The Prime Minister strode into the House of Commons on Monday to deliver the long awaited Strategic Defence and Security Review. It was a little disappointing, but it would seem common practice now, that Parliament had in the main been by-passed by media leaks of all the best bits by then such as an increase in defence expenditure. It was a far cry from the savagery of the 2010 review, but is all, as it seems?
In the Skies
Well it is true we are doubling the drone fleet and acquiring nine new surveillance aircraft. But they’re not exactly new though are they Prime Minister. We had a Nimrod programme that had to be scrapped at the last review because the incompetent Labour Government with their equally incompetent Defence Procurement Agency made such a mess of that and other programmes that we were left without these essential aircraft for five years. It will be another three years before we see the first of the so-called ‘new nine’. These new fighter jets are two squadrons of mothballed first generation Typhoons that will be brought out of storage, adapted and equipped to play a fighter role. This will give the RAF nine front line squadrons. Our enemies (in three years time) will be shaking in their boots!
The army faired a little better with a grand announcement of new fighting vehicles to replace the ones we have been operating for 40 years! And not forgetting the two new ‘Strike Brigades’. The problem is of course, there is nothing new about these brigades. They will be made up of existing numbers and will not be ready for ten years. Again, I’m sure our enemies will wait until we are ready.
The Navy & Trident
Now for the turn of the Navy, or should we say the British Coastguard. Two new aircraft carriers and guess what we are going to give you, 400 new sailors to work on them. But we need 2000 new navy personnel Prime Minister, “Be British and muddle through” is certainly the new motto. I know, we will find another 500 for you by scrapping HMS Ocean, the navy flagship that has just had a £65m refit to see her capability extended until 2025. The ten year curse has struck again, HMS Ocean will be scrapped in 2018, a little detail the PM failed to mention in his Commons address. And the escorts for the carriers, 6 very impressive Type 45 Destroyers have been built in recent years. They were to be accompanied by the even more impressive Type 26 Global Combat Ship. Thirteen were promised in total, which would just about give us a credible Carrier Battle Group; instead that number has been reduced to just eight ships.
So the Royal Navy in the 2020s will have a front line force of just 16 front line surface warships with the wrong kind of aircraft and too few of them on the carriers which will render the Royal Navy a costal protection force with a global humanitarian capability. Think about that. The last time the Royal Navy had to go into action, we lost 5 ships with 12 badly damaged. That is more than we will have to put to sea in 2020. Let us just hope we never have to fight anyone at sea again.
As for Trident, well we are still having it – oh yes, but the costs have now gone from £25bn to £31bn for four submarines, that is £7.75bn per sub to build with a £10bn contingency. That is a whopping £41billion just to build! The operating and maintenance costs over the next 30 years will add another £100billion to the bill. These are eye-watering amounts.
And finally, the fight against international terrorism. 1,900 new spies, new equipment for the Special Forces and more money for the fight against cyber terrorism. Nothing new about the spies Prime Minister, you are merely trying to make up the numbers in spies that were cut from the security services between 2010 and 2015. And new equipment for the Special Forces, that statement is a little thin too. Retaining the reliable but ageing C-130s is hardly new equipment.
For the PM in the absence of any credible, robust opposition on defence, it’s a win. For the armed forces it’s a definite lose. 2% of GDP on defence spending is simply not adequate in the uncertain world we find ourselves in. Politicians are always seeking a peace dividend after every engagement or the end of every decade. We simply cannot be a credible world power on the cheap. With Islamic extremism on the rise around the world, Russia once again flexing its muscles and many threats still to be determined, we are woefully unprepared to play our role in the world and help to maintain international peace and security as well as protect, promote and preserve our interests around the world.
The Army needs another 40,000 regular troops, the RAF needs another six front line squadrons, the Royal Navy needs another 14 front line surface warships and our security services need another 7,000 spies. This would mean spending 3.5% of our GDP on Defence. Is that such a big ask to keep us safe?
Let’s just hope that Argentina, under new management, does not invade the Falkland Islands again. Let us hope that we never have to be called on to provide an armoured division in the Middle East or to a NATO operation to either deter or confront Russia, and let us hope we never have a genuine crisis in Europe or elsewhere which would require us to confront Russia or China in the air as collectively, these two countries can field 8,000 combat aircraft, against our 109. If any of these scenarios ever come to pass, the UK will have to respectfully say, sorry but we are unable to contribute or defend our interests with what we have and turn to others.
Depressing, indeed. But there is one silver lining. The Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn would probably not even attempt to have an armed forces let alone invest 2% of GDP.