Yesterday the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) was unveiled by David Cameron. I say unveiled, I think that should really be “confirmed” as most of it had been leaked to the press one way or another in the last few weeks. A point raised by Ed Miliband in his reply. My views on this a very mixed considering I have a lot of friends and colleagues in the Military, as well as working in the Defence Industry, so I was very nervous to hear what was going to happen.
This review was also very quick, around 2/3 months. When you consider that the last one took 15 months, it does make you wonder about the quality of the review. Though he did say that it is not simply a cost-cutting exercise the Ministry of Defence budget will rise in cash terms over four years and then, beyond 2015, are likely to see year-on-year growth in funding. That is easy to say considering there will be a new government by then. But it bodes well for the future.
Cameron made the point that historically the UK has traditionally punched above its weight and must continue to do so. He stated that the review is about projecting power and influence in a rapidly changing world. He believes that none of this should affect Operations in Afghanistan will not be affected by the cuts, though I can’t quite see his logic on that one considering what he announced. Cameron stated that the Ministry of Defence is too big and “over-spent”, and I’m not going to argue with that. Considering just how much conflict we have been involved with, it is not surprising that we have spent cash. However he does seem to have an interesting view on the capability of industry to react to the changing threat. He said that the UK must remain vigilant against all threats. “As tanks and heavy artillery are reduced, the capability to change this will be maintained”. This is easy to say but more difficult in practice. Once industry stops production of these things, the manufacturing skills will decline and disappear, and you can not just turn it back on again, it will take time. The classic recent example was in the shipbuilding industry, it took time to get it back up and running again.
RAF and Navy manpower will be cut by 5,000 each and the Army will fall by about 7,000. The MoD will reduce civilian staff numbers by 25,000 by 2015, which is 5000 people per year. Madeleine Moon questioned the PM about the “human costs” of the loss of the 42,000 (including Military) jobs. Cameron says he will try to avoid compulsory redundancies, though how he will actually be able to do that will remain to be seen.
The Government has slashed the planned £14bn defence training academy in St Athan, south Wales as well as cancelling the Nimrod MRA4 planes. Harrier is to be withdrawn in favour of the Tornado. This is an interesting decision, I was aware that it would be one or the other, but considering the decision to continue making the Carriers, we will have nothing to put on them, therefore it will become a helicopter platform. He praised the Harrier as a “brilliant aircraft” but he believes that it is “not as capable as the Tornado”. Though when confronted by a Harrier pilot before the announcements he seemed to think that his Ground Attack aircraft was the Typhoon so what does he know about the differences of the Harrier and Tornado anyway. I think Tornado is a good platform for Afghanistan, particularly its recce capabilities. But is it as flexible as the Harrier for Post Afghanistan? It can not “Project” in the same way, though we do have a good Air to Air refuelling capability which may alleviate some of the issue. We will be heavily reliant on Foreign Airbases to work from. The SNP Westminster leader Angus Robertson, made the point that personnel at RAF Kinloss and RAF Lossimouth will be fearing for their future. In fact on Radio 4, a chap who was being interviewed from the local area, literally broke down in tears as he was being interviewed. The Government are defending this by saying that the government is not announcing base closures, dropping in the idea that they can be used for other purposes, particularly with UK troops returning from Germany, which they are due to do by 2020.
Update – Not 24 hours after this statement about not announcing base closures – The Closure of RAF Kinloss has been announced! That didn’t take long!
The subject of Trident was effectively sidelined by the announcement that the decision will be pushed back into 2015, therefore leaving tin the hands of the next government (again, see a theme), and that was a point that Ed Miliband picked up on. But it was good that Cameron showed how that gap world be filled by extending the current Vanguard subs, therefore, in theory a replacement isn’t needed until 2028. It is clear that this is a touchy subject for the coalition, as Ming Campbell asked about whether the government will continue to push for multilateral nuclear disarmament, while senior Tory Sir Peter Tapsell asked if the Trident move is simply to keep the Liberal Democrats – who oppose its replacement – in the coalition. Not wholesale support there, especially when Tory Julian Lewis aired his thought that a vote on the future of Trident should be taken in this parliament, or it will become a “political gambling chip” for his party to use with the Liberal Democrats. Bob Ainsworth asked if the Trident policy is sensible or cost-effective, but rather than answer that, Cameron fell back to the usual “Labour did too little to establish value for money while in power”. Caroline Lucas asks whether nuclear deterrents are needed, Cameron replied with the view that it would be a “profound mistake” to discard Trident in an uncertain world. On this, I agree with him.
Overall, on the face of it, it doesn’t seem as bad as I feared. That is probably a mix of hearing a lot of what was going to happen before it was announced, as well as it being less cuts than originally predicted. However, what we have heard here is the very thin end of the wedge. There will be a massive impact into local communities; Industry as well as the forces themselves and the full extent of the repercussions will only be known over time. A lot of the job losses here are going to be compounded by the CSR review, making it a very uncomfortable time.
- Strategic Defence Review: Cameron bats away Trident alternatives (leftfootforward.org)
- No more Iraq-scale operations after cuts (independent.co.uk)
- Armed forces budget slashed (thesun.co.uk)
- Cameron scraps 42,000 defence jobs to save £3bn (independent.co.uk)