UK DEFENCE – UNCERTAINTY BREEDS CONTEMPT
By Howard Wheeldon, FRAeS, Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd.
03 Oct 13. Comments from Secretary of State for Defence Philip Hammond on Monday that the UK may get to use both the currently under build Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers as opposed to the Royal Navy taking just one as had been proposed in SDSR 2010 will be particularly welcomed by those who recognise that you can hardly run a ‘carrier force’ with a single ship. But is this just political rhetoric or real political speak? With SDSR 2015 due less than two years away and launch of the second carrier, HMS Prince of Wales, not anticipated until 2018 plenty more muddy waters have yet to flow under the creaking defence bridge. To add insult to injury Mr. Hammond has also been reported saying that the £70m annual cost of operating a second ship was a ‘snip’ but that the money to operate the second aircraft carrier would have to come from somewhere else.
If this last remark is a hint that the Royal Navy must look for further savings it is somewhat at odds with reality. Most agree that in terms of manpower and equipment capability the Royal Navy cannot ‘afford’ to reduce capability further. In terms of maritime I suspect that but for some tinkering around the edges if the existing domestic, international and NATO mission is to be fully maintained there is no further scope for cuts. To say that the Royal Navy is stretched would be far more than just an oversight it would I believe be tantamount to treason!
Earlier this week, whilst attending the Tory Party Conference in Manchester, the Secretary of State for Defence took time out to visit BAE Systems site at Warton in Lancashire. This place is home amongst other things to Britain’s large and hugely important manufacturing contribution to the Eurofighter Typhoon military aircraft programme. This was a good and much welcomed visit and I see that Mr. Hammond is reported saying that the defence aerospace industry in the North West was critical to the future of Britain and that high technology, skills and expertise within the industry is key as the UK prepares to exit the recession. So say all of us but while it is nice to hear the Secretary of State uttering such words is he really sincere in his understanding of the importance and value of what the defence industry brings in to the UK economy in terms of value, jobs and the help it provides to our burgeoning trade deficit?
I wonder whether Mr. Hammond took on board that not only does BAE Systems employ 40,000 people in the UK but that it also supports another 55,000 jobs across the supply chain and indirectly supports 25,000 jobs across the wider economy? I hope that he did and that he is well aware of the crucial importance and contribution that companies such as BAE Systems make to UK exports and that with the superb contribution that Typhoon and Hawk T2 aircraft already make to exports and the potential for more export success that both these aircraft have over the next few years that he really will be as supportive to industry and in assisting the export cause as he would have us believe from his remarks.
With defence in all its many aspects be it military or industrial having been dogged by so much uncertainty since 2010 what none of us need now are politicians playing to the gallery. What the military and industry need and what they deserve now more than ever is honesty.
Back on the issue of potential for more cuts the same is true of the Royal Air Force as it is for the Royal Navy meaning very little if any scope for further cuts. Arguably available front line air power capability is now at its lowest level for two generations in the Royal Air Force. Of course they still manage to get the job done as exampled =by confirmation that 617 Squadron GR4 Tornado aircraft are once again on their way to Afghanistan for the last time before the squadron is stood down ahead of an eventual standing up as the front