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UK SDSR 2015

By Howard Wheeldon, FRAeS, Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd.

14 Feb 14. Five year fixed term electoral periods between General Elections do actually make a very good deal of sense. The political party elected or, as was the case following the 2010 election, the formation of a Coalition Government because no single political party had managed to secure a workable number of parliamentary seats to form a Government, is fully deserving of a five year term to do its work unless it is brought down in the process. Like or dislike the Coalition process of Government that we have been living through since 2010 the bottom line is that it has worked better than many had feared or indeed, hoped that it would. Tories backbenchers may loathe the process but having failed to win a sufficient number of parliamentary seats arguably they had little option but to form a coalition with the Lib-Dems.

Little more than a year from now on May 7th 2014 it could well be that the same problem emerges once again and worse, it could this time be with UKIP and/or the Lib-Dems that either the Conservatives or Labour could find themselves forced to attempt to form some kind of coalition government with. The point that I wish to make here is that just because a five-year fixed-term period for Government can work very well does not mean that a promised five-year fixed-term period between defence and security reviews will work equally as well when, should there be a complete change of Government and Ministers charged with responsibility for UK Defence in May next year, the 5th Floor of MOD Main Building finds itself with a new bunch of Ministers that have absolutely no experience of Defence and Security issues.

Defence of the nation is arguably the most crucial role in terms of responsibility placed into the hands of Government by voters. The now infamous SDSR 2010 defence and security review that purely in the view of true defence advocates set out to slash spending on defence and to seriously cut UK military capability on the back of affordability as opposed to true defence and security needs of the nation had been published in November 2010 – just six seven months after the present coalition administration took office. Present expectations are that the same is planned to occur late next year with SDSR 2015 due to be announced within a few months of the new Government taking over the Whitehall corridors of power. There is in my view no sense in this at all and I would like to see the Coalition Government put forward a new and revised timetable for completion of the next SDSR 2015 review process that allows the next Government time to get to grips with all the various complex and hugely important issues involved. SDSR 2015 should then in my view become SDSR 2016 with publication pencilled in for November of that year. Rather than work to a four year period following SDSR periods should also be extended by one year so that the following review would take place in 2021.

The process and in part, the actual timing of SDSR 2010 had, perfectly reasonably, been set in train by the previous Labour administration. Whilst there had been some inevitable delays in its publication, caused by a round of final haggling between Ministers and the three Service chiefs (these primarily caused by deep seated disagreements over money saving plans of whether to scrap the fleet of VSTOL Harrier aircraft together with the last remaining fleet aircraft carrier, HMS Ark Royal or whether it might be better to scrap the fleet of Panavia Tornado GR4 multi-role combat fast jets) I believe that with more than a degree of hindsight we can look back over the devastation that followed in the wake of SDSR 2010 and believe that not enough time and consultation was given to ensure that what was announced was right for UK defence.

One of the less contentious decisions announced within the SDSR 2010 process was that the

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