UK DEFENCE – FOOLS RUSH IN WHERE ANGELS FEAR TO TREAD!
By Howard Wheeldon is the Senior Strategist at BGC Partners
14 Feb 11. In this paper I intend to look at certain specific issues and conclusions that can be drawn from the recent Strategic Defence and Security Review. In the following paper taking the intentions of SDSR as given I propose to emphasise what more will need to be done if Britain is to be able to fully manage the commitments it already has and to ensure that as a nation we are able to provide peace of mind to the electorate that we do have adequate forces and equipment at our disposal for the unknown. Additionally, I will look in more detail at the huge overlap and duplication that remains within in the current three armed force structure including defence estates and that by addressing what stares many of us in the face could through common sense and better management eliminate much waste saving potentially large sums of taxpayer money.
The past few weeks and months have been particularly arduous for the UK armed forces Chiefs as they have attempted to fine tune what was required of them by government matching cost and resource to downsized budgets. Sadly it has become increasingly clear that the various requirements were never going to add up and that mismatch would very soon be apparent to those involved worked their way through the ongoing PR11 budget process. The apparently huge cost gap that has subsequently appeared emphasises the difference between ambitions of SDSR, the bottom line of force capability and requirement set against the overall given budgets of all three armed force units. How big the gap actually is we do not yet know except that it is probably very large. Neither do we know yet how it will be addressed except that history tells us that making all ends of the defence budget meet is usually impossible. That said with the government certainly not about to do any form of u-turn on defence and certainly not on decisions that it has already embarked it seems that defence chiefs will be forced to give more. That means wrongly the RAF will no doubt be placed under pressure to give up even more Tornado jets perhaps and the Royal Navy placed under even more pressure than it is now. Arguably an already very limited force of RAF and Royal Navy Helicopters may not be resourced in the manner we should like and it may well be that the current order for new Chinooks placed by the last government gets cancelled or shrunk. Possibly although unlikely some of the misplaced PFI programmes put into being by the last government could even be renegotiated.
Those that will rightly criticise intended future UK defence policy as being little more than another example of Britain throwing in the towel on future ambition and that through unnecessary speed of intent has left a huge mismatch between necessary strategic requirement and actual capability deserve to have their voices heard.
Meanwhile it seems to me that while far too much pressure is placed on the RAF and Royal Navy to make cuts that increasingly the Army rides out the cost storm on the back of a specific commitment to Afghanistan. It seems to me that apart from begrudgingly accepting that Challengers need to go and that it doesn’t need some other equipment that the Army has got off almost scot free. I and others find this abhorrent. The trouble is that in reality the Army commitment to Afghanistan in terms of boots on the ground resource actually amounts to maybe less than half the overall commitment of total British forces working in-country with ISAF (International Security Assistance Force). In other words, if you compare and contrast total number of say Royal Marines that are of course under Royal Navy control together with very large numbers of RAF personnel involved in and around the Afghanistan theatre with those of the Army it could well be that the latter accounts for less than 50% of the total personnel involved. Moreover, am