Friday, 4 October 2013

Falling down the Rankings? Thoughts on the UK National Defence Association report.

Humphrey has now safely returned from his wedding and honeymoon, and is slowly catching up with the events of the last few weeks. Its clearly been a challenging time – the dreadful events in Kenya were brought home to the author when he transited Nairobi and saw Army personnel everywhere returning from the siege. Similarly the party conference season here in the UK seems to have stirred up a few debates about the state of Defence, perhaps hiding other more important developments.

The one debate though that made the authors heart sink was the frankly ridiculous report by the UK National Defence Association which through some fairly interesting interpretations of statistics tried to purport that the UK is no longer a military power in any way (apparently we have less troops than Greece or Argentina, and less planes than Italy). What is so depressing about this is firstly that this report was written by an organisation which has many senior former military personnel in it who should frankly know better than to rely on pure statistics as a measure. Secondly it is depressing that the level of defence debate in the UK has descended into an incredibly puerile series of reports suggesting that because the UK doesn't have 3000 tanks, we are somehow an irrelevance on the global stage.

There is always a tendency to look fondly back at times gone by and suggest that they were better then than things are now, and this report perhaps shows this. In terms of time elapsed, we’re now nearly a quarter of a century out since the Cold War ended, and we can now look back at the force structures of the time and gasp, near agog, at the sheer size of the UK armed forces and just how many people were in them. No doubt people were doing the same back in 1991 and wistfully looking back to the UK military of 1966 and its global presence.
Does the UK really need more than 250 Challenger Tanks?

The problem for Humphrey though is trying to work out what the UK would possibly achieve by having the vastly larger armed forces that some seem to think would cement our status on the world stage. When one looks back over the last 150 years, the possession of large military forces by the UK has been somewhat of an aberration. If you ignore WW1 & WW2, then the only period in which large forces were sustained was from 1945 until the end of the Cold War. This could only be done by relying firstly on large numbers of conscripts, then having to provide very low pay after the end of National Service. It is telling that once military wages began to catch up with, then overtake civilian roles, manpower quickly became increasingly unaffordable.  Similarly it is easy to forget that this period is one of the very few in UK history where there was a clearly defined opponent, where UK forces had a clear role to play (e.g. maintain BAOR, defend the home base, conduct ASW) as well as support wider non NATO commitments. It is much easier to justify the retention of larger armed forces when you have a specific role in mind for them, and not just being held at readiness as a contingency.

In the UK we are perhaps guilty of looking back on the Cold War period as halcyon era where we had large armed forces, while forgetting that they existed to do very specific roles, and also encourage other nations to pull their weight too. The post Cold War era wasn't some wonderful period where UK forces roamed the globe in glorious isolation emulating Palmerstons views, but a period when the UK had to contribute to an international coalition and work with our partners against a common enemy. This is important to remember, for the argument that 30 years ago we had X frigates, Y jets and Z tanks compared to today's paltry number is actually misleading. In reality much of this equipment was fully committed to NATO forces, and wasn't easily available to support wider UK national interests beyond the NATO area. So yes, the UK had capabilities, but they were borne to meet a specific external threat, and not a general role.

Similarly, if one looks at availability, it becomes clear that in real terms UK capability for purely national tasks now isn't far off what it was at the end of the Cold War. Speaking to a Naval friend who joined in the late 1980s, he pointed out that of the 47 escorts when they joined, nearly a third were usually tied up in refit. Add to this the tasking and working up of escorts for things like NATO commitments, and support to the South Atlantic, and suddenly that’s the best part of another 15 escorts committed. At best there would be a margin of some 10-15 hulls available for national discretionary deployments – not much more than is available today.

It is also clear that the report focuses far too heavily on manpower being the sole guide to a nations military prowess, while ignoring the vast technological changes which have gone on. The old County Destroyers needed some 500 crew, the Type 42s needed around 250-280, while the Type 45s need barely 190. In real terms, the RN would have needed some 3000 sailors to put six Countys to sea, but barely 1100 for the Type 45. A simplistic analogy, but one which perhaps demonstrates that in many ways the RN of today may have less sailors, but it also needs less sailors to operate vastly more capable equipment. The usual riposte at times like this is to deploy the tired old adage ‘but a ship cannot be in more than one place’ – something which may be true, but ignores the difference in capabilities. An RN task force of 30 years ago would have needed two or three ships to achieve the same effect as a modern Type 45 can have – so whilst in peacetime that may mean two or three less ship visits, it does mean that in wartime the RN has a broadly equivalent level of protection now with far less hulls than before. Numbers are only one part of the equation, and while important, should not dominate to the point where  capability is no longer considered.

We could afford plenty of 2nd rate Type 14s, but they were not hugely useful. 
It is also important to realise when looking at these sorts of papers that nations have very different defence requirements. It is one thing to say we have less soldiers than say, South Korea, but we forget that we do not have a nuclear armed neighbour on our border with a leader who is not always a completely rational actor. It is entirely logical that some nations will have more military personnel than the UK – they have direct ground threats, or their need for manpower for other jobs means it is politically helpful to keep a large army to hand. For instance many states still conscript their troops, meaning on paper their army is vastly larger than the British Army, but this is only achieved through a ready pool of manpower who can be paid a pittance and employed on duties which are often as much about support local agriculture by working on farms, or support public order as it is about being a military force.

There are also many nations out there who on paper have large stockpiles of equipment (particularly in the Middle East) and this can easily be turned into a headline about how a tiny nation has more tanks than the UK. The reality though is that these purchases are little more than an insurance policy designed to coax the nations into feeling an obligation to support the purchaser in a real crisis. If one views defence sales to the Middle East as a means of these nations buying support through economic largesse then that’s probably not far off the mark. Many of these equipment buys are in fact often stored in the desert and left to rust without ever being used. The author has heard many tales of armouries full of weapons never removed from packing crates, or trained on and often forgotten about. On paper this is a capability, and in reality it is little more than a box of life expired spare parts. One difference between the UK and many other nations is that the UK is willing to genuinely use and ‘sweat’ its assets to get the most from its equipment purchases. Just because some nations have impressive arsenals does not equate to a genuine ability to use them to best effect.

This is an important matter to realise, nations have the military force that they think their own unique strategic situation deserves. For many countries possessing a large army is a useful pool of manpower, but doesn't make them more than a local player. It is telling that so many of the nations cited in the report as statistically high ranking actually have practically no capability to send troops any distance at all from the homebase. This is great if you want an armed force which protects the Presidential Palace and stops people from launching coups, not so useful if you want to deploy overseas. Indeed, looking at military contributions to Afghanistan or Iraq, it is telling that many contributing nations possessed far larger armies than the UK, but were unable to send or support more than a company group because deploying at distance into a high intensity warzone was a step beyond what their military could provide.

Capabilities unmatched by almost any other nation. 
This then is where the UK forces excel – they may be small, but they are structured in a manner which has historically served the UK well. Todays armed forces are essentially a means of deploying a small raiding force into a hostile territory to conduct surgical strikes and achieve effect with minimal effort. The operations in  Libya in 2011, or Sierra Leone in 2000 are good examples of this, where a small force deployed highly capable equipment to achieve the end state before withdrawing. This is in many ways no different to the Victorian armed forces, which in many ways did similar missions – deploy overwhelming technological advantage and withdraw before it became too difficult. It is telling that the times when things got complicated was when a short operation turned into a prolonged campaign (e.g. Crimea or the Boer war). If we look at the structure of the UK forces, we see a nation who has chosen to invest heavily in very high end capabilities which provide several things:

Firstly, the ability to integrate with and operate with US forces, which in turn makes the UK a partner of choice, not only with the US, but other nations seeking to improve their ability to work at the top tier. 

Secondly, a strong logistical capability to allow operations to occur at distance from the homebase. It is telling that the UKNDA report went on about the French having more aircraft than the UK, but as we saw in Mali this year, as soon as things got complicated, the French quickly became reliant on the UK and US for logistical support. It is far better to have smaller numbers of properly supported assets that can do the job, than an overloaded ‘front end’ of superficially impressive equipment which isn't actually supported by any worthwhile logistical network.

Thirdly, an ability to think innovatively about getting the best of manpower. Many jobs that used to be done by the UK military have either been civilianised or handed off to contractors. This has reduced manpower totals, but also saved money. Many nations have yet to do this sort of thing, so their manpower requirements are higher than they necessarily need to be. If one considers the sort of jobs now passed out of military hands to the civilian world, it actually adds up to a considerable number of posts saved.

Do we need bigger armed forces in order to scale up this sort of parade?

So, the question is surely what does the UK need larger armed forces for? There is no existential threat to the UK in a conventional sense that calls for larger armed forces. When you ask people about the military, there is a sense that they think the Military should be bigger, but don’t know where or what it should be there to do. When one looks at the argument for the Fusiliers battalion being scrapped, people are understandably angry that 600 soldiers are going, but fail to realise that preserving the Battalion would not measurably improve UK capability – it only makes sense to retain it if you also preserve the enabling assets like logistics, intelligence, artillery and the like to deploy it as part of a coherent force. By itself little is gained from preserving a single unit as it would sit in isolation. While one hears of pressure on the Army over the last few years, the reality is that the Army has become increasingly expensive to pay and equip and the commitment of ground forces to an open ended commitment is not hugely popular with the public. As we move towards SDSR2015 and the Future Force 2020 it is clear that the future vision of the UK military is far less about large formations waiting to repel an armoured invasion, but small niche formations designed to intervene, to train and to influence our allies.

Where the UK retains influence and value is the way in which it provides high quality staff officers who can plug into a headquarters, or provide an airfield logistical unit. Every nation can provide infantry units, but far fewer can provide the less glamorous or appealing units that are absolutely essential to coalition operations. The UK has an ability to do this – its similar in many ways to smaller NATO nations like the Netherlands, Denmark or the Baltic's – small military forces which are hugely professional and highly rated by their peers because they've chosen to provide useful niche capabilities.

 The problem though is that the public debate is not framed around the discussion of  what useful enabling capabilities the UK has, but instead focuses far more on how we no longer matter because we only have 19 escorts not 32 escorts. This doesn't help the public understand that as taxpayers they possess an extraordinarily capable military which is well equipped to carry out the roles assigned to it. They also do not get the chance to pick up that the threat is changing and that a single hacking group in a parents basement can do more damage to UK national infrastructure than 50 hostile warships. The real challenge for the MOD is to continue to try and move the debate forward, trying to get people to understand that numbers do not mean everything, and that in reality a lot has changed.

It is all well and good to say that the UK needs X thousand more troops, planes and ships, but the problem is that no one seems able to identify the threat that they need to meet and why the taxpayer should pay for them. Humphrey was particularly struck by the argument that the RN is going to struggle in wars as it has too few ships and is at risk of losing some – having done some basic research, if you ignore the period of WW1 and WW2, then the sole occasion between the end of the Napoleonic Wars and today when RN vessels were sunk in a military operation was the Falklands War. We keep clinging to the idea that as a nation we should be spending lots of money on more warships to protect ourselves, when over 200 years of history would suggest it is exceptionally unlikely that such an event will occur – is this good reason to spend a fortune on new ships?

So in conclusion, the idea that the UK is a military irrelevance because we only have a small amount of manpower or ships is complete and utter unmitigated nonsense. One has to look beyond this sort of report and focus on what the UK is actually capable of doing today and how it is in fact a remarkably capable nation, able to achieve far more than we like to give ourselves credit for. The argument of ‘we need more to matter’ seems to be very much a case of wishing ourselves to have a threat to face, rather than because we actually need such a capability – is there such a thing as an unnecessary level of defence? 


  1. Welcome back and congrats again.

    I agree the claim that the UK is slipping behind Greece and Argentina is a lunatic notion. Singapore was also mentioned but they fail to recognise Singaporean males serve NS (or reservist to Brits) more intensely than any other nation. Plus Singapore high expenditure on the military does not match well with its international engagements.

    Still, numbers must not be forgotten. A good take on RN ship personnel, beats the Save the Royal Navy stuff that the Type 22s should have been kept. Still, 13 plus 6 doesnt really give you much to deploy say for the objectives of safeguarding SLOCs and deploying for humanitarian/emergency response. RAF is in ok hands in a quick view--in fact, with them encroaching on the FAA and CVFs, there's a stability in terms of RAF strike and reach. Army, well Army 2020 is nice on paper.

  2. What should be done, and don't call me a CND supporter, is to relook the role of the nuclear arsenal and always include in the SDSRs/defence review. It's ok to argue nukes are still needed, but with a conventional force that is smaller relative to the nuclear stockpile, one must think again.

  3. Wise words, as ever Humphrey. For once, surprisingly, I have a counter-opinion to contribute.

    One slight disagreement. You refer to the adage: ‘but a ship cannot be in more than one place’"

    If we view the Armed Forces as "a tool for foreign policy", then I suggest that 70% of the value in a warship is achieved by coming alongside in some far distant port. The crisp white shirts and attractive canapés all convey a message of an armed force able to project and sustain capabilities in foreign climes in a more civilised way than "getting kinetic".

    But, this contribution to foreign effect is actually limited by hull numbers. With a small surface flotilla it does become increasingly difficult to achieve this effect in three continents at once - something the UK has traditionally been capable of.

    So, where do we find ourselves? We're still able to project this effect to foreign ports, and the visit can also support UK defence industry objectives of showcasing our newest systems. But, the ability to project, say, 80% of the effect in two places simultaneously would give greater overall effect.

    Beyond that, higher manning would give greater versatility. If we consider the fact that UK warships will spend a very high proportion of their time participating in non-wartime undertakings, more people give more choices. Having a larger crew is absolutely an advantage in humanitarian operations, it also allows for a rolling complement of individuals in extreme hot/cold climates.

    1. Ian, good argument, but the military in humanitarian issues or foreign policy issues is a contested issue. Sometimes that is useful, other times is fosters more instability than what is expected. True that some foreign policy objectives cant be achieved without a military projection, but there are alternatives, especially means which dont involve human resources and time. In this case, it is development assistance, or the layman's term, foreign aid. Yes, that is a evil term in the eyes of the public--why should you give money away? But every conflict continues with reconstruction--Kosovo, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, even Sierra Leone etc etc. The military helps/helped in these cases, sometimes they spark more conflict, but state (UK) interests are are also solved via other means. Not also forgetting that the MOD itself provides aid so not just the UK's DFID. and in fact, DFID, FCO and MOD coordinate to provide assistance and support via a group called the Stabilisation unit.

    2. Jeneral, it's a tool for foreign effect.

      So, the cases I described are lead by the Foreign Office, not the MoD. It's up to the Foreign Office to decide the best tool for the desired effect.

      They have a range of tools to choose from. But, my point is that when they choose "RN", it's beneficial to be able to apply this effect in parallel rather than series.

    3. The RN will take days to sail. Sure there's diplomacy when you dock in a port, but only so much. FCO can do more. DFID can balance it out.

    4. Jeneral, recent examples would suggest FF/DD visits to say Africa do more for UK plc than you would imagine with HMAs queuing up for more. Soft power and influence are important tools and distance, time and speed means we cannot do it all.

    5. If not so sure how much one visit--taking more than a week at least--to Africa by a ship does much when you can engage via other security/strategic means. And not just DFID and FCO.

    6. Ian

      Good point - I am a huge fan of the concept of defence engagement - this is something I'm trying to formulate a post on, the value of 'gunboat diplomacy' and whether it needs a DDG or an OPV to achieve the same effect.

    7. Sir H, I would look forward to your post on Defence Diplomacy. It is important and my point above for Jeneral28 is not that a FF/DD should visit a country on her own or even as a group. But her visit should be part of a broader structured engagement that included FCO and DFID, industry and the other services too. The impact of T45 turning up on a doorstep is immense. But even more so when brought into effect linked with the wider UK strategy. I'd easily waffle on more but in short the strategy is sometimes missing in part or in entirety.

  4. Welcome back, congratulations, and well said. I'm surprised that the NDA's retired military representatives aren't embarrassed to put their names to some of this stuff. There might be an argument to be had about whether it's better to have fewer larger more capable ships or more smaller and less capable ones, but that's not the debate the NDA seem to want to have. And unfortunately we're not allowed to engage in the public domain to explain quite how much rubbish this stuff is, so I fear that it will continue be peddled.

  5. Ahhh... the halcyon days of the threat of global thermo-nuclear war - how rose tinted my glasses are....

  6. @ Jeneral 28 The reassessing the deterrent would make absolutely no difference. Do you honestly think even a penny saved from scrapping the deterrent would remain in the defence budget

    1. I didn;t say a full scrapping. But to keep weapons that cant be used until the world is crazy means that you keep them there while your conventional forces suffer. Mind you, non nuclear weapon states have the freedom to pursue military resources without this burden.

      How can it not make a difference? If it doesnt make a difference then stop calling for ODA/foreign aid to be cut.

  7. Interestingly I have been re-reading Lewis Page's book "Lions Donkeys and Dinosaurs" in it he makes points which are still relevant today.
    Why did I read it?
    Because I have just returned from a visit to San Diego, where I visited the USN repair facility, and during a few bar room discussions with Navy types( engineers ) this topic came up in conversation.
    They have the same concerns as us - shrinking resources - indecision - jobs for the boys - politics - "what if" - sailors not going to sea - airmen not flying - turf wars.
    A mirror image of us except on a grander scale.
    Then the great American "shutdown" happened and everyone went home.
    So I came home.

    1. Hi Ianeon,
      While I don't often speak ill of people, I must confess that 'that book' was one of my motivations for starting this blog.
      I wonder more broadly whether any military forces in the world have ever done anything other than look back to the 'good old days' and despair about what lies ahead?

    2. I dunno, I reckon it must have been hard to argue that one under Gorshkov ?

      Actually Ianeon I'd say the US experience is pretty different to ours, particularly at the time you describe (ie under CR/sequestration but before the 1st October) - they still have all the toys, but they've been forced to sacrifice a lot of readiness/maintenance. We've taken many more hits on equipment, but at least what we've got is being maintained and trained on.

  8. Jeneral I made no call for other budgets to be cut, wrong anonymous

    It wont make a difference to the conventional forces because the money spent on the deterrent will not find its way to conventional defence

    As for the deterent
    Quote But to keep weapons that cant be used until the world is crazy means that you keep them there while your conventional forces suffer

    You fail to understand that is the whole point of the deterrent Nobody can win a nuclear war so nobody will try, remove the deterrent and somebody may give it a go. Its why it is the Nuclear deterrent not the nuclear strike force.

  9. @Laneon
    Lewis Page misrepresents and distorts the truth, his points are little more than 1/2 truths based on his particular axe to grind.

    1. Very true. But they have a degree of political grip (at least the ones that aren't about cutting front line units). Certainly there were copies around in Main Building in 2010, and I suspect they'll be dug out again in 2015, always assuming there isn't a reissue between now and then.

  10. Jeneral 28 South Africa Gave up its Nuclear arms yes but 1st the rest of the world didn't, 2nd SA is a basket case no body wants it and 3rd No nuclear power is or has threatened SA . But all of that has been pointed out to you before the last time you made the exact same comment. You clearly have no understanding of the term deterrent.
    I can only conclude by your debating style and by your level of understanding you are a young teenager, There is no Insult intended here As you get older you will realise its often not so black and white you will also once exposed to more and broader inputs probably alter your stance.

  11. Jeneral 28 You were called nothing, your debating style and the way you looked at issues led me to believe you were a young person. I clearly stated no Insult was Intended. Had you not been such a puerile and Ignorant child I may well have apologised for my error.
    My interpretation of your age bore no relation to your stance on the deterrent but the way you argued your position.
    It may interest you to know I am opposed to the deterrent, however unlike yourself I understand the issues and can debate them sensibly. I also understand that if we didn't have a deterrent, this would not lead to better conventional forces, it would be pissed up the wall on some pet project.
    This has been another polite response to your rudeness. It is also my last attempt to explain myself or the concept of deterrence.
    If however you would care to re read all my posts and then apologise for your rude ness, I will then retract my previous (and only intended insult) and resume the debate.

    1. Jeneral 28 - I rarely take an intervention in the comments, but your posts this afternoon contained language that was completely unacceptable and was not appropriate for this site.
      Further use of such language in any future comments will see you permanently banned from here.

    2. I may have heated it up but you started it by bring up age. I've taken beatings from people like you are you one of those ARSE people who love thermonuclear war?

      I will apologise if I know who I am speaking to.

  12. The UKNDA only damage their own credibility by publishing such nonsense, you would think after crying wolf over the Falklands and stirring up Kirchner's ridiculous PR offensive at the UN they would keep quiet for a while. No time for a long post, but just wanted to make this point,
    the French still consider themselves a global player, yet the Marine Nationale only has 11 "first rank" frigates eg 2 Horizon AAW, 2 old Casards AAW, 6 George Leygues ASW, & 1 FREMM ASW/GP, plus the 5 La Fayette class light frigates. So with 19 T45/T23s the UK not only has larger more capable ships, but more of them. If the MN scraps the two Casards, then they will be down to just two AAW frigates, compared to the RN's six T45s. Perhaps next time the UKNDA should write a piece that put's the UK's military capability in context, rather than just trying to attract headlines and celebrity followers.

    1. I agree. I am often baffled by what the French Navy actually is as when I look on Wikipedia and the likes it is difficult to understand. They seem to have lots of flagship vessels (e,g, their helicopter carriers and their one aircraft carrier and their class of 2 Horizons) and a large number of small patrol boats which appear to inflate the size of their service. I guess much of this is due to their continued possession of overseas territories (?) and their desire still to be seen as a global power.

      Sir Humphrey is correct about our capabilities (we certainly didn't have Tomahawks etc during the Falklands and had to rely on "Black Buck" to get just one bomb on the runway) and I think we are in a better place today than we were back in 1982 when John Nott almost had his way in stripping us of assets unstrategically (Invincible to Australia comes to mind).

      Whatever happens, we must avoid military expenditure becoming an irrelevance and it is important that we continue to understand what we want our military to do. It is depressing, however, that from time to time we hear that the home fleet - the fleet for ultimate protection - is just one vessel or none. That's quite a headline - even if today it doesn't mean what it did.

  13. The RN is more capable than the MN in all areas except carrier strike and OPVs, and their superiority in carrier strike will only last until the QE's enter service.


    Carrier strike
    2 70,400 ton LHA ships vs the ageing 42,000 tons CdG.

    Major Surface combatants

    19 T45/23s vs 11 "first rank" frigates & 5 light frigates.


    7 Astute/Trafalgar boats, all TLAM capable vs 6 small Rubis class SSNs.
    The A boats have a load out of 38 spearfish heavyweight torpedoes & Tomahawks, and the T boats a load out of 30, compared to the Rubis class max weapons load of 14, and even the new Barracudas will only carry around 25 SCALP MdCMs & heavyweight torpedoes.

    2 LPHs, 2 LPDs, 3 LSDs, 6 Point class Sealift ships vs 3 Mistral class LHDs, the MN's last LPD is apparently being sold to Chile.
    Obviously Illustrious will be scrapped next year, but the QE's will have an amphibious capability, in the assault role they will carry 12 Chinooks & 8 Apaches, plus a sqn of F-35Bs & ASW/AEW helos.

    The Hunts & Sandowns are probably the best mine-hunters in any fleet.

    Replenishment vessels
    19 RFA ships including the 3 Bays & 6 Points vs 4 replenishment oilers & 2-3 leased sealift ships.

    Amphibious troops
    7,600 RMs plus 700 reserves vs 500 Commando de Marine & 1,800 Fusilier Marine - the latter's role is just to guard French naval bases.

    4 River class vs 6 Floreal class "Sentry frigates" & 9 corvettes.

    The RN has hopefully weathered the storm, however many other EU navies have not made the required cuts yet.

    1. Thanks for that reply! I'm encouraged - and I hope you're right about weathering the storm.

  14. Any thoughts on the serious screwup involving the nuclear reactor in Devonport mentioned in this article? I hadn't heard about until recently.

  15. You make many valid points Humphrey many of which I agree with. The only thing I take issue with is the manning levels you quote. We seem to be in thrall to new technology and how this means we can reduce manpower on ships to the bare bones. As the RN is currently finding in its engineering branches, these levels are far too low, meaning personnel spend much longer periods on operations working very long hours and having very little downtime. In many cases they have had enough and are exiting in vast numbers meaning ever greater workloads for those remaining. The manpower levels are far too low for the tempo of operations needed with the hulls available and should be reconsidered with some urgency.

    1. Perhaps we could re-train some of our admirals and staff officers to be engineers?

  16. Lord Boyce seems to have started something when he said "Britain would be better prepared to confront the Spanish over Gibraltar if the Government had not reduced the Royal Navy's power to "anorexic levels."

    I wonder what he meant ?

  17. I do enjoy your blog, Sir H, Your cool, considered style helps soothes the nerves re state of nation’s defences – not that the report bothered me, which did indeed seem designed to generate headlines.

    There is meat in the baloney though – our quest for high end capability/ position as lead ally of US has tied us to prestige projects (Vanguard successor/ F35/ QEs) which are of questionable merit yet create a tremendous drain on and/or distract from arguably more crucial capabilities.

    Second, in terms of manpower I agree the numbers are not a problem in of themselves. However, morale suffered badly as a result of SDSR (as a colleague said, you know morale is really bad when people start using the word morale) and there seems to be a realistic threat of years of cuts and more cuts to come. Uncertainty about careers/the future is the decisive factor in this I think, far more than “overstretch”.

    I agree that we still have high-quality forces, but I have yet to be persuaded that factors like those above are not seriously degrading that quality as we head towards 2020.

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