LONDON — The U.K. is to pursue closer defense cooperation with countries in the Middle East as it adapts to more “Libya-style” operations, according to the country’s most senior officer.
In a speech to the Royal United Services Institute think tank, Gen. Sir David Richards, chief of the defense staff for the U.K. armed forces, said the U.K. needs to build more formal relationships in the Middle East and Africa, in a bid to make Britain a “regional ally across the spectrum.
“Though more conceptual work is needed, given the importance of the region and clear Prime Ministerial intent, I envisage two or more adaptable brigades forming close tactical-level relationships with particular countries in the Gulf and Jordan,” he said. “Should the need arise for another Libya-style operation, we will be prepared.”
Richards warned that the U.K. now had to prioritize threats at a time when the armed forces were being taken through a series of “radical changes.” He said: “We must be ruthless in our requirements and getting the most from them,” and hinted that all three services may continue to face further challenges in the future. In particular, he pointed out that the Royal Air Force must not let what he called “sacred cows, such as the indispensability of onboard pilots” to rule the day. He said the RAF would begin to play a greater role in cyberwarfare, describing it as “a new environment within which we must learn to maneuver with confidence.”
Just in the Middle East, Richards pointed to the example of Israel, which has reported more than 44 million attempts to disrupt its government websites during recent tension around the Gaza Strip.
As the U.K. prepares to end operations in Afghanistan, the Ministry of Defense is preparing to form a new Joint Expeditionary Force (JEF), which Richards says “relies heavily on the different skill sets and ethos of each single service.”
Taking lessons from operations in Libya, the JEF would be “genuinely synergistic” and would be at “the core of the U.K.’s contribution to any military action, whether NATO, coalition or independent,” Richards added. A key part of the JEF would be the creation of three high-readiness maneuver brigades as “adaptable brigades” that would “sustain enduring operations and routinely develop partnerships and knowledge around the world.
“In Africa, the brigades would be tasked to support key allies in the east, west and south whilst another might be given an Indian Ocean and SE Asian focus,” Richards said. “But if we get this right — and we will — we will have deeper links to specific regional partners, giving them the confidence to deal with their own problems and, when appropriate, to act in partnership with us.”