(A soon to be retired RAF Tornado F3. Always important to have a gratuitous F3 QRA launch shot.)
Just before Christmas, DefenseNews reported that the RAF will be down to six fast jet squadrons in the middle of this decade - down from a dozen now, and from 33 at the end of the Cold War. This is all called the "Adaptable Posture" in the UK National Security Strategy adopted ahead of the SDSR in October.
The official position is given by Gen Sir David Richards, the new UK Chief of Defence Staff at RUSI just before Christmas (at 8 mins 30 secs). Apparently the over-arching strategic view is clear.
I beg to differ.
On one level, cuts in the number of RAF fast-jet squadrons will only interest the usual suspects. Said usual suspects will then grumble quietly into their beers, especially noting that the Government and the high command doesn't understand and that this is all a national disgrace. The same sentiments would be found in a discussion with the Royal Navy or those of the British Army.
Are they right?
At one level, this continued contraction is the natural conclusion of the UK's withdrawal from Empire. But the manner in which it is being conducted betrays a continued pandering to a national illusion in which the UK remains a world power and needs the capabilities to hit targets worldwide at a time and place of the PM's choosing, alone if necessary, and in concert with Allies as a preference. In other words, the UK will continue to "punch above its weight" and will "remain a force for good worldwide"; in short, an argument for continued UK exceptionalism.
Not that you'll overtly find this UK exceptionalism argument in the SDSR. There, the focus is all on inter-operability with Allies, and building long-term capabilities. Unfortunately, in the SDSR becoming reality, these fine words have become ruffled with the woolly-headed thinking of the UK as world power brigade. The result of this is that the UK continues to demand the highest possible specification military capability - which comes at a enormous price - which it can only afford in tiny numbers, rendering it much less effective. Truly Stalin's dictum that serves as our title tonight is rarely more effective than when applied to the SDSR's reducto ad absurdum .
I'm not for a second decrying the efforts of the military and civilian staff in attempting to design and build world-beating capability in the UK against a continuously moving budgetary target. Their job is often impossible and always improbable. But for as long as the UK refuses to link its international ambitions with the available resources, there will always be tears before bedtime. Worse, for as long as those ever-more-finite resources are wasted on symbols of national standing (e.g. Trident) then actually useful military capability will continue to suffer.
It is this woolly thinking that leads directly to poor decision making, and it is this lack of Strategic Overview that has led to the Harrier fleet has been prematurely retired and Nimrod MRA4 prototypes are to be cut up in the next month or so. Appalling failure of judgement.
(A soon to be chopped up Nimrod MRA4. Unlike the F3, not being replaced in a meaningful manner.)