Modern infantry conference

Speech by Peter Luff, Minister for Defence Equipment, Support and Technology.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government
Peter Luff

My thanks to both ADS and the Shephard Group for organising this conference.

I would also like to thank everyone here who contributed to operations in Libya.

But this conference and exhibition is about modern infantry.

That means today’s infantry who continue to fight on the ground in Afghanistan as I speak.

And it’s the infantry who inevitably take the heaviest punishment.

Industry’s support, at home and alongside them in theatre, has been magnificent.

We’re also here to discuss the Infantry of the future.

There will be strong similarities, both in structure and equipment.

The regimental system remains at the heart of the British Infantry.

The quest for the right mix of mobility, protection, and firepower will continue to drive our acquisition.

There will also be differences as we take our armed forces to the next level of fighting effectiveness.

A new structure for the army; new equipment; and a better way of acquiring and supporting that equipment.

I want to talk about all of these things this morning. But the crucial component is adaptability.

In this volatile world, everyone in defence, including the infantry, will need to be adaptable as the character of war continues to evolve.

Of course, when we entered office we were not only faced with a complex international picture.

We were also faced with a pincer-like set of financial challenges in defence.

The country was reeling from a fiscal deficit; bringing it under control would constrain resources across government, defence included.

And we inherited a shockingly out of control ‘Equipment Plan’, and a dysfunctional structure which seriously compounded the problem.

Combined, this was becoming a national security liability.

So we had to deal with both.

Because if you want first class armed forces, and we do, you need a first class economy.

And if you want to equip and support them to a first class standard, which it’s my job to do, then you need a force structure that’s fit for the 21st century, and a defence programme which is affordable and sustainable.

That’s precisely what the ‘Strategic Defence and Security Review’ has started to do.

It’s certainly not been straightforward or pain free; and to be frank we’re not through it yet.

But the SDSR sets out a vision of a much more adaptable future.

For the army, the vision is a force structure and equipped to operate successfully across the range of possible conflicts we are likely to face in the coming decades.

The ‘Army 2020 review’, initiated by the Chief of the General Staff, will build on the SDSR to deliver this.

By 2020, once the TA has developed in the way we intend, we envisage a total trained army of 112,000 by 2020, of which roughly 70% will be regular and 30% reserves.

That will require a reduction in regular manpower, and a potential increase of up to 10,000 trained reservists.

Neither the reduction nor the growth is risk or challenge-free.

But achieving this is essential if the army is to adapt to life in a volatile world.

So we know that the army, including the Infantry, will be a smaller, more integrated force with a robust contingent capability, including the capacity for major combat operations.

We know that the army, including the Infantry, will almost certainly need to engage more broadly overseas in conflict prevention; and be able to assist in relief operations and support the authorities here at home.

However, until the detail is confirmed in the ‘Future Army Review’, it presents me with a unique set of challenges.

First, the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force have traditionally manned the equipment, while the army has equipped the man.

This is less true for the army than it has been in the past, but for the infantry it is still about providing the soldier with precisely the equipment he needs.

This is not a criticism, just an observation, yet the result is that the army’s equipment programme necessarily remains fluid until the future army structure is agreed.

Second, by their nature, the money for major equipment programmes in the other two services has to be committed years, sometimes decades, in advance.

Termination clauses mean that contractors still have to be paid if we choose to cut a major programme.

And the units being manufactured for the navy and air force number in the tens, or in the case of airships, in single figures.

Although there are notable exceptions, this applies less to the army where programmes typically spend less time in development and units are measured in the hundreds or even thousands.

Historically, this has placed the army’s programmes at greater risk of salami slicing, and even termination, from unstable fiscal environments, annual planning rounds, and cost growth in other environments.

This is compounded because manpower levels, rather than warship numbers and fast jet fleets, are seen to be the measure of relative army success or failure in any cuts to defence.

This is the challenge that I am continually battling with when it comes to infantry equipment.

Third, although the campaign is far from over, we now have to begin managing the legacy of Afghanistan.

For example, as we plan for the drawdown of combat operations, we are considering which Urgent Operation Requirement vehicles should be brought into the MOD’s core equipment programme.

UOR acquisitions have made a vital contribution to the success of Operation Herrick, and they have typically been brought into service on or before schedule.

But now the incoherence, in fact, downside, of UORs becomes clear.

Our enemy’s tactics evolve rapidly.

So too must the technology to counter them.

That explains why we have spent £2.8 billion on over 2,000 UOR vehicles, with many variants, to provide our forces with the equipment they need to meet the specific threats they face in Afghanistan.

They have, on the whole, performed magnificently.

However, they were procured for “The war”, not “A war”.

Hard headed realism will be required as the army considers how to marry its future core vehicle requirement against the fleets of vehicles already in service.

And we must remember that the best must not be the enemy of the good.

These are battle proven.

The Treasury, on behalf of the taxpayer, will, quite rightly, want to see us making the most efficient use of these valuable vehicles.

Of course, the army shouldn’t be the regulator to cost growth in the other environments.

But the army must move quickly to remove these obstacles to a fair hearing.

However, even with an agreed structure, the vision of the SDSR cannot be achieved without tackling the drivers of structural financial instability, and the institutional lack of accountability in how defence is managed.

That’s why Lord Levene’s work on defence reform has been a crucial step forward.

His report was clear.

The single services are the fundamental building blocks of our armed forces.

But for too long they have been asked to deliver defence outputs without the financial freedom to manage them, making them vulnerable to pressures outside their control.

And the service chiefs were spending too much of their valuable time trying to influence policy and haggle over funding, when their talents should be devoted to running the services they lead.

We need a balanced forward programme which gives us the freedom to adapt to unexpected changes in the world, not simply because we must make savings in order to meet short-term budget constraints.

That’s why we’ve firmly delegated the task of generating capability to the front line commands through the service chiefs, and why we’ve added Joint Forces Command which will provide essential enablers like ISTAR.

Delivery will be exercised through the Command Plan, binding the MOD’s acquisition organisation, DE&S; the front line commands; and the wider MOD into a contract.

The trigger point will be a balanced equipment programme which PR12 must deliver.

The significant work needed to flesh out the details is underway.

The results must mesh with our white paper (which will set out our future policy on equipment, support, and technology for defence and security), and our Materiel Strategy (which will have implications for how we buy military equipment more generally).

For example, how do the front line commands operate with DE&S?

But the bottom line is that with long denied authority comes long overdue responsibility.

The service chiefs now have the power to deliver and will be held rigorously to account for doing so.

That’s the background to any discussion on equipping modern Infantry.

Let me turn to the Infantry itself.

The infantry is the oldest combat arm in warfare.

From Greek Phalanxes to barbarian shield walls; massed pike to the ‘pals’ in Kitchener’s army, traditionally the infantry’s job was to close and kill, or defend and kill.

As Napoleon said, reflecting on the squares of British Infantry at Waterloo from his exile in St Helena, “One might as well try to charge through a wall.”

But for all the battle honours down the centuries, there is a school of thought which believes that the infantry has been relegated to second-class citizens as governments prefer to use Special Forces.

I don’t believe that’s true.

We all recognise and value the increased role of Special Forces, but they have a specific role which relies on secrecy, stealth, and surgical insertion.

A counter-insurgency strategy on the other hand requires boots on the ground: visible to the local community and engaging with them; visible to the enemy and destroying them.

The British infantry has done, and continues to do, a quite remarkable job in Afghanistan.

Their contribution is as strategic as it’s tactical.

We all know that civilian casualties from allied attacks will always drown out the butchery inflicted by the Taliban on their own people.

And we all know that allied casualties generate far greater coverage than Taliban casualties.

That’s why protecting the civilian is a strategically important part of the infantry’s job.

And why protecting the soldier is an important part of my job, in fact it’s my moral duty.

I recognise that the army has not been well served over the last couple of decades.

The issues are familiar to us all: vehicles; helicopters; personal protection.

But today, the view that’s reported back to me from Afghanistan is that the British infantryman has never been so well equipped, supported, and protected.

For example, the ‘Black Bag’, issued to every British soldier deployed on operations, contains over £3,000 worth of kit from boots up.

The Tier One and Tier Two pelvic protection appears to have been outstandingly successful, and very popular with the infantry.

I was lucky enough to attend 3 Commando Brigade’s Mission Exploitation Symposium at Sandhurst last week.

There I heard, from those who know, that every bit of kit performed above expectations and that no mission was compromised by shortages of equipment.

That’s a message we need to take proudly to the British people.

I don’t rest on these laurels and there are still plenty of enhancements to come.

But the point is that the issues of real and serious concern have been addressed.

On top of this, new equipment arriving in theatre will have adaptability at its very core.

And core capability is precisely what it is.

The Foxhound light protected patrol vehicle will be an army mainstay for decades to come.

The first of the 200 on order will start to roll off the lines and into training later this month, ready for deployment early in 2012.

It uses traditional materials in a novel way to push the boundaries of vehicle design and achieve an unparalleled combination of survivability and mobility.

It draws on industries beyond defence’s traditional base, for instance incorporating cutting-edge technology from Britain’s world-leading motorsports industry.

And last month the Prime Minister announced a £1 billion upgrade to the army’s Warrior Infantry Fighting Vehicle, the backbone of infantry operations and top of CGS’s equipment priorities.

As well as improving lethality and survivability, the re-design will allow technologies that don’t yet exist to be inserted as they come on-line.

This means we can address evolving capability gaps and extend the service life of this vehicle beyond 2040.

This is the future, now, and it’s adaptability-heavy.

So I believe we can look at the infantry of today and the infantry of the future with greater confidence than has been the case for many years.

Future Force 2020 is our goal.

Getting there will be difficult, at times painful, yet there is no alternative.

The new Defence Secretary has been absolutely clear that unpicking the SDSR is not an option.

But the SDSR provides our vision.

The Future Army Review will bring the clarity all of us need. And with this vision and clarity, I’m confident that equipping and supporting an adaptable Infantry will be within our reach, and at a price this country can afford.

Published 9 November 2011