UK DEFENCE WEAKENED?
By Howard Wheeldon, FRAeS, Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd.
18 Mar 13. It would be churlish not to welcome yet another group of Conservative MP’s who, according to the Sunday Telegraph, have come out from under the woodwork joining legions of others across the political divide of both Houses of Parliament who also believe that the current round of SDSR 2010 defence cuts has left the UK military dangerously weakened.
Will their effort make any difference? Will the Government be forced to listen and maybe even begin to undo some of the damage that has already been done to Britain’s armed forces over the past two and a half years? They might although for the moment best to believe this latest outburst will fall on deaf ears. But if the shouting does get that much louder I believe that the Coalition Government will have to sit up and listen for the simple reason that voices of discontent will ensure that if the door to common sense is shut once again it could well be that defence actually becomes a very major issue at the next General Election.
I am hard pressed to remember whether defence has in modern times been an electoral issue although I doubt that the huge cuts to defence evident in the 1957 and 1966 reviews was allowed to occur unnoticed by the opposition parties at the time. Whatever – I am in little doubt that defence will play a far more prominent role in the manifesto policies and election campaigns of all major political parties in Britain during the next election process. If so we should welcome and indeed, actively encourage that. I might also hope that given the manner that UK defence forces personnel and equipment capability have been seriously eroded since SDSR 2010 that no longer will anyone be able to boast that there are NO votes to be had in defence! Even so, if that is to occur a considerable amount of work remains to be done – not least to convince the public of why when so many other government departments are facing more cuts that doing the opposite in defence is so vitally important.
Cuts ordered as a result of significant change in UK defence policy under the present Coalition Government have in the view of many seriously undermined the potential of the UK military to undertake the fully mandated NATO role. While the military remains absolutely brilliant in following a long standing tradition of always saying ‘yes’ this ‘can do’ approach to every request looks increasingly time limited. Even if we agree the Coalition Government claim that the UK military has some of the most modern equipment capability in Europe we must at the same time also realise that in defence quantity is just as important as quality. True, the public has yet to be fully won over and for this to occur it does need to believe that all three of Britain’s armed forces – Army, Royal Navy and Royal Air Force are speaking as one. We must work on that and hope that the upcoming changes at the top of each of the three service plays into that requirement.
The time for shadow boxing on UK defence expenditure is over – the Royal Air Force and the Royal Navy in particular have in my personal view been weakened to the point that in reality we cannot be sure whether there is sufficient capability left that would allow the UK to involve itself in a protracted campaign such as Afghanistan in support of its NATO allies together with a short campaign such as Op-Ellamy in Libya at the same time.
Equally true is that after decades of inefficiency, waste and mismanagement most in or around the military establishment well understood that there was substantial room for improvement in how Britain spent taxpayers money on defence. Huge effort was required to improve management, effectiveness and operation in all parts of the Ministry of Defence and to that end much effort has been put in as a result of Coalition Government policy. Never again will taxpayer money be squandered as it sometimes has in the past. Th