OF CARRIER STRIKE AND FUTURE CAPABILITY GAPS!
By Howard Wheeldon, FRAeS, Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd.
13 May 13. Quite properly the National Audit Office heaped a deal of praise on Prime Minister David Cameron’s 2012 decision to revert back to purchasing the short take-off and vertical landing (STOVL) ‘B’ variant of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter as opposed to the F-35 ‘C’ Carrier version of the aircraft. Whilst reverting back to the original 2008 Labour plan to acquire the STOVL variant may have been a politically tough thing to do from a military and cost perspective it was surely the right thing to do. But while biting the bullet on the ill-thought out SDSR 2010 plan to retrofit a relatively untried EMALS system of ‘cats and traps’ to one of two in-build Queen Elizabeth class carriers never stacked up and was resolved without loss of face other equally serious concerns from SDSR 2010 remain. Not least are more potentially serious capability gaps.
The nonsense of some SDSR 2010 decisions with regard to future ‘Carrier Strike’ capability is there for all to see in the latest very interesting NAO report. Partially resolved as future ‘Carrier Strike’ capability may look to be in the eyes of some at the MOD wider issues that relate to future combat air remain. Having suffered the total loss not only its GR9 Harrier force but also true Maritime Capability in the form of Nimrod and very soon the remainder of its Merlin Helicopter capability the Royal Air Force has suffered a loss of capability that perhaps only the Royal Navy might argue is greater that the cuts that have affected the other two UK armed force components.
True, the Royal Navy has been decimated through the loss of Ark Royal V, all four of the superb Type 22 frigates and shortly, the very last of its Type 42 Destroyers. Very soon as part of what is called Future Force 2020 the Royal Navy will have just nineteen capital fighting ships and the Royal Air Force will have in total a compliment of combat aircraft that would all fit onto just one of the huge US Nimitz class aircraft carriers.
Poor economic conditions and failure of past governments may dictate the high price that we are all being requested to pay but in cutting defence too far the price that we could yet be asked to pay may end up being very much larger still.
Britain isn’t alone in purging its spending on defence but its attitude toward maintaining sufficient capability for future needs is one that is being questioned the most. A nation must live within its means but when its means are so wide and diverse it must ensure that it not only sufficiently protects its people but those of its dependent states. The demands of NATO have certainly not declined in recent years and it is true that in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya we played out our required role to the great satisfaction of our allies. The question is – could we do it again? In terms of our current capability the answer may just about be yes but perhaps not for much longer.
Here I wish to look at just some of the reason in terms of feared capability gaps that I believe we should be alarmed. These are difficult times for government of course and yet having failed to decide where it is we wish to be in the world we are about to embark on another round of potential defence cuts. ‘Believe not what you are led to believe. Much better to believe what it is that your experience tells you.’
The first concern I will briefly raise in terms of a potential future capability gap is the notion and concept that by 2020 numbers in the Regular Army will need to rely on 30,000 reservists alongside a force of ‘regulars’ reduced by 20,000 to 82,000. I have no disagreement that current numbers of Regular soldiers in the British Army are unsustainable or that the Army has been very slow in making itself in the least more efficient. But in this instance I very much share the view of Bob Stewart MP that the goal of doubling the existing number of