Most of the questions addressed to the Blog in recent weeks have asked for a simple answer to the Referendum question, straight and easy to understand. They implied that the facts thought to be relevant were unavailable. How then should the enquirers vote? To this there was no satisfactory answer, but the one the Blog provided was at least accurate: “The Referendum, it had been said, was to offer a choice between remaining in ‘a reformed EU’ or leaving, and as there was as yet no ‘reformed EU’ in which to remain, then the vote must be postponed. Ideally, it should be postponed for at least the two years necessary to reform the EU’s Byzantine policies and procedures.”
A few questions were addressed also to FLIP, drawing the following response: “While it is easy to construct a list of reasons justifying the decision to remain, it is equally as easy to do so for the decision to leave. Accordingly, paralleling certain bizarre possibilities in quantum mechanics, there are two correct answers which become incorrect immediately they are given, this depending on the quality of the politicians tasked with the next stage of the processes.” The decision in favour of leaving being unalterable — another vote, as proposed in the online petition and certain to expose the UK to international ridicule, will be rejected — it is essential that the negotiating teams (i.e. for both the UK and the EU) consist of the finest adult brains available.
The UK team must therefore ensure that the EU team understands from the start of the preparations for the first meeting that the UK intends to negotiate on the basis of a fraternal relationship disciplined by the UK’s vision of l’Europe des patries, and that accordingly the UK will work to mitigate any adverse consequences of her withdrawal suffered by the other 27 member states.
And that is why for the Blog’s contributors it is impossible to ignore the Referendum’s result: the sector offering the greatest opportunities for fraternal support, the sector in which the current international dangers are now most obvious, and in which the UK’s eminence and leadership will be uncontested, is Defence, as it has been in centuries past. (France, owing to its insoluble internal fragility, is no longer a realistic rival for a freed UK.) During the two to three years of negotiation ahead of us the recognised threats within Europe will be Islamist terrorism from the south and southeast together with Russian adventurism from the north and east, and the UK’s most valuable contribution in this respect will be in the Air. (The third threat, to be examined in a future Blog, is the latent flood of hopeful immigrants from Africa supplementing the existing flood of refugees from Asia Minor.)
So where does the UK now stand, with the Referendum having divided the country into nearly equal proportions, the majority of the MPs not representing this trauma, and the content of the forthcoming negotiations being uncertain?
- The UK currently has the world’s fifth largest economy
- The UK currently has the largest defence budget in the EU
- The UK has one of the five permanent seats on the UN Security Council
- The UK is one of the two nuclear-armed Western European countries
- Until the turn of the century the UK was renowned for military success.
That is the platform. Brexit is now forcing a changed perspective on the UK, one that will require a detailed examination of the most recent Strategic Defence & Security Review (SDSR2015), and out of this will emerge a revised scale of priorities. Moreover, among the beneficial measures Brexit will drive, long overdue, will be recognition of Effects-Based Financial Analysis as an essential preparation for Defence Investment.
Defence of the People is the Supreme Law
The 21st-century dangers the West faces and will continue to face are of such overriding importance that even the notoriously blind statesmen on the left of the political spectrum will recognise Salus populi suprema lex esto as the governing principle for the immediate future — and when they do so the way is clear for the newly freed and revitalised UK to assume, in its role of Europe’s Defence Supremo, the leadership of Greater Europe — of the fraternal partnership of the UK, the EU, Norway, Iceland, Switzerland, and the Balkans. This partnership would be a mutual understanding based on Europe’s Judaeo-Christian heritage, comprehensive but probably unwritten (with any aspects considered essential for written confirmation covered by such existing treaties as those of NATO, UNO, OSCD, OECD, et al). Assumption of the de facto leadership of Europe would contribute significantly to the reunification of the UK – and would attract investment.
In recent years the EU’s military ambitions, fostered by a perception that a United States of Europe must have its own Armed Forces, have called increasingly on the UK to support such EU initiatives as anti-piracy patrols off the Horn of Africa, and while such activities are obviously laudable, the stress imposed on a diminished navy has strained the UK’s ability to fulfil NATO requirements. This EU-NATO conflict had to stop, and Brexit, naturally, will now stop it.
However, within the scope of a revised vision, and with no political stress on the NATO relationship, the UK will lead Europe’s own contribution to European defence, greatly to the benefit of the EU member states. Pre-Brexit discussions with the US considered ways in which the Royal Navy might assist the US Navy east of Suez, and perhaps also in the Far East, but the UK’s currently budgeted Order of Battle (OoB) will not allow a continuous presence there (a temporary attachment while en route to showing the flag in Australia, New Zealand and around the old Empire being the most the UK will offer). The UK’s maritime attention will now be concentrated on the North Atlantic (plus the Falkland Islands’ interests) to safeguard the trade routes important for the EU, leaving the French to cover the West Coast of Africa with the Spanish, the Red and Arabian Seas with the Italians, and the Mediterranean with both.
This maritime responsibility will require many more than the UK’s nine new ASW/LRMR Poseidon aircraft now on order, plus more attack submarines, and many more frigates than contemplated in the SDSR, but will not justify the cost of the two new aircraft carriers and their short-legged jump-jets. Regular readers may remember that this Blog has never ceased to criticise the carriers for their cost and vulnerability, and the ‘Joint Strike Fighters’ for their cost and tactical uselessness, and will remember also that the MoD’s publicity machine does not recognise these failings. Fortunately, the reappraisal forced by Brexit will ensure that ministers will have no excuse not to ask the questions their civil servants have until now suppressed, and, having asked those questions of independent experts and analysed their answers, the ministers will know how to finance the aircraft they really need.
The North Atlantic maritime threat is almost wholly a low-intensity submarine conflict from which escalation would rapidly bring nuclear war, which no candidate for state-on-state conflict wants. (Even as far back as the ’sixties some of the ASW aircraft, the Mark III Phase 3 Avro Shackletons, were equipped to carry nuclear depth charges.) However, if it did happen and remain non-nuclear, then it would almost certainly be accompanied by a low-intensity land war in Scandinavia and the Baltic region, a scenario recently explored by General Sir Richard Shirreff in his faction (not fiction) thriller 2017 War with Russia. This would require Europe’s resistance to invading tanks to have air support that would in turn require a semblance of air superiority to protect it.
The EU’s NATO members would contribute their fighter squadrons, and to the mélange of F-16, F-35A, Eurofighter Typhoon, Swedish Gripen, the UK would add the RAF’s Typhoons and, on current planning, the hopelessly inadequate F-35B Lightning II. (General Mike Hostage, while Commander of USAF’s Air Combat Command, confessed he would not commit the F-35A Lightning II to battle without an escort of F-22 Raptors, so this ‘Golden Turkey’ is not an asset on which British ministers should rely, despite having a total of 138 on order.)
Various press releases describing the F-35B Lightnings ordered for the Royal Navy and the RAF have fantasised about their use for Close Air Support (CAS), but in Whitehall and Westminster there is much confusion about what CAS is. In the US the war between the Air Force and the Army is not as big or as serious as the war between the Air Force and the Navy, but in respect of CAS and its cost in blood it is crucially important. One of its casualties was the definition of CAS which was changed to emphasise that the enemy to be attacked must be geophysically close to the friendly force to be supported — this then allowing big bombs dropped through cloud from aircraft six miles above the battle to be classified as CAS, and shiny, sexy aircraft to be bought to ferry them to the battlefield (and to bring them home again when the Rules of Engagement forbade their use). Previously it was always understood that CAS was provided by pilots who were physically and psychologically close to the troops they were supporting, situationally as aware as they, in visual contact with the enemy, and trained to interpret its movements — but no commander will commit a British F-35B to true CAS at ground level against Russian armour, not at £125 million each and sensitive to anything aimed at its single engine. Yet an effective deterrent to Russian armour is essential, so how will the UK, as Europe’s leader, meet an armoured thrust into the Baltic States?
By far the greatest CAS aircraft ever designed, the Fairchild Republic A-10 ‘Warthog’ Thunderbolt II, has a truly astonishing record of success and survival against Russian armour (in Iraq). It has a similar record in counterinsurgency (COIN) in Afghanistan. Regrettably the RAF’s buyers, as readily seduced by the glamour of ‘pointy-noses’ as any in the US, have never ordered them. However, with the UK as Greater Europe’s unofficial but undisputed de facto leader, the principal partner of the US in NATO’s response to a Russian attack, the RAF needs the superb and proven A-10 — which could be available with new engines and new wings from the US at around one quarter of the cost of the unusable F-35B. (The grounds for cancellation of the F-35B order would be its failure to meet the original performance specification and price.)
The Way Forward
Sterling has fallen on the exchange markets, but as it has been overpriced for some years, as have the currencies of several countries, the new rate will benefit British exporters. The FTSE100, in apparent contrast, has risen, but this is far less significant as an indicator of economic health, and if the UK’s economic activity is to rise, as it surely must, substantial investment is necessary. Defence, in which the UK once led the world, can again lead in this, and a deal on the new A-10, widely needed for both anti-armour and future COIN, should be sought. The second most obvious area will be in the design of new warships according with the principles of Effects-Based Investment.
The Blog will return to the potential of British leadership in a Greater Europe, and to this subject of cost-effective CAS protecting Greater Europe, fairly soon.
The Kindle version of Bullingdon Defences is now available on Amazon. Its royalties go to Help for Heroes in support of the flight instructor training scheme for disabled veterans. Do recommend it to your friends.