JR Max Wheel
3 March 2014
The standoff in the Ukraine, which may well have turned into something a great deal more serious if Russia pursues its sphere of interest policies to annexe parts of the country, once again shows total short-sightedness of European defence and foreign policy. If the EU is to mean anything in an increasingly dangerous world, it needs the capability to act and to project its power decisively. NATO is a post WWII construct whereby the EU has largely sheltered under a US nuclear and defence umbrella. The rapid decline in UK capabilities is even more alarming, the Strategic Security & Defence Review of 2010, whilst written in the light of austerity politics is now an irrelevance, it urgently needs updating and defence spend needs to rise to provide the UK with a credible force. This is not an argument for war-mongering, but it is a recognition that both men and materiel have been cut down to dangerous levels: equally the nature of conflict described in the document has been proved to de-emphasise state on state conflicts, yet that is still a threat, as we can see.
Despite admitting overstretch in the Iraq and Afghan conflicts, we have opted to reduce the regular army to 80,000 and to use territorials as substitute front line troops, this is blatantly inadequate. So is the reliance on a single aircraft carrier and the decision to decommission Harriers before a much delayed US alternative Joint Strike Fighter is ready; it is late, wildly over budget and there are serious questions of its capabilities. Reduction in frigate capacity by four and decommissioning of aging HMS Illustrious and Ocean is also weakening naval capacity. Failure to ensure inter-interoperability of the carrier with European allies is a major strategic mistake,
Britain is dependent on US C17 aircraft and a delayed over-budget A400M European built plane for air support transport. Eurofighter Typhoon orders were cut back effectively depriving the RAF of both adequate air superiority capabilities and theTornado is now obsolete. The Sentinel airborne battlefield surveillance aircraft is due to be retired and there is no replacement in sight. The RAF has been emasculated as a fighting force in most of its roles.
The Navy which retains its Trident nuclear capability and its hunter killer submarines has the major strategic weapons capability. Delivery systems however are also aging Vanguard class submarines and with reduced capability i.e.configured with half the firing tubes compared to the original design capability.
It is little wonder that Russia brushed aside the UK as being of little consequence any more. It is true it isn’t: this is not to denigrate the quality of fighting troops but the woeful lack of quality transport equipment and helicopters was evident in the Iraq and Afghan deployments.
This review was an accountancy exercise and not a sober military assessment and is urgently in need of revisiting. There is little doubt that cyber attack and remote-controlled vehicles will be a major part of any future strategy, but the flawed assumption behind this limp and flawed review was to underestimate good old-fashioned threats to national security can come in both traditional forms as well as via conflict that requires a low-level, rapid deployment force. Expenditure on Defence is rarely a popular choice, but it is nevertheless essential as is a credible European capability. It is after all the first not the last duty of Government to keep its citizens secure, current policy fails on nearly any measure.