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By Howard Wheeldon

25 Mar 10. Wearing my long time Defence hat and delighted that I should be on news today that HM Government has given a long awaited go ahead for construction of a fifth Astute class submarine and will also allow what is known in the trade as the initial procurement procedure for a sixth vessel to proceed plus also, on the very same day, to place a four-year £127m contract with BAE Systems for the Future Surface Combatant programme development phase (the so-called Type 26 ship) the sceptic in me says that the sudden raft of government enthusiasm to make so many order announcements is merely an attempt to garner predominantly Scottish and (see below) Welsh votes ahead in the forthcoming General Election.

Just as with the quite ridiculous announcement of a development phase order to General Dynamics that was confirmed by the government last week for ASCOD SV tracked vehicles (clearly an attempt to woo Welsh votes) I fear that the story post the election no matter which party wins might be very different. It could be of cancellation or delay. Indeed, given that both Labour and Tory Parties are fully committed to conducting a detailed Defence Review it seems to me that ordering any new military and defence equipment now, other than on the recognised specific Afghanistan related Urgent Operational Requirement basis, is quite ridiculous.

Clearly ‘New Labour’ wants to be seen by voters going into the election on the back of huge promises to buy new equipment and that in theory might produce new jobs. Voters are not that daft though. For a start they well know that over the years ‘New Labour’ has let our forces down badly and that no amount of false promises in the form of orders that can easily be cancelled is going to work now. Note too that most of the jobs potentially involved in and around the raft of new orders would be to the benefit of Scotland, Wales or possibly in the heavily Labour dominated area of the North West. Well, there’s a surprise!

Call me a cynic if you like but given that ‘New Labour’ has an absolute loathing for spending large sums on new defence equipment other than for political purposes I find it amazing that correct strategic thinking has been cast aside in favour of tactical political opportunism.

Hopefully voters will see through the sandstorm of order announcements this past few days and realise that although a huge waste of taxpayers money is involved cancelling projects is just as easy as giving them the go-ahead. Clearly I hope that I am proved wrong.

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