THE EFFECT OF THE STRATEGIC DEFENCE AND SECURITY REVIEW ON OUR OVERSTRETCHED ARMED FORCES
By Colonel Tim Collins OBE
The effects of the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) will alter the UK Army finally and irrevocably. The expeditionary armed forces are to be effectively mothballed and the equipment types needed to fight a high scale conventional war will be reduced to what is really only a training cadre with no operational capability – at least independently. Commensurate with the reduction of equipment types the overall size of the army will reduce by several thousand.
But the real cut which looms is to the terms and conditions of the service men and women, in particular the officer corps. Cuts to allowances, including the continuation of education allowance, will see large numbers of middle ranking and more senior officers vote with their feet to find stability and more financially rewarding employment in the civil sector; it is this that the civil service and politicians do not understand.
There has long existed, from both the civil service and politicians of the left, a culture of jealousy towards the Armed Forces, their status in society and their approval by the public. The civil service, it could be argued, fail to appreciate the sacrifice of the armed forces overseas, seeing only the internal politics of life within the Ministry of Defence, which they regard as their territory. Politicians of the left have long hated the regimental system and the Armed forces ethos which they do not understand and have consistently failed to penetrate, much less control. The watering down of the regimental system under the last administration did huge damage to the method by which this nation raises and sustains its armies and has reduced the old regional affiliations to a mere thread. That was the intent, no money was saved and the exercise was a net cost to the taxpayer. Removing the incentive of stable schooling and even the reimbursement of reasonable expenses will drive out the talented thirty-somethings who were making it work – just. These moves, intentionally or otherwise, point towards a future army that will no longer be capable of maintaining itself administratively and will therefore need to rely increasingly on civil servants. Just as the NHS is increasingly in the grip of administrators with no medical background, so will HM Armed Forces be administered by civilian staff lacking a deep understanding of our serving personnel, their tasks and their needs.
SDSR & THE ROYAL NAVY
HMS ARK ROYAL, the Navy’s only strike carrier was hastily withdrawn from service in Dec 2010, at least three years earlier than planned. Only HMS ILLUSTRIOUS (currently in refit) will remain until 2014 and only carry helicopters. 60+ Harrier aircraft were withdrawn from service in Jan 2011 thus leaving the Fleet Air Arm without any fast jets. Naval aviation expertise will be lost and very difficult to recreate. The fixed wing Fleet Air Arm has, for the next seven or more years, effectively ceased to exist. The first of two new large carriers will not be operational until at least 2018/19 or later – thus leaving the Royal Navy without fixed wing air cover for the next seven or eight years, and possibly much longer.
All four of the Navy’s Type 22 Frigates are being withdrawn now (years earlier than planned) from service. There will thus be only ever being 19 (or fewer) Destroyers and Frigates remaining when SDSR 1998 called for an absolute minimum of 32. (At the time of the Falklands War the RN had more than 70 frigates and destroyers. The expected “Type 26” Future Service Combatant (planned to replace our aging Type 23 frigates) cannot be expected to even begin to come into service before 2020 at the very earliest. The result is that, from now on, at any one time the maximum number of Frigates or Destroyers the RN will be able to have operational at sea will be about ten! The Royal Fleet Auxiliary (