In association with Bro Don Pearce (Rugby UK) Keep up to date with Bro Don’s Snippets – Email Don at [email protected] Just put in the subject line ‘Snippets Request’ state if you would prefer word doc or pdf format. It’s that easy! Below is an extract from today’s 28th Nov which covers (25-26th Nov 2015)
Spies, special forces and the Royal Air Force are the main winners
THE timing of Britain’s quinquennial Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR), published on November 23rd, is in one sense propitious. The horrifying events in Paris, ten days before, and the preparations for an imminent House of Commons vote to authorise air strikes against Islamic State (IS) in Syria, provide a potent reminder to voters that security threats are real. The document also reflects the fact that since Russia demonstrated its willingness to redraw the map of Europe through the use of military force in Ukraine, it is no longer possible to dismiss state-on-state warfare as an outlandishly remote eventuality, the implicit assumption of the last SDSR in 2010.
The latest review sets out to repair some of the damage caused by the previous, hastily cobbled-together effort. It confirms the government’s recent commitment to meeting the NATO target of spending at least 2% of GDP on defence, for at least the five years of this Parliament. The government may have got there by employing a few accounting wheezes, such as chucking military pensions into the pot. But the promise, made under considerable American pressure, still came as a pleasant surprise to generals who feared another round of cuts from a chancellor who has promised to balance the books over the next four years.
The main winners appear to be the intelligence services, special forces and the Royal Air Force. The number of staff at GCHQ (the signal-intelligence agency), MI5 and MI6 (the domestic and foreign intelligence services) is to increase by 1,900. The SAS and other special forces will receive an extra £2 billion ($3 billion) for fancy new kit.
The air force is to be the main beneficiary of a £12-billion increase in the ten-year equipment budget, to £178 billion. Most of that will go on accelerating the acquisition of 24 stealthy F-35B fighter jets, to ensure that each of two new aircraft carriers will have at least a squadron of F-35s by the time both are fully deployed in 2023 (the first will be ready in 2020). It will be two decades before the full fleet of 138 F-35s has landed, but the gap will be covered by extending the life of older Typhoons and thus adding two more frontline squadrons to relieve pressure on the air force, which is already under strain.
All this represents a remarkable change of heart from 2010, when carrier strike capability was deemed sufficiently unnecessary to hasten the scrapping of the old, smaller carriers, and the expectation was that only one of the new ones would actually enter service. The Libyan air campaign, which took place just a few months after those decisions were taken, was an embarrassing reminder that carriers have a unique ability to project power.
Another change for the better is the announcement of a £2-billion programme to buy nine Boeing P8 maritime-patrol aircraft. The previous defence review left Britain without an aerial anti-submarine capability. With Russian subs once again probing NATO’s defences in the North Atlantic, Britain has had to rely on French help to patrol its own territorial waters from the air. The lack of maritime-patrol aircraft also put at risk the credibility of Britain’s submarine-borne Trident nuclear deterrent, which the SDSR confirmed the government intends to renew, at a cost of around £31 billion. In the cold war, Soviet submarines would attempt to track Britain’s missile-carrying subs as they left port for their Atlantic hiding places. That threat appears to be re-emerging thanks to Russian military modernisation and Vladimir Putin’s apparent desire to confront NATO where and when he can.
Both the navy and the army have lost out. The former will have to operate with all hands on deck, particularly when the new carriers are factored in. Admirals hoped to recruit around another 4,000 sailors; they will get only one-tenth of that number. Michael Fallon, the defence secretary, is confident that “efficiency savings” will save the day. Nor is the navy likely to be able to buy all 13 of the new Type 26 frigates it wants. Five of its new ships are likely to be a smaller, cheaper model. That is sensible. The “Type 26-lite”, as it has been dubbed, will be fine for most things, though it may not have the same edge against a sophisticated opponent such as China or Russia.
The army is to be reorganised to create two 5,000-strong “strike brigades” that can be sent to fight anywhere in the world at short notice. Mr Fallon insists that the new brigades will not come at the expense of Britain’s ability to deploy for a limited period a heavily-armed force of 40,000 or so, such as was sent to Iraq, or to keep 10,000 troops in the field indefinitely, as in Afghanistan. But the message is clear: rapid-reaction forces are in; substantial numbers of boots on the ground and long-term counter-insurgency operations are out, at least for now.
This SDSR is a step towards restoring Britain’s reputation as a serious military power, and ending the fashion among Washington security analysts for sneering at Britain’s declining capability (talking of “demilitarisation” and comparing it to Luxembourg). What remains less certain is whether Britain still has what the outgoing chief of the defence staff, General Sir Nick Houghton, calls the “courageous instinct” to use its military power in the national interest. A lot is riding on David Cameron’s ability to persuade MPs in the coming days that military action in Syria is both strategically and morally necessary. The betting is that he will succeed.