Monday, May 23, 2022
HomeNewsNever mind helping Ukraine, our own armed forces are a disaster area

Never mind helping Ukraine, our own armed forces are a disaster area

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THE Prime Minister channels his inner Churchill to assure Ukrainians that they will win and are having their finest hour. I suspect that’s not quite the view in Mariupol, Kherson or Kharkov, where they well know that words don’t stop bullets, orcs or tanks. It’s not just Boris Johnson: last week the Foreign Secretary came out with similarly vacuous rhetoric in her Mansion House speech, where she announced that Ukraine would expel the Russians from the occupied Donbass – as if they haven’t been trying that for the past eight years.

What passes for our policy on Ukraine seems to be for our leaders to manufacture political capital from Ukraine’s military exploits, while remaining blind to the huge problems our own armed forces face. Note that the Ukrainians declined the offer of our (obsolescent) AS90 artillery. The only British weapon they do like is the NLAW (Next generation Light Anti-tank Weapon) which was designed in another era. We’re now sending them £300million of (unspecified) electronic warfare equipment, armoured Toyota Landcruisers, some logistics drones and Brimstone missiles in an anti-ship role.

As a technical aside, Brimstone is fundamentally an anti-tank missile with a 6kg warhead and a range of about 10km (more if air launched). It can destroy small patrol boats. If you want to kill a ship you need a bigger warhead (Harpoon has 200kg) and a longer range (Harpoon 120 km). But then Westminster’s bubble doesn’t like hard facts.

Neither does Whitehall and, as the Telegraph noticed, the Army’s equipment problems continue. Buried in a National Audit Office report on the troubled Ajax programme is a reference to the Army’s new radio and command and control system, Morpheus. Paragraph 3.14 states Morpheus ‘has been delayed by at least three years and has had significant cost increases’. Plus ça change.

This is more than the familiar procurement disaster as it strikes to the core of the Army’s entire future policy, which includes a heavy commitment to ‘deep strike’ – engaging the enemy at ranges of 50 kilometres and more. The concept is nothing new; deep strike has been on the menu since the Cold War. It’s an attractive concept, albeit technologically challenging.

Detecting and identifying (say) tanks as enemy at 50 km and then delivering sufficient weaponry to knock them out is tricky. It requires long-distance communication (which is where Morpheus comes in). This comes down to a bandwidth problem; only a finite amount of data can be transmitted over the available frequencies. Moreover, as with any military electronic communication there are opportunities for the enemy to intercept, disrupt or locate the transmitters. The greater the distance, the worse the problem the Integrated Operating Concept (IOC) referred to hundreds of kilometres, which is commendably ambitious). The problem is well explained in a RUSI publication.

Even if the communications work, something must then strike the enemy. It can’t be AS90 (maximum range 30km), so it is the GMLRS (Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System, range about 84km). The British Army has just 42 launchers in total; about a third of them are with a reserve regiment. Moreover the current warheads are not optimised for destroying armour because we abandoned cluster bombs. Alternative technologies exist, but we have not bought them. So one of the underlying concepts of the Future Army outlined last year is, at best, dependent on the Army procuring and integrating the relevant equipment.

A more serious problem is the current Army’s lack of training. A recent paper in the Wavell Room (a website publishing contemporary military thought) makes the point that our brigades and divisions have not exercised in the field for decades. Even at battlegroup level (one below brigade) training in the superb, armoured training area in Canada has reduced to insignificant levels. In the 1990s a battlegroup could expect to train there in its entirety every other year for six weeks the exercises there are now just company sized (one level below battlegroup).

As the Russian army has demonstrated, poorly trained commanders deliver disaster on the battlefield.

The stark truth is that the Army’s capability is far, far less than needed to meet our Nato commitment to field an armoured division. Mr Johnson and Mr Wallace should be turning their attention to resolving that before someone calls the Foreign Secretary’s bluff.

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Patrick Benham-Crosswell
Patrick Benham-Crosswellhttps://www.conservativewoman.co.uk
Patrick Benham-Crosswell is a former Army officer who has spent the last 30 years in commerce. He is the author of Net Zero: The Challenges, Costs and Consequences of the UK's Zero Emission Ambition.

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