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By Howard Wheeldon, FRAeS, Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd

02 Mar 13. The warning from Secretary of State for Defence Philip Hammond in a Daily Telegraph interview published today that further cuts in defence spending would lead to the loss of military capability is a statement of the blinding obvious. If one could believe that Mr. Hammond was both sincere and serious in his new found belief that UK military capability is already paired to the bone I would sound some excitement but somehow, given the blinding ambition of this man to further reduce costs as a priority, I find that prospect very difficult. Indeed, if I could believe that he was serious in his belief that having slashed the defence budget by 8% over the past two years that he now recognises he and his predecessor went too far I might have been tempted with a degree more admiration for what he has said. There was none of that though and I am much afraid that I cannot believe there is anything in the Hammond interview that could or should be interpreted as an indication that defence expenditure might not be facing another round of cuts in SDSR 2015.

Mr. Hammond is reported to have said that the upcoming spending review ordered by the Chancellor of the Exchequer should concentrate efforts away from cutting expenditure on defence further to other areas of large public sector spending such as on welfare. I suspect those of us engaged in the front line of defence or in direct support to ensure the UK has sufficient military capability and manpower to meet future commitments would wholeheartedly agree such sentiments. The truth is that none of this sudden change of heart by the Secretary of State can make up for the trauma that our armed forces have suffered since SDSR 2010. For example, by 2015 Royal Air Force personnel numbers will have been shrunk to just 33,500 and by 2020 31,500 – the lowest in living memory. By 2025 the Royal Navy will have seen its personnel numbers cut to 30,000 and by 2018 the Army will have seen numbers cut to 82,000 permanent staff and the expectation that reservist numbers available will have risen to 30,000. In terms of fighting capability the Royal Navy will have a total of just 19 frigates and destroyers by 2020 together with four Trident nuclear submarines plus a currently planned number of seven Astute submarines. Meanwhile, Royal Air Force fast jet air power capability has already been cut to the lowest ever in its history and by 2020 the numbers of aircraft available will be lower than those of China, France, Russia, Germany, Japan, Israel and to make the point, just one tenth or less of total US fast jet air power capability. Gone too is Carrier Strike capability until this eventually returns sometime well post 2020. Gone is maritime surveillance until someone eventually sees a modicum of sense as to how costly this loss of capability actually is. At the same time ISTAR capability has also been substantially reduced and if the Government persists at the ridiculous rate of anticipated Tornado GR4 drawdown for 2017/8 the UK could find itself without true multi-role fast jet capability until 2020 – this date being the earliest that some expect Typhoon to be fully multi-role capable.

Mr. Hammond’s latest enough is enough suggestion with regard to further cuts in UK defence capability are all well and good but one notes that he dares not say that some past decisions that have reduced UK military capability should be reversed. Of course it is too late for many of those but not too late to invest more in areas such ISTAR capability and unmanned vehicles along with improved radar, weapons delivery and training. Dreams are made of this but I suggest that given the current deficit problem a more true warning would have been to anticipate further measures aimed at saving more cost in defence. What could such cost saving measures be? More privatisation of operation perhaps, more inte

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