UK DEFENCE – FOR FEAR OF FUTURE DEFENCE MARGINALISATION
By Howard Wheeldon, FRAeS, Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd.
28 May 13. While many will commend actions by the Secretary of State for Defence in standing firm against Treasury pressures to further cut to the UK defence expenditure I suspect that others may see this as an attempt at ‘shutting the gate after the horse has already bolted’. Whether or not one chooses to believe the Hammond approach to pressure against more departmental cuts in the 2014/15 spending round is cynical or genuine I suspect that external defence professionals still allowed to express a voice of reason would say that cuts in UK defence have already gone far too far down.
Although painful if you have been on the receiving end most agree that the effort of the Coalition Government to make defence and particularly defence procurement more efficient is deserving of much praise. Without doubt the Ministry of Defence is a much better place than it was in terms of how it conducts its business. There is more work to be done in procurement when the final decisions on restructuring of DE&S either as a GoCo or DE&S plus are made. I have made plain a view that restructuring of the Bristol based procurement operation is of paramount importance and that provided the option decided is well executed and funded this is a chance to make visible and lasting progress. I know too that as the primary source of military equipment capability industry and the larger supply chain running behind it takes a similar view and will be happy to work within whatever procurement process option chosen.
But while procurement and through life support of equipment capability is a very important area of defence so too are decisions that relate to those that put their lives at risk. I have already written on ‘Reserves’ and the dangers that I see within current British defence policy. I have written and spoken of late about fear and realities of serious capability gaps emerging both in terms of those required to conduct specialist front line and locally based support roles and of the lack of foresight and dangers of prematurely running down current elements of sound air power capability well before replacement multi role capability is ready. The latter reference refers in this case to my long standing fear that the current out of service date of 2019 for Panavia Tornado GR4 capability will be further brought forward before either of Joint Combat Aircraft carrier strike capability or that of Typhoon multi-role capability is fully established.
I have expressed my fears that with the lack of any decent incentive scheme too many qualified and experienced senior officers are choosing to leave the armed forces as they see better career options outside. Make no mistake that a great many highly qualified people serving in our armed forces feel that they have been badly let down.
With the military chiefs now having full responsibility over their respective budgets they will be forced to prioritise in a manner rarely seen before. The job that they do is clearly changing and they are being forced to take responsibility for financial actions and planning in a manner for which they are not necessarily trained. That said I have heard few complaints although of necessity I worry that the burden of responsibility is alongside that of carrying military responsibility for their respective services and the permanent need to act as the mentor may be too much. There is the additional fear that they may be forced to carry a burden of unnecessary responsibility for those that are supposed to be supporting them in the MoD and elsewhere.
While we are obliged to understand that in an age where affordability and wise use of scarce taxpayer money must now be prioritised within the capability planning and the decision making process of necessity I am forced to counter that ‘smart defence’ should in reality be about affordability mixed with mainta