Monday, January 18, 2010

Army chief calls for more troops and fewer ships to fight wars against insurgents

The head of the Army has said that more troops and fewer ships are needed as the changing face of warfare requires the most radical changes to military tactics for more than 80 years.

By Richard Edwards, Telegraph

General Sir David Richards, Chief of the General Staff, said that the rules of war had been rewritten by the challenges of fighting insurgents and the armed forces were now facing a new “horse versus tank moment” – when cavalry was phased out in favour of tanks in the First World War.

With a defence review set to follow a spring general election, Sir David said that it was time to rethink conventional “old-war fighting” involving heavy armour and ships.

The success of insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan and the emerging threat of cyber-attacks against Britain's infrastructure made radical change unavoidable, he said.

Sir David suggested that more troops, unmanned spy planes and high-tech cyber-defences would have to be paid for by slashing the budget for ships and fighter jets.

"Soldiers give you the most choice and the most utility in today's sort of conflict”.

He continued: "People say I'm only talking about war with non-state actors [such as the Taliban]. I'm not. I'm saying this is how even war between states is more likely to be fought in the future."

Since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the military has faced a string of counterinsurgency or stabilisation operations in the Balkans, Sierra Leone, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Sir David said: "In our heart of hearts, we thought that was an aberration and we'd go back to jolly old war-fighting like in the western desert or a hot version [with battle lines drawn] of the cold war."

But the general said the examples of Basra and Helmand have proved "unsophisticated opponents with very cheap weaponry" can pose severe threats – and said that future opponents were likely to use similar tactics.

"Why would you not learn a lesson from that and think, 'Actually, that's how I would bring down great nations and great alliances, much more subtly, cleverly and at much less risk'?" he said.

Sir David, who is due to speak today at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, said he lived in "the real world" and envisaged significant spending cuts in the defence review.

He insisted that Britain still needed ships, aircraft and tanks. But there may have to be fewer of them because more soldiers are required, along with more helicopters to carry them.

Last month the Government announced that a £900 million package of 22 new helicopters, body armour and other support for troops in Afghanistan would be funded by closing a Royal Air Force base and scrapping a squadron of Harrier jets. In addition, two Navy ships will be retired early.

The move led to former military chiefs questioning whether the focus on Afghanistan risked leaving Britain exposed to other threats.

Sir David, however, compared critics to the cavalry officers who insisted, long after the introduction of the tank in the first world war, that it would never replace horses.

He also said that Britain will need to develop better defensive and offensive measures to ward off cyber-attacks.


  1. Excellent post. I completely agree with Sir David - he is exactly correct in saying that this is a "horse versus tank" moment.

    If money needs to be spent on hardware, then that hardware should be helicopters. Money also needs to be put into looking at ways to solve the IED problem. By that, I mainly mean trying to find some kind of ground transport that is almost immune to IEDs.

    Here's an idea. Something like a steam-roller-type vehicle with the rollers close together (maybe even three of them) , and a cabin on top.
    If an IED went off under that, the rollers might get damaged, but being rollers rather than wheels, you could still keep going.

    The heavy rollers would offer good protection in themselves, unlike the wheels of conventional vehicles.
    The blast would have to go through the bottom AND the top of a roller before it got to the cabin. So, your "wheels" ARE the armour as well. Even better - how about rollers with several concentric layers? That way, each layer would not have to be as heavy.

    If the enemy is waging unconventional warfare, we need to think unconventionally as well.

  2. The General is right.Any conflict is only won by ground troops.However there are more and more hangers on developing in the current system.Our army is becoming more like the old joke of the Spanish Navy.More Admirals than Seamen.I am not saying that initial support staff are in this class but is not the MOD over staffed.I am sure that this articulate group will put a very good case for their retention but if the workers are depleted by more reductions of the fighting units( and support staff)even the Politicians will notice that things are out of balance.