17 Nov 15. A few quick remarks on several announcements and intentions that have emanated from Downing Street over the past few days ahead of the formal SDSR 2015 announcement that I expect to be made by the Prime Minister shortly before Defence Questions in the House of Commons next Monday, the 23rd of November. I will also here make a quick additional comment on the Labour Party leader in respect of his defence and security views.
During several speeches that I have myself given over recent weeks and that relate to the impending SDSR 2015 announcement I have felt comfortable in pushing forward the notion that what we can, on Monday 23rd November, anticipate capability enhancement and the filling of some serious gaps left behind by the ill thought out and dangerous SDSR 2010. Yes, affordability remains alive and well but so too, as we hope to see in SDSR 2015 as the main themes, does innovation, training and the prosperity agenda. So, despite various base cuts and assets disposals some if which I am bound to regret, SDSR 2015 will in my view be positive overall for those of us that engage in or around defence albeit that two days later, in the Comprehensive Spending Review, there will undoubtedly be further pain for defence.
Speaking in the Guildhall last night the Prime Minister, David Cameron told the audience that an extra £2bn will be spent on UK ‘special forces’ over the next five years in order to increase our ability to fight terrorism. Part of what will be formally contained within the impending SDSR 2015 announcement I suspect that additional capability envisaged will include maybe as many as a dozen existing Royal Air Force C-130J aircraft that were due to be withdrawn from service in a couple of years under SDSR 2010 now being retained for use by ‘special forces’ together with the possibility that a couple of C-130J’s could be converted for helicopter refuelling use. In addition I suspect the plan envisages greater use of helicopters plus purchasing of additional vehicles, weapons, CBRN and other protective equipment and communications systems. Funding will come directly from the Defence Budget which we already know is to be increased by £500 million in each of the next five years.
I very much welcome what the Prime Minister has announced just as I do the earlier announcement that the MOD will substantially increase remotely piloted air systems capability used by the Royal Air Force. Yesterday, the Home Secretary announced that 1,900 extra jobs will be created across MI5, MI6 and Cheltenham based GCHQ and today we will hear Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne announce another important decision taken in SDSR 2020 – a doubling of what the UK spends and invests on cyber security technology over the next five years to £1.9bn.
Cyber Security has for too long been understated in the UK and it is pleasing that across the three intelligence agencies, the first National Cyber Centre and the Institute for Coding that Britain will shortly really be able to claim to have a formal and well thought-out national cyber security strategy. I understand that in his speech at GCHQ Headquarters in Cheltenham Spa today Mr. Osborne will say “it is right that we choose to invest in our cyber defences even at a time when we must cut other budgets. For our country, defending our citizens from hostile powers, criminals or terrorists the Internet represents a critical axis of potential vulnerability; from our banks to our cars, our military to our schools, whatever is on line is also a target”.
Even so he will also say that “we see from this place every day the malign scope of our adversaries’ goals, their warped sophistication and frenetic activity. The stakes could hardly be higher; if our electricity supply or our air traffic control or our hospitals were successfully attacked on-line, the impact could be measured not just in terms of economic damage but lives lost”. To that one may add water, gas, petrol, diesel, food, telecommunications and just about every other system we can think of that we have got used to in our daily lives.
Naturally I welcome all of the above moves as being very necessary. Well done, they appear to be getting the message at last. Next week we will learn of various other capability enhancements planned for conventional defence and very soon, the final go ahead to replace our existing nuclear deterrent capability on a like for like continuous at sea basis.
We have weakened our conventional defence and deterrent capability over the past few years to the point that we have no choice but to reverse the decline. SDSR 2015 will contain painful elements but my view is that there will be no marked capability cuts. Quite the reverse, filling capability gaps left by the disorderly and ill thought out SDSR 2010 can be expected with air power and maritime being the major beneficiaries. Quite right too.
Finally a word on the Labour Party leader, Mr. Jeremy Corbyn who appears to have now lost whatever remaining credibility he might have had following his comments related to how security forces should not, as current UK and free-world policy dictates, be allowed to shoot a terrorist on sight. How long can this charade go on? I feel for the great many decent, honest and hard-working Labour MP’s who are now so frustrated with hearing dangerous and unprecedented views and policy dictates from their leader in respect of defence and security that if I were them and I was absolutely passionate (as I am) about the need for strong defence and security and that this should always be the priority of Government that personally I would have no choice but to leave the Party. Perhaps that is what should happen now – a collective resignation of one or two hundred Labour MP’s from the Party Whip.
CHW (London – 17th November 2015)
Howard Wheeldon FRAeS