Russia’s flagrant invasions of Ukraine have revealed some unpleasant truths for those inclined to look at the world with rose tinted glasses. Russia is a resentful neighbour. Ukraine will need our help and support until Russia withdraws every soldier from that country. There’s no avoiding this strategic message.
NATO has become a coalition of the willing. Some countries have given help beyond their size, others including quite large ones, provided little or promised much then delivered at snail’s pace. Angela Merkel left Germany near enough disarmed, far too dependent on Russia for energyand with big investmentson both sides of the Ural Mountains. Ursula von der Leyen, her defence minister, during 2018 drew up Germany’s strategic plan which in a nutshell said that both NATO and the EU are breaking up and Germany must look after herself.
Ursula von der Leyen’s move to the EU president’s job advanced this plan. All the hostility towards ourselves from the EU follows this plan. Such as pushing refugees into the English Channel rather than dealing with the problem on the mainland. My diplomatic vocabulary calls that a hostile act. Yes, of course, it’s a stupid, short-sighted act. Although even more stupid are those members of the British establishment who rather like trained sealions swallow Ursula’s German survival plan and bark their support. Her plan was put to me by an old friend, one of the most senior officers in Germany’s intelligence service, shortly before our referendum. ‘We need you, Brits,’ he appealed, ‘you make rule by France and Germany acceptable for the rest of Europe.’
Europe today is split by the Ukraine war. Two northern neutrals have joined NATO thereby becoming allies of the former Warsaw Pact countries. Nearly all of the latter know what it’s like to beoccupied by Russia. Poland is taking no chances. Not only are the Poles building a much larger army – over four times the size of ours – but buying a thousand tanks from South Korea and hundreds of self-propelled guns. Given a choice between the EU or NATO for their defence, my hunch is that all those countries will stay with NATO. Meanwhile Ursula von der Leyen pursues Germany’s strategic plan with the aim of creating a new European superpower that is independent of America’s foreign and defence policies.
No country’s establishment particularly the State Department and CIA was happier than America’s when the Europeans created a peaceful union instead of regularly throwing up tyrants who fought to rule the Continent. The Atlantic Council,one of the most respected non-partisan institutions, reflects. American reactions to the danger of a new cold war with China – combined with an EU hedging its bets regarding Russia. Their recent report, What should US strategy in Europe look like going forward? put it like this….
‘To begin with, the United States needs a Europe strategy that secures American interests while significantly reducing US costs to defend Europe. To get there will require transferring the bulk of conventional deterrence in NATO and, if need be, collective defence onto the European allies, with the United States providing the nuclear umbrella and high-end enablers. The United States must shift the conversation away from the perennial discussion of what percentage of gross domestic product should be spent on defence by each NATO member. Instead, the focus should be on the specific military capabilities each ally needs to provide. The US strategy should be built around cooperation with countries that share common threat perceptions when it comes to Russia, and are thus determined to work with the United States to ensure their security. In a nutshell, the United States needs a strategy for Europe that focuses its attention and resources on the countries doing the most to counter Russia. ’
Defence as the Atlantic Council proposes
America’s liberal establishment still clings to the idea that the EU makes Europe post national thus a united and stronger ally. If you live next door there’s no question that it’s morphed into a third German imperial venture and one that dallies with the idea of appeasing Russia. We voted for Brexit just in time for Ukraine otherwise they would be part of Russia.
Russia’s conventional armed forces have performed dismally. In 2014 the Russian navy stole 80% of Ukraine’s warships yet managed to lose their own flagship quite early during the second round. Since then Ukraine’s drones have added a landing ship to their score sheet, plus strategic bridges. Russia’s air forces and rocket forces had the sky near enough to themselves – Ukraine puts up only a handful of fighters each day – yet they wasted hundreds of expensive missiles and drones by attacking random civilian targets. The Russian army parked along the road from the frontier to Kiev for days and paid a horrendous price from which it’s never recovered.
War crimes and atrocities only harden Ukrainian resolve. Some like the kidnapping of children to raise a fifth column resembling the boys from Brazil are truly monstrous. Russia’s generals have fallen back on concrete, barbed wire and huge minefields just like mad Kaiser Wilhelm and madder Adolf Hitler. No more supplies of Wagner convicts as cannon fodder to fill the widening gaps. Once the Ukrainians reach the third line of these defences – they’re close to the second and have deployed their Challenger tanks – then I would suggest there could occur a mad panic of worn out Russian troops and possibly a mass surrender. Again this danger is so obvious to the Kremlin that Putin dare not order conscription in case there’s another mass flight abroad of young Russian men.
America, Britain and our NATO allies who are among the willing should stick with the Ukrainians. Already the Danes, Dutch and Norwegians are preparing to hand over some seventy F16 fighters while America will train pilots and Britain help with basic pilot training. The F16 is a fourth generation aircraft thus more agile and with better electronics than their opponents. Instead of removing mines by hand the Ukrainians on the ground will be able call in airstrikes – clear paths with cluster bombs. I’ve watched it done by US Marine Phantoms for real and USAF F 16s on an exercise. Take my word, it’s fast and effective.
There are limits to what F16s can do – they must fly low to hide among the radar clutter and their air to air missiles must defy gravity (it really does slow down a missile ) to hit high flying Russians. None-the-less, their electronics and weapons and agility are far better than the old Russian fighters they keep in the air presently.
Britannia has reached escape velocity. Let’s keep it that way.
Ben Wallace has been an outstanding defence minister despite serving in the most divided Tory government that I can remember. He has left his successor the core of modern armed forces. Even that was a significant achievement when extracting money from a disinterested, naive and largely ignorant Treasury, FCO, Cabinet Office and Number Ten – moreover, while sending emergency batches of arms and ammunition to Ukraine. Ships and aircraft cannot patrol in two places at the same time. Nor can helicopters and tanks. Nor can drones. Numbers count. Cyber warfare won’t get an army across a big river or an ocean. Don’t believe anyone who tells you otherwise. Britain’s armed forces are about a third of the size required for today’s dangerous, fast changing world.
Russia is resentful. Whoever lurks in the Kremlin, expect big trouble. We need a fleet large enough to carry out major tasks on two oceans. Some routine tasks are for avoiding huge risks. Just one example, when our ballistic missile submarines – our national life insurance – go to sea they used to have an escort of half a dozen hunter killer submarines. This was to make sure they disappeared below the surface and stayed hidden throughout their patrol. In other words, not shadowed. The navy has only seven modern hunter killers and a pair of older ones. It’s not enough. The navy needs another sixteen boats at least. The AUKUS submarine programme is for 24 boats to patrol the Pacific. We need a similar programme for the Atlantic.
More ships and tanks
We need enough ships, aircraft and submarines to sink a Russian fleet plus one from Argentina. At the same time we may need to support the Americans and the Australians against China as Xi wants to gobble most of the Commonwealth. Personally I would add two more aircraft carrier groups. Providing we have the numbers to make all hostiles think twice, believe me, they will.
Ukraine is mighty grateful for a squadron of Challengers. Tanks aren’t obsolete. Let’s open a production line for Challenger 4s with those British rifled guns that can knock out tanks five kilometres away. Keep the production lines in Britain. Take British Steel way from China. Though buy some of those cardboard drones from Australia. Let’s have a look at the seventeen tons weight air portable tank that I thought a brilliant idea back in the 1970s. I met the man who built the prototype in Washington DC. Rishi should approve the £200 millions for those Chinooks. I bet the SAS are glad to have the same choppers as the Green Berets given how close is their operational relationship.
Expand the volunteer reserves.
And if regular soldiers are so expensive expand the volunteer reserves. If you cannot afford more than 70,000 regulars, recruit 100,000 volunteer reserves but change the obligation to serve full time if required. That means making it worthwhile for their employers to support the scheme but let’s have some imagination. Maybe snake oil Shapps will surprise us all!
RAF Not large enough
The RAF simply doesn’t have enough aircraft, pilots and ground crew. Again the three times more principle applies. The F35 purchase is going through the same contortions over numbers as the orders for navy and RAF F 4 Phantoms fifty years ago. And with the same manufacturer! The Royal Navy’s order was reduced by the Treasury but in the end 160 aircraft were purchased for the RN and RAF. Let’s not repeat history. Stick with the order for 140 F 35s.
Typhoon is a good aircraft and can double as an air defence fighter or ground attack weapon. However, earlier versions are being retired, thus numbers dwindling. Typhoon is supposed to serve until 2040 when the sixth generation Tempest will take over.
During the 1963 worldwide the RAF mustered nearly forty squadrons of Hunter day fighters and nearly twenty squadrons of Javelin all weather fighters. Most were based in the British Isles but several in Germany, the Near East and the Far East. Add to the fighters a force of Canberra bombers with about twenty squadrons world-wide and fifteen squadrons of V bombers as our nuclear deterrent. That special relationship mattered to both partners.
Three times more also applies to the Airborne Early Warning and Control aircraft, the maritime patrol and signals intelligence aircraft all made by Boeing. The RAF does not have enough. After retiring the redoubtable C130 Hercules the RAF has no truly tactical transport aircraft. The order for Chinooks should go ahead.
Is all the above a wise response to living on the brink of a third world war. Of course not. The Cabinet should be lined up against a wall and pelted with rotten eggs. So should the Shadow Cabinet whose silence on defence is deafening. But let’s not dwell on the recent past and face the rising sun.