Britain Receives Its First P-8A Poseidon

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Earlier this week the first of the Royal Air Force’s new P-8A Poseidon MPA (maritime patrol aircraft) touched down at Kinloss, Scotland. It is the first of nine Poseidon aircraft purchased by the Ministry of Defense and marks Great Britain’s return to the fixed wing ASW (anti-submarine warfare) game. The RAF and Royal Navy have been without shore based MPAs for over a decade following the retirement of the Nimrod in 2009. During the eleven year period between then and now, Britain was forced to rely on its allies to provide ASW coverage around the British Isles, and in the North Atlantic. The gap in coverage came at a critical time, as tensions with Russia rose following the annexation of Crimea, and the Ukrainian intervention in 2014. Russian naval operations in the North Atlantic and Norwegian Sea increased shortly afterwards, reemphasizing the importance of the waters to NATO.

This is a step in the right direction for the Brits though. Over the past three years or so, Britain has become serious about redressing their military deficiencies. The British armed services had become a hollow shell as weapons systems were cut, and units disbanded in order to foot the bill for Britain’s commitments overseas such as in Afghanistan. Like many other European powers, British military power diminished. The Royal Navy was especially hard hit by the budget and force cuts and is presently rectifying the situation. The final three Astute class attack submarines are under construction, as well as the first of the new Dreadnought class SSBNs. On the surface side, the second Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carrier HMS Prince of Wales was recently commissioned. The first two City class frigates are also under construction and will help enhance the escort forces for the carriers.

This is certainly progress considering how much combat power had been gouged out of the British military between 2005 and 2014 or so. A lot of work still needs to be done but the Brits are moving in the right direction.

Germany’s Defense Woes Continue

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The combat readiness of Germany’s armed forces has deteriorated significantly in recent years, and it is safe to say the German military is on the edge of a major crisis. Berlin’s efforts to remedy the situation appear to have only worsened it in some instances. Unfortunately for Germany, the problem is no longer simply only a national one. It has become a NATO matter as the consequences of a severely weakened German military will be felt most by the alliance’s three most vulnerable members to the east. The state of Germany’s armed forces is raising doubts about NATO’s ability to defend Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania against Russian aggression.

Germany’s military readiness has become so bad that its latest annual readiness report was classified for ‘security reasons.’ This has never happened before and is leading some German politicians to conclude that the true condition of the Bundeswehr is worse than believed. Another theory put forward is that the report was classified for political reasons. Specifically, to allow Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen to survive. She has been under constant fire from critics for her inability to solve the readiness issues. Keeping the German public in the dark about these matters would give von der Leyen some breathing space.

On Monday Germany’s proposed 2020 budget was made public. Military spending will increase, yet still remain below NATO’s 2% of GDP commitment for each member-state to spend on its armed forces. The Trump administration is not happy with this development, and rightfully so. Germany has been dragging its heels on reaching the 2% mark and rectifying its readiness shortfalls for quite some time now. In fact, instead of aiming for 2%, Angela Merkel’s government is just hoping to be able to reach 1.5% within three years.

Germany’s failure to live up to its NATO spending commitments, as well as its weakened military state contradict its emphatic support of the international order. Multilateralism is the cornerstone of German foreign policy, yet Berlin appears entirely comfortable not living up to the commitments it made to the NATO alliance, a multilateral institution. While this is a clear cut  geopolitical example of the pot calling the kettle back, Angela Merkel likely views it as a case of realpolitik where common sense and practicalities prevail.

Saturday 14 October, 2017 Update: Great Britain Prepares for Possible Involvement in North Korean Crisis

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Earlier this week media outlets in the United Kingdom reported that the British armed services have been asked to draw up contingency plans for UK involvement in a future conflict between the United States and North Korea. Given closeness of the relationship between the US and Great Britain, the drafting of these plans comes as no surprise. It is generally assumed that there will be some level of British involvement in a US effort against North Korea. Judging from the tone of some reports coming out of Whitehall, however, British planners are preparing for the possibility of large scale military involvement in the Western Pacific should a situation call for it.

The Daily Mail, a British tabloid, disclosed that  plans involve a possible deployment by HMS Queen Elizabeth, Britain’s newest carrier, even before she has undergone flight trials. At current, Britain does not even have enough F-35s or qualified pilots to fit out an air wing for the carrier, calling into question the feasibility of this particular plan. In an emergency situation, US Marine Corps F-35s could cross-deck to the Queen Elizabeth and operate from her, though it is questionable how plausible this scenario would be in a wartime situation.

For that matter, the soundness of Britain staging a major deployment of  military forces to the Pacific is up for debate. British defense spending had been cut to the bone over the last fifteen years as most of the funding went to supporting Britain’s commitments in Afghanistan and Iraq. There were scarce pounds left to invest in new aircraft, ships, and other conventional weapons for a time. The Ministry of Defense adopted the watchword of ‘Cut! Cut! Cut!’ for an extended period of time. As a result, the Royal Navy and RAF are shells of their former selves. Of the 77 commissioned ships in the Royal Navy currently, only 19 of these are  major surface combatants. The RAF is in no better condition with regular deployments to Afghanistan, and other commitments vital to national interests tying up the majority of combat airframes.

Britain’s Defense Secretary Sir Michael Fallon has spoken lately of the need to increase British spending. In light of the current world situation this is sensible talk, however, any attempt to increase spending will be undoubtedly spark a major row with Labor. Given the current state of British politics there is no telling what the end result might be. At any rate, Britain has to take a long, hard look at the condition of its military before considering its involvement in a potential future conflict.

For the moment it is safe to say that the question is not how many British troops, aircraft, or ships can be committed to a US effort against North Korea. The real question is whether there will be any available to commit at all.

 

The March 2017 DIRT Project: Rebuilding the US Military

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After more than a decade of fighting two low-intensity conflicts simultaneously, and eight years of concurrent neglect by the Obama administration, the US military is in a precarious state. Equipment is becoming obsolete at an alarming rate. The current size of the armed forces is not sufficient enough to handle the tempo of operations that US forces are currently engaged in around the world. The defense sequestration has done significant damage to readiness. Potential adversaries of the United States have grown bolder and stronger. At present time, China and Russia are modernizing their own forces and bolstering capabilities to the point that both are now near-peer opponents of the US military.

Fortunately, help is on the way for America’s beleaguered armed forces. During the 2016 presidential campaign, one of Donald Trump’s main promises was to rebuild the military. He placed a great deal of emphasis on its creaky state and vowed to repair it should he win the election. Well, he won and now, a little over a month after his inauguration, President Trump is moving to make good on his promise. He is proposing a federal budget that includes a ten percent raise in defense spending. It’s unclear at the moment whether or not Trump’s first attempt at a federal budget will pass. However, it is safe to say that he will be pushing forward on a plan to rebuild the military one way or another.

Rebuilding will not only be a matter of handing the Pentagon a blank check and saying, “fix the problem.” Simply throwing money at a problem is not guaranteed to solve it, as anyone who is well versed in American politics can affirm. Excessive spending, cost overruns, and stifling bureaucratic red tape are facts of life at the five-sided building in Arlington and represent looming roadblocks for any Trump administration effort to fix the military. The effects of each one needs to be minimized or done away with in large part before a large-scale modernization program can take root.

For March, we will be examining two main questions: What will a rebuilt US military look like when all is said and done? What steps need to be taken in order to ensure that the armed forces are properly equipped, trained and ready to fight the next war?

Each service branch has its own laundry list of wants and needs: new weapons systems, an increase in the number of battalions or squadrons, and larger maintenance budgets to name but a few.  Therefore, we will analyze the branches individually, beginning with the US Air Force on Tuesday, 7 March, 2017. Strategic (nuclear) forces will be handled in separate entry. The US Coast Guard, while tacitly a service branch, will not be covered. Sorry, Coasties. J

 

Wednesday 22 February, 2017 Update: Germany To Increase Troop Levels

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Germany has unveiled new plans to increase the size of its armed forces by 20,000 over the next seven to eight years. In her statement announcing the plan, German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen said that the Bundeswehr has “rarely been as necessary as it is now.” The statement leaves one to wonder whether Berlin’s motivation stems from complaints made by the Trump administration about many NATO members not carrying their weight militarily, or from the reality that a new security situation is forming in Eastern Europe is unknown. Frankly, at this juncture it does not matter. What does matter is that the German government is growing more committed to reversing the steep decline that has infected the Bundswehr since the end of the Cold War. That bodes well for Germany and the entire NATO alliance.

Details have not been released yet. There is no official word on how the 20,000 new recruits will be dispersed among the service branches which make up the Bundeswehr, however, it is safe to assume that the bulk will end up in the German Army, or as it is known in Germany, the HEER. The Luftwaffe and German Navy can use more manpower as well. In 2011 Germany ended conscription and set a manpower requirement for 185,000 soldiers in the post-conscription years. Right now, the Bundeswehr’s active strength sits at roughly 178,000. Manpower is not the only woe affecting the Bundeswehr. In 2014, equipment and spare part shortages, as well as maintenance issues became so troubling that there was concern Germany would be unable to live up to its NATO obligations.

Since that low point, Germany has taken steps to improve the readiness of its armed forces. Defense spending is increasing, the number of main battle tanks in active service is being expanded, equipment and maintenance issues with the Luftwaffe’s Tornado squadrons is being redressed. These actions, together with the plan announced today, are encouraging signs. But it is only a beginning and the road to the Bundeswehr becoming a first-rate military once more, will be a long one.

As a historical note, it’s useful to remember that France, Russia and Poland were all modernizing their militaries in 1939, looking ahead to have more capable forces fielded by 1942-43. Unfortunately, the Germans were not prepared to sit idly by and wait for their potential enemies to bulk up their forces before kicking off Act Two of the Great European Civil War.

Jumping ahead to the modern day, the hope is that there will be enough time for the Bundeswehr reforms to take effect. Whether or not that happens will not be up to the men and women in Berlin,  but the men in Moscow.