The Strategic Defence and Security Review
Britain reasserts itself as a serious military power
Spies, special forces and the Royal Air Force are the main winners
The latest review [text here] sets out to repair some of the damage caused by the previous, hastily cobbled-together effort [in 2010, text here]. 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 [total by 2023 apparently actually this: “…there will be about 42 of the new planes delivered by 2023…”], 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 [emphasis added], 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 [at Flightglobal: ‘…the addition of an active electronically-scanned array radar is expected to take the operation of the type out to “at least 2040”.’]…
Another change for the better is the announcement of a £2-billion programme to buy nine Boeing P8 maritime-patrol aircraft [there goes any chance for a Bombardier airframe being used]. 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 [note too: “RCAF patrol aircraft [an Aurora] brought in to help Britain look for Russian submarine….again”]. 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 [does anyone really think Canada will be able to afford even eleven, supposed to have been fifteen, Canadian Surface Combatants for the RCN? see “The Incredible Shrinking RCN Canadian Surface Combatant Fleet, or…“]. 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 Type 26 is one design to be considered as the basis for the RCN’s CSCs; and perhaps a mixed fleet for this ploject should be considered for our Navy too: “Royal Canadian Navy: 15 Canadian Surface Combatants? Maybe Some Offshore Patrol Vessels Instead“].
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 [but they “…will be created by 2025.”!?!]. 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 [so not a true combat capability against a major foe]…
The Financial Times‘ story by contrast has this headline: “Defence review: No bonanza for stretched armed forces after years of cuts”. Plus lots of detail here on the UK’s current defence forces.
Note how this cost allowance for the RN’s Type 26s did not work out:
This is also relevant to the RCN–the shipbuilder is being considered for the CSC design: