With apologies for a slightly longer than anticipated absence over the past week – one that was, apart from a couple of weeks or so in September, means that Parliament will effectively not be sitting until after the Party Conferences.
I appear to send rather a lot of my time these days exposing the weakness of UK defence capability and capacity and yesterday was no exception. Why? Because although there is no direct connection between the UK having prematurely retired our own fleet of C–130J Hercules aircraft and what Australia announced yesterday, this amongst many other issues highlights the difference between a nation such as Australia that clearly understands the increased nature and level threats and is taking appropriate action to strengthen defence capacity and capability. That action by the way was the announcement by the Australian Government that it is to acquire 20 new C-130J Medium lift transport aircraft from Lockheed Martin.
As some of you may also have done, last Thursday I read what was an excellent article in the Times written by Juliet Samuel. Under the heading ‘Wallace’s farewell revelations are indefensible, the article adds further fuel to the argument of current UK defence capability weakness by telling us that the Ministry of Defence faces yet another serious dilemma due to a global shortage of gunpowder, 5mm shells, and other military equipment.
I cannot of course verify that concerns such as these are fully justified or not but this is not the first time that this particular Issue has been raised with me in recent weeks. This excellent and well-written article emphasises that shrinking procurement by the MOD along with what it calls a shrinking industrial base in the defence sector have contributed to the problem.
Outgoing UK Defence Secretary, Ben Wallace acknowledges the need for increased investment in the military and domestic manufacturing capabilities. The UK’s reliance on others for critical goods and technologies, including military equipment, has become a significant concern, and there is a call for strategic thinking and revitalisation of key industries to ensure national security.
And yet, ask anyone in Government to define what they believe ‘Sovereign Capability’ to mean and you will likely find them scratching their heads. In fact, as far as successive UK Governments, there has amazingly never been a formal definition of what UK Sovereignty means. It isn’t all bad news of course and just a couple of weeks ago the MOD finally announced a major ammunition contract to BAE Systems.
The Times article emphasises on the our having sold a number of technologies and defence related companies over the years and which is perfectly true. But there is no mention that part of the reason some companies allow themselves to be so easily sold off to foreign companies is lack of orders from the MOD and that they effectively have little choice. Short termism shareholder pressures doesn’t help either but it is the lack of investment on research and development, preparedness by HMG to fund this along with too many years of listening and believing to our own PR messages that others look up to us in respect of our defence capabilities that lies at the heart of these issues. Add to this the stupid too easy acceptance by government that there are no votes in defence, and this is what you get.
A nation that is not prepared to ensure that it has enough defence capacity and capability – both manpower and equipment, is quite frankly a nation that has lost its way. Successive UK Governments have peddled the message that we have all that we need when in all honesty, we have but a fraction of the overall capability we need.
That we are no longer a global power is not lost but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be a responsible power, That the UK needs to rethink what it is and what it wants to be in the future is not lost in this argument but we warned, if we take our eye of the ball further, if we allow any further deterioration in our defence capability and capacity needs, our ambitions and in our abilities to both fight and defend, our children and their’ s will look back on those who since 1990 allowed this to happen will look back on this generation with disdain.
It is not just in defence that we need to radically rethink strategy and policy but it is weak defence that presents the biggest risk and concerns.
CHW (London – 25th July 2023)
Howard Wheeldon FRAeS
Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd,
M: +44 7710 779785