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RAF Museum Reopens PLUS Initial Response to Weekend Defence Cuts Speculation By Howard Wheeldon, FRAeS, Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd.





First, in these trying and very difficult times, some good news to report. Having been closed to visitors since March 17th it is very pleasing to report that both the Cosford and London locations of the RAF Museum are once again open and welcoming back visitors through their doors. 

The result of significant planning that has taken place during the closure period, one that also very sadly required that the RAF Cosford Air Show also had to be cancelle.,

In order abide with COVID-19 health and safety requirements visitors to the museum from today are being requested to pre-book arrival times on the RAF Museum’s website. While still offering free entry to all, the new timed ticket approach will guarantee the space needed for a safe and enjoyable day out. Staff at both London and Cosford have been working very hard behind the scenes to prepare for required social distancing measures including a one-way visitor flow and a limit on the number of people in each of the various museum buildings. Hand sanitiser will be available at the entrance to each hangar and throughout each building. Hand washing facilities are also available in all museum buildings. 

The teams at both museum locations along with the RAF Museum Board of Trustees are to be congratulated for the tremendous effort that they have put in not only to ensure that those visiting the museums from today will enjoy the fantastic experience that the museum offers but also that they will be able to do so with confidence that every effort has been made to ensure compliance with COVID-19 safety compliance requirements.

As it has for all museums, closure for what has been almost four months now has had a major financial impact and the RAF Museum is no exception. Reopening today will undoubtedly raise the spirits of all staff involved and who have worked tirelessly over the past weeks for this day to occur. CEO Maggie Appleton is deserving of much praise for the way that she and her team have ensured that while the two locations have been closed to visitors the various website events have provided those that have been prevented from visiting with plenty of excitement and opportunity. There is never a dull moment when you are inside either museum locations. The staff are all ready to welcome you back and I wish them well as they gear up for a phased return to normality and excellence of what the RAF Museum provides its visitors.    

Defence Cuts Speculation

It is by no means unusual that within a long running process that leads up to publishing final results and recommendations of any defence and security related review that those responsible for conducting it decide to leak elements of what they might wish to propose as a worst-case scenario in order test the waters of political, public and military opinion. That is clearly what has occurred this past weekend and the report in the Sunday Times yesterday is the result.

To that end I find myself in somewhat rare agreement with Lord West who is reported in the Daily Telegraph this morning as saying that “the worst case scenario” plans may have been drawn up to gauge the reaction among MPs and peers to the proposals and that I imagine that all sorts of things are being talked about. They’ll be floating them, and quite often, let’s face it, people have floated ideas to see what the reaction is from members of parliament, peers and media”. 

The essence of what the Sunday Times reporter suggested was that defence chiefs have seemingly drawn up plans to slash the army manpower numbers by 20,000 to 55,000 personnel together with the suggestion of substantial cuts being made to the Royal Marines  that would include the commando brigade being disbanded along with RM losing artillery, engineers and landing craft. The speculation went on to suggest that Royal Navy minesweeping capability would also be axed along with the Royal Air Force losing its remaining fleet of C-130J Hercules transport aircraft along with the RAF Benson based Puma helicopter fleet.   

The article went on to suggest that threatened cuts to key [defence] capabilities that then do not materialise are apparently known as “shroud-waving” in Whitehall but that this time “sources” are suggesting that Dominic Cummings, the PM’s senior advisor on seemingly everything “is attracted to the proposal to slash the size of the army in order to pump money into cyber-warfare, space and artificial intelligence.   

Apart from a review of some kind occurring every five years since SDSR 2010 there has been little if any consistency in defence over the past two decades. While the word strategy is often to be heard withing review announcements, unless there is consistency it isn’t worth the paper it is written on. Policy should be born out of strategy but the reality is that all we get is more process. Leaks then cause outrage and they undermine the whole process itself causing significant damage within the military environment and leaving those involved on the front line of defence demoralised and demotivated.

The current and seemingly well-planned process being put into effect by Dominic Cummings comes at a very opportune moment for him. With the demise of Sir Mark Sedwill as National Security Advisor and Cabinet Secretary and his replacement by David Frost as National Security Advisor from October and who is not even a civil servant let alone someone who professionally has as far as I am aware the feintest knowledge of defence and security requirement it seems that Mr. Cummings has a three month period to axe his way through defence without much interference. The Integrated Foreign Policy, Defence and Security Review will undoubtedly make interesting reading when it appears later this year or early next but I fear it will be one determined by politics rather than real foreign, defence and security strategy requirement.

Sadly, I doubt that the Secretary of State for Defence or ministers under his control at the MOD or indeed, service chiefs themselves will carry as much weight in the final decision- making process as they clearly should. This will be the take it or leave it Cummings Review warts and all. What had up to now been known as Future Force 2025 will become a watered-down Future Force 2030. What had been talked about in respect of UK ambition, flying the flag and extending our reach intention may well be replaced by policy rather than strategy and one based solely on affordability. Our US allies would better prepare themselves as they did in SDSR 2010 for reductions in what the UK can offer its allies. That is not to suggest that defence spending will be cut – indeed I believe that the government will stick with its promise of an above inflation rise each year – but it is to suggest that outside of what may well be a scaled down NATO commitment, UK defence capability is about to take another big hit at a time when quite the opposite should be the case and we should be building up in response to a rising level of threat.

As to what was articulated within the Sunday Times article, all that I am prepared to say is that while the Royal Marines will live to see another day the basis of what has been suggested complies with thoughts that I have suggested in previous commentaries.

CHW (London – 6th July 2020)        

Howard Wheeldon FRAeS 

Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd,

M: +44 7710 779785

Skype: chwheeldon



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