Tuesday, March 22, 2011

SDSR and Reality

(£70,000 an hour. Before bombs. And tankers, radar planes and intelligence assets. Ouch.)

I have commented on the UK's 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) many times on this blog. And as early as last summer, I was concerned that it was going to be a shambles. Not only had SDSR been rushed to meet a Spending Review deadline, but the level of strategic thinking on the UK's place in the world and desired international role was mostly evidenced by its absence - the all too predictable fuzzy thinking combined salami slicing cuts - trimming capabilities without addressing the cost base - with other capabilities falling between the services and being lost entirely - Nimrod MRA4 martime patrol aircraft, most obviously. And these very painful cuts at the same time as the UK insists on ploughing on with the £100bn replacement for the Trident nuclear system that seems entirely irrelevant.

Worse, the MoD engaged in its usual game of heroic budgetary assumptions, resulting in a £1bn deficit shortly after the publication of what purported to be the strategic planning document for the next decade. Why? Well, planning the budget around £500m of proceeds from a sale of Typhoon fighters to Oman before the deal was agreed probably didn't help. Especially as it is hasn't happened, and the Omani unrest of the Arab Spring leading to massive domestic spending commitments won't exactly have made it more likely.

(HMS CUMBERLAND in Benghazi in Malta shortly after having been in Benghazi. Poor drills - they've forgotten the "For Sale - Final Clearance" pennant.)

So now the MoD finds itself in the frankly absurd position that HMS YORK and HMS CUMBERLAND are patrolling of Libya and doing naval "stuff" - having been diverted on their way home for decommissioning. The Nimrod R1 electronic intelligence gathering aircraft has been extended in service through the summer instead of being binned at the end of March. And two of the UK's three little aircraft carriers (and all of their aircraft) have also been scrapped (though, in fairness, they'd not be especially useful in Libya).

I could go on. I'm sure you're all relieved to hear that I won't.

The question for the UK's political leadership the day before the Budget, is simple. When are the military-political leadership going to accept that either there are very significant limits to Britain's ambition and geo-political influence in the current budget, or that to maintain the current level of ambition requires a significantly larger budget?

Until they do, it's all going to be a half-arsed and good women and men will be exposed to unnecessary risk. Some may die. 

And that's completely unacceptable.


Andrew said...

Couldn't agree more - Britain's Foreign and Defence Policy is entirely too full of cheques that the UK Armed Forces cannot cash.

Toby's Random Musings said...

Andy, indeed. And as amusing as a skit with Cameron-as-Tom Cruise would be ("Son, Your ego's writing cheques your body can't cash" and all of that), I can't help thinking that some very difficult conversations are going to have to happen quite soon before it's all too late.