UK Defence Budget Uplift In Doubt


w/e 28th October 2022

No sooner had the military community rejoiced at the pledge by former PM Liz Truss to raise the UK’s defence budget to 3% of GDP by 2030 than all hopes were dashed by Kwasi Kwarteng’s (remember him?) disastrous mini-budget and rampant inflation and rise in cost of living costs.

The extra £157 billion that the defence community thought it was going to get over the next eight years now looks extremely unlikely. At best it might get an uplift to 2.5% by 2030, heavily backloaded towards the end of that time period. Other spending priorities look like they will prevail.

This at a time when we have a conventional war in Europe and great instability in other parts of the globe. Britain’s armed forces have been hollowed out by cuts by successive governments and there isn’t much more fat on the bone, if any. The regular British army is barely above 70,000 strong, the RAF/RN has no guarantee of getting the promised 138 F-35B fighter jets, and the RN is woefully short of ships.

Any pretence to be a global player is fast disappearing, that’s if it hasn’t gone already. The continuing presence of Ben Wallace as Defence Secretary in Rishi Sunak’s first cabinet is an interesting aspect. Wallace clearly nailed his colours to the mast over the 3% GDP pledge. If that does not come to pass, and if he’s a man of integrity and of his word, then surely his position is untenable and he will resign?

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How the Undersea Threat could cripple the globe

First there was the presumed sabotage on the Nord Stream pipelines in the Baltic Sea, to which nobody has owned up to yet by the way, although Russia is strongly suspected. Then there was the disruption to undersea cables to Shetland which shut everything down, including bank ATMs which meant that for a short while IOUs became the currency of those islands. This time the reason seems to have been more innocent, probably caused by fishing gear or a dragging anchor.

Nonetheless, incidents such as these have focused attention on the security of undersea pipelines and cables worldwide. Subsea infrastructure is generally buried in trenches where possible, but some types of seabed make this more difficult and it is less common for communications cables.  It is estimated that there might be more than 530 active or planned submarine telecoms cables around the world. Extending to more than 1.3 million kilometres, they carry ninety-five per cent of the world’s internet traffic.  Listen to the full podcast

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Who might replace Putin as President?


w/e 21st October 2022

Rumours circulating on secure social media “east of the Balkans” are beginning to suggest that Vladimir Putin may not be as secure as President of the Russian Federation as he might think he is. “Mad Vlad”, as the tabloids are wont to call him these days, is being circled by the vultures who are the siloviki (the “strong men”) in the Kremlin who are reportedly planning and preparing a change of control.

This appears to be being prompted by the desire to find an exit from the increasingly embarrassing Ukraine debacle. The scenario being wargamed would seem to be this: any planned escalation of military operations in Ukraine by Russia will be halted; Putin will retire due to a sudden and debilitating illness (real or pretend); and Russia will seek to negotiate some sort of successful termination of the war that will satisfy their political elite and general public.

In return, Ukraine will agree to opt for a non-NATO security arrangement, whether that is as part of an EU defence structure or some other body. No doubt Russia will ideally like to hold on to its territorial gains as part of this negotiated peace compromise, but I don’t think Ukraine is any mood for giving up any of its territory at the moment. After all, they are winning now, and hope to be able to sustain their success; they will not settle for the status quo ante bellum, I suspect, but might, just might, settle for the pre-2014 status quo, before the annexation of Crimea and part of the Donbas.

And who might replace Putin as President? Step forward one Nikolai Patrushev, politician, security officer and intelligence officer, who has been secretary of the Security Council of Russia since 2008. Not particularly well known internationally, he’s probably seen as an ‘acceptable face’ or stalking horse, internally at least, in any exit game for Russia from the Ukraine fiasco. One of Putin’s inner circle, he is understood to be one of the President’s closest advisers and an influential figure in Russia’s national security policies.

His accession might, however, turn out to be an out of the frying pan into the fire moment for the West.

Tank CommanderLt Col Stuart Crawford’s latest book Tank Commander (Hardback) is available for pre-order now

China is wooing Ex-RAF Pilots with ¼ million salaries!


w/e 21st October 2022

Much spluttering from the usual Bufton Tuftons in their leather armchairs at the news that former Royal Air Force pilots are being lured by China to teach their pilots the secrets of western air combat tactics. Apparently salaries as much as £250,000 per annum are part of the package, and it’s no surprise that there may have been up to thirty former RAF takers so far.

The outrage centres round whether this constitutes a betrayal of British patriotic values and a danger to the present generation of our fighter and bomber boys should we ever find ourselves at war with China. Unlikely, you may say, but with tensions over Taiwan ramping up and the current state of the world otherwise one never knows.

Others have suggested that working for the Chinese People’s Liberation Army and training their next generation of combat pilots muct surely be in breach of Britain’s Official Secrets Act, which all servicemen and women are obliged to sign up to. But unless there is hard evidence that its legislation is being breached there seems little that either the Ministry of Defence or British government can do.

The government has said that it is taking “decisive steps” to stop the migration and “protect our national security”, and would .review confidentiality clauses and non-disclosure agreements in contracts signed by former military personnel. The UK also plans to issue an intelligence alert to warn former military pilots against working for the Chinese military, a rare step in British military circles.

Current armed forces minister James Heappey has said that he thinks the  UK “must change the law” in an effort to ensure pilots did not pass on intelligence to China in the future. Whether this can be done remains to be seen.

Tank CommanderLt Col Stuart Crawford’s latest book Tank Commander (Hardback) is available for pre-order now

Is Russia ready to press the nuclear button?


w/e 21st October 2022

As I’ve been saying until I’m almost, but not quite, blue in the face, the chances of Putin using nuclear weapons in the Russo-Ukraine war are very small indeed. I have said this for three main reasons: the first is that Russia’s tactical nuclear arsenal mainly dates back to the Soviet era and has been in storage since the 1990s. Nobody outside of the Russian military knows what sort of state it is now in, whether it has been properly serviced and maintained, or indeed whether the weapons are likely to work at all.

The second is that, contrary to what some in the general public might think, the warheads are not sitting on top of their delivery systems – ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, artillery shells and the like – waiting for the off. They are stored in bunkers and arsenals and need to be outloaded and transported to their delivery systems.

The minute that starts to happen the west will know, thanks to the plethora of surveillance platforms watching Russia’s every move. The Americans have made in plain to Putin, both publically and privately, that any indication of the planned use of nuclear weapons, or nuclear, chemical and biological for that matter, will bring down the wrath of the USA and NATO upon them, and it will be terrible to behold.

And thirdly, should push come to shove and the war in Ukraine goes nuclear, it’s the beginning of the end game for Putin and Russia, because they will lose, and lose catastrophically. Russia has little to gain from employing its nuclear weapons at any level, and everything to lose. To do so would signal the end of Putin and very possibly the end of Russia as we recognise it today.

But we can never totally dismiss the threat of nuclear weapons, even if it relates to the detonation of a low yield tactical weapon over or in an unpopulated area of sea. This would represent a serious escalation in the conflict, and I suspect the consequences would be serious too, for Russia at least.

We need to consider this in the  overall context of the war’s progress. Currently, Russia is losing, and Putin is casting around for something to reassure the Russian political elite and general population that he knows what he’s doing (which he patently obviously doesn’t) and all will be well in the end.

No, by his threats Putin is seeking to continue his bullying of the west to keep the USA and NATO out of Ukraine and direct confrontation. And we all know that the best way to deal with a bully is to stand up to them. Western leaders need to grow some cojones and do so.

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Lt Col Stuart Crawford’s latest book Tank Commander (Hardback) is available for pre-order now