Friday, April 3, 2015

On the way to the SDSR

It is quite depressing and alarming to be navigating towards an uncertain election with even greater uncertainty about what will be left of the armed forces afterwards, even while the events in the world most certainly signal that the assumptions of the SDSR 2010, and the belief that State on State warfare was (kind of) no more, were both wrong.
It is also quite embarrassing, and there can't be another word for it, that the UK seems set to miss the 2% defence spending target barely months after rightfully and wisely campaigning for the NATO members to strive to achieve that level of investment. Not the Tories nor Labour are giving assurances about maintaining the 2% line, and they aren't even giving real assurances about sticking at least to a flat in-real-terms budget with a 1% increase on equipment spending, which is the absolute minimum level of spending the MOD was promised when Future Force 2020 was devised. With the extremely significant caveat, by the way, that the flat-in-real-terms budget has to be calculated, of course, starting from a base amount. And the base MOD budget has been falling significantly each year since 2010. Depending on which fiscal year serves as base for the calculation, the budget over five years changes by several billion pounds.
Even worse, there seem to be almost certainty that there will be new, vast cuts to the budget. Something that, inexorably, would entirely wreck Future Force 2020, changing yet once more the plans, imposing new cuts even before the last ones are completed. And putting a very big nail in the coffin of Britain's role as a military power. If not the final nail, close to it.

The british GDP has been growing at a rather imposing rate, so the 2% budget target would indeed equate to a significant increase in defence spending, something that is supposedly not doable due to the need for more austerity. Curiously, the same isn't said of the 0.7% target for Aid Budget. In 2013 aid spending soared above 13 billion pounds, and it will keep growing. While the armed forces will be gutted to save a few billions. Effectively, more than closing the deficit, part or all of the money removed from the armed forces will just head completely out of the country, spent in "aid".
I think it is nothing short of criminal, but you are free to think whatever you want. Just, please, don't say that Britain can't afford to keep its soldiers employed. It could. The money is there. It is just going to be used in other ways. And not even at home. Not for education, or the NHS, or even welfare. No. For aid programmes which, often, don't even work, and at times are actually counterproductive.

The 2% target's greatest importance is in its serving as a sort of rock bottom. For decades it has been the barrier supposed to prevent the complete dismantling of the armed forces. What i fear the most, is what happens when even that "rock bottom" is smashed through. There is no anchor left afterwards. The risk is that it becomes a true free fall. Especially because there most evidently isn't the maturity to set out a strategy, articulate what the minimum range of capabilities needed are, and stick to it for more than a few months. Future Force 2020 is already an exercise in a definition of the bare minimum force which can still serve the political purpose of keeping Britain militarily relevant. It is a very bare minimum target in some ways, something that many do not understand. The current level of ambition requires, for example, the ability for Britain to deploy a brigade-sized force enduringly. It takes five brigades taking 6 months tours to do that without completely wearing out men and equipment, and Army 2020 delivers those five brigades. Just. In theory. In fact, already as it is, the last two brigades of the 5 are pretty weak, very light in terms of vehicles and protection and firepower, and somewhat bare of the support elements needed. There is a recognized shortage of Logistic support and, even more, of Signals support. All Light Role Infantry battalions now are understrenght by design, and need a company's worth of reservists trained and available for deployment just to achieve a complete, standard structure on three rifle companies of three platoons each.

And there are other rather dramatic capability gaps as well. The most unacceptable is the lack of a maritime patrol aircraft, ASW capable. The SDSR also badly damaged CBRN resilience dismantling the Joint CBRN regiment and withdrawing the Fuchs recce vehicles from service. A very bad decision, which i questioned from the very beginning (and i wasn't alone in doing so, i'm sure) and which eventually was reversed. 9 Fuchs are being returned to active service, albeit with significant challenges to be faced still, due to lack of money and loss of skills and knowledge. They haven't been gone for a very long time, but i'm told that the dismantling of the Joint Regiment resulted in a severe loss of know how in several ways.

Even scarier is, i believe, the awareness of just how much more capability seems to be hanging by a thread due to budget shortages and aging equipment which might go out of the door without being replaced. The defence spending stories that appear on the press are often not taken seriously due to how they seem to talk of imminent war against Russia, or other major crisises that do not sound realistic, that get downplayed easily. I've already written about this problem, and about the not very helpful input of defence top brass which only seem to speak once they are retired.
I was often warning people about Russia in discussions already back at the time of the war in Georgia, if not earlier. Unlike too many others, i do not undervalue Russia. And i think it must return to be a serious element to consider in strategic planning. But i wouldn't suggest using Russia in a too direct way to write stories which otherwise end up almost ridiculed as scare tales. Besides, there is no need to. Hard realities, numbers and facts are more than enough to sound the alarm. Actually, they do it better.

I think it is pretty scary that the Royal Navy has a young LPD tied up in port, in controlled humidity seal-down, because there are not enough men and pennies to let it sail while her sister ship also serves. But this isn't the worst. It is scarier that much of the army's mechanisation still depends on the FV432 vehicle, which dates back to the late 50s and early 60s and has an official out of service date set for 2030. And the worst part is not even the 70 years career of this vehicle, but the fact that it could go out of service earlier than planned, and anyway without being replaced. The army has a programme (kind of), the Armoured Battlegroup Support Vehicle (ABSV) to replace it by removing turrets from surplus Warriors and convert them in APCs, mortar carriers, ambulances and other sub-variants needed. But uncertainty and shortage of money rules supreme, and who knows what will actually happen. Even in the best case, ABSV will replace the FV432 Bulldog just from the armoured infantry battalions. A number of other FV432s will keep soldiering on, as ambulances in Armoured Medical Regiments, in HQs of other mechanised units such as brigade and division HQ, but also command battery of 12 Regiment Royal Artillery, for example. Their replacement will be a problem once more left for later. In the uncertainty. And this, as of today, is assuming that ABSV can be funded and delivers.
Challenger 2 Life Extension Programme, another one up for much uncertainty. There are 227 tanks left, enough for 3 decent regiments plus training fleet. But the number could fall further, or anyway only a part of those might get the LEP. And even the best case scenario left on the table, anyway, has long lost any ambition of fixing the rifled gun issue, or replacing the engine.
The Warrior CSP programme itself has not reached the point of contract signature yet, so is quite exposed as well. And the numbers circulating regarding how many vehicles get the upgrade are depressing, since they would suffice, at most, for 4 battalions plus training fleet allocations. So, on paper the british army has 6 armoured infantry battalions. In reality, it might soon enough have enough vehicles for four at most. Even before new cuts eventually happen.

Wherever you look, a little bit of scratching the surface reveals potential gaps just about to burst open. I will make some more examples. A very big one is the fact that both the major vehicle depots of the Armed Forces, Ashchurch and Ayshire Barracks in Germany, are heading towards closure in the coming few years. They have already appointed the company tasked with planning the redevelopment of the Ashchurch area. Very little is known, instead, about where the forces will be supposed to park their vehicles after the current depots close. In 2014 the army made it known that they envisage building a new "UK Vehicle Hub". Inevitable, really. The vehicles need a place where to stay, in controlled humidty storage, looked after, protected and maintained. They must be in a well organized depot from which they can pulled out quickly and efficiently, and carried, by rail or truck, or driven towards their parent units and the ports and airports from which they will move onwards to the crisis zone. The problem is that there is no MOD decision on how, when and where to proceed with such a new hub. No plan in motion. I don't even know how it is possible to plan for closure before setting out a plan for relocating the vehicle fleets in a logistically sound way.

F-35, a major programme where uncertainty rules. Will there be 48? Will the hoped-for additional purchases ever happen? Or will even the meagre 48 number be slashed even further?
Tornado GR4 will be soon gone, and while i can only welcome with a huge sigh of relief the fact that there is now a contract to integrate Brimstone 2 on Typhoon (although just 2 launchers, for 6 missiles, at least for the moment), i must point out that any delay in integration (or a speeded up Tornado GR4 withdrawal, say) would still leave yet another gap. Moreover, there's at least two other areas where a capability loss is, at the moment, assured: bunker-busting, and tactical reconnaissance. With Tornado, both the RAPTOR recce pod and the Paveway III 2000 lbs bunker buster will be gone. And there is no recce pod in sight for Typhoon; while the bunker-buster variant of Paveway IV (which by the way, being a 500 lbs weapon, fails to convince me that there won't be a capability loss, even accounting for much more modern warhead design) is not yet on contract either.
Not to mention the ability to suppress enemy air defences: the ALARM anti-radar missile is gone from 2013, and with it much of the kinetic part of the RAF's SEAD capability. A key weapon, SPEAR 3, which is supposed to partially remedy to this weakness and also keep alive UK design and industrial capability in the sector of complex weapons, is another one of those bits at risk. SPEAR could be sacrificed to save the development money, settling for the US Small Diameter Bomb 2, which is cheaper but a glide-only weapon. SPEAR 3, having its own engine, can be launced from a greater distance and with less limitations due to weather, altitude, flight profile. All these things make a huge difference to the ability of SPEAR to serve as SEAD/DEAD weapon and destroy enemy missile batteries. With ALARM gone, it is important to have that kind of capability. 

Type 26: contract signature target date widely missed, a "demonstration phase" gimmick launched which contains long lead items for just 3 ships, leaving all the uncertainty about how things will progress. MARS Solid Support Ships: who the hell knows what the status of the programme even is. The equipment plan documents, as i've already explained, are deliberately bare of any detail and specific programme indication, so things can appear and disappear without proper tracking of changes. 

At times my warnings get played down by "what are you saying, we have 6 Type 45s, 2 carriers, best kit in the world, Typhoon...". And it is true. In part. But there is too much hype, and too little realism. The carriers aren't yet safe. Two are being built, but will both make it into service? Will they be blessed with a decent airwing? So much could still go wrong.
Type 45 is a great ship, but with its own very clear limits. Very single role due to missing equipment fits, which second-hand Harpoon (for 4 ships only) is only partially fixing. Harpoon itself hangs by a thread: it could go out of service in 2018, and the road to a replacement is a huge, floating question mark right now.
Sea Skua will go out of service with the Lynx MK8, in 2017, and it'll be at least three years before the replacement starts being available. Come 2018, the Royal Navy could be, at least for a few years, completely without anti-ship missiles of any type. Which is quite amazing, in a bad way.

On paper, Future Force 2020, especially after the 2014 U-turns and adjustements (Fuchs resurrected, Sentinel R1 and Shadow R1 extended to 2018, Reaper extended to 2019) is still a good force, with some world class capabilities. But much of Future Force 2020 exists only on paper and depends on key programmes which are almost always exposed to huge risks in the coming review. Other capabilities remain, effectively, tied to a time-bomb. For example, Sentinel R1, which is an immensely effective and precious bit of kit, is still at risk, only having gained a life extension out to 2018, not that far away.

Future Force 2020 is quite decent, and could be good if some major weaknesses in it were fixed (and i will write an article setting out such an "Adjusted Future Force 2020" as a second part to this piece). But Future Force 2020 is very much at risk of being torn apart by the new SDSR. A huge number of key components face risks and extreme uncertainty. Numbers which look decent now could be dramatically revised downwards, or anyway be badly compromised by the cancellation of some key programmes.
This is the big issue.

I wouldn't worry about the 2% per se, if there was a mature approach to defence and a firm committment to stick to the plan for once. But that maturity is nowhere to be seen, and so arbitrary spending levels must be advocated, so that at least there can be, finally, a bit of stability over which building is then possible.
Mind you, there is still room for efficiencies (the real ones), and more must be done to squeeze more buck out of the MOD's bucks, because the budget is indeed still sizeable, but quite often does not seem to deliver as well as the french budget, which is the most closely comparable. The MOD definitely has a role and a responsibility in spending better. The SDSR 2010 has introduced some welcome financial discipline and improved several habits and methods, and the good trend must continue.
But it is really, really important that the armed forces are given a stable and reasonable budget, if they are to stay effective and relevant.


  1. Great article could'nt agree with you more.

  2. Aid programmes work. You have offered no substantial evidence to show the dont work. And you want a unhealthy Britain, high tuition fees. Tell that to students and poor families struggling.

    1. I don't need to provide the evidence. There have been plenty of reports in the press as it is.

    2. If you say there has been no evidence, then you clearly haven't looked at the news in any form for years. Gabe is not the one who has to prove anything here.

      We were giving hundreds of millions in aid to India for years. INDIA. A country with its own space program, catobar carriers, domestic tank project, a large MPA fleet and who is buying hundreds of 4.5th and 5th generation fighters through programs. Yet their population still lives in poverty. You think giving millions to thaat country saved anything? They just spent it on more weapons.

      Those hundreds of millions per year, up to around 300 million, some believe, could have been a full program for the British military. 300 million could have outfitted every Challenger with a smoothbore gun. 300 million could have been another Type 26. 300 million could have bought more helicopters. Or more importantly, 300 million could have maintained manpower levels.

    3. Another personal favorite of mine: aid money to Argentina. That sure is helping with how Argentina acts towards the UK, huh...?

    4. On aid, i'm advocate for a big rethink of how it is delivered. I don't say it shouldn't exist, but clearly i don't agree with it keeping to grow at all costs when everything else back at home is suffering. The good family father wouldn't give away all that money if it had to make savage cuts to what it can do for its sons. And government, in my idealistic view, is supposed to be the wise family father of the country.

      As for how aid is used, i say select a country or two. Engage with it in a sort of new Marshal Plan. Provide help so that you build an economy there. Do so with a degree of power to control how it is done, and make sure that aid food and material don't just end up in the hands of whatever armed band rules the place.
      Some idiots will call it "colonialism", but at least it would stand the chance to actually put countries back on their feet and give them a better chance in the long term. Throwing money here and there and over there, on a multitude of programmes, no matter how well meaning, will never be as effective. A lot of the western aid money is making the countries that receive it all the more addicted to it, discouraging the actual growth of an economic system with any chance to work in the long term.

    5. You need to reintroduce the idea of self reliance in to people. Too many people sponging from the teat of Government. I suspect you don't get this do you?

    6. I suppose it is a question for the original anonymous poster...?
      Because i certainly agree with that sentiment myself. Take a look at the projected steady growth of welfare spending towards 235 billions a year in the Budget 2015 documents... how can that EVER be sustainable? By 2020 it means a growth equal to the WHOLE defence budget.

  3. Excellent summing up of the current situation. Where does the money go, we ask ourselves? US programmes don't seem to cost less, though, despite the economies of scale. It galls me to say this but the French do seem to get more bang per buck - ASMP AND SLBMs for example.
    "No votes in Defence", they say and "5th largest defence budget in the World". Things are going to get worse - with the odd PR-staged purchase of handfuls of kit so they can continue with their listing of of our "world class" capabilities while some of us know that all 3 services have been hollowed out. Our adversaries know this as well and these are not times when you want to be encouraging them to think they can gain an advantage.
    Aid is good in certain, limited situations - NOT funding anything that moves in order to get the money out of the door. The levels of corruption in countries receiving aid are high enough.
    A recent British Army ad. claimed credit for creating the Afghan cricket team - this isn't their job - send the bill to DfID! Buy helicopters, MPAs and transports out of the 0.7% if we're stuck with it - even better, get the Germans to fund the aid bill and we can divert the money to defence.

    1. The french don't have more of everything, but almost. They have no C-17s, for example, and that is an important capability. Some other areas are weaker, too. But overall, they do better in most areas.
      I'm always particularly amazed by how they manage to fund a vast nuclear deterrent of their own, of all things, including even the air delivery capability, on top of everything else.
      The british nuclear deterrent can piggyback on so much american assistance and has no air element, and yet the budget is always feeling so incredibly tight. There is clearly more to be done here, the money is not buying all what it should.
      Not to mention satellites. With the exception of Skynet, the british forces have no spy / observation satellites of their own, again relaying on US help. It is quite a big expenditure voice. Yet, even without this, it is a constant struggle.

    2. The French armed forces don't have everything by a long chalk eg Less capable SSNs, only 10 high-end major surface combatants, including only two modern AAW "destroyers", no strategic airlift (C-17), no ISTAR capability/aircraft, limited ATA refuelling capability (although A330s on order), modest replenishment capability compared to RFA, no heavylift helos comparable to the RAF's 60 Chinooks, one ageing carrier available half the time, with not much prospect of replacement.....ever (never mind two ships), half the UK's maximum effort (even after the SDSR cuts) etc.
      Also the French military are not immune to cuts: last LPD to be sold reducing sealift, one of only four replenishment oilers to be scrapped, bunch of patrol vessels to be axed, Rafale production slowed, FREMM order reduced, and the second ship Normandie that was about to enter service with the Marine Nationale is apparently going to be sold to Egypt. Just imagine if that had happened in the UK and for example HMS Dauntless had been sold, there would nodoubt have been hysterical headlines in the tabloids like this "Royal Navy ships being sold off, Falklands defenceless, Argie bargies could invade tomorrow!".

    3. Air Refueling, better off, with 12 Phenix planned which, unlike Voyager, are also cargo configurable and can receive fuel in flight themselves. They also have tactical tankers and can refuel their C-SAR / SF helicopters. The Army is both larger and more mechanized. Even after selling the Foudre, they have 3 excellent LHDs and more amphibious capability, although they could use something like the Bay as a complement. The carrier is one, but goes around with a good airwing and with Hawkeyes. It is not that old, and when the time comes i'm more confident France will build another than i trust the RN will be allowed to have its own long into the future. Combat air squadrons / aircraft? More. Maritime Patrol Aircraft? A lot more, with both heavy ASW capable aircraft and simpler surveillance assets.
      Air ISTAR is somewhat less, but they have satellites of their own, on the other hand, both for imagery and, soon, for ELINT.
      6 SSNs which are indeed smaller, but not a bad deal. 15 planned major combatants, which is less than 19 but is supported by a large second tier fleet and has their equivalent standing tasks covered by forward deployed OPVs which make the difference when it comes to finding "free" ships to form task groups.

      I said "almost" for a reason. I know what i'm talking about.

  4. 1.Money is arguably not the issue. Others manage to have more of everything for less money. Suppliers are possibly milking the "Cash Cow", this is an area all see, comment about and needs to be addressed.
    2. 2% of GDP is absolute rubbish from a Money perspective. The only reason for a percentage of GDP is for showing commitment. These needs to be reiterated to all. What do I mean by this. When the US sends 10,000 and the UK sends 2,000 and Denmark sends 500 we should know that they all have committed a proportion to defence that is the same though the numbers are not. THAT is why 2% is important. Why should US defend others when the commitment is not the same.
    BUT, with regards finance, if the UK economy was bringing in an extra £1Trillion are you telling me that we need to spend an extra £20 Billion just because it is there. No that will lead to more waste many will argue, and also simply do we need to...
    So if arguing 2% only do so on a Commitment basis.
    3. Foreign Aid, I firmly believe is a good idea, and we should not be looking to target this as a source for the military. We have a responsibility to the world, and sharing some of our resource and gains is a good and responsible action. We need to work it, and make is successful, but ultimately it SHOULD be more effective than force.
    4. Standing in the world. Do we stand for anything, do we have anything to offer the world. Can we be relied on to do the right thing for the greater good. To me this is the key argument for UK defence. Do we want to be a "policeman" in the world. If the answer to this is yes, then it stands to reason that UK must give our forces the ability to do the role they are asked to perform. This will require an injection of capital, but it must be focussed on requirement. It must be explained, with leaders spelling out clearly our objective or reason for action. In my opinion we need to spell out our commitment to Commonwealth nations. China may not be a threat to us, but India, Australia and New Zealand to name but a few may not feel so relaxed. Are we going to negate our responsibility to them ? Perhaps many do not feel we have any responsibility, I personally could not reflect that opinion. What of the US, our guarantor of peace for last few decades. Our partner in many times of need, are we to desert her now when she feels threatened just because we can not afford a few £, yet we are arguably so much better of than in the 50`s and 60`s.

    In Summary we need to talk defence, at this election we need to discuss not just spending but reason. We also need leadership on defence, and explanation of the good. We need politicians to commit to our insurance yet demonstrate the good effect it could have. Or the People of this nation need to not allow the politicians to commit us to actions that take our forces out of UK defence commitments. We need to reduce politicians aspirations on the world stage to reflect the diminished power of UK. A choice needs to be made, and perhaps it is time for the leaders of our Armed Forces to Stand up and MAKE the people MAKE the choice. It is time our military leaders lead from the front once more and defend our servicemen and women from irresponsible UK public, it is time for threat of mass resignation if a realistic strategy is not implemented.

  5. Great post, i sadly agree with your rather grim evaluation.

    First off the aid budget should definitely be reviewed so that we spend slightly less but in more productive ways. Ring-fencing health and education i can (just about) get behind, but having an aid budget creeping upwards and being partially given to countries like India seems bizarre and wasteful,

    Military 'soft power' can and should be seen as a contributor to foreign development/relations and actually the Armed Forces are often the most experienced, best equipped and positioned people to implement disaster relief, help with localized engineering projects, tackle Ebola etc.

    Their really needs to be some more cooperative and joined up thinking between the Foreign Office, Overseas Development Office and the MOD on how the UK can exert influence around the world.

    I actually think FF 2020 was and is still an inadequate framework and level of investment even if the commitments are met, which as you say at the moment clearly aren't.

    The long list of acquisition or upgrade programs that are ill defined, or underfunded, delayed or just inadequate to start with is truly depressing.

    Why can't the MOD just identify a requirement, select a solution and stick with it!

    There's still an ugly culture of 'what we can afford' instead of what we actually need and too much messing around, kicking things into the long grass and dithering on trying to get the perfect, 100% solution to a given problem which results in overspend, delays and our forces going without.

    As you say, the money is there, we (or rather the establishment) just choose not to spend anymore on defence, despite recent polling suggesting that it's an increasingly important issue for voters and the fact that the cold hard reality facing us with Russia and ISIS has created a very different landscape to the one we assumed we would be dealing with back in 2010.

  6. If Osborne has predicted we will have a budget surplus of just over 5 billion in 2019, then does defence need further cuts? Or are his predictions actually based more cuts to the armed forces as well as other departments? I cannot find any details on his forecast.

    The French spend 0.4% on foreign aid. How about we match their commitment and put the remaining 0.3% towards delivering aid via defence:

    1. RFA Argus replacement (a 4th modified MARS SSS?).
    2. Bring an end to the "extended readiness" crap with the LPDs, as these platforms are ideal for disaster relief etc
    3. Grab some of Germany's unwanted A400Ms on the cheap for the RAF and purchase two more C-17s.

    Still a great deal of money spare, what else?

    1. The last budget says that, after the GDP growth, the need for further savings has somewhat reduced. But tens of billions of savings are still sought, and the document says that at least 13 billions are due to come from reduced departmental spending. Considering what is ring fenced... you do the math.

    2. We all know that the combination of ring-fenced health, education and the aid budget, coupled with the policy on continued austerity is going to result in painful cuts across the other departments, with defence being no exception.

      I'm sure we'd all agree that defence is nowhere near as talked about and prioritized as it should be, and that it's a very different landscape 5 years on from the 2010 SDSR (which in itself stripped the forces down to just under or just above the bare minimum depending on your viewpoint).

      Resurgent Russia and the turmoil in the Middle East doesn't mean we should be gearing up for WW3, but at the very least the Armed Forces shouldn't be yet again hollowed out and in several key areas we should be looking to spend more. To keep the peace, prepare for war and all that.

      As a separate issue, in a logical world the Foreign Office and Department for International Development should be contributing funds towards RFA Argus and an eventual replacement, the use of a surface ship in the Caribbean in the counter narcotics and humanitarian relief role and the use of the RAF's heavy lift aircraft and the RN's Amphibious fleet in delivering large-scale aid.

      We aren't in a time of plenty and the MOD shouldering the entire burden isn't fair. It would be a good way or redirecting some aid money into more useful things without having to do a u-turn on keeping an arbitrary figure of 0.7% committed.

  7. Gaby

    Another very fine article. I agree with you about the run-down state of our Armed forces. The cuts have not just bitten to the bone but are now gnawing away at the marrow too. Like you too, I am getting sick and tired of those who say that the Foreign Aid budget is sacrosanct and should not be cut. Next year we shall be spending nearly £13 billion on Foreign Aid while our Defence budget will only be £35 billion. Madness ! Defence of the Realm must come first in the duties of any Government.

    Of course cutting the Foreign Aid budget will be fraught with difficulties. The fact that a large percentage of it goes to corrupt regimes or dictatorships seems to matter little to those who are members of or supporters of the self-expanding Foreign Aid organisations.

    However, are things quite as black as you paint them? Your articles are normally very accurate but I am wondering whether there will be massive cuts at the next SDSR. David Cameron in an interview with the “Daily Telegraph” a short time ago said that there would be no cuts to Regular Forces and, when questioned whether that applied to Reserve Forces too, responded by saying, “Effectively, yes.”

    Not only that but as far as the equipment budget is concerned, it includes a contingency provision of £4.7 billion, as well as unallocated headroom funding of £8.4 billion. That headroom is apparently in addition to the funding required to deliver the core equipment programme. The contingency provision really stems from the action the MOD took in Planning Round 2012, so that for the first time in many years the MOD did not have to make significant cuts in the scope of the core Equipment Plan in order to maintain affordability.

    So that although I agree that defence is in a pretty parlous state, things might not be quite as black as you paint them. But then I might be naive in the extreme.

    1. I don't know for sure if there will be further big cuts. I'm trying to believe in a somewhat "steady" spending, which declines under 2%, but staying stable enough to keep the plans going. More or less. However, there is absolutely no certainty about this happening. And the above list of critical points, not even complete, is meant to show how much exposition there is. "massive" cuts aren't even necessary at this point, since even relatively minor ones in money amounts are going to have a disproportionated impact.

      On the equipment plan, always remember that we effectively don't really know what it includes. We know, however, that a number of key programmes, including much of the vehicle needs of the army, completely depend from that 8 billion heardoom being used for defence projects. Raiding it away will have terrible consequences for the army's armour and vehicle programmes, MARS FSS is also entirely dependent on the headroom money, and no doubt much more. Not to mention any hope of bringing in a new MPA, of course.

      I'm HOPING that the final settlement for defence will be as "steady as she goes" as possible, but this is just a hope, nothing more.
      A number of further base closures and reductions, for example, are to be expected. RAF Henlow and Linton-on-Ouse will both be closed, i believe. Arbroath might close (it definitely would if Scotland wasn't quite so politically sensitive these days); 208 RAF Sqn is almost certain to disappear within 2 years, and so along. But these wouldn't be traumatic cuts. However, it will not take much to start making things go very bad.

  8. Gsby

    Many thanks for your reply. I take all your points and it looks as if we agree rather more than I had thought.

    "I'm HOPING that the final settlement for defence will be as "steady as she goes"

    That would be my fervent hope too. I don't think we shall get much more than that, to be honest.

  9. Daniele MandelliApril 4, 2015 at 5:25 PM

    I'm in despair at my country.

    And the PC establishment politicians who are happy to grandstand on the world stage but will not fund the forces to back it up.

    Let us all pray things are not as bad as feared. What is there left to do?

  10. In some ways the uncertainty over the next general election gives me hope. For one thing, it seems quite possible that the Conservatives and UKIP will form a coalition government. UKIP support increasing defense spending (and slashing aid spending), and the Conservatives have always been quite good on defense (e.g. guaranteeing that both carriers will be operated. Now that we're out of recession, and Britain's economy is rapidly improving, it might not be all doom and gloom for our armed forces.

  11. John, Do you honestly believe that. Someone with your first name took a scythe to the Navy in 1980 with the intention of getting rid of it and creating a Nuclear Tripwire force. Ultimately in excess of 300 service men died, and many more were wounded as the party had given the impression to all that UK did not care about foreign dependencies. They had sold the carriers and scrapped service vessels. Then in 2010 the same party effectively did the same thing... They scrapped the carrier wing, they wrote of ships and other units with no care for the gaps created. Meanwhile the "Top Brass" stood by saying we will get Force 2020.... So do not be fooled in to thinking Tories are good for defence. None of them have stood the test of time. But the UK`s saving grace has always been the industrial capability to procure and build our way out of trouble. One of the questions is, do we still have that capability, followed up with "When should / Would we start building...?"

    1. I support your comments. The only area where the Conservatives won out on defence in the past was with the nuclear deterent.
      They have been consistently weak with regard to the navy. They have to be replaced by a right of centre party if we are to be spared a humiliating national defeat.
      This is all about politics. I was staunch Conservative all my voting life. No more. If the LibCons think they can fool me they are wrong. When it come to voting in General Elections there should be nothing more vital apart from the overall economy than defence.
      Cameron ignores it - he should lose - he is unfit to lead.

    2. Labour are at least as bad. Cancellation of the CVA-01 carrier and associated assets in 1966, Invincible class saved from downgrade to stretched Type 82 helicopter cruiser through clever manoeuvring and sleight of hand by the Navy top brass. RN in continual funding and manpower crisis throughout the 1970s, then cut by 1/3 by Nu Labour. This included reducing the escort force from 35 to 23 ships, scrapping our only naval fighter when some of the aircraft were only 9 years old and abandoning the MARS programme for new RFAs without a single ship being ordered. Just about every single capability cut back and hollowed out plus new programmes (e.g. CVF) delayed, underfunded and woefully mismanaged. Labour never has been and never will be good for defence and I suspect Cameron is the lesser of two evils.

    3. It sounds as if both parties have abysmal track records in funding and managing defence. It's hard for an observer to identify a preference.

    4. I don't disagree. All the LabLibCon parties are just a bad.
      It goes to the heart of defence education. The public learns next to nothing at school and little more in later life due to the techno -phobic BBC and other mainstream broadcasters.
      The MOD seems to do little but to act as more than a break on defence spend and a block to stimulating public awareness. Then of course there are the Greens and SNP, who hopefully will volunteer to form a human shield when we are confronted by either ISIS or Putin.
      I am sure we can all unite in wishing them well.

  12. Then it is our responsibility to discuss. I have actively been discussing with my local MP, and all other candidates. My son is on Bombers and another one will try for RM, so I have no hesitation in chatting to people at every opportunity and trying to just outline the issues we have. Many are actually ready to listen and some seem to take it in.

  13. Hi Gabriele,
    Once again thanks for all your great informative articles.

    I would find it useful to know all the UK's standing commitments.
    For instance,
    The number of RN platforms that must remain on station.
    (for example, Falklands patrol ship, one)
    The number of Army units that are deployed to tasks.
    (For example Cyprus garrison, 2 battalions)
    The number of aircraft tasked.
    (For example, Falklands air defence 4 Typhoons).
    Just to build up a picture of what is were and why.
    And how, if you could would you change these?

    1. That i can think of:

      Infantry battalions:

      - 1 in Brunei
      - 1 Special Forces Support (1 PARA)
      - 2 Cyprus (resident battalion + theatre ready reserve bn)
      - 2 battalions public role (guards)
      - 1 battalion support to public role and other (London, but also Falklands Infantry Company)


      - Atlantic north (Caribbean) (1 ship, right now a OPV, but used to be a frigate, has been a tanker too)
      - Atlantic South (1 T45 or T23)
      - Fleet Ready Escort (might or might not be the same as Towed Array Patrol Ship. These days it likely is often the same vessel double-hatted)
      - Towed Array Patrol Ship (ready ASW vessel with sonar Type 2087 to chase subs / protect SSBN movements)
      - Gulf (1 T45, 1 T23 ideally)
      - Gulf minesweeping (2 Hunt, 2 Sandown, 1 Bay)

      Tanker wise: 1 support to FOST training
      1 in the Gulf (plus a Fort stores ship)
      1 in South Atlantic
      1 in North Atlantic

      1 full-time charter merchant oiler is used to ship fuel to the Falklands and between other depots and bases

      Aircraft wise;

      1 Voyager is always tasked with QRA support
      1 Voyager is in air transport configuration only, and does regular flights to the Falklands and so
      1 C-130J and 1 Voyager in the Falklands
      3 + 1 Typhoon in the Falklands
      Probably 4 couples of Typhoons spread on QRA South and North in the UK, maybe more?
      1 Sentry ready for QRA duties
      1 C-17 possibly always at 24 hours notice for MEDEVAC (it was during Herrick, maybe now requirement relaxed; also MEDEVAC role for Voyager should come online)
      1 Chinook at 2 hours notice for national emergency response
      1 Flight of 2 Merlin HC3 from Commando Helicopter Force and 1 Flight of 2 Wildcat HMA2 from FAA on permanent high readiness for counterterrorism, including at sea
      Soon, a Flight of 2 Chinooks will be restored as permanent component of the Falklands Garrison

      There will be no doubt other elements at varying degrees of readiness (think SF support and so along), but this is the main list.

      As for how i would eventually change this, i think i will talk about it in a piece i hope to write soon about my vision for a minimum effective SDSR 15.

    2. Gabriele,
      Thanks for the reply. I look forward to your article on the SDSR 15.
      Is there a QR infantry battalion? and I assume there is a QR para company?


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