UK DEFENCE – YET ANOTHER WAKE-UP CALL
By Howard Wheeldon, FRAeS, Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd.
10 Dec 14. I am grateful to those of you that brought the “Canadians, French, US Hunt for Submarine Off Scotland” article published in the latest edition of Aviation Week to my attention yesterday. In reading this I was once again drawn to question whether this really is what we as a nation, one that likes to boast that it is the sixth largest economy in the world, have come down to? With SDSR 2015 approaching and with UK defence capability now stretched to its limits it is time for the UK government to wake up to the responsibility and reality of the chronic situation that we face.
I wonder how soon we will be asking our French allies, a nation remember that has far more deep seated structural economic problems than we have ourselves, whether we can borrow more ships and planes? And while I have absolutely no doubts about the virtues and sense behind co-operation and sharing of defence capability with our closest neighbour, I fear that such policies are being done on this side of the water for the wrong reasons meaning that they may not be putting the interests of the UK first. Yes, in saying this I am also well aware that the French Government has previously asked and received Royal Air Force C4ISR assistance in Mali and for which purpose and mission we readily despatched Sentinel capability that did a brilliant job. I am also aware that the Royal Air Force helped out the French Government providing a Boeing C-17 to deliver equipment and troops into the Mali theatre.
Our French NATO allies were right to ask for such assistance and we were absolutely right to provide the very specialist level of support and capacity that the French do not need to necessarily hold themselves. But if we seek to play on the international stage and to continue playing a role in defence diplomacy I believe that as a still large and important nation and one that is still one of the world’s leading economies we do not have the right to believe that we should rely on another country to provide capability that, reasoned by lack of proper strategy and debate, for some reason we appear to be in the process of deciding that we no longer wish to hold ourselves. I refer of course to Maritime Patrol Aircraft capability or what was widely expected to emerge as Multi Mission Aircraft capability. My view remains the same – We rather than our NATO allies must fill the gap left by the premature withdrawal of Nimrod capability.
For an island nation such as ours not to have any form of properly electronically equipped fixed-wing undersea search capability and that can double as wide area surveillance and search and rescue is hard to comprehend. While it is true that the Royal Navy still has a superb fleet of Sea King Mk 7 helicopters that are able to conduct a certain level of offshore airborne surveillance and reconnaissance (these will be replaced by Merlin Mk 2 helicopters in 2016) for a nation dependent on most of its trade, much of its food, material and mineral requirements to have such a minimal level of protection and cover beyond the reduced levels of available Royal Navy ship and submarine capability and to no longer maintain any suitable fixed wing Maritime Patrol Aircraft capability that I might add is in clear breach of the International Convention on Maritime Search and Rescue 1979 (the SAR convention which had replaced the 1944 Chicago convention) that Britain is a signatory beggars belief.
The lack of MPA capability and the reality of the Aviation Week article copied below also begs the question whether it will be French Government planes that patrol the seas that are beyond the reach of our helicopters in the future? Will it be rebuilt French Atlantique maritime aircraft capability I wonder that we will need to call upon to search for missing aircraft in the oceans and seas around us? Or is it the intention of the UK government