I recently spent a day in Washington with my American counterpart, Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Technology allows us to stay in regular contact, of course, but nothing beats a face-to-face meeting and, as a forthright Yorkshireman, I appreciate General Dempsey’s native blend of robustness and integrity.
Our discussions were frank, friendly, detailed and productive — as you would expect from the world’s deepest, most advanced military partnership.
We spoke about progress in Afghanistan. After 12 years, our personnel have handed over responsibility for security to local forces they have trained to a level of competence and experience undreamt of a decade ago. It’s a testament to the courage and skill of our troops that Afghanistan today not only poses far less of a terrorist threat, but is also stable enough to elect its president and parliament.
General Dempsey and I also looked to the future. The servicemen and women under our command return to countries grappling with tighter budgets. I have spoken a number of times about the difficulties, both logistical and emotional, of reshaping our armed forces to reduce their cost while preserving their capability. We owe it to future soldiers, sailors and airmen to make sure they are equipped to handle the security challenges they will face in 10, 20 or 30 years’ time.
Of course, nobody can foretell what those challenges will be, so we must be ready to take on sophisticated threats wherever they arise. Britain’s solution, Future Force 2020, will have at its heart world-class capabilities.
Over the next decade, the UK will invest over $250 billion in cutting-edge equipment. We are regenerating our carrier strike capability, with two new carriers due for completion in the next few years. The F-35, developed and built jointly with the United States, will be the principal strike aircraft of the carrier force, joining the already active Typhoon as two of the world’s most capable combat aircraft.
We will launch new Type 26 frigates and are preparing to replace the submarines, which carry our strategic nuclear deterrent. Our Army will remain one of very few that can deploy and sustain a war-fighting division almost anywhere in the world. They will be taken there by our recently modernized and highly capable strategic and tactical airlift fleet.
All of the above will benefit from a $24 billion investment in information systems, giving personnel on the ground unmatched situational awareness and connecting them to precision weaponry and air support.
Those are just the equipment headlines. The most important component of any fighting force is, of course, its people, and anyone who has worked or fought alongside Brits knows their commitment, creativity and spirit. I include our reservists in this, among whom are some of our most talented medics, intelligence analysts, logisticians and civil engineers.
Future Force 2020 will fully integrate the Reserve Force into all four services. This will not only make these organizations more cost-effective, it will also bring in much-needed expertise and help connect our armed forces to the society they exist to protect.
Our new Joint Cyber Reserve will incorporate private-sector experts to help guard our critical networks and data against electronic attacks.
In all of these endeavors, we will continue to work closely with the US. Royal Navy personnel are afloat today with the US Navy, preparing for carrier operations. Britain is the No. 1 partner in the F-35 program. Our nuclear and intelligence collaboration goes deeper than any in the world.
Our forces train extensively together, are embedded in each other’s command structures and have spent over a decade sharing the hard experiences of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
We can do even more together, and in the years to come, we will look for opportunities to do so. In times of plenty, collaboration is an asset. In times of economic austerity, it is a necessity. At all times, America can continue to count on the UK to provide reliable and capable forces, as ready as ever to stand resolutely with our most important ally.
Gen. Sir Nick Houghton is chief of the Defence Staff of the British Armed Forces.