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RUSI Annual Chief of the Defence Staff Lecture 2017: View from the Wavell Room.

The Wavell Room team was privileged to be invited to hear the Chief of the Defence Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Stuart Peach, give his annual CDS Christmas lecture at the Royal United Services Institute.  The lecture theatre was packed with senior service personnel, both serving and retired, as well as political figures and commentators, and a range of defence correspondents and other interested parties.

You will probably have seen the headlines in the media that trumpeted CDS’s concern about the vulnerability of seabed laid communication and internet cables that a re-equipped and aggressive Russian navy could target and how such action would immediately and significantly threaten this nation’s economy.  Whilst this did grab attention, it was but part of a wider pitch from CDS to gain broader public recognition and better understanding of Defence’s contribution to the nation’s security and stability.  Not only did he cite the very public deployment of armed troops in support of the police for counter terrorist purposes, he also emphasised the oft taken for granted continuous at sea nuclear deterrent and made clear just how Defence is supporting cross departmental efforts in intelligence, maritime security more broadly, cyber defence and providing specialist including scientific support to homeland security.  He also highlighted just how much of this work was undertaken by Defence’s civil servants, from scientists to crews of the RFAs, and how they deliver capability.  Finally he re-emphasised how the UK’s security is underpinned by our continued membership of NATO and the partnerships it has enabled.

Speculation on whether the UK’s amphibious capability will be maintained and the future of the Royal Marines has been rife in the papers recently.  CDS answered this directly by saying that the ‘fighting prowess of the Royal Marines is and will remain world class…reductions remain speculation’.

He stated that the UK military would need to become more creative with its Whole Force (or Total Force as he sometimes referred to) making specific reference to cyber as an area to change the paradigm.  He talked specifically about the link with industry, sponsored Reserves and the wider Regular as well as Volunteer Reserves.

CDS did state that Defence needs to get more comfortable with purchasing new equipment off the shelf; waiting years for a 100% solutions is neither quick nor cost effective, especially as our potential adversaries are equipping themselves, doctrinally and materially to address our long standing technological advantages.

He talked about how Defence needs to be more creative, be willing to take more risk, so that it can increase its output.  This mirrors much of the talk that has come from the Single Service chiefs.  Much of the Armed Force’s senior leadership has been talking of how we must be willing to take more risk.  This message could be directed at multiple audiences, from the political level, to our commanders as well as the wider population.

So it was a wide ranging speech but one with clear objectives: flag the threat the UK faces, especially from a resurgent Russia, signpost how Defence can address them, with partners and as a key NATO member, highlight what Defence is doing now whilst declaring that Defence should receive greater recognition for what it does.  This last point, he summed up as ‘we do a lot for our country’.  If that was a veiled call for additional resources, what came next was a clear indicator that Defence must adapt and do better with what it already has.  CDS’s ‘so what’ was striking; he welcomed the current capabilities review saying that Defence must adapt to new threats and opportunities as they emerge, and not be restrained by sentimentality or legacy.  Modernisation is needed; affordability remains key.  The implication was that there would be no sacred cows on his watch, as Defence looks to reduce the overlap between the Services, drive efficiencies, be more creative with the Whole Force and reduce non-frontline functions.

You can see the whole of CDS’s speech at https://rusi.org/event/annual-chief-defence-staff-lecture-2017


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