My apologies for a slightly longer than intended absence of ‘Commentary’ due to planned industrial visits to Meggitt and GKN subsidiary operations in Coventry and Birmingham on Monday and Wednesday and that together with other London based events that occurred on Tuesday, kept me away from the keyboard.
Today, just a few quick comments from me and from those in other countries who I know and respect on defense related matters. This past week has seen the annual AUSA (Association of the United States Army) gathering take place at the Walter E. Washington Convention Centre in DC. Being primarily although not wholly land equipment and thus a subject area that, apart from the UK’s Challenger 2 Battle-Tank, Warrior and Ajax armoured fighting vehicles, I rarely comment on, I stopped attending this event some years ago. However, I do recognise the importance of AUSA if, for no other particular reason, that unlike hugely important defence related events that are held in the UK, such as the Royal International Air Tattoo each July and that of Defence and Security Equipment International (DSEI) exhibition which is held on a two yearly basis, there is dearth of industry and military related events in the USA.
Reading the various feedback of AUSA from my colleagues at Capital Alpha Partners, I found little of particular relevance for us here in the UK and that is worthy of separate comment from me. So be it but I am sure that it will have once again been a very worthwhile event from a conference and networking perspective and also from the more general detailing and communication of new technologies, plans, battlefield equipment, communication equipment and logistics that are each so important within the context of defence.
I am also grateful to Capital Alpha Partners for the following update of what emerged at the ‘Jamestown Foundations’ 7th Annual China Defense Security Conference in Washington DC and particularly to the author of the following comment, Byron Callan and from whom the following update comments on Chinese defense expansion emerged:
“China’s Navy is moving towards a blue-water capability and by 2020 will be the second largest in the world in terms of advanced ship types. One speaker at the conference had projected that by 2020, China’s Navy (PLAN) will have 2-3 aircraft carriers, 25 AEGIS-like destroyers, 32 frigates, 6 large amphibious ships, 10 underway support ships, 6-7 nuclear attack submarines, and 20 non-nuclear attack submarines. This is still far smaller than the U.S. Navy, but it’s a larger regional fleet than any other Asian country or the U.S. Navy 7th Fleet based in Japan. There are still open questions about how good this Navy will be, but it is demonstrating competency. The Chinese Coast Guard and militia naval forces also have to be factored, but these are factors only near China’s coastline”.
Byron Callan continued suggesting that what China is doing “should provide support for a larger U.S. Navy and factor in regional naval plans. However, there are other aspects of military power that bear on these bean counts. China’s missile force is a key component as is U.S. air power and even emerging factors like land-based anti-ship missiles”. He goes on to say that “China’s military reforms caused angst within the military, but the aim is a smaller force more able to conduct joint operations (e.g. Navy working with Air Force on common missions)”. He notes too that “there has been ‘massive’ change within Army leadership driven by goals to root out corruption and also to consolidate power under Xi Jinping. Reform” he suggests “may not be complete until 2020. Change is hard, but if it leads to a more effective military, that will have ramifications for the U.S. and the region”.
Having heard so much rubbish being talked on radio and TV over the past few days in relation to what the UK Government should do and how, for example, it should purchase military aircraft that it probably doesn’t need, replace aircraft that have still go many years of life in them and maybe even spending taxpayers money on developing a new generation of military jets so that we can continue to export them and so on, I have chosen to stay fairly quiet and attempt to calm down.
Rarely have I ever heard quite so much ‘crap’ being talked by those who just do not understand that with a budget deficit and huge level of debt that we have built up, that we are in no position to take on additional risk. Not once in any of the interviews I listened to did I hear the words affordability and strategy mentioned.
I am not in any way attempting to defend past or present UK government for adopting policy driven by cost and risk over that of strategy and requirement – on this matter may I just say here a big thank you to the over 300 responses I received to the UK defence 290 piece – but the notion that to keep industry going we might spend and risk billions on designing manned aircraft capability that we ourselves might need but a few and that, in this day and age, when however ridiculous it is to those of us involved either directly or within the periphery of defence, ignoring that as unfortunately we happen to live in a nation that demands that spending billions on health, welfare and other factors should be prioritised way ahead of providing defence and security of the nation, is quite ridiculous.
Finally, a quick mention of an announcement earlier this week that the Danish government is proposing a 20% increase in its defence budget in order to what it has termed as “deterring a growing threat from Russia”. Citing increased Russian military activity, the Government says that it intends to increase the defence budget by 20% over the next five years and that in consideration of “Russia investing heavily in its military and carrying out large-scale military exercises along the Baltic Sea and Baltic countries’ borders with disregard for international norms and principles” it considers this increase in defence spending more than justified. It certainly is and it means that the total increase in the defence budget would amount to $762m by 2023, taking Denmark to a level of spending equivalent to 1.3% of GDP.
While there will undoubtedly be those that say Denmark should be spending 2% of GDP on defence, this is a small country with limited resources. That Denmark has always been so ready and willing to deploy troops and equipment to assist in NATO led campaigns is to the nations’ eternal credit. The UK and Danish military are very close as indeed are the militaries of all Benelux countries with those of Britain. We should be saying thank you to the Danish Government for accepting what needs to be done – all of us ned to spend more on Defence.
CHW (London – 12th October 2017)
Howard Wheeldon FRAeS
Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd,
M: +44 7710 779785