IISS’ Barry on British Army Strategy, Readiness, Programs


Brig. Ben Barry, British Army Ret., the senior land warfare fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, discusses the British Army’s strategy, readiness, programs and potential Brexit impact with Defense & Aerospace Report Editor Vago Muradian at the DSEI conference and tradeshow in London. Our coverage is sponsored by L3Harris and Leonardo DRS and in partnership with Clarion Events — DSEI’s organizer — and working with the UK Department of International Trade’s Defence & Security Organisation to bring our audience the best in British defense.

Vago Muradian:  Welcome to the Defense and Aerospace Report.  I’m Vago Muradian here at the Excel Center in London covering the DSEI trade show, one of the world’s leading trade shows covering air, land, sea, space, cyber security and more.  Our coverage here is sponsored by L3Harris, Leonardo DRS, and we’re partnered with Clarion Events, the great organization that puts on this great trade show and many others around the world.  And we’re working with the UK Department of International Trade, Defence and Security Organization to bring you the very best of British defense.

It’s an honor to have with us Retired British Army Brigadier Ben Barry who is with IISS, the great think tank in London, the International Institute for Strategic Studies where you study global land warfare issues.  Ben, it’s always a pleasure to see you.  Regimental tie and full order today.

A great conference called the Day Zero Conference.  Anybody who knows DSEI knows that the first day of it is all the service conferences.  Starts off with a keynote address as we heard from Air Marshal Richard Knighton, and we’re going to hear from Admiral Tim Frasier, the Deputy Chief of Defence Staff.  The Chief of General Staff couldn’t attend, General Carlton Smith couldn’t be here, but you’ve been listening to the conference all day.  Talk to us a little bit about the priorities, the messages coming out of the British Army.  Now CGS has been in office for a year.  Walk us through what the strategic plan is because we heard a lot from Tony Radakin, the First Sea Lord here.  Chief of Air Staff, Chief Marshal Wigston talked about what his priorities were going to be.  Talk to us, give us a little bit of a view on where the British Army’s thinking is.

Brig. (Ret) Ben Barry:  I think the themes that came out today were three-fold.  One on modernization of equipment which includes an idea for an increased partnership with British defense industry.  One on reshaping the Army so it can perform better across the spectrum of conflict including being better able to counter hybrid warfare greater in conflict, or sub-threshold warfare.  And also briefly there was discussion on our ambitious agenda, they’ve got to modernize their people.

Mr. Muradian:  But how, I mean this agenda, the British Army has been working, Nick Carter when he was Chief of General Staff before he became Chief of Defence Staff, was working this sort of transformational element of it.  But there was concern that the British Army is still sort of feeling its way forward in terms of its return to great power competition, much more high intensity warfighting.  The British Army sort of packed away all of its tanks, so it’s found the importance of tank warfare once more.

Where are we in this process?  And are you — because there’s a little bit of a question in the United States about whether the U.S. Army fully has its arms wrapped around the nature of the changes and what its future strategy is going to be.  Is the British Army any further developed in that at this point?

Brig. (Ret) Barry:  Well, I think there are two components to this.  One is that it’s rebuilt its heavy metal warfighting capability.  And it has a mechanized division, the 3rd Division, which is the center of gravity for this.  It recently performed on a U.S. core-level warfighter exercise.  And at the same time it’s sustaining a heavy armored battle group, you know, battalion team in Estonia which is enabling it to look at the practicalities of defending against an Article 5 scenario.

At the same time it’s said there’s more to 21st century warfare than just the kind of armored warfare that was practiced in the Cold War.  That’s still relevant.  But they need to take into account new methods and capabilities such as precision attack on both sides.

But they’re also conscious that any conflict would have a battle of the narrative.  It might well have a dimension of armed politics.  So conventional conflict might sit in the same place in time alongside a hybrid conflict.  And they recently announced that they were reorganizing the Army and that the 1stDivision would concentrate on being an Infantry Division but would do a lot of capacity building.  But the 3rd Division remains the Heavy Mechanized Division. But they’ve set up this organization called the 6th Division to do what they call Information Maneuver.  Information Maneuver is a kind of fusion between intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance and information operations.  That’s why they’ve grouped together in the 6th Division their two Signals Brigades, their Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Brigade, and the 77 Brigade which is basically a modern Information Operations Brigade.  And they’ve been using these forces, for example, as part of the UK contribution on Operation Inherent Resolve in Iraq and Syria.  And I think they’re developing an idea of modern warfare that blends the core capabilities of the old along with the essential modern capabilities.

Mr. Muradian:  And how would you gauge the progress?  The British Army, just like the U.S. Army, prides itself on being highly innovative organizations.  They were able to change rather dramatically over the last 18 years of conflict.  How do you rate the British Army’s progress at this point?

Brig. (Ret) Barry:  There’s no doubt that in the previous decade they found adapting to Iraq and Afghanistan quite painful, and in some respects they were slower than the U.S. Army and the U.S. Marine Corps.  But they did catch up and they did get the message and adapt very well, particularly to Afghanistan.

Now since then they’ve contracted in size quite considerably.  The conventional forces of the UK reduced by one-third as a result of the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review.  But they’ve done their best to learn the lessons of Iraq and Afghanistan and select those bits of those lessons that are still relevant and keep them alive.  That’s been one of the purposes of these new innovative organizations.

Now that’s on the positive side.  I would say the British Army has probably changed over the last decade more than it changed in any other period in peacetime, and it’s actually changed more than it’s changed in many wars.  For example the Napoleonic Wars.

But the real problem is money.  They’ve got an ambitious modernization agenda of which the flagship which was talked about today is the modernization of their armored vehicle capability.  There are four elements to that.

The Ajax Armored Scout Vehicle which is coming in on time and is fully contracted, so you can be confident that’s going to be delivered.

But they need to modernize their tank.

They’ve also got the Warrior Armored Infantry Capability Sustainment Program which actually is the most ambitious armored vehicle modernization program in the world. It changes the Warrior Armored Vehicle with a complete new turret and all sorts of other modifications.  And if there’s an armored vehicle modernization program that makes more changes to an in-service armored vehicle, I don’t know of it.

They also hope to acquire a Mechanized Infantry Vehicle, and eight-wheeled APC for which they’ve selected the German/Dutch Boxer.

The problem with defense is the defense budget was running quite short.  In the recent issue of the Defnece Annual Report and Accounts, Defence’s Finance Director actually wrote that the money available for their equipment plan was insufficient and that they were working with the Treasury about it.  But that’s quite unprecedented for a senior civilian official in the Ministry of Defence to say that the equipment program’s unaffordable.

Mr. Muradian:  And that was Cat Little who made that statement.

Brig. (Ret) Barry:  Cat Little.

Now last week the Chancellor, the Finance Minister, made a statement to Parliament in which there were quite significant increases in public spending including on policing and the health service and education.  By all accounts, Boris Johnson, the Prime Minister, insisted there was an uplift for Defence, and there is one of about 2.2 billion pounds.  That should help Defence get itself out of this financial hole, but only if that increase is sustained over the next decade.

I think the key question for the Army is will that increase in the Defence budget be sustained?  And how much of it will be allocated to land equipment?  Because their modernization agenda depends on adequate funding.

Mr. Muradian:  And that 2.2 billion pounds is actually over two years, it’s not just a one-year figure.  So you have to think about that as troweled over a longer period of time.

Let’s talk about women in combat.  British Army moved, just like the U.S. and so many armies around the world, to open all jobs, combat jobs to women.  Bring us up to speed on that.  You know, we’re seeing a little bit of progress on that in the United States, but there haven’t been as many women applying for some of these jobs as I think that folks would like to see at the end of the day.  Where are we from a British perspective in opening up some of these jobs to women?

Brig. (Ret) Barry:  I think we’re behind the U.S. Army and the U.S. Marine Corps.  Remember that the British Army is about ten times smaller than the U.S. Army, and it’s about half the size of the United States Marine Corps.  It made the announcement later.  There have been an increased number of women in artillery and engineers, and indeed some of them won the Gallantry Medals in Iraq and Afghanistan.  There are also women who were killed and wounded.  But progress has been slower.

It’s quite interesting, I attended the conference of Britain’s Royal Armored Corps earlier this year and two of the three female officers in the Royal Armored Corps were there.  Generally speaking, what I’m hearing from the Army is there’s no shortage of female cadets at Sandhurst wanting to go into combat roles.  Indeed the combat support arms — the signals and the engineers and the artillery — are worried that they’ll lose this input of excellent female officers.  But there’s very few female soldiers going through to the Armored Corps, in particular the Infantry.

And in addition, what has been rather heartening I think about this move in the United States have been the number of women who successfully completed Ranger School, which is an extraordinary achievement just to complete Ranger School anyway, and there was a recent announcement that a U.S. Air Force lady officer had completed Ranger School.

There’s not much sign of that female British personnel putting themselves forward for either P Company, which is the demanding selection for the Parachute Regiment, or the Royal Marine Commander Course.  But I would say, and there’s no secret about this, that in the work done by the Special Reconnaissance Regiment, which is a specialist surveillance force, part of UK Special Forces, there are women who serve with great distinction.

Mr. Muradian:  Retired British Army Brigadier Ben Barry of IISS, the International Institute for Strategic Studies, the land warfare analyst there.  Ben, always a pleasure.  Thank you very much.  And hopefully we’ll get another update from you by the time the week’s out.

Brig. (Ret) Barry:  Sadly, probably not because I’m not sure I’m returning.  The day job calls.

Mr. Muradian:  You mean the gravitational pull of DSEI might not be able to pull you away from your full-time job?

Brig. (Ret) Barry:  There are two factors.  Deadlines and money.



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