Keynote Speech: General Sir Richard Dannatt

RUSI Land Warfare Conference

08:00, 23 - 25 Jun 2009
RUSI, Whitehall, London, SW1A 2ET

Link to map: multimap

As he prepares to step down from the post of Chief of the General Staff, General Sir Richard Dannatt opened the RUSI Land Warfare Conference with a speech that did much to outline the British Army’s analysis of recent conflicts and the lessons drawn for future conflict. In advance of a future Defence Review, he moved to quash speculation of inter-service rivalry and identified core areas of agreement in defence policy between the three services.

To listen to the keynote presentations of General Sir Richard Dannatt, Chief of the General Staff, and General George Casey, Chief of Staff US Army, at the RUSI Land Warfare Conference click here>

I would like to begin by adding my own welcome to the many distinguished speakers and delegates attending the RUSI Land Warfare Conference. And in particular I would like to thank the Director of RUSI, Professor Michael Clarke, and the Vice President of the Association of the United States Army, Lieutenant General Ted Stroup, for organising and hosting what promises to be an important landmark in developing our understanding of the evolving trends and character of Land Warfare, and for exploring the implications this has for our allied and partner nations; our key partner government departments; our Armed Forces; and for the Army in particular.

I would also like to express my sincere gratitude for the generous support provided by our sponsors, BAE systems, Finmeccanica, Boeing and Northrop Grumman. Of course what really makes this conference so unique is the unparalleled opportunity it offers to share views and to debate issues between key allies and partners. And we are fortunate enough to be joined by some truly distinguished speakers and leaders, many of whom are at the forefront of contemporary thinking about Land Warfare and who have been setting a bold pace and example in how to adapt their respective Defence establishments and Armies for the changing character of warfare. I refer of course principally to the United States Army and Marine Corps, whose ambition in terms of breadth, depth and pace of transformation - whilst engaged in two major land campaigns - has been both admirable and exemplary. And in this respect I would like formally to welcome two of the key architects of US transformation:

• General George Casey, Chief of Staff, US Army.

• And General Jim Mattis, Commander US Joint Forces Command and Supreme Allied Commander Transformation for NATO.

In the same spirit, I would also like to extend a very warm welcome to representatives from some of our closest allies and partners:

• From Brazil, General Darke Nunes de Figueiredo, Chief of Staff, Brazilian Army

• From the Ukraine, my old friend Colonel General Ivan Svyda

• From Germany, Lieutenant General Carl-Hubertus von Butler, Commander German Army Forces Command.

• From Iraq, Staff Major General Abbas Mohammed Fizzaa

• From Pakistan, Major General Sayeed Shakeel Hussain

• And from France, Brigadier General Philippe Ponties

So, let’s get proceedings underway. For the next twenty minutes I am going to try to establish the context for our discussions: what we have learned about the evolving character of conflict, and in particular Land Warfare; the challenges we face – now and in the future; and the implications I believe this has for our Armies, our Defence establishments and for our key government partners.

The historian Corelli Barnett once observed that “War is the great auditor of institutions”. By last summer we in the British Army had formed the view that we had reached a ‘Question 4’ moment as a result of the audit we had conducted as a result of our experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan. Since then, over the course of the last twelve months, our thinking has progressed substantially from those initial conclusions. Now, I sense that Defence and the other great institutions of this country are also acknowledging the need to learn and apply the lessons of this audit.

In short we are at, or fast approaching, a strategic crossroads at which the decisions to be taken might include a fundamental revision of Britain’s place in the world and our associated level of national ambition; should include the mechanisms by which we integrate and apply the instruments of national power; and must include the shape, balance, role and size of our Armed Forces. There are of course many drivers for this re-assessment which are well known, not least: the global economic crisis and its potential impact on public spending; the conclusion of the UK’s involvement in the military campaign in Southern Iraq; the renewed US focus on Afghanistan and Pakistan; differing interpretations across Whitehall on the utility of the military instrument of power as a result of the political, financial and human costs of recent campaigns; and the recognition that our force structure and investment within Defence is out of balance. The audit this re-assessment represents should ultimately be addressed in a much needed and welcome Defence Review some time in the course of the next eighteen months. But it must be preceded by a constructive debate within Defence and more widely, and that debate must centre on an assessment of the lessons we have learned, the character of future conflict, and the implications for Defence. The debate must raise itself above cheap media headlines and really tackle the issues.

And I believe this key debate has already begun. Our joint doctrine centre is drawing together an important piece of work that addresses these issues and which I am assured will serve as the MoD’s starting point for a Defence Review. And each of the Service Chiefs are quite properly contributing to the debate - some of you will have heard me express my own views at Chatham House last month and First Sea Lord and Chief of the Air Staff have also made similar speeches. These are all important contributions and their value surely lies in the different but equally valid perspectives that they offer. Unfortunately, as I have suggested, some of the reporting and commentary on these differing perspectives has been unhelpful, suggesting division, rivalry and feuding where it does not exist to the extent portrayed. The issues must drive the debate, not media circulation numbers. So, let me set the record straight, by emphasising just how much my fellow Chiefs and I actually agree on.

• To begin with we are clear (and all that I hear from politicians from all the major parties supports this) that, since Britain’s interests are global, we will retain a global role and will maintain our traditional activist foreign and security policy. This means we need expeditionary Armed Forces that can support that national strategic posture, forces that can meet our responsibilities as a NATO, EU, Permanent Five UN, G8 + G20 and Commonwealth member, and that we have Forces that can influence and contribute to our vital Security and Defence partnership with the United States.

• Secondly, we are all agreed that we must do what is necessary to succeed on current campaigns – and for now this means succeeding in Afghanistan. We should not be guilty of ‘presentism’, but nor should we mortgage the present for the future and be guilty of ‘next war-itis’. Success in Afghanistan is not discretionary and we must do whatever is necessary to deliver that success. Tomorrow starts today and failure today will significantly damage tomorrow.

• Thirdly, the future is inherently uncertain and unpredictable. We can no more state with confidence that all future conflict will be Counter-Insurgency, than we can declare that we will see a return to sterile, inter-state conventional war. This means that we do need to retain forces that are balanced to address the uncertainties of the long term, whilst recognising that many of the trends we see today – complexity, hybrid actors and hybrid threats – are likely to be a major feature of any conflict.

• Fourthly, we are clear that the military instrument of power has very limited utility when used in isolation and that we must get this more widely understood across Whitehall and across government. Conflict prevention and conflict resolution are ultimately political activities and until we get better at integrating, projecting and delivering cross government effect into conflict zones, we will make much harder work of these campaigns than we need to.

• Fifthly, that the maritime, land and air environments are increasingly interconnected and that maritime, air and land forces are therefore increasingly interdependent. It is an article of military faith and a historical fact that conflict will almost always be resolved on land, for that is where people live, but effects on land are delivered from all environments and land forces cannot succeed in isolation. We depend on the Royal Air Force (or coalition air forces) to provide us with protection from the air, to strike enemy targets beyond the reach or capability of Land Forces, to deploy and sustain us, to provide us with surveillance and ultimately to defend the UK. Materially this means we need to invest in critical air platforms and Typhoon is a key component of that capability. Typhoon Tranche 3 is a quantum leap forward in capability beyond Tranche 1 and we need whatever numbers of these we can afford to own and fly. And we are equally dependent on the Royal Navy (or coalition naval forces). The UK is an island nation whose interests are bound up in the sea and in maintaining free passage on or under the sea. We expect much future conflict and instability to occur close to the littoral, thus our ability to secure sea lanes and project power and influence from the sea will remain vital. Materially this means that we need sufficient escorts to maintain a presence in regions of direct national interest to the UK, we need to maintain a submarine capability, and it means that we need the capability that carrier borne aircraft will bring to prevent, deter, and coerce potential adversaries, and ultimately to support forces on land in reaching a decision. And on land, where the decision will ultimately lie we need the capability to manoeuvre at Divisional level, to be capable of integrating into a US or allied Corps, to conduct Major Combat Operations and Stabilisation simultaneously, and to maintain sufficient and enduring presence among the people whilst developing the capability of indigenous forces to deliver the security that conflict resolution requires.

• And finally, we are agreed that there can be no binary response to the challenges we face. Just as our thinking in the Army has moved beyond being capable of conducting Major Combat Operations (MCO) or Stabilisation, so the Defence debate must be about more than an elusive search for a strategic concept or technological silver bullet that ignores the lessons of history and the lessons of recent campaigns. So we should not specialise our armed forces for stabilisation or counter-insurgency – optimise, perhaps, - for that is our most likely role in the near to medium term - but specialise, no. Nor should we be seduced by elegant concepts that offer success from one particular medium. The experience of Second World War, Kosovo and the 2006 Lebanon war all exposed the fallacy of Douhet’s and Mitchell’s overemphasis on air power and those experiences also expose the sterile thinking of proponents of the Effects Based Approach and the Revolution in Military Affairs in the 1990’s. Moreover that great Naval historian, Sir Julian Corbett reminds us that: ‘since men live upon land and not upon the sea, the great issues between nations at war have always been decided – except in the rarest of cases – either by what your army can do against your enemy’s territory or national life or else by fear of what the fleet makes it possible for your army to do.’ So we should be equally cautious of any strategic concepts proposed by some, such as ‘war around the people’ or a ‘zero-footprint’ strategy, and of those who believe that such approaches could realistically deliver political ends when people are likely to be both the object and the environment in future conflict. Both concepts miss the target - literally and figuratively. The truth is that we need a balanced and responsive strategy - one that is relevant to nature of the conflicts we will be engaged in - and we need relevant and balanced forces that become increasingly joint and interdependent. On all these issues my fellow Chiefs and I are fully agreed.

So, having set the record straight, and I hope put paid to tabloid suggestions of inter-service feuding, I will now take an admittedly more land-centric view as I turn to the theme of this session: ‘Soldier First – Developing the Force’. As I described earlier, our thinking has developed substantially over the course of the last twelve months and key to this has been our analysis of recent conflicts and the lessons we have drawn for future conflict. Iraq and Afghanistan have inevitably been central to this and let me address these briefly.

With our military involvement in Iraq now at an end, we are now in a position to conduct a thorough audit of our strategic, operational and tactical performance since 2003. I have commissioned a further internal Army study to identify tactical lessons, and the government has now announced an inquiry to consider the strategic and operational lessons. Without wishing to pre-judge the outcome of either of these reviews, I highlight a selection of broad conclusions and lessons that we can safely draw from Operation TELIC, conscious that US allies and coalition partners are still heavily committed there. These initial conclusions are:

• That first of all we can and should be proud of the contribution we made in Southern Iraq and Basra. There is no doubt in my mind that our actions there over the six years of the campaign were decisive and instrumental in making Basra the stable and increasingly prosperous city it now is. Without the training and support that we provided the Iraq Army, without the security and development operations we conducted, and without the sacrifice of 179 soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen that we made, Basra would not be where it is today.

• But like any military campaign there were bumps along the way – our US allies experienced many of the same challenges and false starts before their bold, courageous and decisive decision to surge and to optimise their Army for the campaign. Like them, we are learning and adapting to ensure that the lessons learned are properly applied in Afghanistan. To this end I will highlight three lessons in particular:

  • The first is to recognise that time will very often be against us and that we need to achieve decisive effect early. In Iraq this meant acting while we had a window of consent to address the security and basic needs of the Iraq people – reconstruction, development and developing the capacity of the indigenous security forces. Our failure to deliver this through proper investment and a comprehensive approach and our early switch to an economy of force operation, in favour of Afghanistan, sowed the seeds for the dissatisfaction that followed and the rise of the militias, supported so cynically by the Iranians in the South.
  • The second is to recognise the importance of persistent presence and mass in operations designed to secure the population. We must take a more flexible approach to force levels through the course of a campaign, being prepared to surge and ebb as the security situation dictates. In truth we failed to maintain the force levels required – either of coalition forces or Iraqi forces, and particularly towards the latter end of the campaign, by which time we were already committed to a new operation in Southern Afghanistan.
  • And the third concerns our approach to military capacity building. Local security forces, correctly trained and equipped and loyal to the government, serve as a powerful force multiplier; they change the geometry of a campaign and ultimately provide the means to return power to the local people. Military capacity building will be a key component of any intervention and stabilisation campaign, and of conflict prevention. We must invest substantially in this capability and be prepared to accept the risks of doing it properly. In Iraq we made the mistake of thinking we could separate training from fighting. The correct model is the one we have always traditionally applied – that of training, living and fighting with the indigenous forces we are mentoring. The proven Operational Mentor and Liaison Team (OMLT) concept in Afghanistan is the correct model – we should consign the Iraq model that we followed for a while to the dustbin of history.

• And, in Afghanistan we now face a significant challenge. But we also face a real opportunity to apply the lessons of the Iraq campaign where applicable and to build on the renewed US focus, on recent Pakistani determination and on the US troop surge. We have undertaken an immensely complex and demanding stabilisation operation that we now anticipate is likely to consume our Armed Forces for the foreseeable future. We have learned that we can only stabilise areas in Helmand within a bubble of sufficient and sustainable security - that security ultimately to be delivered by the Afghans themselves; and that that security is the product of military force - there are no clever short cuts. Civil effect cannot deliver in isolation and it cannot get ahead of military effect as it contributes to overall security effect. Thus our aim for the foreseeable future in Southern Afghanistan will be to enable and expand these security zones themselves enabling civil effect, and most importantly governance, to be delivered.

• And, we have come a long way; if you think back to the movement of the turbine to Kajaki at the end of last summer I think there is ample evidence of this. It was an incredibly complex joint, multi-national, inter-agency operation that was delivered by a British Brigade Headquarters in order to deliver civil effect. Detailed planning enabled the move of a turbine that many thought would not be possible – the beneficial effects of this will be felt for many years to come. But overall success in Helmand and elsewhere will only really be delivered through the growth of organic Afghan capability; much as we saw in Iraq. But the problems in Afghanistan are very different and significantly more challenging. We must continue to assist in the delivery of a secure environment and to encourage increasingly the Afghans to do this for themselves. As Afghan confidence in the effect of security operations continues to grow, the level of corruption and economic dependence on narcotics, the real blight of the region in my view, will decline. But this is a significant challenge that must not be and cannot be underestimated.

So what conclusions can we draw from these campaigns that will guide us in our understanding of the nature of future land warfare and thus in our force development? Well the first is to underline a constant in warfare – that despite the increasing overlap between environments, recent combat experiences confirm that war on land is fundamentally different from war in the air or at sea. Technologies that permit air and naval forces to dominate the fluid media of air and sea do not have a similar effect on land. War on land will remain fundamentally different due to uncertainty; human, psychological, political, and cultural dimensions; and the interactions with adversaries who are able to use terrain, intermingle with the population, and adapt counter measures to technological capabilities. So while we should continue to seek out technological advantage, we should not expect it to deliver a silver bullet that can adequately deliver decision on Land. And given that we cannot ‘do everything, buy everything’, I think that one of the fundamental issues that a Defence Review will have to address is the balance between quantity and quality. And I use the word balance advisedly – this is not a binary choice. In my view adequate quality in sufficient quantity is the principle that should guide us.

Related to this issue is that of the political ends that will guide the most likely roles for our Armed Forces. With the principal threats to British security and national interests for the foreseeable future coming from the instability arising from failing states and non-state actors, it follows that our most likely political ends will revolve around the restoration of stability. Stability after all is a human condition and is delivered by providing security to the population. Thus, to extend Rupert Smith’s well-known phrase, we are likely to be engaged not merely in ‘war among the people’, but more fundamentally, in ‘war about the people’ – people will not merely be the environment that we fight in, they will above all be the object of our operations, and specifically we seek to win their hearts and minds – and that thought is both very familiar and remains fundamentally right.

Now clearly we would prefer not to engage in intervention and stabilisation operations where we can avoid it, and so prevention will, I believe become a key task for our Armed Forces and one where we should be much more proactive. Developing strategic partnerships with regional powers, and engaging more actively in security sector reform and above all military capacity building for indigenous armed forces so that they rather than us can provide security for the local population, should be a key task for the future.

But when prevention fails we must be prepared to intervene as part of an alliance or coalition to enable the restoration of stability or, more remotely, to defeat conventional state-based threats. And this means that we must maintain the capability to generate at readiness, deploy and employ a sizeable force – based around a Divisional Headquarters - capable of manoeuvre in a US or Alliance Corps context. So, why a Division? Well, there are several important points about this level of commitment. Firstly that on a Large Scale operation, only a properly constituted Division will realistically secure sufficient political and military influence on the coalition leader, particularly prior to the start of hostilities, and historically our political masters have always sought to have a strong voice in coalition and alliance decision making. Secondly that we expect to conduct most large scale operations in a US led alliance or coalition, and a UK Division within a US or Alliance Corps provides a militarily viable and credible level of contribution. And thirdly because a Division gives politicians and military leaders the greatest ability to manage and reduce risk – risk of casualties because of the assets it controls, and long term risk as we can be more discretionary about where and how it is deployed and employed. A single Brigade begins to look token-istic and does not give that degree of assurance as it must, perforce, be embedded into a partner nation’s Division, and control of its destiny is largely surrendered.

But as experience in Iraq has demonstrated, intervention will rarely be an end in itself. Indeed, increasingly we see the intervention operation as the enabling phase of any campaign and the stabilisation operation as being decisive. If we have learned anything from the experience of 2003, it is that we must establish the conditions for conflict resolution, and that will require the restoration of stability. I am hard pressed to identify a single intervention campaign in recent history, except for the Falklands, that has not resulted in or would not have benefited from a reasonably enduring stabilisation campaign – Bosnia, Kosovo, Sierra Leone, East Timor, Iraq and Afghanistan all underline this, and the first four are all judged to be worthy and successful interventions, so we should not draw the wrong lessons from Iraq about the efficacy and utility of liberal intervention and stabilisation. And furthermore, I believe there are three key pre-requisites for success in any intervention and stabilisation campaign.

• The first is the importance of harnessing, integrating and projecting all the instruments of national power. Stabilisation is fundamentally a political activity. We can and must provide the enabling security, but it is just that – merely enabling for the decisive lines of operation which must be led by other government departments. Until we can develop the capacity and will across government to deliver the comprehensive approach, we will continue to struggle in these campaigns.

• The second is the importance of persistent and enduring presence in sufficient quantity to secure the population and to enable the delivery of other lines of operation. As I have said before, in these situations an economy of force operation is a false economy – we must either tailor our ambitions to the force we can afford, or we must properly resource the undertaking we have committed to within the coalition – not to do so risks repeating the experience of Iraq.

• And finally, I stress again that the key lies in the measured and effective development of indigenous armed forces. We must acknowledge that it takes time, expertise and resources to develop impartial, loyal, well trained, well equipped and well led local security forces. Again, we must not repeat the mistakes of 2003-04 when, we recruited and deployed hastily, security forces of very limited effectiveness, and as it turned out, of questionable loyalty.

So what does all this mean for Army Development? In simple terms it reinforces the direction of travel that the senior Army leadership embarked on last year. The assumptions we based that work on have been extensively tested by our analysis over the last twelve months, and barring any major shift in UK strategic posture, they will, we assess, remain valid. We will therefore continue to optimise for the extended committal of a strong Brigade-sized group on stabilisation operations whilst retaining the capability at extended readiness to conduct large scale intervention operations at Divisional level. This has driven two related and major pieces of work.

The first has been the immense efforts undertaken by Land Forces to place the Army on a campaign footing for Afghanistan. Op ENTIRETY as it is known has had far reaching effects across all Lines of Development but it has left us better placed to ensure that the forces we deploy to Afghanistan are as well trained and equipped as they possibly can be. Some sixty-eight separate measures have been implemented and their breadth is an unmistakable signal that Land Forces are putting real substance behind Defence’s principal effort – namely by that of success on current operations.

And the second major project has been the work we have initiated to better deliver the tasks laid upon us in the most recent UK Defence Strategic Guidance – and as an aside I would like to place on record that in my view that Strategic Guidance represents the most realistic and relevant policy guidance we have received for many years. This will entail fundamentally rebalancing our force structure to be optimised for the most likely medium scale enduring tasks and intervention operations. This has entailed a move towards a force structure based on our deployable modular 2* HQs, optimised for stabilisation, but with one serving as the Divisional warfighting and Major Combat Operations (MCO) spine. Sitting beneath, but not organic to these 2* HQs, we are aiming to generate six identical modular ground-manoeuvre Brigades each with a broad mix of heavy, medium and light capabilities, with extensive organic combat and combat service support and command support capabilities, and all fitted for, and when necessary fitted with the extensive suite of additional assets that we have now become accustomed to devolving to the Brigade level on current operations. I am confident that this will leave us with a truly robust force structure capable of conducting both enduring stabilisation at Brigade level and Major Combat Operations at Divisional level, and all optimised for the hybrid threats that we experience today and will in the future. But let no one be in any doubt – warfighting and the calculated use of force underpins all these activities, and the preparation of our people. The British Army is first and foremost a fighting Army, but we are savvy enough, to know when to fight, and when just to provide security.

Let me draw this to a close before I hand over to General Casey. We have a full and protein rich programme over the next three days and I look forward to hearing what the speakers have to say and the debate that I hope will follow. It is clear to me and, I hope many of you, that those of us involved with the Land environment have undergone a significant transformation of our understanding of Land Warfare over the last few years – catalysed primarily by the act of our engagement in two major land campaigns – we have been very close to a Horse and Tank moment. We cannot disinvent this shift in the character of conflict or the capabilities our soldiers and their leaders expect to deploy with. And we must ensure that this understanding is seen for what it is within Defence - a signpost for the future and not an aberration as some would have it. And this revelation must be accompanied by some difficult decision making for Defence, for we need to ensure that our forces are relevant in the short to medium term, and balanced in the long term. I cannot honestly say that I believe we have yet met either of these objectives. So through the course of the next few days, if I may, I would like you to consider and debate three questions and I hope we will find an opportunity to discuss these in one of the sessions in the programme. The questions are on this slide:

• What capabilities do you believe constitute a ‘relevant force’ and what constitute a ‘balanced force’ – how much risk should we trade between hedging against the uncertainties of the future and preparing for the “known knowns” that we can properly identify - and where should the fulcrum lie between the near term and the far term?

• And so to what extent do we believe that optimising for the challenges of today will leave us well prepared to deal with more remote inter-state but hybrid threats of the future?

• And finally, to what extent should the Defence capabilities we maintain be driven by what our principal ally wants from us? And what do we believe those capabilities to be?

As many of you will be aware, I will hand over my responsibilities as Chief of the General Staff to General Sir David Richards at the end of the summer. This will therefore be my last conference at RUSI in this capacity. It has been the greatest privilege imaginable to be given the opportunity to serve the Nation, Defence and the British Army in this role and a source of great pride - but also a frequent sadness that I have done so during two intense campaigns on land which have required such sacrifice. But I firmly believe that the Army is now better placed to continue on its journey of transformation than it has been for some time. As a senior Army leadership, we are of one mind. Of course there will be challenges ahead, of that I have no doubt, but I know that I leave the Army in the most capable hands possible, and in the person of the incoming Chief of the General Staff I can think of no one better equipped to deal with these challenges.

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