Forces draft 21st century battle plan

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The Independent Online
The most comprehensive review into the way the British armed forces will operate in future conflicts is under way and is expected to report in November.

The Joint Operational Doctrine Study is expected to reappraise the nature of war and confirm the view that heavy, armoured tank forces are largely obsolete.

Instead, the future armed forces of Britain and its Nato and European allies will have to get into position fast and rely on air, space and electronic technology to create the conditions in which small forces will engage any opponent under the most favourable circumstances.

That will minimise the need, according to senior defence experts yesterday, for bloody armed combat.

The study is being masterminded by three senior officers - the Army's doctrine chief, Lieutenant General Sir Thomas Boyd-Carpenter - and equivalent "three-star" officers from the Navy and Air Force. A new doctrine think- tank was set up at Upavon, Wiltshire, in 1993 and has taken the lead in trying to educate the British forces in military doctrine and theory.

Since the publication of Design for Military Operations, the Army's first official military doctrine, in 1989, the need for a fundamental understanding of what armed forces are trying to do has become more deep- rooted. The MoD said yesterday that the study will be submitted to Air Chief Marshal Sir John Willis, the Vice-Chief of the Defence Staff.

Since the end of the Cold war, the preoccupation of British and Nato forces with heavy land armies - known, contemptuously in some circles, as "pig-iron war" - has been superseded by the realisation that in future conflict it will be necessary to deploy air, electronic and naval forces and intelligence as soon as possible.

Last week the new defence White Paper confirmed the RAF will withdraw from Germany by 2002, following the demise of an identifiable threat from the East.

Michael Portillo, the Secretary of State for Defence, said there were no plans for the 27,000 army troops deployed in Germany as part of Nato's Rapid Reaction Corps to follow. However, should the new joint study determine there is no need for a heavily armoured force, then its future too could be in doubt.

For the past 25 years, since the Vietnam war, armies have increasingly emphasised airland battle - pioneered by the US and Russia. The British Army is to acquire Apache attack helicopters and the Navy is getting Tomahawk land attack missiles, breaking down traditional barriers between space, air, naval and land forces.

The study's publication will probably coincide with a new government in Britain. The Labour Party - and especially Robin Cook and David Clark, the party's spokesmen on foreign affairs and defence respectively - has repeatedly made it clear it will conduct a full "defence review", designed to establish what armed forces Britain needs and what they are to do from the top down.

Many defence experts believe that following the end of the Cold war navies will reassert their dominance as ready-made units which are always ready, even in peace time, to deploy directly into wartime situations.

t Defence chiefs are poised to announce a huge contract for two new amphibious assault ships with VSEL.

Michael Portillo, the Secretary of State for Defence, will underline Britain's commitment to amphibious forces when he watches marines from Britain and the US take part in a mass landing on the American coast this week.

However, it is expected he will wait several weeks before formally announcing details of the deal with VSEL. The new ships are likely to be named HMS Bulwark and HMS Albion.