- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 20, 2003

LONDON, April 20 (UPI) — Britain plans major new investments on military communications, intelligence gathering and precision bombing to keep pace with U.S. military advances forces. According to senior British sources, however, the sacrifice in cuts elsewhere may be too great.

United Press International has learned the Royal Navy is considering cuts of almost 50 percent of its attack submarine fleet, the deepest reductions in a wider shift in defense expenditures which could also see cuts in tanks, artillery and aircraft. Even senior American officials are concerned that the reductions may go too far.

Coming so soon after Operation Iraqi Freedom, which saw more traditional sights of war as heavy armor raced across deserts, hundreds of planes struck at Iraqi tanks and ships launched marines in helicopter assaults, many senior officers are starting to worry that smarter, lighter forces may mean Britain will have too few troops and 'platforms' to make a real difference.

Already tagged with the ambivalent reputation of having "the best small army in the world," Britain has acquitted itself brilliantly in Iraq in the eyes of senior American commanders. But they worry there is just not enough of it, and unless it gets significantly more money it will just get smaller.

"The British force (in Iraq) is badly in need of increased resources," former NATO head U.S. Gen. Wesley Clark told The Times of London recently.

"Already, the forces are perhaps a generation behind the best available technology in some areas, and are hard-stretched in support. … British ground forces have wrestled with problems of overcommitment for years — they are simply smaller and leaner than the requirements would suggest."

The U.S. Navy is worried, too. Anxious to have British support with them right from the start in Operation Iraqi Freedom the United States even paid for many of the 30-plus Tomahawk cruise missiles launched by the British submarines Turbulent and Splendid, according to a senior British navy official.

"Royal Navy submarines provided fully 25 percent of all the Tomahawk missile strength available to the coalition for a time," he said.

Added Norman Polmar, a naval expert and senior adviser to the secretary of the U.S. Navy: "There is no question about the value the U.S. Navy places on having the Royal Navy alongside us. We just wish there was more of it. This desire also reflects the views of the White House"

But under plans being considered for the Ministry of Defense's Equipment Plan 2003, due to be presented for Parliamentary consideration this fall, the navy may lose at least two of its three remaining Swiftsure class submarines and possibly one Trafalgar class boat.

Already, under the 1998 Strategic Defense Review, the number of attack submarines is being cut from 12 to 10 — losing Sovereign, commissioned in 1974, and Superb, commissioned in 1976.

Five submarines — Splendid, Spartan, Turbulent, Triumph, and Trafalgar — already have been converted to fire Tomahawks through their torpedo tubes. Another, Trenchant, is in refit and due to be converted. The new plan would mean eventually scrapping all but one of them as six new Astute submarines replace them.

The first Astute, however, is at least 18 months behind schedule, afflicted with severe problems in its computer-aided design, and is not expected to enter service for at least another five years.

A British navy spokesman said he could not comment on future equipment plans as they were still being discussed. He rejected, however, concerns that any cuts were being done to save money for the costly new aircraft carrier program, of which two are to enter service from 2012 at a cost of some $5.5 billion, plus another $15.7 billion for some 80 joint-strike fighter aircraft. The carriers, he said, involve additional money.

"We are looking at a range of options consistent with strategic requirements following the events of Sept 11 (2001)," he said, taking the new military line that in fighting terrorists ships, planes and tanks (known as platforms in military jargon) are less important than precision and intelligence. "Capability needs to be judged by their effect rather than platforms," he said.

For the RAF, air force sources say, the biggest hit is likely to be in the 230 Eurofighters still officially on the agenda.

With precision weapons greatly improving the RAF's strike capability - including new Storm Shadow air launched cruised missiles launched over Iraq for the first time, Maverick anti-tank missiles launched from Harrier GR7's and anti-radiation ALARMs on Tornado F3s — the service is now urgently trying to catch up on 'network-centric warfare' capability, particularly unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs.

With the first robot air-to-air missile battles reported over Iraq just before the war (two U.S. Predator UAVs fired Stinger anti-aircraft missiles at two Iraqi MiG fighters, losing to a MiG in one instance) the RAF is anxious to either acquire its own Predators or accelerate development of the army's new Watchkeeper UAV, not due to enter service for at least three more years.

It is increasingly coming to the conclusion that its next big project, the Future Offensive Air System, to replace the Tornado GR4s after 2018, will have to be an unmanned aircraft, or at least a large manned aircraft that launches several smaller armed UAVs.

The RAF also has huge investments in the Astor battlefield radar plane and the Nimrod MR4 maritime surveillance plane, currently encountering major technical difficulties.

For the army, pending cuts are focused on armored forces, notably a loss of 42 Challenger II tanks, reducing from 21 tank squadrons to 18. A further 15 AS90 self-propelled guns are also being considered as the army debates the future of heavy armored forces.

Some of the tanks' role has been earmarked by the army's new Apache Longbow anti-tank helicopters, but their vulnerability was put into question in the first major attack on Republican Guard positions recently when 30 U.S. Apaches were hit by machine gun, rifle and rocket propelled grenade fire. One was shot down with the capture of its two crewmembers.

However, army officials said the problem lay not with the helicopter but with the poor way the Apaches were deployed. Sources say at least one senior U.S. commander has been disciplined.

"We are having a very hard look at how we are organized for expeditionary warfare," said an Army spokesman, who declined to comment on any specific plans under consideration. "This war has reinforced to us that the gold standard we have set ourselves involves warfighting, and that involves a wide range of equipment and tactics"

Senior army officers are convinced that the war has demonstrated that too much focus on light forces will mean Britain giving up too much of its heavy punching power just when it is needed most.

"It was tanks and artillery that pushed us forward in Iraq," said one general. "And even when it is not knocking out other armor a tank at a crossroads in town sends a mighty powerful message of control."

For the planners, however, it was the need to use 10 huge C-17 transport aircraft to transport just 10 65-ton M1-A2 tanks to an airstrip in northern Iraq that for the first time really demonstrated the operational requirement for lighter tanks.

While the U.S. Army is working to get its new family of Stryker wheeled armored vehicles as soon as possible, the British are pressing for a new wheeled reconnaissance vehicle known as the Future Rapid Effects System.

It is also noted by military analysts that the U.S. Army didn't even need to use its most expensive and sophisticated force, the fully digitized, 30,000-strong 4th Infantry Division. Originally designated to be at the forefront of action by attacking Iraq through Turkey. The 'Ivy' Division spent the war moving by sea from the Mediterranean to the Gulf , and was too late even to get to Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit in time.

The division was planning to demonstrate exactly how its newest computer-and-video-controlled tanks operate in relation to each other to avoid 'friendly fire' disasters, and how its commanders have so much awareness of the battlefield that it would easily carve through the toughest of Saddam's forces.

As it was, the division wasn't needed. Saddam's troops, it has since turned out, were demoralized even before the first shot was fired.

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