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Global Britain – Where are we in 2023?

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In June 2018, the British government published a policy document entitled “Global Britain: Delivering on our International Ambition”.

This article was partly aimed at post-Brexit Britain and the nation’s planned role in the world in the future. This was followed by other papers including: ‘Global Britain in a Divided World’ (2022) and ‘Global Britain in an Age of Competition: The Integrated Review of Security, defense, development and foreign policy” (2021).

Given the COVID-19 pandemic, the massive increase in inflation, and ongoing concerns about the future of the armed forces’ finances, how far has the nation progressed in achieving the goals stated in the initial policy and to what extent have the policy objectives changed in the last 5 years?

This article represents the views of the author and not necessarily those of the UK Defense Journal. If you would like to submit your own article on this or any other topic, please visit our submission guidelines.

The 2018 policy stated: “The three centers of the global economy and political influence are in North America, predominantly the United States, Europe and its neighbors; and in the Indo-Pacific region. Maintaining influence in these areas is essential to making Global Britain a success. At the same time, fully realizing the vision of a Global Britain means being active and influential in all regions, in the institutions of the rules-based international order and on key global issues.

Since this article was written, the UK’s cooperation with Europe and the United States has
obviously increased significantly, in part due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2022.

We also saw the UK’s deployment of the new carrier strike group around the world,
with this deployment being particularly focused on the Asia-Pacific region, although as above
the situation in Europe has since taken center stage, and as HMS Queen Elizabeth
leaves port this week to leave for another deployment, this time concentrated in the
Mediterranean, it is becoming clear that “global Britain” may not be as global as hoped.

Although NATO remains focused on Ukraine and the ongoing Russian invasion there,
developments in the Asia-Pacific region are surprising and should be a big reason to
concern of the British government. Over the past week, for example, we have seen North Korea unveil its first modified Romeo-class ballistic missile submarine (hull number 841), China and the Philippines come into conflict at due to ongoing attempts by the Chinese coast guard to block their transit, and China. claim more territory at sea (the infamous 9-dash line now appears to be redrawn on official Chinese government maps as a 10-dash line), causing an outcry among its neighbors including Taiwan, Malaysia and the Philippines. The South China Sea and surrounding waters are quickly becoming a potential flashpoint, with China’s increasingly militaristic and expansionist actions posing a threat not only to the countries around it, but also to global trade and the security of key British allies such as Australia, New Zealand. Zealand and Japan.

Part of the initial proposals for a Global Britain included a “pivot” to the Asia-Pacific region, with plans initially for the forward deployment of two offshore patrol ships – currently HMS Tamar (P233) and HMS Spey ( P234) – in the region, and the intention to increase the permanent presence with a future deployment of frigates to bases in the Indian Ocean, Australia or Singapore.

The Type 31 frigate program is now underway, with 5 ships planned and 2 of them under construction. Plans for a second follow-up batch or near-identical Type 32 frigate design have been tentatively confirmed for “beyond 2030”, particularly amid continued indications of further defense cuts (with rumor of new reductions in full-time Army strength making national news). briefly earlier in 2023).

Also missing are firm commitments to additional F-35B “Lightning II” fast jets, with the current 48 aircraft initially expected to be increased to 138 aircraft, but with the latest proposals suggesting that number would be reduced to 74 airframes, but no more. the order has not yet been placed and the planned follow-on GCAP (formerly Project Tempest) is not expected to fly until the 2030s.

The only positive development towards Asia-Pacific was the announcement of AUKUS.
program between the United States, United Kingdom and Australia. The key element of this plan
was the future SSN-AUKUS, a proposed class of nuclear-powered attack submarines
built for and by the United Kingdom and Australia with assistance from the United States.

Although details remain largely unconfirmed, it has been suggested that the program will see the UK’s SSN fleet grow from the currently expected 7 Astute-class ships to 10 or more of the new design beyond 2035. It is planned that a small portion of these new submarine ships could be deployed to Australia to work alongside Australian SSN-AUKUS boats (up to 8 are expected to be built by the 2050s).

The presence of a frigate and submarines in the region would be a big step forward
towards the Global Britain goals set out in 2018, but this plan is unlikely to be realized before
no earlier than the late 2030s and, as I have already mentioned, China’s increasingly aggressive behavior and incredible military output could make such a deployment too little, too late.

Chinese shipyards alone produce an astonishing number of new warships each year, with a US Navy press release estimating that the country currently has a shipbuilding capacity 20 times that of the United States ( see article). The U.S. estimate suggests China will have a basic combat force of 475 warships by 2035, and that doesn’t include the coast guard or militias China has used in recent months to harass warships of neighboring countries.

By 2040, it is estimated that China will operate a fleet comprising 6 aircraft carriers. Data is limited on exact numbers, but the 2022-2024 shipbuilding period is expected to see around 60 new warships enter service in the PLAN.

If the UK wishes to continue to play a global role and adhere to the original 2018 mission statement, a significantly larger military presence than an OPV will be required.
necessary, particularly in the current context of changes in political posture in the United States, North Korean nuclear
ambitions and uncertainties for the future between Taiwan, South Korea, Japan and others
Southeast Asian countries that will look to the West for leadership, if China
continue to expand its territorial claims in the region.

An often proposed solution to achieve the goal of a global presence was the “Modern Sloop of War”.
suggestion, dubbed the “Black Swan class” (2012). Although partially realized in the Lot 2 River-class OPVs, the concept never fully materialized due to a combination of factors.

The proposal was for a lightweight ocean-going combatant that would serve as a launch platform for unmanned air and surface vehicles, with a unit cost of £65 million per ship. The proposed basic specifications are shown below:

– Unit cost of £65 million
– Displacement of 2,000 to 4,000 tonnes
– Diesel-electric propulsion capable of reaching a maximum of 24 knots and cruising speeds of 10 to 16 knots
– Endurance from 30 to 90 days
– A base crew of 8 with capacity for up to 60 people if necessary
– A main gun of some description (probably a 30mm autocannon up to the 57mm DP gun)
– Small hangar for 1 medium drone and 1 light drone
– Large cockpit capable of landing a Chinook
– Capacity for 2x semi-rigid boats

Most of these specifications closely resemble the River-class OPVs, but these ships were never built in the quantities required. A “Batch 3 River-class” could well provide the additional manpower needed, or something based on the Royal Navy’s new experimental ship XV Patrick Blackett (X01).

Another key factor in the UK’s global reach would be air power. A review this week by a
A parliamentary committee has criticized continued reductions in air power in the UK, noting
that of the 4 great European powers, the United Kingdom has the smallest fleet of fast planes and that the
the recent decommissioning of the C-130J fleet and the reduced size of the future E-7A “Wedgetail” fleet are two areas of concern. Once again, solutions will not come quickly and, as with the Navy, a rectification of the problems to deal with possible global threats will not arrive until the mid to late 2030s at the earliest, which in global business is a long time and could prove difficult. late for a key ally.

The war in Ukraine has also shown how critical quantity remains. With our most recent
conflicts have taken place in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan against terrorist groups, we have not tested equipment against near-equal conflict. This week’s loss of Ukraine’s first Challenger 2 main battle tank to Russian forces and plans to reduce Britain’s fleet should ring alarm bells throughout Whitehall. The reality is that even with allies, if the UK’s “total force” tomorrow began to engage a near enemy like Russia (or perhaps, in light of the current climate, China is a likely candidate ), the United Kingdom would be short of allies. of resources much earlier than some of our allies.

It is Poland which seems to learn the lesson most clearly from Ukraine, with some
huge military contracts in recent weeks as it seeks to rearm in the face of a
an aggressive Russia on the border.

Yes, the UK currently has allies between itself and our main enemies, so we are not.
alone, but a global Britain must be able to defend its interests everywhere, not just in one
corner of Europe. Only major increases in defense spending and a prioritization of priorities
These capabilities will prevent the British armed forces from falling further into obscurity.

In short, global Britain in 2023 still has a long way to go.

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