Although I have already seen this, I will cover the speech to be delivered later today at the Royal United Services Institute by the Labour Shadow Secretary of State for Defence, Mr John Healey in my Wednesday commentary but as far as today is concerned, I wish to touch on yesterday’s Sky News media reports, written by Deborah Haynes, in which she quotes defence sources as having said that the Treasury has [apparently] signalled that there is no new money for defence despite [apparently] recognising the urgent need to rearm in the wake of Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine. Sadly, I fear that every word of what Deborah Haynes has written is more than probably true.
The public is once again being conned by the government, just as it has in respect of defence by each and every government since Tony Blair’s second term in office began in 2001 into believing that the UK has all that it needs to defend itself and to play the leading role that it does within Nato Europe.
Well, it doesn’t have anywhere near the level defence capability and capacity in this increasing dangerous world and where the level of threats against us show no signs of abating.
What the UK does have in respect of land and combat air is either obsolete as far as much of our land equipment is concerned because we have failed to invest in or only belatedly begun necessary upgrade.
In respect of combat air capability, due to consistency of heavy use and deployments internationally and having five years ago prematurely cut air to ground combat air capability that should in my view have been retained to its originally planned OSD, we now find ourselves severely stretched in respect of combat air power capability in order to cover the QRA, Nato and many other deployed international roles in support of our allies as well as training and other factors.
You won’t hear the RAF say this of course as they remain silenced from telling it how it is. These days, not even common sense, shortage of capability or capacity appears to cause anyone in authority to stand up and be counted, telling the truth, trying to get their political masters to understand their plight before, of inevitability, being forced to resign.
Yes, thank heavens we also have Reaper and very soon Protector UAV capability to replace the former, but never in the entire history of the Royal Air Force have numbers of combat aircraft capability been as low as they are today.
The Sky News website article follows the above up with these words “at the same time the sources said that “a refresh of UK defence policy that was meant to inform the spending plans of Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt and Prime minister Rishi Sunak could be delayed until after the March budget because an initial draft failed to reflect sufficiently the transformed security environment in Europe where a land war is raging”. According to one source who was speaking to Deborah Haynes on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive information is quoted as saying “It is not very joined up government”.
Again, from my own sources I have absolutely no reason to believe anything other than that the Sky News story is perfectly sound. So where is Secretary of State for Defence Ben Wallace on all this?
There has as yet been no denial about the story and while we do know that Mr. Wallace had fought hard in relation to the need to refresh the Integrated Review, one gets the strong impression that he is now being heavily leaned on by the Treasury and Cabinet Office to stay quite on the matter of the ‘refresh’ and what he might want it to say.
Last week we had yet another senior US General warning Mr. Wallace that the British Army is no longer regarded as a top level or ‘Tier One’ fighting force following decades of cuts to both size, strength and overall capability.
Earlier this week I was amazed to see references to a possible change of mind from Mr. Wallace in regard of the possibility of sending combat jet capability to Ukraine. I readily admit to putting my head in my hands thinking what spare combat aircraft have we got in order that we can send them to Ukraine, train pilots to operate them, provide them with sufficient complex and other weapons, provide the ongoing maintenance and support that would be required?
True, we may have the odd Tranche One Typhoon lying around assuming it has not been already cannibalised for spares but even if we had these once very fine aircraft were, unlike the Tranche 2 and 3 Eurofighter Typhoon aircraft, primarily designed for air to air combat work as opposed to the much-needed air to ground role.
The bottom line is that the UK’s cupboard of combat air capability and capacity is now so stretched that not one single one of the serviceable Typhoon aircraft can be spared. For the record, the UK currently has 67 Tranche 2 and 40 Tranche 3 Typhoon aircraft.
In addition, there had originally been 53 Tranche 1 Typhoon but if the figures quoted in evidence given by the Chief of the Air Staff to HCDC last week were correct and assuming we still have the above 117 numbers of Tranche 2 and 3 combat jets, means that the number of Tranche 1 Typhoon still extant is down to 20 from an original 53.Of these 20 remaining Tranche 1 aircraft, just how many are currently still serviceable is an unknown quantity but I would venture to suggest that at best it was probably less than half.
Germany and Spain by the way are acquiring new Tranche 4 Typhoon aircraft in order to replace their Typhoon Tranche 1 aircraft. Britain should do the same. While it is true that at long last Britain is now refitting its Tranche 3 and some Tranche 2 Typhoon aircraft with the European Common Radar Systems (ECRS) Mk 2 radar the numbers of aircraft to which this applies has not as far as I am aware been stated.
Just as the Tornado GR4 was before it the Typhoon FGR4 is also brilliant capability. But the bottom line is that ahead of the next generation Tempest development, the UK is now very dangerously short of combat air capability. Not only do we need a speeding up of planned procurement of F-35A Joint Strike Fighters, we also need to do what Germany, Spain and quite possibly soon, Italy will also do – procure 30 new Typhoon Tranche 4 military jets.
CHW (London 7th February 2023)
Howard Wheeldon FRAeS
Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd,
M: +44 7710 779785