22 Jan 2018

Military chief warns of Russia’s ‘eyewatering’ capability

General Sir Nick Carter didn’t hold back as he warned of the threat of Russian military action. He said there were stark parallels between 1914 and how Russia might view things now.

They may, he said, fear their rivals overtake them in military capability a decade from now. When they strike they could use overpowering and swift force. Their first sally into conflict may not be easily recognisable. For good measure he showed his audience at the Whitehall headquarters of the Royal United Service Institute a Russian government propaganda video showing what he said was “eyewatering” capability.

In the question and answer session that followed, Sir Nick was asked if he had shown the video to the Treasury. He said he hadn’t, but his audience tonight included their powerhouse over Whitehall.

The Ministry of Defence is struggling with a £20bn or so shortfall in its budget which is made up of unfunded future commitments, lower economic growth, the decline in the value of the pound, Trident into the MOD budget and efficiency projections that haven’t been met.

It’s not usual to send a serving military chief out to make the case for more resources. Retired generals are usually sent into these sorts of conflicts. But the new Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson has embraced the idea of conflict with the Treasury. He’s said by one who used to work alongside him to have a view of the Chancellor that’s similar to that of Nick Timothy, Mrs May’s former Joint Chief of Staff at No. 10.

The danger of Gavin Williamson’s very public engagement with the Treasury is that you have a very public failure; what MOD old hands call “getting the brown envelope from the Treasury”, which means you’re told to stick with the original budget and left to find whatever savings are needed.

General Sir Nick Carter said that his speech was in part a consequence of the Iraq Inquiry. Senior figures in the military, he said, felt “a sense of responsibility to hold people to account if we don’t have what we think we need.”

It’s all a far cry from President Obama’s rebuke to Republican nominee Mitt Romney back in 2012 when the President mocked his challenger for harking back to the 1980s by saying Russia was the number one threat.

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One reader comment

  1. H Statton says:

    One thing there never seems to be a shortage of is television advertising for military recruitment, including the Army, RAF, Navy, Paratroopers and Marines.

    The nature of warfare is evolving rapidly. The tactics of engagement via ground, air and sea, have had to transform to meet the challenges of more complex logistics applied by any would-be adversary. Technology has to expand beyond traditional methods to include specialised missiles, drones, satellite imaging, cyber warfare and propaganda.

    Russia’s involvement in cyber ‘intrusion’ in other countries’ affairs using ‘troll factories’ is an established fact. The danger is the progressive, secretive methods that could render countries’ defence systems impotent; the consequences would be catastrophic.

    Russia’s capability is now considered by some as indeterminate since it annexed Crimea in 2014 where it used conventional artillery along with modern-day drones. But the UK’s front-line security lies in its proximity to Russia. The UK’s forces are present in the Baltic States along with those from other NATO countries which would stop any Russian advance if it embarked on land seizure; the Baltic region acts as a buffer zone.

    Worthy of note – the least valued (globally) piece of military hardware is the Aircraft Carrier. Apart from the US, which has 19 carriers, France is second with 4. Only 12 of the top military powers (26) in the world possess these ships illustrating their lack of value. 26 countries have drone capabilities.

    The UK has invested a colossal amount of money in building two new carriers. So, it raises the question, could the budget have been spent more effectively. Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson and the MoD will be asking for an additional £36bn for the defence budget. But it is not solely about the finances. How will the investment be distributed? The outdated Trident nuclear programme? An extremely important factor in boosting the military budget is the where the money will come from – what part of the welfare state will see its funding cut.

    European Union member states are already preparing a possible joint defence force with the UK’s imminent departure from the EU. In particular the uncertainty surrounding the Trump administration’s commitment to NATO presents a concern. Would the US assist a country that was under threat of invasion by Russia?

    Some statistics for the UK, US and Russia:

    United States – MQ-1 Predator, MQ-9 Reaper
    United Kingdom – MQ-9 Reaper, Elbit Hermes 450
    Russia – unknown (used against Ukraine 2014)

    Stockpiled Nuclear Weapons (Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Federation of American Scientists):
    United States – 2200
    United Kingdom – 95
    Russia – 2390

    Military Power, Active Personnel (Global Firepower):
    United States: 2,500,000
    United Kingdom: 332,000
    Russia: 4,017, 110

    Military Budget (billions):
    United States: $581.00
    United Kingdom: $55.00
    Russia: $46.6

    The current salaries for UK Army soldiers (not including commissioned officers):
    Recruits (in Phase 1 training); £14,931 a year
    Private: £18,488 a year
    Lance Corporal: £25,524 a year
    Corporal: £29,768 a year
    Sergeant: £33,490 a year

    A statement from the Strategic Defence and Security Review:
    “The national security capability review will include examination of the policy and plans which support implementation of the national security strategy, and help to ensure that the U.K.’s investment in national security capabilities is as joined-up, effective and efficient as possible, to address current national security challenges”

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