SDSR 2014

An old article originally published on Think Defence in 2014


Although the United Kingdom is getting forever smaller and more insignificant on the world stage the same could also be said for France, Spain, Italy and even the industrial powerhouse of Germany. However, together we represent an Un-united States of Europe.

We (including our neighbours) appear happy with this situation as we maintain an identity that we have fought to maintain for centuries. Our military capability therefore must reflect an expectation to stand alongside our neighbours should it become necessary and to repel or neutralise an attack on our soils. We should also be in a position to defend against any bickering that may go on within Europe.

Our Position

We are reliant on trade for our survival. These trade routes, in whichever form, need to be secured and need to be free from excess piracy, corruption and extortion.

Our Kingdom is no longer threatened by a Soviet nuclear war. It is threatened more by our financial position in the world and by those who wish to undermine our position by use of terrorism or cyber crime.

As the long and hard campaigns in Afghanistan have shown it is impossible to hold a nation responsible for harbouring criminals. The idea of deploying large-scale military force has been proven to be ineffective and would definitely be useless against a united team of cyber warriors spread around the globe.

We may therefore have to redesign our strategy to be more peacekeeping and stabilisation. Essentially this means a focus on “policing” rather than neutralising the terrorist/cyber threat with extreme force. It also means concentration on policing any pirate threat to our trade routes and undermining any corruption or extortion that threatens them.

Our Dilemma

There is an old strategy for toppling large and complex organisations called “the wasp effect”, which involves adjusting the balance of power using small and subtle force. It is akin to an ant causing a landslide or a wasp causing a pileup on a motorway.

So there exists a need to balance the peacekeeping/stabilisation and skirmishing/destabilisation activities. Whichever action we choose we must “be there” with our “ear to the ground”.

This means a focus on intelligence acquisition and putting in place the laws and governance that is required to avoid the wasp effect being used against the independent nations of Europe. It also requires presence both legal and covert with the ability to strike hard and fast when absolutely necessary.

Our Capabilities

With the exception of the forces needed to defend our soil this means a relatively small expeditionary military capability is required. We would however require the ability to relocate our defensive infrastructure to any “front line” of an invasion if appropriate.

This has the effect of suggesting that we should endeavour to enhance our strategic air and sealift capabilities, as these assets can be used to aid genuine humanitarian operations, which are required the world over.

Our Plan

This council therefore advocates the following:

  1. Reduction in our conventional expeditionary warfare capabilities
  2. Reduction in assets required to sustain expeditionary operations
  3. Provision of a short-lived intervention force to operate at very short notice
  4. Provision of a deep penetration force to operate at very short notice
  5. Provision of a humanitarian task force (HTF)
  6. Maintenance of a presence in the Middle East
  7. Maintenance of maritime security around the coast of Africa and our outlying islands
  8. Improved ISTAR capabilities
  9. Improved Military and Cyber Intelligence capabilities
  10. Improved Strategic Airlift capabilities
  11. Improved Strategic Sealift capabilities
  12. Scaling of the HTF and strategic lift capabilities to move our entire defensive infrastructure over the course of a few months

It is acknowledged that points 2 and 12 may cancel each other out.

Simple Defence

By peeling back the layers we can determine the absolute bare minimum the UK requires to defend its territory

By peeling back the layers we can determine the absolute bare minimum the UK requires to defend its territory.

Firstly we identify that threats come from the air and the surrounding seas. In terms of air threats there are two main variants: low-level (strike jets and cruise missiles) and high-level (bombers and ballistic missiles). For the seaborne threats we also have two main variants: surface ships and submarines. We can now examine each of these in turn and design a simple defence for them all, remembering the (Detect, Identify and Engage) DIE mantra.

Low-Level Air Threats

As mentioned above these could be low-level strike aircraft like Tornado or cruise missiles like Tomahawk. Due to the density of the air at low-level they are likely to be subsonic or slightly supersonic. Although it is acknowledged that supersonic and hypersonic missiles exist, their range will be such that they will have to be launched by a high-level air or a seaborne asset.

Low-level threats can only be detected when they pop-up over the horizon. Due to the curvature of the Earth this is likely to be 30-50km away, but the higher we place our observer the further we can see. We therefore need a ground radar station.

If we use a 30-50km minimum we can see that a 300 m/s (Mach 0.9) missile might take 100 seconds to hit us from first detection and a 500 m/s jet (Mach 1.5) will take much the same time as it will be flying slightly higher than the missile and therefore be seen slightly earlier.

We therefore have 100 seconds to scramble our jets and intercept the threat. This obviously isn’t going to happen so we need to use a more rapid response. We need Surface to Air Missiles (SAMs) that can be directed and controlled by the radar that first picked up the threat.

High-Level Air Threats

A bomber is likely to cruise at around 11,000 meters, which can be seen by our ground radar at about 400km. If travelling at Mach 0.9 at this altitude we have a time-to-target of about 25 minutes. This is plenty of time to scramble some jets, journey out to the threat, identify the contact as a threat and engage it if necessary.

We therefore need an airstrip and a squadron of interceptors on standby. The above radar and missile battery therefore needs to be co-located so that they can defend this airbase.

We need a squadron because we always scramble two jets at a time (lead and wingman). We then need to be able to scramble two jets 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. A total of 8760 hours a year. You and I generally work 220 days a year for 10 hours a day (including some time commuting). This represents 2200 hours a year. We therefore need four pairs to cover the whole year. In addition we need to budget for attritional losses, and planned and unplanned maintenance.

Given that each pilot requires 15 hours a month to maintain currency we can use this as the minimum and maximum airframe utilisation. In other words we can determine how many aircraft we need to procure to provide this QRA service for a given period.

Let’s assume we have 12 pilots. This means 180 flight hours per month. We wish to deliver this service for 25 years, which yields 54,000 flight hours in total. If each aircraft delivers 6,000 flight hours we need only 9 aircraft. But since we need eight aircraft “on line” and around four more for sustainment, it is reasonable to procure 12 aircraft and use them over a 33 year lifespan. Alternatively we can support 16 pilots for 25 years.

Sea Surface Threats

Without airborne surveillance we will never see a warship until it is too late. Fortunately warships travel relatively slowly, cruising at around 15 knots and sprinting at 30 knots.

If we fit a surface search radar to an aircraft we could see a ship up to 200 nautical miles away. This gives a time-to-target of over six hours even if the ship is sprinting. We therefore need to undertake a maritime patrol sortie four times a day.

Two Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) working back-to-back with a third spare should be able to deliver this requirement but we will still need four crews due to the number of hours they are expected to work. It might seem a little excessive but it might be more sensible therefore to procure four aircraft and bond the crew to the aircraft for planned maintenance and rest cycles.

We would then scramble the above jets to identify and engage the contact. This means that the above jets become more than just air-to-air interceptors. We now require them to undertake maritime strike, which means they need standoff anti-ship missiles.

The most sensible jet aircraft to procure for both these roles right now is the F35A.

Subsurface Threats

The same aircraft we are using for surface threat detection can be used to search for periscopes or the wake left by a submarine. At 11,000 meters cruise altitude however it will not be able to search for magnetic anomalies.

If the aircraft can drop sonobuoys we can also maintain a detection “net” around our waters. This immediately stops the aircraft being a UAV, which is a shame as an unmanned flying radar would probably be the cheaper option. Once our aircraft is large enough to carry 120 sonobuoys it might as well have the capability of dropping anti-submarine torpedoes from high altitude, and undertake Search And Rescue (SAR) missions.

This makes our Maritime Patrol Aircraft (MPA) four Boeing P8 Poseidon.

If we stick with the UAV patrol aircraft we would need to procure half a dozen Merlin ASW helicopters to identify and engage the contact. However, without a plethora of submerged sonars (from our own ships and subs) around our waters we are unlikely to know where the submarine threat exists.


Our shopping list for basic defence of the UK consists of:

  • 1 x airbase
  • 1 x high-powered ground radar station
  • 1 x surface to air missile battery (CAMM or Aster15)
  • 12 x Lockheed Martin F35A (plus training pipeline)
  • 4 x Boeing P8 Poseidon MPA

This unit should be located near Inverness (e.g. RAF Lossiemouth) and can monitor and defend out to a radius of about 1000km.

A smaller version of the above unit could be used to defend our oversea territories and would consist of an airbase, a radar, a SAM battery, 6 x F35A and 3 x Merlin HM2.

The Scribble of War

At some point we absolutely must repel borders – we must attack the enemy


The Art of War was written in the 5th century BC and consists of thirteen chapters. This is more of a scribble in comparison.

It is important to note that many of the following statements are heavily biased towards provoking thought rather that delivering true accuracy.


So, we’re defending our home. We lock our doors and shut the windows. Then what? We can be surrounded and starved out. We can have a JCB driven through our living room window.

So we make sure we have supplies and steel reinforced concrete walls. But that’s not going to stop a mortar, a Rocket Propelled Grenade (RPG), a tank round or artillery shell.

We dig in further, going underground. With a tunnel for access with gates at either end. A defended chamber that everyone has to pass through to get to us. We can still be starved out… eventually. Either that or a thermobaric blast will steal the oxygen from the local vicinity and cause us to asphyxiate.

At some point we absolutely must repel borders. We must attack the enemy. This consists of three phases: detection, identification and engagement.


Detection is simply the notion of finding the enemy, preferably before they find us but certainly before they are in range to do us any harm. There are two main types of detector: passive or active.

We can use passive sensors such as the “mark one eyeball”, magnetic field detection, night vision goggles, infra-red cameras or we can simply listen for their emitted noise (both sound and radio).

We can also use active sensors such as sonar or radar but as you’ve probably already figured, they create the same noise that the enemy can use to detect and probably locate us.

There is a balance to be struck between looking for the blink of their torch and shining our own torch to illuminate them. If they don’t see us using our torch everything is okay. Also, if by using our torch we get an immediate bearing and range which can be used to identify and engage the enemy then it might be worth it.


Once we have a contact we need to determine if it is friend or foe. We can’t just attack any blip we see on our radar or any flash of fabric we see with our torch. We need to make sure it’s not our own aircraft or the postman.

We might also need to track the contact to see if it behaves in a threatening way. It could be a civilian jet just flying past at 500 knots or it could be a 500 knot cruise missile heading straight for us.


Once we know the contact is a threat we need to engage it. Again, there are generally two approaches: soft-kill and hard-kill.

Soft kill is more akin to deception; luring the threat away either by spoofing their sensors or simply using our torch from the inflatable house we put next door. Soft kill can also simply mean moving out of the way.

Hard kill is the complex bit…

Shooting the Arrow

Modern warfare sees only a handful of “arrows”: bullets, shells, bombs, cruise missiles, ballistic missiles, mines and torpedoes.

Most of these would be detected and identified by either radar or sonar. The main reason for this is that we can reasonably be “active” if a) there is no threat, or b) we have already been detected. The latter is by no means a good thing, but once detected by the enemy we may as well go all out to find them. The flip-side of this is that without active sensors we are quite unlikely to see the arrow coming.

Bullets are not really something we would expect to shoot, we would simply protect ourselves from them with armour. Shells can be defeated with a Close-In Weapon System (CIWS) such as Phalanx. Bombs can barely be defeated at all so we will have to shoot the archer. Bombers however will be almost directly overhead, in range of most Surface to Air Missiles (SAMs).

Cruise missiles tend to pop-up on the horizon with little warning but can be defeated with CIWS or SAMs but ballistic missiles require high-velocity SAMs.

A CIWS is not great for dealing with a saturation attack and neither are semi-active radar seeking SAMs that require a dedicated illumination radar. It is therefore SAMs with their own active guidance system that protect us from the majority of threats from the air.

Mines can be detonated or just avoided, and torpedoes are best defeated with soft-kill measures or by shooting the archer, in this case, usually a submarine.

Shooting the Archer

Modern warfare also sees only a handful of “archers”: planes, copters, wheels and tracks, buildings, people, boats, ships and submarines. Some of these might be very elusive and require a whole host of tactics both passive and active to detect and track.

Copters can be defeated with SAMs or jet fighters.

Wheels and tracks can be defeated with a better armoured formation of wheels and tracks and/or strike aircraft. Buildings can be taken out by artillery, cruise missiles, armoured formations, or air attack, and people can be shot, burned, bombed, suffocated, etc.

Small boats can be shot to pieces from a warship or attacked from the air. Warships can be defeated with a submarine launched torpedo or a saturation attack of cruise missiles. Submarines can be defeated with better subs, or mines, depth charges and torpedoes from surface ships and copters.

This leaves planes…

Air Superiority

As can be seen from the above air power is essential. It is however, not quite the panacea as immediately hoped. Air power is complementary to surface forces and generally causes the enemy to run for cover or change their focus to preserving their own life rather than taking ours.

Our enemy may well have similar SAMs networked to radar stations in an Integrated Air Defence System (IADS). This is a threat to our own aircraft which means we need to undertake Suppression of Enemy Air Defences (SEAD) as part of our Offensive Counter Air (OCA) campaign.

OCA can also be non-aircraft based: an example is the birth of the SAS who were dropped behind enemy lines to sabotage enemy aircraft whilst on the ground.

Ultimately, we need to penetrate enemy air defences which will be defended by radars, SAMs and fighter jets. We’re starting to see a stalemate where we are trying to get through the same types of defences we’ve just highlighted that we need to protect ourselves. Whichever way we cut it we always end up needing to get as close as possible without being seen.

One way to achieve this is to make use of the curvature of the earth and hide below the horizon. Using this strategy allows us to get to within about 50km of a radar without being detected. However, it is only 50km if the enemy didn’t put their radar on a hill. We may therefore need anti-radar missiles that can lock onto the source and destroy them from hundreds of miles away.

Another strategy for getting close without being seen is stealth or more accurately “low observability”. We can still hide below the horizon but by designing an aircraft to be more difficult to see, we can approach much closer and launch more numerous, smaller and cheaper weapons to achieve a similar effect as our larger, longer-ranged, more expensive missiles.

F35 Lightning II with Spear 3 will be a game changer in this regard. An F35 with non-stand-off weapons such as the 1000lb JDAM or 500lb Paveway IV bombs is however rather pointless.

Lastly we need to engage the aircraft the enemy use to escort their bombers, or the aircraft they use to engage us as we escort our own strike aircraft. This requires jet fighters that carry sophisticated radars, missiles, countermeasures, situational awareness and communications systems. Once the stalemate between missiles and countermeasures has been exhausted we need to revert to legacy tactics by getting on their six and pulling the gun trigger. This requires speed, acceleration, and agility – something the F35 has little of but something Eurofighter Typhoon delivers in buckets.


The Germans showed us how effective a panzer division’s blitzkrieg could be by cooperation and close coordination of different military assets into what is now called “combined arms”. A Panzer division consisted of reconnaissance, tank, infantry, artillery, engineering, communication and support assets.

If we add air power to the above mix we end up with no distinction between the Royal Air Force and the British Army. We just have a Royal Army that has an innate understanding of the components that it is built from, and the communication necessary to allow each asset to leverage the capabilities that other units bring. The command hierarchy is flattened allowing faster more efficient communication.

The version of this Royal Army that floats around the world consist of carrier strike with the Fleet Air Arm and an amphibious assault group with the Royal Marines. Again, all of these components should be united under the single combined naval arms banner of the Royal Navy.


On a lighter note… each sector represents a little over one million square miles.

On a lighter note, I am designing a wargame.

The screenshot above shows how the world is laid out. Each sector represents a similar surface area of the Earth (a little over a million square miles) and the winner is the one that dominates the most sectors.

The idea is that tokens representing oil are dropped onto the board, moved to the nearest sector with land, and each player then builds their empire around it. They first position a home port on or next to some oil. They can then place a tanker up to eight sectors away and can then put another port another eight sectors from the tanker that must also be near some oil.

They then place destroyers, air bases, air tankers, fighter squadrons, bomber squadrons, forward operating bases and armoured brigades until all their pieces are in position.

Then comes the combat. Each player takes it in turns to pick a sector and adds up the number of pieces on and adjacent to the sector, scoring more if a fighter squadron is supporting an armoured brigade, etc. To this number they add the role of a dice. The winner can keep one piece from the engagement which is chosen by their opponent but can be placed anywhere on the board according to the same instructions as before. The winner of the sector then places a flag in the sector.

The player with the most flags on the board at the end wins.

What do you reckon?

Four Freedoms

There is nothing conceptually wrong with the free movement of people around the EU… in peacetime.

This is a very short article that explains in my mind why the four freedoms concept of the EU is flawed.

  1. Free movement of goods – as long as they are not narcotics and firearms.
  2. Free movement of capital – brilliant for investment.
  3. Free provision of services – as long as it isn’t industrial sabotage.
  4. Free movement of citizens – here is where it all goes wrong…

There is nothing conceptually wrong with the free movement of people around the EU… in peacetime. The problem arises when one country lets a terrorist in and that terrorist moves freely to another country.

The reason this is a problem is that without a collective (EU wide) policy and control of exactly who is let in it makes a mockery of any nation adept enough at controlling their own borders.

So for example, Greece determine it is okay to admit a certain shady character. That person then has free movement to the UK, which would never had admitted them directly. I pick Greece as an example only because of where the country is physically located. In fact, Italy is a bigger problem as their constituton dictates that anyone that makes landfall should be treated as an Italian – hence why the refuges from Libya all aim to make landfall on the tiny Italian island of Lampedusa.

It’s not just the UK that is suffering. Denmark and Sweden have had to start their own border controls, which tends to nullify the whole “free movement” concept.


If you play with fire you must be prepared to be burned.

If your next door neighbour were to aim a cannon from the bottom of their front garden squarely at the front of your house what would you do?

Obviously this is a loaded question (ha ha).

You could try to sabotage the cannon because you’re never going to be able to armour your house enough to withstand the shot. You’re never going to be able to shoot the cannon ball out of the sky with a surface to air missile, you simply won’t have time and won’t have enough speed and momentum to change the outcome.

What you do is buy a cannon and aim it at the front of your neighbour’s house.

Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD).

When your neighbour comes home and sees your cannon aimed at his home he might decide to buy a second cannon and point it at your house. The neat thing is you don’t have to keep up with the Joneses. One cannon is all it takes to level his house no matter how many he points at you.

All he gets from multiple cannons is redundancy, the ability to maintain one (and remove your sabotage attempts), and the ability to use one for training. All the time another still points at your house.

We’ve mentioned sabotage a number of times which demonstrates why it would be better if the weapon were difficult to detect, track and target. Submarine anyone?

Threat Mitigation

So, of the threats listed in a previous post the following highlighted ones are now deterred:

Tier 1

  1. Terrorism
  2. Cyber Attack
  3. Natural Disaster
  4. Overseas Military Crisis (drawing in the UK)

Tier 2

  1. Chemical, Biological, Radiological or Nuclear Attack
  2. Overseas Instability (leading to points 1, 2 and 4 above)
  3. Organised Crime
  4. Communication Disruption

Tier 3

  1. Conventional Attack
  2. Smuggling (weapons, criminals, immigrants, narcotics)
  3. Energy Disruption
  4. Nuclear Accident
  5. Resource Supply Disruption

So none of the tier 1 threats but certainly the high impact ones!

The thing about Trident is that it is very, very expensive but unfortunately the only real credible deterrent against large-scale attack against the UK. Without it we would be sitting ducks prone to nuclear blackmail and extortion.

Nuclear Terrorism

What about non-state actors obtaining a nuclear warhead and detonating it in London?

As can be seen by recent news footage of the Iranian nuclear programme it is very difficult and expensive to produce weapons grade materials. In addition it should be relatively simple to appreciate that the relative purity of these materials is difficult to control exactly. Uranium is purified using centrifuges. These are mechanical devices and cannot remove 100% of other heavy elements. Therefore when the bomb detonates, the fallout that remains gives us a distinct signature that will correspond with a single production batch.

This means we know who manufactured the warhead. We can hold this nation responsible and retaliate accordingly. It is part of the deterrent for even getting into the nuclear business in the first place. One of the responsibilities of playing God.

If you play with fire you must be prepared to be burned.


Some threats might be very unlikely but may have a catastrophic impact.

So how do we go about defending the UK?

Firstly we should qualify what we mean by the “UK”. We mean the UK and our overseas territories. But we mean this from the perspective of “dug in” defence. Efficient use of local topology and resources. Generally this has the effect of suggesting that having a whopping great navy capable of retrieving an island from the clutches of an evil megalomaniac is unnecessary. It should not be taken in the first place.

The last line in the previous paragraph implies that we may well have to scale up (or down) any deployed capability to deal with changing situations.

Physical Threats

Without delving deep in to the National Security Strategy we can appreciate that some threats are likely and some have a massive impact. Others are less likely and have minimal impact. Some threats might be very unlikely (e.g. a nuclear strike) but may have a catastrophic impact.

The ones that are either likely or have a large impact such that ignoring them would constitute gross negligence are:

  1. Terrorism
  2. Cyber Attack
  3. Natural Disaster
  4. Overseas Military Crisis (drawing in the UK)

Below these are:

  1. Chemical, Biological, Radiological or Nuclear Attack
  2. Overseas Instability (leading to points 1, 2 and 4 above)
  3. Organised Crime
  4. Communication Disruption

And below these again:

  1. Conventional Attack
  2. Smuggling (weapons, criminals, immigrants, narcotics)
  3. Energy Disruption
  4. Nuclear Accident
  5. Resource Supply Disruption

We’re not going to worry about financial threats at the moment.


Carriers, Typhoon, FRES, each of the services are as bad as the others.

I don’t work in the UK defence sector. All I see is what the media reports and what I studied at University.

I fully understand the reasons for all the bickering. It’s competition like rats at the only food source. Competition for money.

Carriers, Typhoon, FRES, each of the services are as bad as the others.

Since I am a parent and since I can rewind 20 years, I can safely say “bang their heads together”. Nowadays however we’re not allowed to do such things (never hurt me) so we have to put our hands on their shoulders and ask if they should think about what they’re doing.

So ditch the Royal Air Force, ditch the Royal Navy and ditch the British Army. Make them work together intrinsically. Focus on the duty rather than the realm in which they once operated (land, sea and air). There has been far too much overlap to allow a division by asset/hardware type over recent decades and centuries. The Royal Marines and the British Army, the Fleet Air Arm and the Royal Air Force, the RAF owns the Chinooks to transport the Army but the Army Air Corps own Apache.

If the Army get Apache then they should have had Harrier GR too. They’re both CAS aircraft. If the Army got those they should certainly get Chinook. Doesn’t leave the RAF with much though does it. It means the RAF have to cling on to a reason d’être, even though there’s no doubt they are Fighter Command. Trouble is they need to learn that Bomber Command went to the Navy a long time ago.

Anyway I digress.

Our force structure should concentrate on the primary duty or task: Defending The UK. After this we can defend our friends and allies. Then we can defend any assets we feel are important on foreign soil. Only then should we can dabble with “nipping problems in the bud” and exerting influence elsewhere.