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Food for Thought – the 2019 Nato Summit

Nato Summit
Written by Adrian Hill

Brexit means rethinking our national strategy, starting with our defences and our alliances. The EU is working to supplant NATO. We should be working to improve it, and our role in it. We also need to work on how best to defend ourselves in a world of constantly changing threats and revolutionary technologies.

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What needed sorting out.

Two years ago the weekly magazine Der Spiegel – a regular critic of the neglect of Germany’s armed forces – obtained a leaked copy of the German Army’s new strategic plan. Vorausshau 2040Strategic Outlook 2040 drawn up by Katrin Suder of McKinseys, a friend of the then Defence Minister, Ursula von der Leyen.

Three central forecasts govern the plan – first that the EU started to break up after the Maastricht Treaty in 1998, second that Europe can no longer rely on the United States to honour Article 5 of the NATO Treaty and third that NATO is breaking up as well. Whatever Angela Merkel said before the NATO Summit that paper still guides the Germany Army planners. The EU as a reflection of this, moreover with Ursula von der Leyen as its new President of the Commission, pursues military integration by creating an EU command system plus structures for developing equipment and intelligence gathering. In other words, a rival alternative to the existing NATO structures, though answerable to the EU. A rival to GPS called Galileo is under development to provide communications and satellite positioning for ships, aircraft and land weapons. Whether in or out of the EU, we British are expected to pay towards Galileo while barred from its secure communications. We shouldn’t touch it with a barge pole. Whenever engaged on a military operation we would be at the mercy of the EU Commission for navigation and accurate shooting. Never mind the outbursts from le Petit Macron. Some urgent clearing of the air was required.

Turkey behaves as though it’s a member of NATO depending on the political weather that day. The Turks still occupy a large part of Cyprus. They’ve bought Russia’s latest SAM system and even tried it out on their American allies’ fighters. The Americans quite reasonably kicked the Turks out of the F 35 programme – I can’t say I welcomed the idea of the Royal Navy and RAF relying on Turkey to service its F 35 engines. We might be flying patrols to keep them out of Cyprus air space. I’ve watched one of the previous Lightning fighters from 56 Squadron creep up behind two Turkish reconnaissance fighters at low altitude and flip over both through slipping between them before climbing away, leaving both Thunderjets cart wheeling.

All this is quite enough to sort out without the Syrian War and Turkey propping up the Assad regime for Putin while fighting our Kurdish allies.

And there is the money, the two per cent of GNP on defence by every member. Bear in mind that the United States with no large and powerful allies but rivals and potential foes, spends 3.4% of annual GDP on defence. Britain spends just about 2.1% but this counts pensions and every chocolate bar on the NAAFI wagons. NATO countries that spend two per cent or more of their GDP on defence are Estonia, the US, the UK, Bulgaria, Greece, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Romania—the Special Relationship plus everyone who lives next door to Mr Putin or Mr Erdogan. I’ll come back to this little group later. Nineteen member countries spend roughly half as much as us, this second group includes Canada, France, Germany and Italy. Angela Merkel wishes to increase spending slowly, reaching 2% by 2030. Given the Army plan to replace NATO with the EU and make a pact with Russia, should we encourage the Germans to increase their defence spending?

Global Britain after Brexit most definitely should increase its share of GDP on defence, if not to the same level as the United States, at least closer to 3% than 2%. More important is what the money buys. When Clement Atlee rearmed during the Korean War he set off a post war boom and British invention and technology blossomed. That spread ideas and inventions throughout industry and daily life as the Space Program did in America.

Key players

Other than who pays how much, Trump was probably out of his depth. For those of us who were in Vietnam he was just another rich boy escaping the draft, enjoying no more than Andy Warhol’s few minutes of fame before the media searchlight swept onward. At the recent NATO Summit the President left a vacancy, though a chance for Boris and Justin Trudeau to shine. Trump took umbrage with reason, yet it was his job to set the tone and the record. He did neither. Nor did Boris and Justin Trudeau. The latter is not his father whom I knew well. All people remember is a storm in a tea cup.

My first CO as a young officer in the Sappers, John Read, stood back from problems with a genial though very clear gaze – and solved them with a magic wand. He finished his career as the Military Secretary of NATO. Jens Stoltenberg has the same job today and he did it extremely well at the Summit as did our host team which included not just Boris but the Queen.

What was sorted out.

Let me précis Jens Stoltenberg’s words:

We have marked the anniversary of our Alliance which has guaranteed peace and security for all Allies for seventy years.  We have looked to the future. NATO remains the only place where Europe and North America discuss, decide and act every day together on matters that concern our shared security.

Our commitment to Article 5, the collective defence clause of our Alliance, is ironclad.

Delivered on the NATO Readiness Initiative. Allies have committed 30 battalions, 30 air squadrons, and 30 combat ships, available to NATO within 30 days.

Declared space as the fifth operational domain for NATO, alongside land, air, sea, and cyber.

Agreed a new action plan to step up our fight against terrorism. All Allies remain committed to the fight against ISIS and our training missions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Leaders committed to ensuring the security of our telecommunications infrastructure – including 5G. We agreed to rely only on secure and resilient systems.

Progress towards fairer burden-sharing. Fifth year of rising investment for defence. European Allies and Canada have added 130 billion US dollars. And by the end of 2024, that figure will rise to 400 billion US dollars.

Agreed measures to enhance the protection of our energy infrastructure.

Ensure our technological edge in the face of emerging and disruptive technologies,

Step up our response to hybrid threats.

Committed to strong deterrence and defence while remaining open to meaningful dialogue with Russia. NATO is responding to Russia’s deployment of intermediate-range, nuclear capable missiles in a defensive and coordinated way.  Remain committed to strengthening arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation.

For the first time addressed the rise of China – both challenges and opportunities posed, also implications for our security. Leaders agreed to address this as an Alliance. We must encourage China to participate in arms control arrangements.

As the world changes, NATO will continue to change.

NATO is strong, our accomplishments over the past few years to adapt to a changing security environment are substantial.

On that basis, we have agreed today to initiate a reflection process under my leadership to further strengthen the political dimension of NATO.

What else they should have been talking about?

Stoltenberg’s last point signals how NATO as an institution and political alliance with teeth realises there is danger of an expensive and pointless duplication of command and planning structures, promoted by Germany, France and the Benelux members of the EU. While Stoltenberg’s press statement sounds timely the huge crack opened by Vorausshau 2040 merits but a single promise of action at the very end.

Macron may gain more than he wishes. Should NATO slim down its European membership, instead welcome the Australians and Kiwis, India, Malaysia, Singapore, Korea and Japan, focus on the wider world? I would add Vietnam were they not Communists. They’re good people to have on your side – and I say that after being their live target on many occasions! Would we be wiser to leave the EU to match Macron’s boasts and Merkel’s sly political manoeuvring and defend itself, probably by making some form of truce with Russia?  That still leaves the UK, Norway and the most exposed Eastern Europeans as NATO members on this side of the Atlantic and would demand a reinforcement plan with the infrastructure to make it work, possibly against the wishes of a future EU political leadership.

The Turkish problem.

This was parked rather than swept under the Turkish carpet with the resolve to defeat ISIS. Not much help to the Kurds. A resolution to take away Trump’s mobile phone would more welcome.

Thinking outside the box.

Hypersonic versus nukes.

After reading Boris Johnson’s briefing on defence planning given to the Sunday Times of the 1 December 2019 we ourselves should do more thinking ahead, spend our money wisely.

Only a single city on the planet has a defence system against ballistic missiles, Moscow, and the Trident D5 has a British designed system, code-named Chevaline, intended to confuse and thwart these defences. Perfecting this system cost a fortune, so much money that Harold Wilson hid the costs from his Chancellor, Denis Healey, on grounds of national security! Warheads are not simply for obliterating cities. Air bursts on such a massive scale will knock out sophisticated defence systems. A naval force might deploy nuclear air bursts to sweep away the enemy defences before its aircraft carriers came into action. These would be fired from ballistic missile submarines – for example at China’s command and control system for carrier-killer missiles, paving the way for the carrier air groups to destroy the real targets with tactical nuclear weapons.

Overall our force provides a credible ‘ Cold War Era ‘ deterrent, capable of delivering a devastating second strike from an arsenal of slightly less than 200 nuclear weapons. The UK nuclear force has a single form of response, massive; there is no layering, no single warhead or tactical nuclear capability. In other words, not quite MAD but the deterrent’s threat is terrifying revenge. Moreover, we could respond at once to an attack from a distant place.

The lack of any means of delivering tactical nuclear weapons makes our deterrent posture dangerously inflexible. We cannot destroy Russian airfields, ports or massed tanks with smaller tactical nuclear warheads because Tony Blair and others gave them up. All we can do is wipe out Moscow and many other big cities as revenge for attacks on London, Birmingham, Glasgow, Manchester and so forth. The decision to fire our Trident missiles is passed by our weak politicians via those famous Prime Ministers’ letters to the commanders of the surviving Vanguard submarines on patrol. That’s why an investment in hyper-velocity weapons and rail guns provides a far less expensive and morally more acceptable route towards restoring tactical and strategic flexibility, moreover globally.

Are there alternatives to building four dedicated submarines armed with the next generation Trident? What if an improved and slightly larger version of the Astute class boats could carry some Trident 5 missiles and do other jobs? Now I simply do not know whether the Astute design is as stealthy as the future Dreadnought class or lends itself to modification that would meet that standard. Even if it does not, deterrent capable or not, Britain still needs the means to deliver tactical weapons at short and medium ranges including at sea. The Royal Navy urgently needs more ships and submarines. Thus an argument exists, anyhow, for building more Astute class submarines. There is a further aspect. Shouldn’t we look at the next generation of weapons, both for defence and offence? We might be buying a deterrent that is out of date already.

American warships and submarines are gradually switching to launch systems that can fire a variety of missiles and even submersible vessels from large diameter tubes known as CWLs or Common Weapon Launchers, otherwise CMCs, Common Missile Containers. A large diameter allows the tube to load and fire mixed weapons including the next generation of hypersonic cruise missiles when they come into service. Four of the new Ohio class submarines are being fitted out this way and the US Navy also has a design on the drawing board for a 12,000 tons triple role submarine. This latter boat would carry Tridents, cruise and hypersonic missiles, submersible vessels, plus seal teams and other special forces – offering a patrol submarine that can undertake deterrent and conventional patrols, tactical strike missions and special operations. Britain’s new Dreadnought class could be fitted with CWLs/CMCs thereby gaining the capability to launch hypersonic weapons at some future date. Let us suppose that, before long, hypersonic missiles will launch from the same CWL/CMCs that fire cruise missiles. This also argues for a super Astute class submarine on the same lines as the new American triple role boat. Indeed, providing its ability to avoid detection matches the new Dreadnought standard, the possibility arises that super Astute Class submarines (they could keep Dreadnought as the class name) on rotation could perform nuclear and hypersonic deterrent patrols, tactical strikes and special operations.

Malcolm Chalmers at the Royal United Services Institute produced a sensible paper on the nuclear deterrent which included a similar suggestion among several others. The paper proposed that the new Trident submarines could also be designed as patrol submarines capable of deterrent duties. The paper only suggested four boats whereas I think we should build six or eight boats. When the RUSI aren’t acting as a mouthpiece for the EU they produce interesting ideas.

The declared budget of about £31 billions for the Dreadnaught submarines would build eight super Astute class submarines and complete the originally planned programme of twelve Type 45 Daring class destroyers with all twelve Darings armed properly. At present they are not. America’s Aegis destroyers sail with a layered missile defence that can shoot down anything from close range wave skimming missiles to ICBMs and satellites. Their long range ICBM interceptors have over a thousand miles reach. Daring’s radar and electronics can track hundreds of simultaneous targets. What they lack is firepower against space and surface threats. Nearly all the design and development work for both the Astute and Daring classes has been done, leaving mostly the construction costs for the extra submarines and destroyers and their proper armament. Eight super Astute class vessels would cost possibly £12 billions and six more Daring class about £ 10 billions when properly armed. At a moment of crisis, early shooting down of Russian or Chinese ICBMs may be the optimal defence measure and a dozen AAA destroyers welcome. Moreover, our new aircraft carriers would gain Aegis standard protection from their Daring escorts. Tactical nuclear and conventional/hypersonic weapons could be launched from our submarines and destroyers and by strike fighters from our new aircraft carriers from anywhere on the planet. This option provides a much more versatile and elusive deterrent force with the bonus of fourteen significant additions to the Royal Navy’s, frankly, dangerously anorexic grey line, while leaving potential foes challenged by the core ingredient of an effective deterrent—namely, to quote Mervyn King, former Governor of the Bank of England, radical uncertainty.

Maybe there is now something better than tactical nukes.

In 2003 the US Department of Defence proposed a new research mission—conventional prompt global strike (CPGS)—that sought to provide the United States with the ability to strike targets anywhere on Earth with conventional weapons in as little as an hour, without reliance on forward based forces. The most important aspect of this CPGS programme: it focussed on the delivery of conventional rather than nuclear impacts.

The Conventional Prompt Global Strike programme has developed weapons capable of performing a highly precise non-nuclear strike anywhere in the world within an hour of making the decision to attack. The development of CPGS after remotely operated drones and Aegis missiles, relied instead on delivering a non-explosive force to the target at a speed of almost five to ten times the speed of sound – hypersonic weapons travel at extremely high speeds, anywhere from 3,840 to 16,250 miles an hour. A hypersonic weapon launched from New York could reach Moscow in less than 40 minutes. By comparison, a Boeing 777 would make the same trip in eight and a half hours.

Advanced Hypersonic Weapon (AHW) is designed to provide a 6,000km range within 35 minutes flight and achieve less than ten metre accuracy. AHW delivers a conventional payload at medium and global ranges, using a hypersonic glider. The weapon’s high manoeuvrability allows it to avoid flight over third party nations when approaching the target. Its precision guidance system homes in on the target. One might argue that at such a speed, third parties would be just glad when it left their patch of sky.

Hypersonic weapons are useful for destroying A2/AD (Area Defence/Area denial) capabilities but of limited use in the battle theatre. The need for battlefield lethality has led to the concomitant development of Directed Energy Weapons (DEW). Perhaps most striking is the Electromagnetic Railgun which can fire a projectile with colossal speed. Invented and tested in Scotland – the whole test facility is still there waiting to be used by the MOD – the projectile looks rather like a tank gun sabot round, discarding its jacket as it leaves the muzzle. The round travels at hypervelocity and has a range of a hundred miles or more. Again, its speed of impact is the destructive power, and the ambition is guided rounds. No explosives are involved. Only the rounds need magazine space. Rail guns might make mini-nukes already obsolete. No wonder the US Navy would like to arm the Zumwalt destroyers with rail guns that can shoot 200 miles.

Laser technology has come a long way in recent years and offers another means of instant direct fire against all manner of targets. Laser weapons engage a target at the speed of light. That’s better than any Aegis missile if you want to kill attacking ICBMs. Add all this together and one begins to wonder if renewing a nuclear second strike force is the wrong way to go; rather, it may prove wiser to design and build a pre-emptive CPGS force to hit the hostile launchers, missiles, satellites, command and control systems before they attack. There is also an argument for a second strike by CPGS weapons on the hostile country’s armed forces, government and economy.


Kinetic bombardment has the advantage of being able to deliver projectiles from a very high angle at a very high speed, making them extremely difficult to defend against. Projectiles at this velocity do not require explosive warheads. Using hypersonic weapons means that there is no need to deploy missiles, aircraft or other vehicles on a continuous basis; even from space platforms, other than to confuse potential foes. Although the 1979 SALT II Treaty prohibited the deployment of orbital weapons of mass destruction, it did not prohibit the deployment of conventional weapons. The system is not prohibited by either the Outer Space Treaty or the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.

Britain needs its own space programme for several reasons but this project should be undertaken with the Five Eyes partners. Galileo could be denied us in a crisis and quite possibly used against us. We might even have to shoot down its satellites.


Platforms can’t be in two places at once. We deploy force multipliers to fill the gap but they’re not the same value as the actual ships or aircraft. Drones are the obvious example. Drones will fly attack and reconnaissance missions, hunt submarines in packs, fly aerial dogfights, deliver commandos and their supplies onto hostile beaches, clear mines at sea and on land, even patrol ahead of infantry.

The Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force have ordered 138 of the new F 35 stealth fighters. By ordering another dozen fitted with full electronic warfare suites a few F 35s could pave the way for dozens of Typhoons and other aircraft to break through the latest hostile area defence radars. Why spoil the ship for a hap’orth of tar.

Manpower and money.

Professional armed forces are expensive. The Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force are costly because of their complex equipment. The navy has the space know-how but the RAF should not resist space. I heard Duncan Sandys announce that the previous English Electric P1 Lightning fighter was the last manned RAF aircraft – back in 1957. Fear not all ye designing Tempest, she’s not the last by any measure.

Modern Haldane Reforms.

The Army is costly because of its much greater professional manpower. There are sensible changes that both the airmen and soldiers still resist. The airmen should hand over most of their heavy lift helicopters to the Army, something the Americans did back in the Vietnam War. The Army should think more about firepower than tracked vehicles. All three services should make greater use of volunteer reserves but through radical change the Army could transform its recruiting problem and at the same time increase the amount of its budget available for equipment and supplies.

The BEF of the First World War was founded on the Haldane Reforms of 1906-1908 which enabled six divisions of regulars and reserves eventually to grow to sixty on the Western Front. A volunteer reserve Army with a professional core of around 50-60,000 makes far more sense to me than the present contest against full employment in a country that imports thousands of workers every year. The RAF should remember that its founder, Hugh Trenchard, built a cottage on the foundations of a mansion during the 1920s. Consult the US National Air Guard about how they create squadrons far less costly in professional manpower. The Americans have fast jets flown by National Air Guard squadrons. It’s all about adding depth to our cardboard thin defences.

No blue ocean navy can operate world wide unless it’s supported by a sufficient number of highly efficient naval bases with resourceful workers and managers. Once we are out of the EU within a year we will hear far less from those noisy nationalist parties. Personally I forecast that nationalists will become a fringe movement as they were in the nineteen fifties. Scots have to be convinced that the EU would give them anything better than the union already does. Would they really want the Euro instead of billions from the English thus a big drop in their standard of living, plus a hard border south Hadrian’s Wall?

What kind of independence is rule by Germany via Brussels?

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About the author

Adrian Hill