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The UK military is in a parlous state of affairs

Introduction by John Padbury

Dr. Graham Blick elaborates on his observations concerning the precarious state of the United Kingdom's political and military structure. He emphasises the pressing need to formulate and comprehend the importance of a long-term global and national Political Strategic Aims (PSAs). During the tenure of the Conservative Government, led by Theresa May (who had no military experience) as Home Secretary in 2010 and as Prime Minister in 2016, there was a significant reduction in the British Army, bringing it below 70,000 personnel. Concurrently, there were substantial cuts in the police forces. This occurred at a time marked by escalating international military tensions, wars, and a surge in `British crime.

Acknowledging the failures of military strategies in theatres like Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, and ongoing conflicts in Africa, the West faces the reality that its strategies have failed. In contrast, China, Russia and militant Islamic forces continue to make advancements, particularly in Africa. The U.S. strategy of deploying extensive manpower and ordnance in guerrilla warfare environments has not only failed but has proven unsustainable, leading to a notable loss of political support domestically. The belief is that the West cannot afford another military defeat.

Furthermore, it is my opinion that the only way to counter revolutionary warfare is by mobilising the civilian population involved in order to fight their own battles through effective irregular warfare strategies. This greatly reduces the number of friendly troops involved and defines their role to train, equip, deploy and support the irregular forces into the operational areas, their traditional homes. This ensures that the ‘friendly’ soldiers remain out of the operational area, reduces costs which enables friendly governments to finance protracted warfare without draining their finances and losing men in the battlefield. As Sun Tzu says: ‘The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.’

In recent times, Western powers, notably the USA, UK and France, grapple with the task of establishing irregular warfare doctrines. Drawing inspiration from Russian and Chinese successes, as well as historical examples like the battle for Hurungwe in the Rhodesian Civil War, it becomes evident that the way forward involves developing effective irregular/asymmetrical warfare strategies. This necessitates a reassessment of political policies well in advance of contemplating military deployments. It is crucial that the Political Strategic Aim (PSA) is clearly defined and mutually agreed upon by host  nations and those deploying their forces. As Mao asserted, ‘Politics is war without bloodshed, and war is politics with bloodshed’, underscoring the pivotal role politicians play in initiating and concluding wars. Politics precedes the military and endures throughout the conflict.

In instances where revolutionary forces have gained ground, it appears that governments strive to retain power in order to enforce established laws against the will of the people. Often, minority tribes and opposition parties are oppressed and/or abandoned while the ruling (often corrupt) governments refuse electoral changes with violence and ignore the will of the people. Revolutionaries become counter-revolutionaries. Subsequent discontent confirms a broken peace. The voice of the silenced population must be acknowledged, and their legitimate grievances, needs, and aspirations (GNA) addressed. A noteworthy distinction lies between imposing foreign and national political agendas on the people, such as regime change or supporting a threatened/collapsing government, and genuinely attending to the people's legitimate GNA by listening and responding to their will.

From my perspective, war is inherently political. Without a clearly defined PSA, a Military Strategic Aim (MSA) cannot be established. This strategy inevitably requires a significant shift in political thinking. Politicians in the affected nation will be required to ‘move amongst the people’ in order to establish, and attend to, the people's GNA, while politicians from the supporting nation position themselves to enforce these changes. Only then can the military formulate their MSA and deploy to support the PSA. I would go so far as to say that the military should not deploy until these political demands are in place. The military lose their advantage if they deploy and then seek political strategic changes. Based on recent military presentations I delivered in the UK, I am firmly convinced that certain military personnel (acknowledging that not all military individuals are suited for this irregular warfare role), exhibit the capability and capacity to embrace this new irregular warfare strategy. The pivotal question, however, is whether politicians and intelligence agencies can undergo the necessary paradigm shift. As the company commander said at one of my recent presentations, ‘The problem John, during the battle for Hurungwe, you were 40 years ahead of your time, we are only grasping these irregular warfare issues now.”

Dr Graham Blick

The military issues we have been examining here in the UK are in a parlous state and it

is probably politically and militarily a similar situation that it found itself in 1938/39 where it could barely defend itself. Australia similarly is running parallel to the UK situation. I have been networking on military history with Emeritus Professor Martin Alexander formerly Professor of International relations and strategy, Aberystwyth University. Martin is an acknowledged military strategist and has lectured widely in this arena. This has benefitted networking and inroads to useful sources of information and particularly when writing articles such as this one.

I recently attended the Lancaster Military Heritage Group black tie annual dinner. The guest speaker a friend and colleague of Martin Alexander was Emeritus Professor Edward Spiers of the History Department of the University of Leeds and the author of 19 books. He delivered an excellent presentation on Operation Husky – Invasion of Sicily 1943. This was a successful amphibious operation and it also provided a template and a realistic source of critical learning for the later invasion of Normandy on 6 June 1944.

I met a couple of serving British Brigadiers at the Lancaster Military Heritage Group annual dinner a couple of weeks ago. Brigadier Peter Rafferty is the outgoing 2023 President and Brigadier Mark Kenyon, OBE, BA is the incumbent for 2024. Rafferty has recently spent an extended period in Zimbabwe with BMATT (British Military Advisory Training Team) based at Inyanga close to the Mozambique border at what was 3 Independent Company base camp originally built by the Rhodesian regime to defend itself against incursions on its eastern border. He did not say much but he and his wife enjoyed their time there visiting Victoria Falls and most of the tourist places of interest including the Eastern Highlands such as the Vumba and Leopard Rock.

At the conclusion of the evening the incoming President Brigadier Mark Kenyon, OBE,

BA presented his opinion on the state of British military preparedness and painted a very gloomy picture of its current status including the premature withdrawal of Ben Wallace from politics and the office of Secretary of War in the cabinet. Wallace was/is popular with conservatives but according to scuttle bug apparently had problems behind

the scenes with the senior British Commanders who considered him to be a military lightweight as he was only captain when he left the army and entered politics. The class problem and old boy network that still prevails in the UK and often causes irreparable damage and stifles progress in my opinion.

It sounded like most of the western military democracies have fallen asleep at the wheel

and are now vulnerable. Even Israel with all its military and intelligence capabilities has been caught napping by Hamas who trained and prepared this recent assault on Israel right under their noses because they had taken their eyes off their opponents, were politically distracted internally and suffered the consequences for their slackness. Australia’s greatest threat to its security is probably the China and Taiwan issue but also Indonesia, (Largest Muslim population in the world) North Korea, the Solomon Islands and probably New Guinea as they cosy up to China for aid.

One of the issues that the UK is facing is current downsizing of the British Army to below 70,000 personnel supported by 60,000 civilians in the public service administering (a ratio which needs to be reviewed and determined if value for money expended is being beneficially realised.), and supporting this tiny military force at great cost to the nation. Not realising appropriate benefits for the military but adding greatly to the cost of military expenditure to the taxpayer because of an ineffective, inefficient civil service. My proposition was simply to recommend that the bulk of those civil servants be made redundant. The public service in the UK is over-endowed with them. The military to be equipped and enabled to administer their own organisations in an effective, efficient and cost effective way. What the public service does the army can do better.The accountability and responsibility will be placed where it should be and its operational performance focused on its core business of defence, response and attack capability. Note, accountability and responsibility for the total operational ability and competence needs to lie with the senior officers commanding the different military forces. Rigorous, robust performance contracts put in place containing the appropriate performance metrics for military leaders, remuneration and benefits like any other leader in business. In short realising both tangible and intangible benefits in order to provide a case for the powers that be that is compelling and influential. I seldom note this approach strategically covered in any academic article, paper or submission. Its inclusion is a key critical success factor for any campaign or conflict in my view which has been overlooked as western democracies and other powers are discovering in the war in Ukraine and other conflicts. Consideration for asymmetrical warfare/irregular warfare as per John Padbury’s Battle for Hurungwe and David Kilcullen’s experience should be included in any strategy. This then makes provision for the civilian population caught between the warring parties to be equipped and enabled to defend and protect themselves from any enemy or insurgents. It should prove to be a cost effective measure

and realise both tangible and intangible benefits.

Create a business case identifying benefits to be realised (intangible and tangible) so that the UK, Australia or any country can defend themselves. ( This they can do by creating a modern well trained, well equipped, mobile, technologically sophisticated, competent, cutting edge (air, land and sea) amphibious military machine which can be deployed rapidly and effectively anywhere. Utilisation of appropriate technology is imperative as we move from the digital age (3rd Industrial revolution) to the age of artificial intelligence (AI) the 4th industrial revolution which has been emerging for some years (at least a decade). An example of AI currently being used is the Israeli air force using it

to plan its daily bombing operations. It plans 100 of these a day and the air force has only managed to complete 50 of these in any single day. Similarly Russia has utilised electronic warfare in its war in the Ukraine and more recently China engaged Australian naval divers by trying to blind them with lasers whilst operating in international waters close to China.

It is also critical to build in the factor that most technologies become obsolete in 18 months due to the pace of change in today’s world. This factor needs to be built into any strategy or plans that nations are creating. In my opinion most military strategists, commentators and academics have barely delved in depth into this emerging powerful tool (AI) just as very little focus in most articles published on military strategy hardly mention, let alone acknowledge, the importance and significance of logistics and its encompassing vital strategic role that it has in any conflict. Bringing all the elements into play in any strategy or article will be a critical success factor in any conflict wherever it occurs. In my opinion perhaps the best example of this is the early model that General Sir John Monash created during WW1 when he utilised his engineering and military competencies to plan a holistic campaign to unseat the Germans in 1917/18 using a combined operations approach - the first of the blitzkriegs in my view. The template which the Germans modified and refined during the Spanish civil war and used so effectively in WW2 by Rommel et al. Elements of this military machine would be most beneficial and cost effective at Brigade or Divisional level. The BR approach can be used by any organisation for any business plan. (See my paper on Benefit Realisation

Strategy needs to be unpredictable but sound nimble, flexible and sufficiently elastic for commanders to be empowered to make decisions on the ground as events unfold and when plans are no longer viable in the circumstances. This includes the empowerment, accountability and responsibility of corporals and soldiers to similarly make on the ground enemy contact decisions. It is apparent that this is where greater training and preparedness needs to happen as most of these current conflicts are corporal’s wars. An illustration of this thinking would be the contrast between Patton and Montgomery during Operation Husky, Sicily 1943 when Patton circumvented his opposition and going round them allowed him to attack on two fronts, forward and rear, and made speedy progress as a result. Montgomery however took the traditional head on approach and was slower and more costly resources and time wise etc.

Intelligence agencies need to be beefed up - provided with the resources and cutting edge equipment so that they are effective and penetrating. The failure of Mossad and the Israeli Army to detect and respond to Hamas training and preparing literally right under Israel’s nose should be a sound warning of the significance of having excellent intelligence to respond to but also an expert intelligence organisation which keeps its eyes on the ball externally as well as internally at all times.  

In conclusion, investment in long range fire, air defence, electronic warfare, intelligence surveillance, reconnaissance and logistics was identified as being needed to modernise the British force. Lt. General Magowan, Deputy Chief of the Defence Staff (Financial and Military capability) stated that the Government are going to need to make some hard-edged decisions if they are going to realise their operational requirements. Lt Gen Magowan also said “that lessons learned from the Ukraine and other operations should be taken into account and applied,” when reporting to the Commons defence committee in December 23. He also stated that there was a £17 BN shortfall for new weapons and equipment over the next 10 years and the MOD faces” some hard edged decisions as stated above” if the British army is to achieve its goal of becoming one of the most lethal in Europe.

Dr Graham Blick, FAIM, FAHRI.

DBA, B.Ed., Dip Pers Mgmt., Cert.Ed., TAE Cert IV

Images: John Padbury delivering a presentation to the UK military; Anglo-Zulu wars (Battle of Isandlwana artist Charles Edwin Fripp’s depiction of the battle, painted in 1885) have we learned any lessons?; Former Prime Minister Theresa May's book - ironically confronting injustice in public life!

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