The Wavell Room
International Relations Opinion

Who’s GBAD is it anyway?

This article is a sequel to Hugo’s first article: “The Alliance vs The Bear – Some Fundamentals of Why Russia Won’t Win”

Last time we looked at the British Army’s ability to fight another land force on its own, and the accepted logic that it wouldn’t have to.  In part 2 of my Rant Trilogy, let’s look at the ability / will of the RAF to support the land forces…

The RAF’s priorities are pretty clearly laid down in AP3000 – the RAF’s cornerstone doctrine.[1]  The highest priority is air superiority; destruction of strategic targets is next on the list.  Supporting land forces in a battle is the lowest priority, just after making Army people sit in random air bases across the world for undisclosed periods of time without telling them why.

The Army will be expecting the RAF to support them in the ground battle to reduce land force casualties.  Since the RAF’s ability to conduct close air support or air interdiction for ground forces is firstly based on the provision of air superiority, land forces won’t see an F-35 unless loads of Typhoons are deployed to protect them.  Since there aren’t that many Typhoons, and last time we showed that losing an F-35 is a non-starter,[2] the Army is unlikely to receive (Close Air Support) CAS in a conventional battle.  We learnt bad lessons from Afghan (again).

So if our fighters are somewhere else, what’s to stop our enemy conducting air attacks on our ground forces?  This is where the answer should be: GBAD.  But it’s a well-known deficiency of the British Forces[3] – not least due to some horrifically complicated capability ownership internal politics.  So what do we do?  Again, step in conventional wisdom – we borrow it from another nation…

On a ‘recent’ exercise in Fort Leavenworth I witnessed combined joint planning with our US counterparts with representatives from across the US Armed Forces and some coalition nations. Prior to that exercise I had conducted multiple planning cycles that almost always included the phrase “GBAD? Don’t worry about that, we’ll borrow it from the Dutch”. I asked a Dutch Officer of his opinion on this and his response was that they borrow it from the Americans. So imagine my surprise therefore when on said exercise in the USA a USMC Major made the assumption that they would borrow our GBAD because that’s what they always assumed! I’m sure you can see the problem…

How has this happened?  While we were knee deep in a Counter-Insurgency operation, what were all our partner nations doing?  Oh that’s right…  they were there too!

So we can’t assume that we can just borrow a capability we lack from another nation.  We must be able to stand independently.  We must sort out our internal bickering and bureaucracy and come up with some better ways of protecting our force.  Make one service responsible for the funding, manning and provision of the GBAD might be a start.  But let’s go further than that.  Why is it CAS platforms can only act where there is air superiority?  The risk to the pilot and the highly expensive platform…  So, with the proliferation of unmanned aerial vehicles, why are we still spending billions of pounds on a platform that must be manned (by a bloody expensive pilot)?  By using a cheaper, unmanned platform we’re reducing the cost of a loss in both treasure, and eliminating the cost in blood…  Sounds logical to me…

In the first instalment, we assumed that we were already in a conflict and therefore the Sun Tsu approach wouldn’t work.  Let’s revisit that.  Hands up those who think we’re not already in a conflict with Russia…  All those with your hands up read this.[4]  So it’s too late.  We’re constantly telling the world we’re terrified of Russia then doing nothing about it.  Time to change that!

In the final part of the trilogy I will rant some more, focusing on this “say-do gap” and offer a way towards a solution for many of our self-generated issues.


The views expressed within individual posts and media are those of the author and do not reflect any official position or that of the author’s employees or employer. Concerns regarding content should be addressed to hi@wavellroom.com

[1] Air Staff.  AP3000: British Air and Space Power Doctrine.  4th Ed.  (London:  Ministry of Defence) P.7

[2] https://wavellroom.com/2018/01/26/the-alliance-vs-the-bear-some-fundamentals-of-why-russia-wont-win-part-1/

[3] Gen Barrons quoted in the Telegraph. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/11/14/cuts-have-left-army-20-years-date-forces-not-fit-purpose/

[4] https://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/testimonies/CT400/CT468/RAND_CT468.pdf

British Army

Hugo has 14 years experience at Command and the Staff across operational and capability branches.

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The problem with anti-access/anti-denial is that it goes well beyond a missile thrown at aircraft. The CAS problem can’t be solved by drones in full spectrum conflict at the moment. If you’re killing things and people there is a link to a human somewhere and that electromagnetic link is a vulnerability. As a nation we aren’t ready for an auto kill tech ethically never mind the technological challenges. Pilots are bloody expensive but they can do intelligent, novel things if trained well and given some mission command. Get a platform in the battlespace with some weapons they can gain situational… Read more »

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