Smarter and greener defence

Speech by Gerald Howath, Minister for International Security Strategy.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government
Gerald Howarth

Good morning. And thank you Kristian, (Danish MOD Deputy Permanent Secretary for International Policy) for that kind introduction.

It’s a great honour to be asked to address NORDEFCO.

Effective defence calls for effective collaboration.

This group is a good model for us all when it comes to practical hands on commitment and delivery.

You are also very much on the front foot when it comes to pursuing a new and radical approach to achieving a smarter and greener defence.

I’ll be talking a little later about these two issues which, focusing as they do on the crucial issue of resources, are essentially both sides of the same coin.

I hope I speak on behalf of the others when I say it is a particular privilege that you have also invited to this seminar colleagues from the wider northern group.

A group which encompasses the Baltic nations, Germany, Poland, the Netherlands. And of course the UK.

I think it’s fair to say that previous British governments have not placed the same value on building relations with our fellow northern European nations as we do.

As Minister with the lead for defence diplomacy, I’m very clear that the nations of northern Europe comprise a group of countries bound together with a shared history and shared values.

In NORDEFCO you have, of course, recognised that for many years. It’s just the rest of us who have taken a little longer to wake up to the issue. Perhaps we in Britain took too long to recover from the Vikings, the only people successfully to have invaded the UK in 1,000 years!

I’d like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to Norway, and the work they are doing around the clock to guard Nato’s north eastern flank.

While in Norway earlier this year at the invitation of the Norwegian MOD State Secretary, Roger Ingebrigtsen, I had the privilege personally to take the controls of a the P3 Orion and fly over the polar ice cap. It gave me a very real appreciation of the sheer scale indeed, loneliness, of this challenge.

This is an area which is going to become increasingly important, as the northern sea route, which almost halves the transit time between Europe and the far east, is likely to be open for several months of the year within the next 10 years. Within that time the retreat of the ice will mean the opening of energy supplies and passage of shipping which is potentially game changing.

Norway’s work in safeguarding these routes is of vital strategic importance to us all, and it’s important we begin to think ahead about the challenges presented by climate change.

The northern group provides such an opportunity to bring us together to discuss issues of relevance to our mutual security, without reference to any particular institutional framework.

It’s very obvious to me that we as neighbours should work together to secure our own region, to keep our trade routes open, and together face threats as they arise.

Coming here to Copenhagen is, for me, therefore very much a neighbourhood visit. And a wonderful opportunity to get together with like minded friends and partners.

Like minded friends and partners who, in common with the UK, are outward facing, aware that defence is also an international business, and with whom we have served on operations across the world stage in recent years.

On last year’s Operation Unified Protector over Libya, for example.

Denmark’s decision to maintain a stunningly high level of sorties (double the coalition average) throughout August proved critical to bringing an end to Qadhafi’s tyrannical regime. We much appreciated Danish Defence Minister Gitte Bech’s willingness to extend Danish operations.

Likewise, the invaluable contribution of the Royal Norwegian Air Force, which flew more sorties than at any time since the Second World War.

I was privileged, on my visit there in January, to have the opportunity to meet some of the commanders and pilots who spearheaded Norway’s contribution.

An operation which also saw Sweden step forward to help enforce the ‘no fly zone’ over Libya with 8 of its Gripen aircraft and a C-130.

This was the first time in over 60 years that Sweden, a non-Nato nation, had conducted an out of area operation with an offensive air capability.

Indeed, there were times when the Swedish Air Force was providing something in the region of 40 per cent of the entire coalition air picture; an extraordinary contribution.

Members of the northern group are also heavily engaged in counter piracy operations off the coast of Somalia.

I know that Denmark’s counter piracy effort involves providing a naval contribution for 6 months of every year, plus an MPA contribution for up to two months of every year.

And of course in Afghanistan where UK Forces have fought, and are fighting, alongside forces from Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Poland, Germany and the Netherlands.

And many have very sadly lost their lives: a tragic total of 594 across all twelve northern group countries, of which the UK has suffered 410 losses.

And I want to say something very briefly here about the contribution of Denmark and Estonia, who have been closely involved with us in Helmand Province.

Both countries have borne a particularly high proportion of casualties in the light of the number of forces deployed.

I have now been to Afghanistan 6 times, and had the privilege of meeting the Danish and Estonian military on a number of occasions when visiting our troops in Helmand. I am always impressed by their professionalism and commitment.

Afghanistan has taught us all a lot about collaboration and the concept of everyone maximising each other’s strengths and capabilities.

And on that note, I’d like to take this opportunity to say how much we are looking forward to working with Denmark in developing the Afghan National Army Officers Academy.

This will be a crucial contribution to Afghanistan’s future security, and we are delighted to be working on it with our close comrades from Helmand Province.

I know that NORDEFCO members are adamant that this is an initiative which isn’t about new military or political alliances.

What NORDEFCO is about is sharing resources, driving down costs and enhancing interoperability. Doing more with less.

You are a pragmatic and proactive group already leading the way on smart defence, or to use the EU term, ‘pooling and sharing’.

Some here today are members of Nato, but not the EU. And vice versa.

What matters to me is that all countries wanting to contribute to collective defence and security are able to do so without constraint by institutions.

As an example, the UK has developed, and will shortly see enter service, a major enhancement to our air-to-air refuelling capability. This will give Europe a significant enhancement in an area which has a critical shortfall.

Now, we didn’t wait for the EU or for Nato to tell us to develop that.

We don’t plan to wait for either of these organisations to find us potential partners with whom to share the spare capacity we anticipate having when the system is fully in service.

In fact under David Cameron’s government the UK has been actively driving forward bilateral and small group cooperation.

We believe it offers a practical way in which the international community can respond to the strategic and financial challenges of the twenty-first century.

Since the publication of our Strategic Defence and Security Review in October 2010, we have signed no fewer than 3 defence treaties and 27 Memoranda of Understanding, including with Norway. And more of these bilateral agreements are under negotiation.

We are also working hard to ‘bottle’ the superb collaboration shared by the UK, Denmark and Estonia in Helmand Province.

Particularly when it comes to sustaining the logistics relationships which have proved so fundamental to our success together in Afghanistan.

Next month my own Policy Director will chair a meeting of Northern Group MOD Policy Directors to consider the group’s role in delivering further smart defence and pooling and sharing.

And next year we look forward to working with Latvia and Lithuania and others on the UK-led EU battlegroup.

Whilst we recognise that the EU has a complementary role to play in supporting Nato, I want to take this opportunity to emphasise that as far as the UK is concerned, Nato will remain the cornerstone of our security.

And that’s because the alliance continues to be a community prepared to back principles with military fire-power, as we saw last year in its implementation of the United Nations Security Council Resolution on Libya.

The reality is that when it became clear that sustained multi-lateral action was required, Nato was the only realistic co-ordinating structure prepared for, and with the mechanisms to deliver, joint and combined operations.

However the alliance does need to be revitalised.

Libya was very successful, but as Robert Gates said just before he stepped down as US Defence Secretary last year: ‘Nato’s serious capability gaps and other institutional shortcomings were laid bare by the Libya operation’.

The fact is that we all need to think, and act, smarter.

Smart defence isn’t a random concept with a catchy title.

Nor is it a shiny new strategy to be launched with a couple of press releases, posted on a website and quickly forgotten about.

And it must certainly not become an excuse for individual countries to reduce national defence expenditure, which in many cases are already too low.

Smart defence needs to become the basis on which we collectively shape our defence capabilities in the future.

And that’s why we are actively supporting Nato’s smart defence initiative, which will be an important focus of this month’s Chicago Summit.

Embedding smart defence in the alliance requires it to be clearly tied into the Nato defence planning process.

And we also need common standards. Because the reality is that multinational military operations still suffer from poor interoperability.

It’s also, and I think all of us here today are very aware of this, about driving forward cultural changes.

As the Nato Secretary-General observed to Nato Chiefs of Defence earlier this year, smart defence is essentially about changing mindsets.

About getting nations to think in a more collegiate way, and take an objective approach about capabilities which many of us are more used to thinking of as sovereign.

However, we need to understand the challenges faced by nations such as the UK, who cannot risk relying on an unreliable partner to provide a key capability.

Smarter defence is actually about future proofing.

Working together to make sure our resources go further.

In the UK, we are currently going through a process of transformation, getting our budget back under control and putting the management of Defence on a sustainable footing.

There also remains far too much inefficiency in both Nato and the EU. Too many headquarters, for example, and too many staff.

None of us here can afford it, and we must address it.

And of course one very important way of boosting our efficiency and being smart, which is relevant to this conference, is to adopt a new approach to the way defence uses energy.

It is a fact that the military have been, and will for the foreseeable future, be dependent upon energy for battle wining capability.

Energy is a critical enabler, but, we need to make sure that it does not constrain us.

Our experience in recent operations has highlighted this as a potential vulnerability. And just to put this into context, according to US military figures, a soldier in World War 2 used one gallon of fuel per day. Today the average american soldier on operations takes up 22 gallons every day.

And take for example Afghanistan, where most of the fuel we use has to be imported and forms the bulk of the long logistics tail from Karachi.

Those convoys have to be protected, and we have taken casualties in doing so.

In tandem, not only is the global price of diesel going up, but the cost of bringing it into theatre can be ten times the original price.

And these convoys are vulnerable to disruption, such as the closure of international borders.

All of which impacts on our military effectiveness.

We need to find ways of reducing the amount of energy we use, and you will shortly be hearing more about the UK approach from Admiral Neil Morisetti, the UK Climate and Energy Security Envoy.

But I’d just like to mention a couple of examples of work the UK has been taking forward in this area:

  • We have funded Qinetiq’s development of the Zephyr, an amazing solar powered high altitude long endurance UAV which has successfully completed a world-beating three and a half day flight. This is a tremendously exciting capability with a huge amount of potential.

  • We also have a plastic bottle recycling plant in Camp Bastion
  • And we’ve also been looking at a range of energy management techniques to be deployed in forward operating bases, particularly in a harsh environment like Afghanistan. You’ll be hearing more about this MOD project, known as PowerFOB, over the course of the seminar.

In all cases this has been achieved by working closely with our industrial partners.

The military will always require a hard edged war fighting capability, and for the foreseeable future that means using fossil fuels.

But, through energy efficiency and by opting, where appropriate, for alternative sources of energy, we can sustain operational effectiveness and address the wider issues of climate change, and the risks that poses to global stability.

In other words, you can be smart and green.

These are challenges we will, and must, face together.

And they call for effective collaboration and strong partnerships. I know this is something this group can, and will, deliver.

Thank you.

Updates to this page

Published 2 May 2012