from posts in 2020,

COVID-19 may well be the End of the Canadian Armed Forces as we have Known them…and of our Effective Sovereignty

…It is not improbable that the Canadian military, if the Liberals win the next election, will effectively end up as a constabulary/militia force with domestic response to natural disasters of various sorts as its primary function along with very token commitments to UN peacekeeping missions…

COVID-19 Facing the Canadian Government and Military with Major Decisions on Force Structures, Employment and Equipment–how Radical a Re-Shape?

I fear the CAF may over time be turned into services whose main mission is domestic response to emergencies of various sorts (cf. RCAF SAR [search and rescue]) with actual mlitary/defence capabilities a distant concern…

the following excerpts from an opinion piece at the Globe and Mail give one furiously to think in view of the generally warm and fuzzy predilections, and progressive political preferences, of many of our politicians:

Military efforts at home are increasingly the norm. A Joint Task Force Canada is the next logical step

Christian Leuprecht is Class of 1965 Professor in Leadership at the Royal Military College, cross-appointed to Queen’s University and senior fellow at the Macdonald Laurier Institute.

Two years ago, few could have imagined that the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) would end up managing a global supply chain for national vaccine distribution and backstopping the provincial mismanagement of 54 long-term care homes. The pandemic also showed that no one in government fully understands national supply chains across Canada. Still, no part of the country ran out of personal protective equipment even when supply was critically short, because CAF logisticians had the managerial savvy to locate it, CAF planners executed without having to rely on other partners or equipment, and the Royal Canadian Air Force transported it where it needed to go.

Time and again, the Department of National Defence has been called on as the only federal organization with the highly trained, well-educated and experienced roster of specialists and assets to plan and execute complex and large-scale operations in short order. Under Operation Laser, the CAF had a COVID-19 plan that it was able to execute while coming to the assistance of other government departments…

Over the past decade, Canada has become more reliant on the CAF to respond to domestic emergencies: the number of CAF’s domestic taskings has doubled and tripled over the two previous decades. These operations have proven well within the capabilities of the CAF. But in the event of floods, forest fires, or a grave international crisis, CAF assets currently dedicated to the pandemic may have been unavailable. Climate change is bound to multiply the frequency of crises such as wildfires and floods in the coming years, and that will increase demand for CAF resources. The pandemic is a harbinger of future CAF domestic operations that are more frequent and complex, longer and larger without the ability to rely on help from allies. Although the CAF has been able to deliver, after 15 years of efforts focused on counterinsurgency and building partner capacity, Canada’s military still has much to learn and re-learn about large-scale operations.

For decades, the CAF has prioritized a strategic culture premised on Army expeditionary operations despite the fact that Afghanistan represented the only such mission in the past 60 years [but see just below this paragraph, Prof. Leuprecht is being rather selective]. Since the late 1950s, CAF leaders have vehemently resisted anything seen as diluting the combat role: they argue that it is easier to “scale down” from combat than to “scale up” from domestic operations. But that is a false dichotomy, and politicians are looking for a broader contribution to national security from their annual defence investment of $22-billion…

[Afghanistan has been the Army’s only combat expeditionary mission since 1960 and then only from 2006-11. But there have also been several major and sometimes dangerous Army “peacekeeping” missions with both the UN and NATO, e.g. in Somalia, in former Yugoslavia, in Kosovo and Macedonia (a hybrid operation: the RCAF engaged in bombing and then the Army in peacekeeping) and in Afghanistan itself 2003-05. Plus a major army contribution to NATO in West Germany from the 1950s through the 1980s, and since 2017 a significant Army presence leading the forward NATO multinational force in Latvia. And substantial numbers of Canadian special forces have been engaged in a variety of activities in Iraq since 2014.]

Evidently, domestic operations are no longer a part-time sideshow, yet the CAF still responds to emergencies with pick-up teams. CJOC [Canadian Joint Operations Command] needs a dedicated Joint Task Force (JTF) for domestic operations, composed of regular and reserve forces. The newly appointed Chief of the Defence Staff, Vice-Admiral Art McDonald, is experienced at conducting domestic operations: he was the commander of JTF Pacific from 2016 to 2018 and ran humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations as maritime component commander of JTF Haiti in 2010. That background should come in handy as the CAF ponders how to optimize its force structure in response to growing domestic, continental and international demands on its limited assets.

Guess where most governments, the populace and the media will favour putting Canada’s future “defence” priorities and efforts. Especially given almost everybody’s intense aversion to taking fatal casualties in anything beyond the most minimal numbers, see:

Afghanistan, Canadians’ Self-Obsession and Blood

Now the Navy is the armed service least relevant to domestic activities. And all parties love shipbuilding’s jobs to buy votes. Moreover Canada hasn’t had a naval combat fatality since three sailors were killed during the Korean War. So maybe the remaining major combat-capable service of the Canadian Armed Forces will become the Royal Canadian Navy. Which could perform a very important and major anti-submarine role in the North Atlantic vs Russkie subs–‘twould be nice if the Navy and government actually talked about this NATO mission (see 3) near the end of this post).

Mark Collins

Twitter: @Mark3ds

What’s the Poor US Army to do when the Main Adversary is the PRC?

Further to this post,

Western Pacific, or, US Navy vs US Army for Funding, US Army vs US Marines for Missions

all the US services are scrambling to re-purpose themselves to retain maximum relevance in a strategic world truly being turned on its head. The authors of this piece at War on the Rocks suggest for one thing that, since the US Army will essentially have a supporting role vs China, it should put a major focus–through the reserves and National Guard–on various homeland missions:

The Headwinds Looming for the U.S. Army

The rise of China and the primacy of the Indo-Pacific as the U.S. military’s most important theater of operations upend the Army’s longstanding role in American defense. For the first time in decades, land will not be the most critical domain of warfare, and it may not even be the decisive one. In a future war with China, the air and sea domains, together with space and cyber, will define the shape of the conflict. As a force organized, trained, and equipped for land warfare, the U.S. Army clearly will be at a huge disadvantage in both the strategic arguments and budget fights to come. Its budget, end strength, and force structure will all face significant cuts, which could easily exceed the cuts of the sequestration era. In order to adapt successfully to these tectonic shifts, the Army will have to grapple with becoming a supporting service, the shift from maneuver to fires, the growing mission of homeland defense, and rebalancing active and reserve forces.

Taking on a Supporting Role

Though the 2018 National Defense Strategy stressed great-power competition with both China and Russia, the Department of Defense is now explicitly prioritizing China over Russia. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper has clearly stated that his goal is “to focus the department on China,” since he sees China as “the pacing threat” that the U.S. military must prepare for. And even though a potential Biden administration would voice much stronger support for NATO and U.S. allies in Europe, China will nevertheless remain the U.S. military’s most dangerous threat. The reasons why are simple and sobering: Only a rising China has the immense economic power, the cutting-edge technological prowess, and increasingly, the advanced military capabilities that could match (or even exceed) those of the U.S. armed forces — and potentially defeat them [see this post: “Does US Lose Non-Nuclear War with China? Part 2“].

The Army will be a supporting service in any potential conflict with China, tasked with enabling the other services in a conflict that would span the vast air and maritime domain of the Western Pacific [emphasis added].

That will be a seismic shift for the Army, since it will no longer conduct the primary combat operations against the nation’s greatest strategic threat. It will fundamentally upend the central warfighting roles and missions the Army has traditionally played against the most dangerous U.S. adversaries for over 75 years. Its ground combat forces will remain essential for deterrence (and, if necessary, fighting) on the Korean peninsula, but otherwise its role in the Western Pacific against China will remain limited. Yet despite this shift, the Army is planning to conduct littoral operations throughout the region that in many ways duplicate missions the Marines have traditionally performed, and updated in their most recent doctrine and Commandant’s Planning Guidance. Instead of competing with the Marines for a major role in the littorals, the Army should instead focus on providing critical enablers to the rest of the joint force in the Pacific [emphasis added]. These include capabilities like land-based air and missile defense, theater-wide logistics and engineering, electronic warfare, and potentially, long-range precision fires. The service’s new Multi-Domain Task Forces, with their integrated cyber, space, fires, and electronic warfare functions, may also provide other innovative capabilities to the Pacific fight that could be more useful than maneuver forces.

The Army’s traditional ground combat capabilities will still be required in Europe. Russia remains the most capable and dangerous potential U.S. adversary in the land domain, and U.S. Army forces will still be required to defend Europe from Russian aggression and buttress NATO’s defense. But those missions, which were the main U.S. strategic priority for many decades, are now a lower national priority than deterring and possibly fighting Chinese aggression in the Pacific [emphasis added–and in fact, were they willing to spend the Euros (and pounds), the Euros could pretty well look after themselves; Trump very much has a point there, see this post: “Euro NATO Willing to try to Deal with a Growling Bear as US faces the Dragon Ascendent?“]

…Traditional artillery used to support maneuver troops generally has a range between 15 and 25 miles. Today, land-based precision rockets and missiles are being developed with potential ranges of over 1,000 miles.

This unprecedented technological leap-ahead is completely altering the roles of fires and maneuver. For the first time, land forces will be able to strike adversaries at strategic ranges without having to utilize nuclear weapons — and that means that they might be able to deliver strategic effects. In the near future, the Army may be able to use precision long-range fires to shatter adversary units, command and control networks, and vulnerable logistics and supply routes. The Army’s main contribution to a future war in the Pacific could soon involve using these new and powerful weapons to strike a wide range of naval and island targets, without utilizing its maneuver forces at all [emphasis added–but the Marines are going for that role too, along with the US Navy and AirForce].

This means that the Army is now overinvested in brigade combat teams. These major maneuver forces will not play a significant role in any conflict with the nation’s primary strategic threat, and so will need to be cut as force structure and end strength decline…The Army should try to reinvest some of the resources freed by these cuts to procure more new long-range fires and further enabling capabilities for the Pacific.

The Growing Mission of Homeland Defense

The pandemic has made it abundantly clear that the United States is better prepared to defend its vital interests overseas than to protect its citizens from attacks at home. Yet for all of the human suffering that the pandemic has caused, basic necessities like food, water, and power remain widely available. But a massive cyber attack against the United States could far too easily disrupt the supply chains that make these essentials available…Any future conflict with a major foreign power will almost certainly spill over into the homeland, with potentially devastating consequences.

…Throughout the nation’s history, the Army has been the principal military service that has provided for the protection of the United States and its citizens at home…

Active Army forces will only have a limited role to play in this vital mission. In a conflict that occurs mainly at home, or an overseas campaign that engages relatively few Army forces, the active Army could help provide logistics, communications, and engineering support for civil authorities within the homeland. But the Army’s reserve component, and especially the Army National Guard, will be far more critical for this mission. The National Guard operates day-to-day under the command of state governors, and is the first military entity on-call to respond to civil disruptions that exceed the capacity of local authorities. During the pandemic, both National Guard and the Army Reserve forces have supported local authorities in missions like food distribution, and providing capabilities like medical augmentation units and mortuary affairs to hard-hit areas. In a major homeland calamity, the reserve component would take on even broader missions, such as providing humanitarian assistance, restoring power and water, and preventing civil disorder. Regardless of the budgetary constraints to come, the rising vulnerability of the homeland means that the Army will have to increasingly prioritize capabilities that can respond to catastrophic domestic events.

…the coming era of fiscal austerity combined with the growing threats to the homeland may well require inverting that traditional relationship. Reserve forces are a wise strategic investment during lean budgetary times, because they preserve both combat and support force structure at far less cost, and provide vital capabilities for both domestic and overseas scenarios. Future wartime demands may find these forces pulled in both directions, but they nevertheless remain a cost-effective investment across a huge range of missions. As the budget axe falls, the Army should not simply make equal cuts to active, reserve, and Guard end strength and force structure in order to share the bureaucratic pain equally. Instead, it should consider preserving some more reserve capabilities above active capabilities, in order to strengthen the total force’s ability to defend the homeland effectively while also husbanding critical war-fighting capabilities in the most economical way possible [emphasis added]

Navigating the Army’s New Strategic Environment

Taken together, these changes will challenge the Army’s traditional identity as the service that delivers war-winning outcomes on land for the nation. It is going to get smaller, and become a supporting service in the nation’s primary theater of potential conflict. Its missions will also expand to include a greater role in homeland security, and the importance and relevance of its reserve component may eclipse that of its active forces in some domains of future conflict [emphasis added]. Navigating the Army through these tremendous challenges will require imagination, resilience, and resolve at every level of command, especially as resources decline. Army senior leaders will need to challenge some of the assumptions that have long guided the force, and overcome deeply ingrained orthodoxies about the relative priorities of warfighting versus support, fires versus maneuver, and active versus reserves. Doing so successfully will help assure that the Army can remain a relevant and vital component of the nation’s military power as it transforms in the years and decades to come.

Lt. Gen. David W. Barno, U.S. Army (ret.) and Dr. Nora Bensahel are visiting professors of strategic studies at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and senior fellows at the Philip Merrill Center for Strategic Studies. They are also contributing editors at War on the Rocks, where their column appears monthly. Sign up for Barno and Bensahel’s Strategic Outpost newsletter to track their articles as well as their public events.

Now that is truly bold, revolution in army affairs, thinking. Chances of its success…? Would that we had such bold thinking and mission re-evaluation in Canada. Have a look at this earlier post (my thoughts at the end):

COVID-19 Facing the Canadian Government and Military with Major Decisions on Force Structures, Employment and Equipment–how Radical a Re-Shape?

And this post deals with the possibility, in view of COVID-19 and natural disasters, that the Canadian Army may end up with a much greater focus on domestic activities (my thoughts at the end again):


Mark Collins

Twitter: @Mark3ds