UK DEFENCE – LIBYA CAMPAIGN HIGHLIGHTS EQUIPMENT SHORTFALLS
By Howard Wheeldon, Senior Strategist at BGC Partner
18 Apr 11. Her last commission, that of rescuing UK and foreign personnel from Libya plus providing support to the subsequent NATO tasked operation done, may I say how ridiculous it is that yet another fine Type 22 frigate this time in the form of HMS Cumberland (F85) should have arrived back in her home port of Devonport this past weekend for the very last time. Now berthed close to her sister ship HMS Chatham (F87) and which had been decommissioned in February this year as a direct result of the now discredited and ill thought out Strategic Defence and Security Review it is in my view wrong that the four hugely expensive Batch 3 Type 22 ships that had been commissioned into Royal Navy service between 1988 and 1990 should be effectively scrapped this soon.
Just five weeks ago in the Mediterranean whilst working her through her final commission HMS Cumberland had been the toast of hundreds if not thousands of UK, American and French nationals that were to be rescued by Cumberland’s crew as the ship operated what was to all intents a ‘shuttle service’ as she sailed between Libya and Malta. Today HMS Cumberland begins the process of inglorious end to a relatively short career in Royal Navy service and what in ‘navy’ speak is called ship destoring. When complete and presumably when pieces of sophisticated kit have also been removed the formal decommissioning process will occur and ships company will be dispersed. Not only can this loss to the Royal Navy be regarded as a ridiculous loss and waste of good capability but it may yet prove to be a hugely costly mistake. Coming at yet another particularly dangerous stage in Mid East politics and that of necessity we find ourselves once again embroiled.
I am convinced that allowing this style of SDSR sledge hammer approach to Royal Navy and Royal Air Force capability is a matter that we will all live to regret. That I and others are now so appalled and concerned at slash and burn politics with regard to national defence that the Coalition government has adopted. Neither should we forget that what is being done in terms of weakening capability for national defence also affects those in our dependent territories that have entrusted the defence of their islands (all are islands except Gibraltar) to us.
I may be equally concerned that given particular events outside of our direct NATO Afghanistan responsibilities that have clearly governed all decision making by the Coalition government plus the meeting of our other NATO responsibilities that as a direct result of SDSR strategy seemingly ignore the potential of all other potential future conflict engagement the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force have both been left with an unacceptably large gap in capability both in terms of equipment assets and resource.
If I understood correctly over the past weekend Prime Minister David Cameron was seemingly hinting that apart from current UK and French led bombing of military targets that NATO may need to embark ground forces into Libya if the mission of removing the Qaddafi regime is to be successful. I may wish to doubt the wisdom of direct UK ground force involvement but so be it. The point though is that whatever the intention on potential of our already stretched ground forces may be I take the view that in terms of future capability the SDSR process has lost all credibility and must be immediately rethought.
I concentrate my view today on concerns related specifically to Royal Navy and Royal Air Force surface force and front line fast jet air power capability. In saying this I may say that I have no concerns whatsoever on sub-sea element of Royal Navy capability and that I have been pleased that at no stage was the SSN or SSBN capability planned through SDSR to be reduced. However the planned future level of sustainable surface fleet does cause me and others ver