UK DEFENCE – WHAT NEXT?
By Howard Wheeldon, FRAeS, Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd.
01 Oct 14. Really great news this morning that Babcock International, a company that has for a great many years managed Faslane Naval Base on the Clyde and the Devonport Naval Base at Plymouth, and BAE Systems, which manages the Royal Navy Dockyard at Portsmouth, have both been awarded contracts worth £2.6bn and £600m respectively to continue maintaining and repairing British warships and submarines at the respective bases. The two awards which cover a period up to March 2020 and are built around individual Maritime Support Delivery Framework (MSDF) agreements designed to incentivise savings in the region of £350m (£250m from Babcock and £100m from BAE Systems) during the contract lifetime are likely to support in the region of 7,500 highly skilled engineering and support jobs.
Following on from the announcement that the UK intends to acquire up to 589 Scout armoured personnel vehicles at a cost £3.5bn this show that despite the pressures the government is under it is not turning its back on defence. The NATO Summit was both a challenge and a success but we must remember the old adage of mean what you say and say what you mean. In another interesting development this week it was confirmed that the Army’s next generation Unmanned Aerial Vehicle known as Watchkeeper and developed by Thales is now fully operational in Afghanistan.
As I had done just a few weeks ago when looking at future capability in the form of the Type 26 Global Combat Ship and again last week when I looked further at CAE’s RAF Benson based military helicopter synthetic training operation I intend to look in more detail and more often at specific air, maritime power and joint force related defence issues in the weeks and months ahead. I am as many of you know a long-time supporter of NATO and I am very positive about what was agreed and achieved at the recent summit in Wales. We must get behind NATO and that the Alliance has got the message about response shows that it is both listening and adapting to changing needs. And I will also always support ‘jointery’ in the UK military believing that this is the way to go forward.
This being the final commentary piece this week due to my once again being away on defence related business for the next three days I will use it merely to touch on a few aspects I intend to look at in the ongoing series of defence papers. The brilliant work done by Joint Helicopter Command and the UK Chinook Force, joint enablers and the whole concept of ISTAR and which we do such a brilliant job in the UK with such limited resource. What does the future hold and with the looming prospect of SDSR 2015 being something of an unknown quantity to most except perhaps for a not misguided belief that it will emerge with a requirement for further savings in defence?
I also intend to look across the various force elements that we have and at the issues that are impacting on them most and particularly those that are hurting. Naturally I will look at the positive news as well and that despite of many serious problems and issues relating to capacity and capability sustainment it can at least be said that we do have a very well-equipped military in terms of equipment assets. True also that despite our known weaknesses our armed forces are held in very high respect by our NATO allies. They continue to look up to us. We do a lot very well here in the UK and we punch above our weight simply because we have to and there is no other choice. Our armed forces may be stretched but they always deliver. But can that always be so?
Certainly we have a great many problems and issues in relation to defence to resolve and over the coming weeks I will be emphasising and debating many of these issues too. Not least amongst them and within the Royal Air Force will be the lack of capacity and resilience that needs to be discussed.
The lack of resilience com