UK DEFENCE – SDSR 2015 FEAR GROWS
By Howard Wheeldon, FRAeS, Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd.
21 Oct 14. Having listened to defence questions in the House of Commons yesterday afternoon I was left with more than a degree of foreboding. This had little to do with the Chair of the House of Commons Defence Select Committee insisting that the upcoming review must reflect increased Russian aggression or that “Russia has radically changed the situation firstly, by creating a war within Europe and secondly, because this undermined NATO. True enough though these statements are I am not so sure about the virtue of Mr. Stewart’s third remark, a belief that Russia is planning for a major war in 2018/19.
My real foreboding in regard of yesterday surrounds Secretary of State for Defence, Michael Fallon’s suggestion that while evidence gathering has begun, real work on SDSR 2015 had not. The remark is to my mind an unwelcome example of the Secretary of State being rather too uneconomical with the truth as just everyone inside MOD Main Building and DE&S at Abbey Wood plus also, a large number of academics would tell you if asked, is clearly not the case as activity on SDSR 2015 is already very well advanced.
Rubbing salt into the wounds of Opposition Spokesman on Defence, Vernon Coaker when asked why the Secretary of State and his predecessor, the now Foreign Secretary, the Rt. Hon. Philip Hammond, had refused to publish the sixty questions that are the basis of proposed direction of SDSR 2015 Mr. Fallon once again refused to be drawn. All that he was prepared to say to fellow MP’s yesterday was merely that “until then, our priority remains the delivery of the 2010 review, which gave us a balanced and affordable budget, maintaining our forces’ reputation whilst modernising force structure and capability.”
While in part true enough that is not a view that I share. Yes, in SDSR 2010 we did start planning for what has been called Future Force 2020. We slashed air and maritime capability and few even inside MOD Main Building would disagree now that grave errors of judgement were made. SDSR 2010 decimated UK defence capability to the point that with capacity already so stretched defence lacks any form of resilience. We cannot afford to make yet another serious error of judgement in SDSR 2015. The Government has to listen this time and take in the views of all those that have a right to be heard. In setting out the future shape and size of UK armed forces SDSR 2010 set out on a plan to reduce the size of the regular Army from 102,000 to 82,000 by 2018, together with a ridiculous and unworkable plan to double the number of Reserves to 30,000 whilst at the same time slashing the number of frigates and destroyers in the Royal Navy to just 19 and the number of front line fast jet squadrons in the Royal Air Force to just seven. Libya, Afghanistan, Iraq, Ukraine, rising geo political tensions elsewhere plus the increased number of other requirements placed on our armed forces show that SDSR 2010 policy must now be reversed and that Britain cannot afford not to spend more on defence. It is time for the Government to listen.
With the benefit of hindsight we can now look back on the 1997 Defence Review and say that it failed to consider sufficiently the potential of our involvement in future conflict sufficiently well enough just as it had also failed to predict the potential of events such as nine-eleven. All this would be true to say but then, in terms of forecasting events and the potential for conflict, it is impossible to get everything right in a review process. But when it comes to defence and because the future of the nation is dependent on it, the margin for error must be far more extremely limited.
Of course, one might say that part of the blame for the failings of the 1997 Defence Review may lie on the shoulders of those of us who were at some point called to provide evidence. I will let others decide that but what we