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This chapter is divided into two main areas: the impact of the economy on defence reviews and contemporary affordability issues. Chapter 5 confirmed the relevance of defence reviews to the interpretation of the translation of strategic direction to military capability model; therefore, recognizing how finance and the economy have shaped defence reviews, and ultimately the defence budget, is a critical part of understanding why the UK has the military capability that it has. The second part of the analysis in this chapter focuses on the more tactical financial concerns of defence decision makers as they go about their business-as-usual management of military capability. Undoubtedly the biggest concerns expressed by senior officials in this area were the over commitment of the defence budget and the ever-expanding list of efficiencies they were expected to deliver to help keep it in check.

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Chapter 5 steps through the main aspects of defence reviews that impact the translation of strategic direction into military capability model. It begins by examining the way in which defence reviews, strategic defence and security reviews, and the 2021 integrated review, have been undertaken, which have seldom followed a common standard. It then moves on to explore the impact that contemporaneous events, from seemingly insignificant activities to major strategic shocks, have had on defence reviews. The rest of the chapter is devoted to the two most significant contributors to the translation of strategic direction into military capability model: politicians and defence decision makers. The contribution of, and the relationship between, those giving and those receiving the strategic direction delivered through a defence review is a key part of the process. Defence reviews have always been more confrontational than collegiate, as both politicians and defence decision makers strive to avoid unfavourable outcomes that are particularly difficult to recover from.

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This chapter seeks to understand how Defence’s roles, missions and tasks have developed over time, and how well they have contributed to the strategic direction that the government has given to defence decision makers. While the defence roles of the Cold War shrank considerably in the 1960s and 1970s, they were easily identifiable and aligned with government policy and Defence’s supporting military strategy. The pivot to expeditionary warfare complicated the situation, and, for most of the 1990s, declaratory policy failed to keep up with actual defence activity. However, as analysis of the last decade reveals, although terminology may have changed, defence missions and tasks have remained relatively stable. That said, recent changes in the character of conflict are likely to affect how the armed forces approach some of their more traditional roles, such as deterrence. The introduction of persistent engagement overseas as a new operating method in the 2021 Integrated Review is an obvious example that will impact on the missions and tasks of the armed forces in the coming decade.

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Chapter 1 introduces the main themes of the book and provides the supporting background and context. It confirms the book’s focus on the decisions made at the highest level of Defence to uncover the methodology behind the translation of strategic direction into military capability within the UK. It introduces a simple, four-step model that underpins this, and explains the factors that add complexity to it. These can be loosely grouped into the following categories: the geopolitical landscape and the UK government’s associated grand strategy; the way in which defence reviews are undertaken; what the government and the nation expect from Defence; the affordability of Defence; and the roles played by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) and the armed forces. The chapter also outlines the research methods that were used to support the book’s analysis: a combination of qualitative content analysis of relevant government policy documents and semi-structured elite interviews. The chapter concludes with short explanations of the book’s structure and the secondary literature associated with the subject.

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Chapter 7, the final data chapter, explores the role played by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) and the Royal Navy (RN), British Army and Royal Air Force (RAF) in the translation of strategic direction into military capability. The first half of the chapter concentrates on the individual nature of the single services and the changing roles of the service chiefs. While the organizational construct of Defence has been regularly revised over the research period, the central framework of three separate military establishments that each concentrate on one of the three warfighting environments of maritime, land and air has remained constant. Crucially, it is this one-to-one relationship between the single services and their respective warfighting environment that gives them their strength and, therefore, is protected at all costs by the service chiefs. The second half of the chapter raises the focus to Defence-level process, procedures and decision making. How and why defence decision makers go about their day-to-day business is the final influencer to be considered in this journey to understand the translation of strategic direction into military capability model.

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This chapter provides the context for the analysis chapters that follow. It opens with an examination of what strategic direction has been given by politicians to defence decision makers since the end of the Second World War. It then moves on to discuss defence policy, outlining what is contains, how it is decided upon and how is it promulgated. This, in turn, leads to a consideration of defence reviews, which seeks to identity exactly what a defence review entails and why they have occurred when they have during the research period. The second half of the chapter focuses on military capability. It begins with an explanation of the genesis of military capability as part of the Smart Procurement Initiative (SPI), which was introduced following the 1998 Strategic Defence Review (SDR). It concludes by identifying how Defence’s approach to military capability has changed as a result of the post-2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) Defence Reform Programme (DRP).

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Chapter 3 considers how the UK’s approach to grand strategy impacts on military capability decision making. It opens with a brief examination of grand strategy in the round before focusing on how it has been employed by UK governments over the 70 years of the research period. From this, it is clear that politicians and defence decision makers have different perspectives regarding the usefulness of strategy at both the national and the military level. The chapter then moves on to scrutinize the broadening of the UK’s approach to developing a risk-management-based national security strategy since its first iteration in 2008. The chapter’s final section examines whether fielded military capability meets the needs of defence policy. This is achieved by exploring how well it aligned to both the strategic direction provided by the government and the threats articulated in national strategy. The conclusion from this chapter’s analysis is that developing national strategy is more challenging today than it was during the Cold War. More contentious, perhaps, is the view that today’s politicians are less inclined than their predecessors to develop and follow a comprehensive national strategic approach to the UK’s place in the world, especially since Brexit.

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From Strategy to Decision

Between 2021 and 2031, the UK government is set to spend over £230 billion on its military. Who decides how to use these funds, and how can we be sure that the UK’s armed forces can meet the threats of tomorrow?

This book provides the answers to these crucial questions. Concentrating on decisions taken below the political level, it uncovers the factors that underpin the translation of strategic direction into military capability. In a series of interviews, over 30 top admirals, generals and air marshals give their own views on the procurement and maintenance of the nation’s current and future military capability. Their unrivalled professional knowledge and experience affords a fascinating insight into the higher management of national defence.

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The final chapter summarizes the key reasons why the four-step translation of strategic direction into military capability model does not always deliver a force structure able to implement extant defence policy. Developing national strategy is becoming ever more challenging, and the clear conclusion from the research undertaken is that military capability can never be fully aligned with strategic direction. While the clear articulation of defence missions and tasks is a good thing, defence decision makers must recognize the armed forces may be called upon to engage in operations beyond the scope of their mandated roles. Defence reviews are the clearest articulation of strategic direction; nevertheless, they are always adversarial and often undertaken badly. Affordability will always be a major influence on military capability choices, as governments balance spending priorities. That said, Defence must work harder to get better value for money from the budget it is given. Finally, the single services must become more collegiate, altruistic and integrated if capability choices made in the future are to improve on those made in the past.

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