This week it was leaked that the Ministry of Defence is set to replace General Sir Nick Carter as head of the UK’s Armed Forces by June.

Whilst denied by Johnny Mercer, Minister for Defence People and Veterans, if true comes months sooner than expected. 


This article is by Robert Clark, Defence Fellow at the Henry Jackson Society. Prior to this Robert was in the British Army. Robert can be found on Twitter at @RobertClark87. 


Whilst General Carter is due to step down this year regardless, it is thought that the Prime Minister is seeking to appoint a new Chief of the Defence Staff (CDS) to push through with his rejuvenated defence plans. Namely, restoring Britain’s status as the foremost naval power in Europe, and a potential shift away from reliance on heavy armour, to the cyber and space domains. 

General Carter, who has been in appointment since 2018, has overseen the recent modernisation plans of the UK Armed Forces, expressed most keenly by the new Integrated Operating Concept (Defence’s contribution to the Integrated Review), and by the Prime Minister’s announcement of the well-received rise in defence spending over the next four years. 

Both of these events highlight the evolution in utility of the UK’s Armed Forces. All three branches, in addition to UK Strategic Command (UKStratCom), will be operating together in an integrated manner, in order to defeat the nation’s enemies who are often attempting to subvert the UK by using below-threshold means. 

General Carter has spoken at length about this evolution in strategic thought, most recently at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) annual lecture at the close of last year. Here he described the nature of the world in which the UK and its allies are going to increasingly find themselves in during the coming years, as authoritarian states seek to probe and challenge the rules-based order of which the UK remains an ardent defender. 

It is in this increasingly dangerous geostrategic climate which the Prime Minister’s politically bold but sorely needed defence modernisation plans cannot afford to falter. The MoD, long-plagued by costly delays in repeated defence procurement initiatives, must now use this once in a generation opportunity to bring to bear the fruits of General Carter’s Integrated Operating Concept. 

The outgoing CDS is reportedly lobbying for General Sir Patrick Sanders to replace him. General Sanders is the current head of UKStratCom – leading the cyber domain and overseeing the successful organisational move from Joint Forces Command in 2019. Crucially the Defence Secretary Ben Wallace, whose recommendation will prove intrinsic to the Prime Minister’s appointment of the new CDS, is also tipped to want General Sanders. 

The other two contenders for the top defence job are the head of the Army, General Sir Mark Carleton-Smith, Chief of the General Staff, and the head of the Royal Navy, Admiral Tony Radakin, the First Sea Lord. 

The choice that the Prime Minister will make will further shape the MoD’s modernisation plans. General Sanders, as head of the military cyber domain, is a natural fit for the emerging cyber, space and digital domains. 

Should the Prime Minister choose General Carleton-Smith, whose operational and command experience includes Director Special Forces, and who is a supremely qualified commander, this would undoubtedly benefit the incremental process of developing from some of the so-called sunset capabilities, to the sunrise capabilities – the expected gradual departure from the age of heavy armour to the digital age. 

Finally, Admiral Radakin’s appointment would add gravitas to the Royal Navy’s firm resumption to the senior service mantle once more. As the UK charts a new and ambitious foreign policy agenda – the government’s Global Britain campaign – the Royal Navy will prove fundamental in delivering the UK’s ambitions across the globe. Most immediately, this will be reinforced by the much celebrated spring deployment of the UK-led Carrier Strike Group (GSG) to the Indo-Pacific region. 

This deployment, the largest for the Royal Navy in a generation, comes on the back of the UK establishing a host of new and ambitious trade deals across the region – most recently with Singapore, Vietnam, and Japan. 

As the Chinese PLA Navy continue to flex their muscle in this region, further militarising the South China Sea in particular, the UK-led CSG is set to uphold the international maritime laws which govern these seas – something which Beijing has already voiced strong concern. 

In these ever increasingly uncertain and unpredictable times, a steady yet innovative hand will be required to guide the UK’s new defence modernisation programme. In the coming weeks a new defence chief will be chosen – the appointment of whom will be fundamental in achieving the bold vision required to transform UK defence for the coming challenges ahead.

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Mark
Mark
8 months ago

Carleton-Smith, who can rip out your windpipe with a sideways glance, would be my choice.

Rob
Rob
8 months ago
Reply to  Mark

Carleton Smith has enough problems at the moment. He needs to sort out Army procurement and manning. Yes, he does have a record as a fighter (maybe more suited to operational command). However I wonder how much of a strategic thinker he is. He has a second class degree in politics and he has never commanded a Division or a Corps in the field.

Damo
Damo
8 months ago
Reply to  Rob

Wow. CDS needs to have a first do they?

Rob
Rob
8 months ago

Bet you the Admiral gets the job; fits in with the government’s ambitions for the RN & ‘global Britain.’ Possibly General Sanders (not Colonel Sanders of chicken fame) will get a deputy role as ‘transformation & technology’ commander.

Daveyb
Daveyb
8 months ago
Reply to  Rob

I agree, the position of CDS is supposed to be rotated through the 3 services. With the following CDS being from a different service, as that was seen to not to favour institutionalising the position.

Unfortunately, however, is picked has the unenviable task at trying fix to the Army’s equipment problem and the lack of enabling elements within the manpower structure. Too many projects were pushed to the right, where they have now become obsolete all around the same time. Goo luck with finding the capital to replace those, whilst money is syphoned off for the Cyber Warfare branch.

Ron5
Ron5
8 months ago
Reply to  Daveyb

No it is not supposed to rotate through the 3 services. That practice died some years ago.

Gavin Gordon
Gavin Gordon
8 months ago
Reply to  Rob

That certainly would be nice based upon which service chief appears to have been the most clear sighted. I noted that one reason promulgated for the army still thinking it should get the CDS post was because it’s the biggest service. With subtle reasoning like that it clearly pays not to make too much of the procurement hash they’ve owned for some time now.

maurice10
maurice10
8 months ago

The UK needs a person who can cut through red tape and get new kit into service in the most expedient way possible. I know it’s easier said than done, but what may be needed is someone who’s not afraid to make a lot of noise within the MOD and media. Strangulating loud voices within active service personnel happens across the globe, but an eager go-getter who challenges this could be a breath of fresh air in what is a stuffy, constrained, conglomerate of institutions.

Andy P
Andy P
8 months ago
Reply to  maurice10

Not sure a government would want to appoint a ‘loose cannon’ who is going to call them out for lack of funding etc Why would they make things hard for themselves.

I’m not saying that’s right but its how people work.

Bob
Bob
8 months ago
Reply to  Andy P

If you want outspoken, then Sanders famously told a BBC reporter that they were ‘talking complete bollocks’ live on TV when CO 4 RIFLES in Basra.

John Clark
John Clark
8 months ago
Reply to  Andy P

I agree Andy, though it’s precisely what’s needed.

In the past (though not always) the tendency is to give the job to a shiny arsed yes man, more interested in their personal position, than the armed forces.

Many senior officers are the same.

Just look at how the Navy was gutted over a 20 year period, taken to the very edge…. and the silence from many senior Admirals has been deafening…….

More interested in their knighthoods, gongs etc and certainly won’t rock the boat.

Levi Goldsteinberg
Levi Goldsteinberg
8 months ago

Good. Carter has been a weak and ineffectual leader

Daniele Mandelli
Daniele Mandelli
8 months ago

A gov yes man.

Daniele Mandelli
Daniele Mandelli
8 months ago

The architect of Strike I believe.

Still not explained how they are meant to work with no assets!

Rfn_Weston
Rfn_Weston
8 months ago

I don’t think he knows the answer, that’s why. Political yes man, retro fitting strike into a budget driven reorganisation and lauding it as the best thing since sliced bread. He’s a miserable little worm and a completely lacklustre leader. Watch for the quiet side step into Politics when he retires from the Forces.

julian1
julian1
8 months ago
Reply to  Rfn_Weston

shouldn’t dis him too much. he has suffered personal loss. His son was gravely injured in Afghan some years ago – a PC I think. I think he has been outspoken in recent months and probably heavily influenced government decision to uplift spending. How many CDS have achieved that recently?

Bob
Bob
8 months ago
Reply to  julian1

That was Nick Parker, also a Rifleman. Parker should have been CGS before Carter but decided to step away after Harry was injured.

julian1
julian1
8 months ago
Reply to  Bob

oh, yes. It was a while ago since it was in the news. That negates the “emotional” side of my argument then…

The Artist Formerly Known As Los Pollos Chicken
The Artist Formerly Known As Los Pollos Chicken
8 months ago

I will lay any money the Gov will balls this appointment up and go for the wrong choice. Not since Slvester Stallone was set to be cast as Alex Foley in Beverly Hills cop before the director put the meth pipe down and came back to his senses has there been such an important potentially direction changing choice.

If only there was a Bernard Montgomery , Bill Slim or David Stirling out there …… we have plenty managers very few leaders. As Prince said back in 95 “ It’s a Sign O the times”

???????????

ChariotRider
ChariotRider
8 months ago

I’d add Lord Mountbatten to that list. I believe that he is the only non US officer to even command a NATO region i.e. the Med… OK I know he’s RN and your list was Army but he was a very highly respected commander.

From your list I think I’d go for a Bill Slim, because he was on the end of very long supply lines and at the bottom of a equally long priority list in London and still managed to turn things around. Untill very recently a very similar situation to that faced by MoD.

Cheers CR

The Artist Formerly Known As Los Pollos Chicken
The Artist Formerly Known As Los Pollos Chicken
8 months ago
Reply to  ChariotRider

Indeed I would have no qualms with LMB on his tactical abilities however the lingering question marks over his extra curricular activities does lend it to the “now then now then Goodness gracious owz about that then girls n boys” ?

However I’m with you on Bill Slim??

???????????

Expat Alien
Expat Alien
8 months ago
Reply to  ChariotRider

I think you will find that the post of CinC Allied Forces Mediterranean was always a RN Admiral based in Malta until it was disbanded in 1967(?) when NATO Left Malta. Last holder was Admiral Sir John Hamilton

julian1
julian1
8 months ago

Actually they work their way up over 30-35 years. That’s remarkable longevity for a career. They reach the pinnacle but they tend to stay there for just 2-3 years – it’s normal. Yes it is top heavy but MOD are thinning it out. They have served their country and been good public servants often having to negotiate tough political gauntlets.

Not sure why you say its S American. Do they Salsa or Tango then?

Albion
Albion
8 months ago

The current incumbent was appointed by Theresa May in preference to RM General Gordon Messenger; the latter of whom was probably too robust for her.

Bob
Bob
8 months ago
Reply to  Albion

Don’t forget thought that Carter is the only British officer to have commanded at every level on operations up to Corps. Messenger was an absolute pragmatist, Carter is a true strategic thinker – absolutely not a people person, but he has a vision that was probably what Defence needed.

He’s also no push-over. Even the Americans nick-named him ‘the Brain’.

ChariotRider
ChariotRider
8 months ago
Reply to  Bob

HI Bob,

You touch on an important point. Whoever get selected will need to quickly gain the respect of the American’s as they are our closest allies and it seems we are keen to work even closer than ever with them.

Cheers CR

Gavin Gordon
Gavin Gordon
8 months ago

No wonder you lost at Hastings

Airborne
Airborne
8 months ago
Reply to  Gavin Gordon

Thats what I find amusing, he claims to be a Scottish Nationalist aka Fascist, yet names himself after an 11th Century Anglo Saxon king……Quite sad and pathetic.

Daniele Mandelli
Daniele Mandelli
8 months ago

Why not Carlton Smith? I read he’s highly regarded. Perhaps he needs to sort Army out as CGS before moving up?

Daniele Mandelli
Daniele Mandelli
8 months ago

Utter cobblers.

David Barry
David Barry
8 months ago

This is the dawning of the age of aquarias, age of aquarias….

You’re all singing all, right?

Royal Navy. This is there age and with Domo out on his ear, a very good bet; the army hzve made a right hash of procurement.

Airborne
Airborne
8 months ago

Yaaaaaaaaaaaaawn, your trolling is getting weaker by the day, please put more effort into it, although we all know its a subject matter you have no knowledge or experience about. Sad as it may seem…..you trolling on a military interest site.