Do We Want to Defend The Realm or Not? The British Army is changing form Paper Tiger to Potemkin Village.

The  Times reports (here) that the British Army is to reduce the number of Challenger 2 tanks that it has by one third, reducing them to just two regiments of 56 tanks each, plus some in reserve and for training.  It proposes to replace the tanks with its newest armoured vehicle, Ajax.  If this is true it is a clear demonstration that the MOD is now utterly incapable of defending the realm and that our armed forces are moving from paper tiger to Potemkin village.

What’s the problem? Simple, not everything with tracks and a turret is a tank, in the same way that not everything with wheels and a windscreen is a car.  Using your Ford Focus as a replacement for the double decker school bus is going to be as successful as using a reconnaissance vehicle (like Ajax) to replace a Challenger 2.

A tank combines firepower, protection and mobility.  The firepower is a gun capable of firing a solid shot with enough energy to penetrate the armour of an enemy tank.  Like most tanks, the Challenger 2 has a 120mm calibre main gun capable of firing an approximately 10kg round at a muzzle velocity of over 1,500 m/s, with a kinetic energy of some 11.3MJ.  The Ajax has a 40mm cannon capable of firing an equivalent round of about 1kg at 1,600m/s, an energy of around 1.2MJ, a whole order of magnitude less than the tank round.  While the details of the ability to penetrate are both complex and classified, it should be obvious to the meanest intelligence that there is no way that the Ajax poses anything like the threat to a tank target that a Challenger 2 does.

Challenger 2 weighs around 75 tons combat weight, much it Dorchester armour capable of withstanding hits from most weapons.  Ajax weighs just 40 tons, the difference being due to lower levels of protection.  (This low protection is understandable; Ajax was designed as a reconnaissance vehicles and such vehicles should not get into fire fights.)

Swapping from Challenger to Ajax is not like for like.  Of course, there are other ways of killing tanks.  Most obviously anti-tank missiles, artillery and from aircraft (specifically the Brimstone missile).  However, there are problems there too.

In Ukraine, the Russian T-90 are equipped with an anti-missile system which shoots them out of the sky.  Moreover, their latest armours protect against the latest anti-tank missile warheads.  The utility of anti-tank missiles (including British ones) is questionable.

In the Ukraine Russian artillery is devastating armour, just as ours did when in the first Gulf War. It manages this by firing a projectile full of sub munitions.  The projectile opens over the target area and the sub-munitions rain down.  There are so many that multiple hits are likely, destroying everything. Unfortunately, Princess Diana’s campaign against landmines led to the Ottawa Treaties, which banned this class of weapon. It has now been deleted from British weaponry.  The Russians did not sign the treaty; nor did China, Korea, Iran, India and others.

That leaves air launched weapons, such as the British Brimstone.  Although it’s a potent weapon the warhead technology is not new, and can be defeated.  Worse, it needs an aircraft to launch it and aircraft are neither cheap nor invulnerable.  Moreover, if aircraft are busy trying to kill tanks, what is shooting down the enemy’s aircraft? (We have no significant surface to air missile capability either!)

Why worry about killing tanks?  Because in the absence of effective counter-weapons (which is another tank) they dominate the battlefield by slaughtering and out manoeuvring infantry.  And almost all countries have them, and in significant numbers. There are around 100,000 tanks in the world at the moment and few of them belong to allies.

The bottom line is that this change of vehicle substantially reduces the British ability to fight any armoured enemy, quite possibly to the point of failure.  If it proceeds the Army will comprise:

  • Two armoured infantry brigades, which are light on tanks.
  • One wheeled infantry brigade, with no tanks (and therefore vulnerable to a tank equipped enemy)
  • One reconnaissance brigade, with little combat power.
  • Some top notch special forces, but their role is not on the battlefield.
  • A score of foot borne infantry battalions (some of which can jump out of aeroplanes) all of which move at walking pace and are hugely vulnerable to every weapon.
  • A very weak logistic tail.

Frankly this force would struggle to achieve anything against any halfway capable opposition; it is an organisation that makes no sense and delivers little combat power.  Either we want to have an ability to wage war on land, in which case we’ll have to spend more, or we don’t, in which case we should disband the army.

It is time that we had a sensible national debate on whether we want to defend the Realm or not.


This post was first published on The Conservative Woman and is reproduced here with their kind consent.

Fidel Was Worse Than Hitler – as anyone but the lefty media knows

Hitler was, without doubt, an utterly evil man who sought to eliminate the entire Jewish race, plus assorted other minorities.  He was also, unfortunately, charismatic and so an otherwise highly educated nation followed him to their doom.

Fidel was worse.

Continue reading Fidel Was Worse Than Hitler – as anyone but the lefty media knows

NATO Has Become A Paper Tiger – and it is not Trump’s fault

Putin is deploying more missiles into Kaliningrad (the Russian enclave at the southwest corner of the Baltic, bordering Poland).  The media is concerned that some of these are nuclear capable and have the rang (500 miles+) to hit European cities.  The reality is rather different.  Continue reading NATO Has Become A Paper Tiger – and it is not Trump’s fault

The US Electorate Trumps Their Political Establishment

Hail the Don!  Trump is the next president and the political commentariat are in meltdown.  I’m not.

Firstly, don’t be scared.  Such is the inertia of the US government machine that even with Republicans in the White House, Senate and House of Representatives it is very hard for any president to get anything tangible done, (c.f. Obamacare).  And few Republicans are Trump fans. Yes the dollar will wobble a bit – as will T Bond yields, but that is just the speculators adjusting their forecasts and unwinding positions.

Foreign policy might change a bit – President Don might be less willing to expend US lives in remote places – which, given the near disastrous last two US forays might be a good thing.  He may also be reluctant to prop up NATO members who don’t pay their way, which is also a good thing.  If he is a little less keen on confronting Putin that may also be a good thing; generally, wars are far easier to start than to finish.  Being selfish, Trump likes the UK despite the foolish comments of some recent Prime Ministerial failures.  The United States is already by far out largest export partner – with 11% of exports heading there.

How is that a problem for the UK?  Good question.  To the US political establishment, the unthinkable has happened, and outsider has won.  Worse, he won unexpectedly and despite little media support.  This is either because the US electorate is dumb, or the political establishment is out of touch (or both).  Expect a raft of psephologists seeking to demonstrate that Trump was elected by white working class males.  He may have been popular among them and in the rust-belt states, but there are not enough white working class males in the US to elect a president.  More people voted for Trump, and from many more electoral segments.

This squealing by political analysts, (akin to that in the UK post Brexit), is a symptom of the problem that both countries demonstrably face.  Their political thought is out of step with their population, and hasn’t noticed it. This is a surprising outcome in any country – and one that is potentially a source of unrest.  It is astonishing that it occurs in the two self-proclaimed bastions of liberal democracy.

That, not Trump or Brexit, is the problem on both sides of the Atlantic.  The question therefore divides into two; how did this happen and how do we fix it?

The first part of this is going to be a field day for left of centre social economists – inequality caused by free market capitalism.  That these are the same social economists who have been advocating the policies that led to these electoral shocks is a delicious irony and further demonstration of the problem.  I content that this is not about economics (broadly an outcome) but process.  And one (Bill) Clinton slogan – “It’s the economy, stupid.”

I am increasingly of the opinion that in a free market capitalist economy the best economic policy a government can hope for is not to screw it up.  An economically competent government may well lay the grounds for growth, but it is not the government who risks wealth to create the growth (and creating growth requires private capital).  Nor is it the government which suffers the pecuniary loss associated with commercial failure – and growth is risky. It is ridiculous for politicians to claim credit for the work and appetite for risk of a very few of their population.  When a Chancellor says “We have created growth of X% this year” what he should be saying, and actually mean is “I managed not to cock it up for another year.”  The hubris of taking political credit for the efforts of others is at the root of the problems of Westminster and Washington.

This tendency has been exacerbated in the UK by the politicisation of the Civil Service and the scourge of the Special Political Adviser (SPAD).  In the US they have had this problem from the start – many senior administrative appointments are politicised.  Such politicisation a government machine that seeks to curry political favour as well as do its job.  This leads inexorably to pork barrel politics, whether it is turning UK marginal seats into special economic areas or building NASA’s launch facilities in an alligator infested swamp.  And the politicisation is pointless; as three time New York Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia said “There is no Democratic or Republican way of cleaning the streets.”  So why politicise it?

The SPAD evolution has also led inexorably to the professional politician (who grew up as a SPAD).  How do you get to become a politician? Start as a SPAD.  How do you become a SPAD?  Know someone who is prepared to take you on.  The array of political individuals in the main parties is thus being homogenised and decreasingly aware of the non-political world.  Thus, political thought is succumbing to a group-think.

Of course, the media should be challenging this.  Unfortunately, the path between media commentator and politician is well trodden and, with some noble exceptions, few interviewers or reporters are able or willing to confront the delusions of our legislators. This is a problem of the BBC.  What was started as an impartial organisation to inform, educate and entertain at public expense has (inevitably) become highly politicised with an interest in “big government” to maintain and increase its taxpayer funding.

Murder has been illegal since Moses went hill walking, countless laws have been passed against it and yet it continues.  There is a limit to what legislation can achieve, and yet every year more and more laws are passed – many of which have unintended consequences and some of which are highly divisive in the real world that exists outside the capital.  As the American satirist PJ O’Rourke pointed out at the American bi-centenary, surely there comes a point when a society has enough laws?

Money is a problem too.  SPADs, researchers and the publicity process all cost money which political parties must fund from members or donors.  In the UK we have fairly tight rules on spending but even here there are moves towards the state (that is, taxpayer) funding of political parties.  In the US, with no spending limits, a candidate’s ability to get elected is constrained by their ability to raise funds.  In the UK most people don’t fund politicians – those who do tend to expect something for it, be it a bauble or access.  It exacerbates the shrinking of the political parties’ universe.

So, on both sides of the Atlantic we have had electoral shock after outcomes that the establishment neither wanted nor expected.  In the UK the government has (reluctantly) committed to Brexit but many politicians have not. Instead they persist in thinking and acting as if they better know what is the interest of the country and its population.  It is increasingly obvious that they do not.

What happens next?  The sun came up this morning despite the outcome, as it did on 24th June.  The world will continue much as before in the short term. In the medium term the relationship between political parties, political thought (such as it is), the media and the population must evolve and reconnect with their populations.  How this will happen is less clear, as is the time frame.  But it would be a foolish member of the political elite who considered Brexit and Trump one off aberrations.

The “New” Russian T-14 Armata is not a “super-tank” so don’t panic. Yet.

The Sunday Telegraph reports that the latest Russian tank, (the T-14 Armata), could vanquish the British Army, and indeed NATO.  Great headline – now let’s look at the facts.

The T-14 is the first deployed tank to have an unmanned turret.  This should allow it to have a larger gun in a smaller, more easily protected volume and that is indeed potentially effective.  I say potentially, because there is more to good tanks (and winning battles) than firepower – although it is important.  Having spent a decade or so as a tank commander, there are benefits to being in the turret – primarily one can see much better, and much further.  That gives better spatial awareness, which is crucial for maintaining order and cohesion in the chaos of battle.  The T-14 design has been experimented with repeatedly, and rejected repeatedly, over the years for just this reason.  Yes, modern electronics and optronics mean that it is possible to relay views from one part of a tank to others more easily now than in the 1970s.  But that does not make it battle winning.

Big guns are important – in simple terms the bigger the gun the more one can kill at a greater distance.  Current western tanks (and indeed Russian ones) can knock out opposing tanks at well over 2,000m.  What range you need rather depends on where you are fighting (tank rounds travel pretty much along lines of sight – you can’t hit what you can’t see).  In Western Europe, which is what western kit was designed for, the average engagement range would be around 1,200m (this figure comes from the shape of the ground, and is computed from survey data).  In the deserts of Iraq it was somewhat further, as it would be on the Russian Steppes.  However opening fire also gives your position away, and invites all sorts of retaliation.  That said, the current version of the T-14 has similar firepower to western tanks.

The T-14 crew are more protected than that of any other tank.  But that does not mean that the tank as a weapon system is better protected.  A hit on the turret is still likely to disable the gun.  Arguably, given the additional complexity of the T-14 design, the turret is more vulnerable than a conventional one.

The article states that the T-14 also has an integrated active defence system to defeat missiles.  These are not new; the Israelis have one in use on their latest Merkava.  And it won’t work against an incoming tank round.  Most western countries are investigating retro fits (there are other issues that make them more complicated).  The article also claims that the T14 has excellent composite armour.  So do most Western tanks – although the British claim that the latest version of the Challenger 2’s Chobham armour is starting to sound a little jingoistic (obviously the real data is highly classified).

Where the article is spot on is that the concerns over casualties to IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices) in both the Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns has meant that the British Army has ignored tanks.  For historic reasons the British has always had a bias towards infantry, and that has got out of hand in the past decade or so.  The article also, rightly, makes the point that the British Army tank strength is risible in terms of numbers and the Challenger2 is an old design in need of an upgrade (which it is getting).  It also (rightly) questions whether the Army’s new reconnaissance vehicle is going to be all that was hoped – although that is a different story.

If the British people wish to continue to benefit from an Army that can fight any enemy, anywhere then it needs to have a long hard look at its ability to fight armoured warfare (which remains the method of choice for those with ambitions of territorial expansion, like Putin).  We can probably just about do it now, but it is on the limit of both the equipment, the numbers and the level of training.  Increasing our capability to what is necessary will not come cheap, and will probably need rather more than the 2% annual increase in current plans.

It is not quite time to panic – the T-14 is not a “supertank” and has not altered the balance of power.  However, it is time to take a long, hard and critical look at our military capability in the light of possible future conflicts.

Don’t Blame the Judges, it’s the Politicians who are Idiots..

Yesterday the High Court ruled that the government cannot use Crown prerogative to give notice to leave the EU under Article 50.  Unlike most who are commenting on this, I have read the judgement (here).  Although I am no lawyer, the prose is clear and the point simple.

Firstly, Laws can only be made, amended or repealed by Parliament (i.e. both the House of Lords and the House of Commons).  In this context, a law is anything that affects the rights of a UK citizen.  However, the Crown (i.e. the government) can do things that don’t affect the rights of UK citizen without reference to Parliament, including entering into Foreign Treaties and going to war.  Now these actions may well affect the wealth, health and happiness of the UK citizens, but they don’t affect their rights and so don’t require Parliamentary approval.

Although our membership of the EU is by Treaty (currently the Lisbon Treaty) it also grants the UK citizen rights in UK law, courtesy of the European Community Act 1972, as amended.  Triggering Article 50 means that, absent any agreement with the EU to the contrary, the UK would leave in 2 years.  some of the rights granted in ECA 1972 would expire, and that therefore means that Article 50 cannot be triggered Crown privilege.  Hence the ruling.

Now, there are grounds for arguing that the ruling is wrong, or that the case should not have been heard. No doubt the government will make them on appeal. It may or may not win.  However, as we stand we have a population that voted to leave, a government that undertook to enact the result of referendum and a Prime Minister who is now hamstrung.  The situation is exacerbated by the bleating of self-interested politicians opposed to Brexit (and their acolytes in media and elsewhere) who are currently conflating the need for Parliamentary approval to trigger Article 50 with a line by line negotiation of an exit, or at least setting out the exit terms.

The ruling does not of itself require Parliamentary oversight of the exit process.  All it requires is an Act to trigger Article 50, accepting that doing so will cause the loss of certain individual rights (most of them are quite arcane or silly, like losing the right to elect an MEP as the main rights accruing to EU citizens are already incorporated in UK law).  Such an Act would probably get through the House of Commons, but it might stall in the House of Lords – although Mrs May could solve that by creating 200 or more Brexit peers.  She might also be able to invoke the Parliament Act.

However, all of this is going to take time, and that time is causing uncertainty which in turn is doing economic damage to the UK. It is also frustrating the will of most of the people and is showing in stark relief just how unfit our current Parliament is.  While it would be unprecedented for a referendum to be binding the Referendum Act 2016 could have expressly included wording to allow the use of Crown prerogative – as David Cameron clearly stated he intended to.  But perhaps such an obvious provision was left out on purpose. It remains a scandal that the entire government operated on the assumption that the vote would be to remain.  If it is the case that no consideration was given to how to leave (in a technical, legal sense) as part of the preparation of the Referendum Act then the cabinet of the time were fools, and their advisers incompetents.

While I can see the obvious attraction for Mrs May in winning an appeal, there is a significant chance that the government will lose it – certainly its performance thus far in court has been pretty poor. And it if loses it may lose worse.  I think Mrs May’s best course is to introduce a sort Act, defy anyone in the House of Commons to vote against it (as it is now government policy she can and must whip it).  The House of Lords, which you may recall remains in a state of unreformed idiocy, will then face the choice of obstructing the people’s will and that of their government, or gritting their teeth and passing it.

Tomorrow is the 5th of November.  As Parliamentarians and their advisers head off for their recess they should reflect upon the mess that they have created.

BOOK REVIEW: Deborah and the War of the Tanks 1917

On 20th November 1917 the British launched the first massed tank attack in history at Cambrai on the Western Front.  Within a few hours they broke through the German front and support trenches and, for a couple of hours, were posed to break out from the mud and the blood to the green fields beyond.  The tank that got the furthest was D-51 Deborah. Astonishingly that tank was found buried underground a few hundred metres away from where her advance ended in Flesquieres.  She has been dug up, rehoused in a barn and is now becoming a memorial to the battle.  This book is the story of that tank and, importantly, her crew.

The tale starts with the earlier use of tanks, with limited success, at Paschendale.  The narrative then works through the very close all arms training with 51st Highland Division (demonstrating that the British Army then was perfectly capable of learning from mistakes and solving them, contrary to the Lions led by Donkeys school), followed by the action itself.

It is here the single tank viewpoint works most effectively.  Aided by superb maps, conveniently placed and well annotated (a simple feature that all too many books fail to achieve) we see the battle unfold.  D-51 was in the reserve company of D Battalion, which was attacking Flesquieres with the Gordon Highlanders of 153 Brigade.  The initial success generated an opportunity that was not fully exploited, the delay allowing the Germans to remuster and (somehow) hold on. The impact of the fog of war is made clear, as are the challenges of commanding an all arms action on the offensive, by this stage infantry, artillery, sappers, cavalry and aviation were all in action in conjunction with the new-fangled tanks.  The book’s account is objective, seeking to portray what did or did not happen, why and the possible consequences.  Rather than seeking scapegoats it effectively describes the environment in which surviving commanders found themselves (on both sides).  The author also makes the often overlooked point that had the cavalry attacked without Flesquieres being captured they would have been annihilated.  There may have been an opportunity to open up the Western Front at Cambrai, but it was not seized.  However the battle demonstrated that the British had, through a combination of technical innovation, tactical development, sound military training and experimentation finally found a way to achieve a break through.

The author never loses sight of the fact that warfare is about men, not machines.  He therefore describes the subsequent lives of the individuals mentioned, several of whom also fought in the Second World War.  The tale also includes the exploits of Phillipe Gorczynski, a Belgian hotelier fascinated by the battle who found D-51, arranged for her relocation and caused this story to be told.

This book is everything that military history should be.  Diligently researched, factual, objective and at times achingly poignant.  The prose is engaging, the narrative is clear and it flows well.  It is a fitting tribute to the remarkable men who fought in these early tanks.  I urge you to read it and have no hesitation whatsoever in awarding it five out of five.  I would give it six were that possible.


This review was originally written for ARRSE ( and appears here with their kind permission

The thoughts, rants, insights and dissertations of a British man in his fifties.

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