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Some news on the Northen Flank.

Discussion in 'RM Operational News' started by Rover, Oct 2, 2018.

  1. Rover

    Rover Moderator

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    Land and littoral

    99. The commitment to the reinforcement of the Northern Flank in Norway discussed in

    paragraph 26 above has continued, the cold weather specialism within UK Armed Forces

    residing in the Royal Marines. The centre of expertise within the Corps is the Mountain

    Leader cadre, a group of highly trained Royal Marines instructors and specialists with

    expertise in mountain and cold weather warfare. Every year units from 3 Commando

    Brigade lead a series of exercises in Northern Norway to maintain the cold weather

    specialism.247 General Stickland described in oral evidence that these exercises have four

    main objectives:


    • To train personnel to survive, move and fight in extreme weather conditions.

    • To hone the capability of the commando force, building agility and resilience to

    operate in environments that other forces cannot;

    • To co-operate more closely with allies, training with the Norwegians, Dutch and

    Americans in Norway;

    • To be part of a wider conventional deterrent, providing reassurance for allies

    and acting within the wider framework of NATO’s Graduated Response Plans.248

    100. In both the oral evidence we have taken and the visit we undertook to observe the

    exercises in Norway, a number of matters arose which pose challenges for the current

    and future sustainment of cold weather training. The first relates to the issue of resources

    identified at the beginning of the chapter. Both the scale of cold weather training and the

    planning cycle of the exercises are affected by uncertainty over whether resources will

    be made available within each financial year. We were told on our visit that in the 1980s

    brigade-sized formations comprising of thousands of personnel went to Norway. Today,

    the numbers of personnel involved are usually in the low hundreds the ‘company plus’

    level. In 2018, exercises were conducted at an even lower level than usual, in what was

    described by the Minister for the Armed Forces as a one-off reduction at a saving of £2.5

    million. The Minister said that it was anticipated that training would return to normal

    levels next year.249


    He added subsequently:

    The challenges of defence finance in particular are there for us all to see …

    The impact of currency fluctuations and everything else can at times put

    greater pressure on the uncommitted spend, which training unfortunately

    falls into. One of the challenges of my role is trying to automatically prevent

    pressures on uncommitted spending such as training, as we saw this year.

    I have to fight very hard to try to prevent that, but there are some things

    within that blend of committed and uncommitted spending that mean you

    are constrained in your actions.250


    General Stickland had earlier said on the need for regular deployments:

    The key thing for me is the drumbeat of training. There is huge skill

    fade because of the complexity and harshness of the environment, so the

    drumbeat is important to me.251


    On our visit, we were told that these reductions were the result of the wider cost pressures

    across the Naval Service, as the Royal Navy seeks to regenerate carrier strike and sustain

    the nuclear deterrent. As we noted in our preliminary report ahead of the Modernising

    Defence Programme, this is not confined to the Naval Service as reductions in training

    have been implemented across the Services as a way of staying within annual budgets.252

    In oral evidence General Stickland recognised that there were tactical consequences to

    exercising at lower levels of mass, but said that the Royal Marines were focused on building

    up strength to operate at Commando (roughly battalion size) level at the next large NATO

    cold weather exercise in 2020.253

    101. Lieutenant Colonel Matt Skuse RM (Rtd), a former Royal Marine Mountain leader

    who had also served as Defence Attaché to Norway and Iceland made a wider point about

    the bureaucratic obstacles that exist to placing cold weather training on a more long-term

    basis:

    I think in this particular year it is the military capability team [at the

    Ministry of Defence] who have continued to put the funding for our

    winter deployments on the table for an in-year saving each round. As a

    consequence, we have been coming to Norway since the ’60s, every year, at

    12-months’ notice. As a result, the Norwegians have not been able to help

    us out with any infrastructure.254

    Colonel Skuse argued that taking a more long-term view would allow for both better cooperation

    with Norway and the development of a more strategic focus:

    [The nature of the funding cycle] is the reason we have not really sat down

    to have proper conversations about medium or long-term plans. We have

    almost surprised [the Norwegians] by our presence each year, and it is

    costing us a lot more staff work than it should do, and that staff work is

    not going to useful things such as working out how our world-class light

    infantry meets their world-class cold-weather heavy forces. That synergy

    is presently not being exploited. … So if you could ring-fence that budget

    for winter training, it is a relatively small act, but it would grow through to

    become a very large consequence on the sort of five to 10-year timeline.255


    The Colonel also argued that the reduced size of the deployment contributed to a more

    short-term outlook:

    There is also an important detail that is hidden in the fact that we are going

    out in smaller levels. When a brigade went out, a brigade commander and

    his staff went out. They generated staff work, made comment on the strategy

    and so on. When we go out at company commander level, the senior guy

    on the ground for the duration may be an OF-3 Major. He is more likely to

    try to push efficiency into the package rather than long-term thinking. That

    is an ugly by-product of the fact that we have downscaled, because we are

    putting less thought into it. Arguably, the whole thing is now intellectually

    underinvested.256

    102. Colonel Skuse also raised an issue that we discussed with the Royal Marines on our

    visit—whether the deployment in Norway was limited to environmental training, or

    whether it was part of a more joined up strategic ‘package’ that was integrated with the

    defence of NATO’s Northern Flank and acted as a credible conventional deterrent. He

    responded that the nature of the funding settlement did have a wider effect on how the

    training is conducted, and its strategic impact:

    At the moment, it is pretty much all about the environment, because of

    that 12-month timeline. A Royal Marine commander will turn up. He has

    not got links into any clever documents about how we work in synergy

    with the Norwegian forces. He simply tries to do what he expects to do in

    other places in the world in a cold-weather environment to overcome those

    frictions—the effect of snow and increased logistic challenges—that are a

    fact of life out there. If we had a more coherent plan he would actually be

    able to do some of that exercise and “train where you fight”, which was a key

    phrase during the Cold War. At the moment, it is simply the way we fund

    that package that stops him doing that.257

    He added later:

    I would gamble that we are not actually reading the NATO plan for the

    reinforcement of Norway when we do our exercise planning. We are not

    actually exercising that plan at all. We are not sending in refinements about

    the logistics. If we find an airport had changed its runway length, no one

    would report that to the international staff. We are simply not doing what

    we should be doing. We are not doing the basics. That is because we are

    going back at 12 months’ notice each time at a very tactical level. Change

    the funding strategy.258

    General Stickland, however said, that there was a wider strategic purpose:

    All our activity sits within the ability to deter and reassure as part of the

    NATO Graduated Response Plans … Our ability to deploy and operate is

    a fundamental part of the UK’s components of those deployment plans…

    quite a lot of the time the training bridges into a NATO exercise. NATO

    does not exercise in things it is not interested in. It is interested in this, and

    it is a way of rehearsing and particularly of integrating our forces. At the

    command level, people will be very aware that they are a component of a

    capability that reinforces under a NATO [concept of operations plan].259

    On the issue of budget programming, the General said:

    The nature of how the short-term budget runs is how Defence does its

    business. It is my job to make sure that people understand that there is a

    requirement. The crucial thing to say is that we have had a progressive buildup

    of this capability since 2013. We have been working to build back our

    core skills as we go through. As the Minister says, there has been a shortfall

    this year, but my target is to make sure that I justify the requirement for

    2019, building to the large-scale exercise that we are targeting in 2020 with

    our coalition and NATO partners.260

    103. The winter training exercises in Northern Norway each year led by the Royal

    Marines are crucial to maintenance of the cold weather warfare specialism. The level

    of training required to survive, move and fight in this environment is high and these

    skills fade if they are not maintained by regular training cycles. As these exercises

    are already taking place at low levels of mass, reducing them further will do more

    damage to their tactical utility and reduce the numbers of personnel completing cold

    weather training. The fact that this has been done on financial grounds is particularly

    unacceptable. The Government should ensure that cold weather training exercises

    return to normal levels in 2019.

    104. The Government should explain how cold weather training exercises are integrated

    with NATO’s Graduated Response Plan for the reinforcement of Norway.

    105. The pressure on the defence budget combined with the annual process of allocating

    uncommitted spending on training restricts the ability to plan training over the long

    term, limiting its strategic effect and reducing the ability to integrate more closely

    with allies. The Department should explore how it can be more flexible in programming

    multi-year cold weather training arrangements, instead of conducting the process on an

    annual basis.

    106. General Stickland highlighted how the annual exercises in Norway were a focus for

    defence co-operation with NATO allies. Cold weather training has been more closely

    integrated with the Norwegian Army261 and the Dutch marine combat group also

    undertakes training in Norway.262 The close relationship that the UK has with Norway on

    a wide range of matters including defence was dwelt upon by Colonel Olsen, and the Royal

    Marines are an important part of this:


    We have found that in the last decade or two, more and more countries

    have lost that Arctic skill set because they gave priority to other areas. It

    is an art in itself to operate up there. One thing is to do the basics: to keep

    yourself warm with the right clothing, to get a good night’s sleep under

    tough conditions, to eat properly, and to handle the snow, the wet and

    the waters up there… We find that the Royal Marines are so good at it;

    their motivation and their willingness to take on new challenges is really

    important for us.263
     
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