The Canadian government under Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper has announced that the Canadian Air Force and Canadian Navy are to regain their designation of “Royal”.
The then Liberal government removed the “Royal” designation in 1968 when they merged the three armed services into the Canadian Forces. Successive Canadian Governments have gradually unpicked the 1968 decision, due to its impact on the morale of the forces and the strength which flowed from their previous distinct identities.
General Walter Natynczyk, Chief of the Defence Staff, said that the decision to restore the names of Canada’s former services “is aimed at restoring an important and recognisable part of Canada’s military heritage”.
“These were the services that fought and emerged victorious from the Second World War and Korea and contributed to the defence of Europe and North America from the early days of the Cold War. These were also the services that paved the way in terms of international peacekeeping missions.”
The decision has delighted veterans groups who have conducted a five year lobbying campaign. The Queen remains popular as Canada’s head of state, and the recent tour by The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge stoked further interest in the monarchy.
“I think Canadians in general are going to be quite pleased and quite happy to have a little piece of their history back,” said Robert Finch, chairman of the Monarchist League of Canada.
This is welcome news and brings Canada back into line with other Commonwealth nations of which HM The Queen is still Head of State, after 43 years. It is to be hoped that Canada will in time restore the previous rank structure of the Royal Canadian Air Force.
Today being the eleventh day of the eleventh month we remember the sacrifices made by so many in the two World Wars, as well as more recent conflicts. Naturally for many elderly veterans it is a time to remember fallen comrades but increasingly today it is right to also have in our thoughts those who have been maimed and mentally scarred by operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Falklands.
So many people lost their lives in the two World Wars and it is shocking to realise how young most of them were. If, as I have done, you visit a war grave cemetary you will see that all too many were young men aged 19-21. They had only just begun adulthood and had their whole future taken from them. Due to their sacrifices, in this country we are free to vote, protest, blog, travel and practice our preferred religion. Today similar young men and women are fighting for the same freedoms for others around the world and to protect our hard won freedoms at home. Sadly some still lose their lives but the ratio today is much smaller than in the wars of the last century. However, the consequence is that many more survive with a variety of severe injuries. They need and deserve our support.
I urge you to support the Royal British Legion’s Poppy Appeal by buying a poppy and wearing it. If you are able to please also support charities such as the RAF Benevolent Fund, the Army Benevolent Fund and Help for Heroes. When it comes to Christmas please do not send unsolicited boxes to servicemen and women in Afghanistan. All that does is block up the supply chain and can delay important and valued family post and parcels. If you want to help our troops abroad at Christmas there is a wonderful charity called UK4U Thanks! which sends Christmas boxes to our servicemen and women by pre-positioning them overseas before the Christmas rush. They only include items of use to our troops rather than well intentioned but unwanted gifts. You would not believe the number of home knitted socks and other items that fill containers in Afghanistan!
You can also show your support by attending one of the many remembrance services around the area. Today there will be a short service at 11am in front of the Civic Offices in Reading. I will be attending a similar event at work. On Sunday (14 November) the main Reading Civic Remembrance Parade will be held at Brock Barracks from 1045am. There will be other events around the town in Caversham, Tilehurst and elsewhere. Please do go along and show your support.
There has been a huge amount of speculation in recent weeks over the wrangling between the MOD and the Treasury around the degree to which the armed forces are to be cut in the Comprehensive Spending Review. Defence is always seen as an easy target by the Treasury and this spending round is no different. With the bizarre decision by my party’s leadership to ring-fence health and international development, the axe would inevitably fall more heavily on other areas, completely ignoring the fact that Defence spending has fallen sharply as a percentage of GDP since the end of the Cold War. This is at the same time as money has been shovelled in huge quantities at the NHS, education and welfare benefits.
The capability of our armed forces is greatly reduced from the 1980′s and 1990′s and the numbers of boots we can deploy on the ground have diminished as cuts to the Army and the TA have bitten. The Royal Navy has barely enough ships to defend our sea lanes and overseas territories, and as a consequence our international influence has been reduced. The RAF, which was 92,000 when I joined it, now stands at around 40,000 personnel, and a succession of bases have closed as it has retreated from whole areas of the country. More people now work at Heathrow than are in the RAF.
The financial mess in the nation’s account and the MOD procurement budget left by the last Labour government always meant that difficult decisions would have to be taken. The last government wanted the easy “win” of announcing equipment purchases without providing the funding to back them up. They acted like a spendaholic with an unlimited credit card. However, the additional cuts demanded by the Treasury presented Liam Fox as incoming Defence Secretary with a series of impossible choices. He has fought a valiant and sometimes very public battle to protect the armed forces but 7% cuts are no victory. All he has achieved is to minimise the damage to our national interest. An incoming Conservative government should have been maintaining or increasing defence expenditure but unfortunately there are very few MPs that understand the importance of defence and seemingly none in the current Treasury team. Essentially defence expenditure is our insurance premium in an uncertain and dangerous world and it currently comprises less than 3% of our national expenditure, leaving 97% for health, education, welfare and other areas. We have a NATO commitment not to spend less than 2% on defence, a commitment which the Government has pointedly refused to reiterate over the last week.
If the reports are to be believed (and it is a big “if”) the Royal Navy is to lose many of its frigates and destroyers in order to keep the two giant aircraft carriers. The amphibious force is also believed to be under threat. There are contradictory reports about whether the joint RAF/RN Harrier force will be scrapped. If the fleet is to be protected away from UK waters it is vital that the aircraft carriers are built and that they have effective jets to fly from them. It is also essential to have a fleet of escorts both to protect them and also patrol waters in the Caribbean, South Atlantic, Middle East and anywhere else that British shipping is threatened by pirates or rogue states.
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In all the debate I have heard nothing about cutting the vast numbers of top ranking officers in the armed forces. There are far too many “starred” officers in the three services for the size of our forces. In my view they could and should be cut by 50% across the board. The number of headquarters also should be closely examined. Do we really need FIVE major headquarters for the armed forces. We maintain separate structure for the MOD, PJHQ (Permanent Joint HQ), Air Command, Fleet and Land. Many of their functions could be combined whilst retaining single service operational commands. We also maintain lots of agencies headed by senior officers many of which are of questionable utility. I would take the axe to Defence Estates and devolve control of buildings and land to individual unit commanders whilst maintaining a small oversight function within the MOD.
The focus instead seems to be on cutting civil servants who often conduct support roles at far less cost than a trained service person. No doubt there are savings to be had among civil service posts within the MOD itself, and Liam Fox has talked of 25% cuts, but major cuts in unit based civil servants will only lead to more tasks falling onto hard-pressed uniformed staff.
So far I have heard no reports of the reserve forces. If regular service personnel are to be cut one cost-effective solution would be to make more use of reservists. This is a path that the MOD has been following over the last 20 years and further cuts in regular staff could be mitigated by expanding the cadre of full and part-time reservists. Reservists are much less expensive than their regular equivalents, however, they are sometimes difficult to train and mobilise effectively. There are reports that a large percentage of the TA is effectively undeployable and this will need to be addressed. Full-time reservists (of which I am one) serve alongside their regular counterparts but are paid up to 15% less and have limited entitlement to expensive benefits such as housing and travel costs.
On Tuesday the results of the Strategic Defence and Security Review will be announced but I understand that much of the detail will only follow later on. What is clear is that there will be cuts in Britain’s frontline military capability with the Navy and the RAF suffering particularly heavily; ships will be cut and aircraft scrapped. Those cuts will damage our standing with allies and undermine our credibility with enemies and the bulk of the blame should fall squarely with the Labour government which left such a mess.
As the Daily Telegraph correspondent rightly states, the real test will be when the next direct threat emerges. In the 1920′s and 1930′s Britain cut its armed forces to the bone and only just managed to re-arm in time to see off Hitler and his threatened invasion. These cuts will take the armed forces back to a position analogous to the 1930′s. My hope is that as the economy recovers and the deficit is reduced the Government will be able to return defence spending to a level consistent with our international responsibilities and national interests. Only time will tell.
The UK is to send two additional Royal Air Force Tornado jets to Afghanistan, the Defence Secretary has announced on a visit to British forces serving there. Dr Liam Fox, on his second visit to Afghanistan since being appointed Secretary of State, confirmed that the two Tornado GR4 aircraft have been sent from RAF Lossiemouth in Moray, and will be arriving at Kandahar Airfield tomorrow (Thursday 12 August).
The deployment follows a request by the Commander of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), General David Petraeus, for an increase in air support to provide greater protection to ground forces. The aircraft will join the eight RAF Tornado GR4s already provided to support the multinational pool and will boost flying hours by 25 per cent, or an extra 130 flying hours per month.
An increase in the number of ISAF and Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) personnel on the ground in southern Afghanistan has generated the requirement for additional air cover. The demand for capability provided by the fast jets is also expected to increase in the run-up to the Afghan elections in September.
Following discussions, the Chief of the Defence Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup, and the Defence Secretary, have agreed that the extra Tornados will deploy for three months.
The Tornado GR4 deployed to Afghanistan in June 2009, taking over from the Harrier force, and is currently operated by No.13 Squadron, based at Kandahar.
Since their deployment to theatre, Tornado GR4s have played a key role in support of ground operations in Afghanistan, particularly the fight against improvised explosive devices. A highly capable and versatile aircraft, the GR4 provides show of force and, when required, precison air-delivered weapons.
GR4 also delivers detailed imagery of insurgent activity from its state of the art RAPTOR (Reconnaissance Airborne Pod Tornado) system. The RAPTOR pod is the envy of coalition forces, such is its ability to clearly spot insurgents laying IEDs from sufficient height to be undetected from the ground.
These are the very same Tornado aircraft that various media reports have claimed are being considered for early retirement as part of the Strategic Defence and Security Review which reports in the autumn. The government should reflect on that fact that the aircraft which are deemed so vital to operations in Afghanistan might be worth the resources to maintain in service for several more years until aircraft such as the Lightning II is ready to come into full scale service with the RAF and RN.
There have been a growing number of articles in national newspapers speculating on the cuts that might be made in Britain’s defence capability as a result of the shambles that Labour left behind, both in the national finances and the Ministry of Defence equipment programmes. Commentators have suggested that the RAF may have to chose between its Tornado fleet of fighter jets and the joint Harrier force that it shares with the Royal Navy and which provides air cover for the fleet. Some have suggested that the Navy’s new aircraft carriers should be scrapped or that the Army will lose most of its heavy tanks.
The Treasury had already asked the MOD to identify cuts of 10-20% in defence spending at the same time as the Defence Secretary has commissioned a Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR). It should be remembered that the armed forces have already been cut massively following the end of the Cold War and a conflict still rages in Afghanistan. Just to balance the books and put the equipment programme on a sustainable basis would entail some cuts in planned programmes and cause real pain to our armed forces.
The latest news is that the Treasury has now reversed previous practice by refusing to fund the capital cost of the Trident replacement programme over and above the MOD budget. Any replacement will have to come out of planned defence spending totals, placing a further big strain on the budget. SDSR should be a policy led review, considering what the UK wants from its armed forces and providing the resources to meet those requirements. It is looking increasing likely that it is a Treasury led exercise, seeking to cut the forces to match a greatly reduced defence budget.
It is beyond doubt that a large part of the UK’s international influence comes from the capability of our armed forces and our willingness as a nation to use them. This is key to our relationship with the USA and important to our allies around the world. We also have responsibilities for British subjects in overseas territories in the Mediterranean, Atlantic, Caribbean and Pacific. Without the ability to defend them against potential aggressors we would have abrogated our responsibilities.
When Margaret Thatcher came to office in 1979 following the years of economic chaos under Edward Heath and Labour, her Government pledged to increase defence spending by 3% per year in real terms. This was achieved despite the poor economic circumstances and the increases were maintained year on year until 1986. Conservatives believe that the fundamental duty of a government is to maintain external and internal security. Defence is obviously a key element of this.
A Conservative Government should not be cutting defence spending at a time when our forces are engaged in combat operations overseas and insisting that Trident replacement is funded from the core defence budget is a backdoor cut. I fear that further cuts are to come and that the result will be a greatly weakened nation even more subject to the whims of others.
I hope that Conservative MPs will lobby the Chancellor of the Exchequer and that the Prime Minister will add his weight to the Comprehensive Spending Review to ensure that Defence is spared further cuts. To do otherwise would be a catastrophic decision for our nation and a failure of the first duty of government.
The nationwide programme to build the Royal Navy’s new Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers has passed another milestone today, as construction on the first ship, the Queen Elizabeth, began on the Mersey.
Minister for International Security and Strategy, Gerald Howarth, started the crane that laid the first of the steel plates for the ship’s giant flight deck.
Birkenhead company Cammell Laird is the final shipyard in the programme to begin construction. It will build two of the sections that will make up the ship’s flight deck, which will eventually be the size of three football pitches. Together they will weigh in at 7,500 tonnes – more than a Royal Navy Type 45 destroyer. The work is worth £44 million to Cammell Laird and will provide a significant number of jobs in the area, boosting the local economy.
As he toured the yard, the Minister met some of the 1,200 strong workforce involved in the project – including some of the 72 apprentices. He said: “Aircraft carriers represent a national asset for the UK. Power and versatility make them a formidable war fighting tool, and they are able to fulfil a wide range of requirements in an increasingly diverse and changing global defence landscape. The workers that I met today are rightly proud to be a part of it, and it’s particularly exciting to see so many young apprentices learning their trade on such a prestigious project.”
Six shipyards across the UK are involved in the massive construction project – Govan and Rosyth in Scotland, Portsmouth and Devon on the South coast of England, Newcastle and now Liverpool in the North – supporting around 10,000 jobs, with thousands more suppliers contributing with smaller contracts through the supply chain.
I am encouraged by this endorsement of the carrier project by a Government Minister and hope that this suggests that the two new carriers are safe in the defence review.
The dimensions are: 65,000 tonnes at full displacement; 56m from keel to masthead; 11m max draft (keel to waterline); 9 decks plus flight deck; 40 aircraft can be embarked.
Each ship weighs more than 40,000 average family cars.
Each ship will be similar size and weight as the retired ocean liner the QE2.
Their top speed could see the carriers cross from Dover to Calais in an hour.
Annual fuel consumption is expected to be very similar to that of the current Invincible Class Carriers which is impressive considering each ship is approximately three times the weight.
The flight deck is the size of three football pitches.
Each ship will have 1.5 million m2 of paintwork, which is 370 acres or slightly more than size of Hyde Park.
Each ship’s two propellers are 6.7m across and weigh 33 tonnes – nearly two & half times as heavy as a double decker bus and one & half times as high.
The anchors are 3.1m high and weigh 13 tonnes – almost as much as a double decker bus.
The aircraft lifts can move two Joint Combat Aircraft from the hangar to the flight deck in 60 seconds. They’re so powerful that together they could lift the weight of the entire ship’s crew.
80,000 tonnes of steel has been ordered for the two ships – three times that used in Wembley Stadium.
A new British prototype unmanned combat aircraft of the future, Taranis, has been unveiled by the MOD for the first time today. Named after the Celtic god of thunder, the concept demonstrator will test the possibility of developing the first ever autonomous stealthy Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle (UCAV) that would ultimately be capable of precisely striking targets at long range, even in another continent.
Should such systems enter into service, they will at all times be under the control of highly trained military crews on the ground. Speaking at the unveiling ceremony at BAE Systems in Warton, Lancashire, Minister for International Security Strategy Gerald Howarth said: ”Taranis is a truly trailblazing project. The first of its kind in the UK, it reflects the best of our nation’s advanced design and technology skills and is a leading programme on the global stage.”
Representing the pinnacle of British engineering and aeronautical design, Taranis is an informal partnership of the MOD and industry talents including BAE Systems, Rolls Royce, QinetiQ and GE Aviation. Speaking on behalf of the industry team, Nigel Whitehead, Group managing director of BAE Systems’ Programmes & Support business, said: “Taranis has been three and a half years in the making and is the product of more than a million man-hours. It represents a significant step forward in this country’s fast-jet capability. This technology is key to sustaining a strong industrial base and to maintain the UK’s leading position as a centre for engineering excellence and innovation.”
Looking very similar to manned US stealth aircraft, the Taranis prototype will provide the MOD with critical knowledge on the technical and manufacturing challenges and the potential capabilities of Unmanned Combat Air Systems. Flight trials are due to commence next year.
During an aerial search of the waters around the island of Montserrat, a British Overseas Territory in the Leeward Islands, HMS Manchester’s Lynx helicopter crew spotted a power boat and directed Royal Montserrat Police boat to intercept the vessel.
While police mobilised a team towards the boat, the Lynx’s aircrew then discovered twelve 25kg bales – later found to contain cannabis – landed on a nearby local beach. HMS Manchester used her Lynx helicopter to transfer the bales to a viewing area, which was the nearest point of access for local police to collect the drugs. Five men from the speedboat were arrested and are now in police custody. Local police have estimated the value of the haul at £1.5m.
The Commanding Officer of HMS Manchester, Commander Rex Cox Royal Navy, said: “I am delighted that cooperation between the Royal Montserrat Police and HMS Manchester has resulted in the seizure of a significant quantity of narcotics.”
The Lynx aircrew became aware of the speedboat while transporting Cdr Cox to shore to conduct official visits in Montserrat. The boat aroused suspicion because it was running on two large engines and was carrying two spare engines.
The Type 42 Destroyer’s visit to Montserrat was specifically aimed at allowing her command team to meet with the government, ministers and Commissioner of Police on the Island to discuss the support she can provide in the event of any natural disaster which may occur.
The ship’s main mission in the area is to provide regional assurance to the overseas territories, disaster relief during the hurricane season and counter-narcotics operations.
Two of the Ship’s Company on board HMS Manchester, CPO Sullivan and PO David, are returning to Montserrat after their involvement in the disaster relief and eventual evacuation operation following the volcanic eruption in 1995. They served at the time on HMS Southampton, another Type 42 Destroyer similar to HMS Manchester.
Photographs issued by the MOD show Service personnel on the frontline wearing uniform in a new Multi Terrain Pattern camouflage. It has been designed to work across the range of terrains to reflect the diverse landscape that our troops encounter on patrol in Helmand Province. This is part of MOD’s ongoing programme of work to provide the best possible equipment and support to the front line.
Soldiers that deployed to Afghanistan in April, including members of the Royal Dragoon Guards, were the first to be issued with the new uniform. It will be issued to all military personnel by 2012.
The new camouflage was trialled in laboratory tests and field evaluations. This included aerial and scientific photography to provide the right colours and brightness to make the new camouflage pattern. Computer modelling was used to represent the Green Zone, deserts and mixed environments in Afghanistan.
Colonel Stephen James, Project Team Leader for Defence Equipment and Support Clothing Team, who was responsible for delivering the new pattern to operations, said: ”This is the first time since 1968 that we have introduced a new pattern to UK Forces. We have presented the new designs to the US Department of Defense and following our recommendations, the US Army are about to adopt the same technology for their uniform in Afghanistan.”
With President Obama reportedly scaling back some of NASA’s more ambitious plans I was interested to read reports that a new generation of unmanned space vehicles is already in production for the US Air Force (USAF). For some time rumours have swirled around so-called “top secret” space planes or space bombers and there is no doubt that America’s rivals will be taking a keen interest in such stories.
The space shuttle programme is nearing its end and there is no obvious similar successor in the pipeline to service the International Space Station. The US however, has a long record of developing futuristic aircraft in secret and maintaining that secret for considerable periods of time. The stealth fighter (F117) and stealth bomber (B-2) were examples of this. It is therefore perfectly possibly that a range of new space and air vehicles are currently in development.
The reports of the X-37 project suggest that it is unmanned and capable of acting as a substitute for the space shuttle as well as carrying various weapons systems into space. Now run by the USAF it has developed into the X-37B and a test flight blast off from Cape Canaveral at the end of last month. Details of the mission and the fit of the X-37B remain classified but I would be interested to hear from any reader who can provide links to other up to date information on developing new generation space vehicles.
There has been much talk in recent months of the need to cut public spending and regular readers will know that I support Conservative plans to reduce the deficit faster than Labour plans to do. However, I am concerned at suggestions that the axe could fall heavily on defence spending whoever wins the next General Election.
There are two aspects that need to be differentiated. One is the level of defence spending itself and the second is the fact that under this Government commitments have been made that greatly exceed the currently planned defence budget. Just to deal with the second issue there will have to be some painful decisions and adjustment in programmes. These will be manageable without damaging Britains defence capabilities as long as the defence budget is not cut in the coming years. Suggestions that a replacement for Trident could be deferred or scrapped would go a long way to resolve the pressures.
There are many reasons why cutting defence spending would be a serious mistake:
1. The forces are engaged in a serious commitment to securing the future of Afghanistan. This is putting a major strain on the Army but also on elements of the RAF and Royal Navy. There are also British forces in many other countries around the world, keeping the peace and contributing to United Nations missions.
2. Britain has residual territorial commitments around the world which require the ability to project power worldwide to deter aggression and respond if required. This week’s belligerence on the part of Argentina over the Falkland Islands reminds us that not so long ago we had to fight a high tech conflict thousands of miles from the UK to secure the rights of fellow British subjects. While the UK retains overseas territories we have a duty to protect them and secure their future.
3. Current spending barely maintains armed forces with the range of capabilities that the UK requires. At the end of the Cold War the armed forces were cut greatly and the share of national income spent on defence roughly halved. For example when I joined the RAF in 1990 there were 92,000 in the RAF; now there are around 40,000: in 1982 at the time of the Falklands War the Royal Navy had around 60 frigates and destroyers; now it has just 25. The armed forces are at a level where further cuts would seriously impede our ability to act independently of allies and would lose whole areas of capability.
4. There is a large degree to which the UK’s influence in the world depends on our military capability and willingness to use it. Our close relationship with the US, leading role in NATO and influence in the UN is very much dependent on the capability of our armed forces.
5. The UK armed forces help to sustain a large defence industry which generates huge export earnings and tax revenues. The UK has consistently been in the top three world military equipment exporters. At a time when many decry the lack of manufacturing industry and high tech industry in this country the defence sector stands out as a success story, employing tens of thousands and based often in deprived parts of the country.
I very much hope and expect that an incoming Conservative Government will ring-fence defence spending in the way that it has pledged to protect health and international development spending. We should continue with the Royal Navy’s two aircraft carriers and other current equipment programmes whilst finding the savings needed within current defence spending plans by cutting the number of defence headquarters organisations and deferring Trident replacement.
It is worth noting that health spending is about three times that on defence and I am sure that there are plenty of areas of the Department of Health’s budget that could be cut without harming frontline services. Other savings such as scrapping regional assemblies and slashing the plethora of quangos could go a long way to reducing the structural deficit. There will undoubtedly have to be some pain across the public sector but it should be aimed at those areas that have enjoyed huge increases in spending over the last 20 years not at defence which has had its share of the Government cake slashed during that time.
The consequences of further defence cuts would be very dangerous for Britains security and standing in the world. I know that many in my party share this view and I expect that a Conservative Government will make the right decisions that Labour has continually avoided.
Figures showing that the UK Armed Forces are currently just under 98 per cent of their full time trained strength requirement have been released today by the MOD. This is up from 96.8 per cent a year ago and shows a continued upward trend in both recruitment and retention.
As at 1 October 2009, the full time trained strength of the UK Armed Forces was 174, 890 against a target of 178,490. This comprises 170,050 UK Regular Forces, 1,320 full time reserve service personnel and 3,520 Gurkhas.
The statistics show that the number of people leaving the trained strength of the UK Regular Forces in the 12 months to 30 September 2009 has fallen by 21.9 per cent compared with the same period a year ago. Overall, the number of people leaving is at its lowest in five years.
A total of 24,230 new recruits have joined the UK Regular Forces in the 12 months to 30 September 2009, an increase of 12.6 per cent (2,720 people) compared to the previous 12 months. The number of people joining the Armed Forces is at its highest point since the 12 months to 31 March 2002.
Since 1 October 2008, the proportion of females in the UK Regular Forces has risen from 12.0 per cent to 12.1 per cent for officers and from 8.9 per cent to 9.0 per cent for other ranks. The percentage of UK Regular Forces from ethnic minority backgrounds continues to rise; at 1 October 2009 ethnic minorities accounted for 6.6 per cent of UK Regular Forces compared to 6.3 per cent at the same point last year.
These figures show that there were 18,270 untrained personnel (not including officers) at 1 October 2009, up from 15,540 at the same point last year. The number of untrained officers was up from 3,060 to 3,230 in the same period.
All figures and percentages exclude the Home Service battalions of the Royal Irish Regiment and Reservists mobilised for service.
As we move closer to the General Election the shape of the likely Conservative Government’s defence policy is becoming clearer. Shadow Defence Secretary Liam Fox has already set out his intention to hold a comprehensive defence review to look at the structure and composition of our armed forces. However, even before that reports, a number of key planks of the Conservative approach are now clear.
At the Manchester Conservative party conference Liam Fox stated his intention to cut the number of MOD Civil Servants. At around 88,000, the total is very high compared to an Army of 100,000 and an Air Force of 40,000. However, the review will need to look at exactly where these cuts should fall. There are many MOD Civil Servants doing essential jobs that used to be done by service men and women, and for much less pay.
The area that could easily stand some cuts is in the Ministry of Defence itself. The armed forces are in my opinion heavily over-staffed at the top. The Army has HQ Land, the Navy has HQ Fleet and the Air Force has Air Command. Each of these directs and runs their respective service with suitably high-ranked officers and senior civilian staffs. Then we also have the Permanent Joint Headquarters at Northwood which oversees current operations in a tri-service environment. On top of these four Headquarters we have the Ministry of Defence itself, in many cases duplicating functions of the individual service commands. One of the Ministry’s functions is to support Ministers with direct advice and public relations but there is often tension between similar staffs in the Ministry and the individual service command headquarters.
I suggest that the MOD itself should be radically slimmed down and many of its functions devolved down to the service headquarters. There is no reason why the individual services cannot provide advice and guidance to Ministers through a much smaller central MOD staff. There may also be a few cases where the individual services should lose some staff and control to the MOD, such as in contracts, accounting and training. We simply cannot afford to have so many people behind desks when we are short of front-line manpower.
The second area where the Conservatives have been clear is in the announcement this week that the 25,000 strong British military presence in Germany would be ended. In the short term this could increase costs to the defence budget as facilities and accommodation have to be found or constructed in the UK, but it could save money in the longer term. Britain would also have to find training areas for the elements of the Army that are currently able to train on the German plains.
Liam Fox has also confirmed that he would wish to replace the aging Trident strategic nuclear missile system (right) and that will require major investment in the next 5-10 years. I think that that is the wrong decision and I fear that there will have to be further cuts in the Royal Navy’s already shrunken surface fleet in order to pay for it. I would prefer to see us nuclear arm some of the cruise missiles that we have on our hunter killer submarines and thereby downgrade our nuclear weapons programme.
The next Government will have to be radical and whilst in the current economic climate there may not be more money for defence, in my view it should avoid cutting the defence budget. One of the most damaging proposals to come out of the Government in recent weeks was the decision to cut the TA’s training budget in order to save a measly £20m. This has now been reversed under pressure from all sides but the salami slicing approach to defence cannot continue.
A defence review must seek to extract more front line bang for every Pound spent. Withdrawing from Germany, cutting the headquarters overhead and possibly restructuring some elements of the armed services will be essential. If we don’t do that we will find ourselves cutting major defence projects after we have invested millions or billions and selling some of the equipment that only last year was deemed essential. That could see us selling one of the planned two new aircraft carriers and having to depend on the French at times for maritime air cover. Such a prospect should send shivers down the spine of any patriotic naval strategist.
There are no easy choices but a Conservative government must ensure that our armed forces are properly funded for the tasks they are being asked to undertake. A strategic defence review must also ensure that the impact of further cuts on our influence in the world, are properly evaluated. A nation’s world influence is often measured by the size of its economy but the size and effectiveness of its armed forces are also a key factor, as well as its willingness to use them. If Britain wishes to avoid losing even more influence and prestige the Government must provide the funds to support armed forces that have worldwide reach and world-class equipment.
Defence is often seen as an easy cut but the consequences are only apparent when British territory or interests are threatened. We should not forget the lessons of the 1930’s, the Falklands conflict or the two Iraq wars. Maintenance of effective armed forces is a sensible insurance policy in an increasingly unstable 21st Century.
The biggest and most powerful attack submarine ever built for the Royal Navy – Astute – took to the seas this weekend. Astute set sail from Barrow-in-Furness to start her first set of sea trials and is now heading to her homeport of Faslane on the Clyde in Scotland.
Measuring nearly one hundred metres from bow to stern, Astute is longer than ten London buses. When fully stored, she will displace 7,800 tonnes of sea water, equivalent to 65 blue whales.
The Astute submarine has the latest stealth technology, a world-beating sonar system and is armed with 38 torpedoes and missiles – more than any previous Royal Navy submarine. She will be able to circumnavigate the entire globe while submerged and advanced nuclear technology means that she will never need to be refuelled.
Astute is expected to arrive in Faslane later this week and will now begin a set of sea trials ahead of her full acceptance with the Royal Navy next year.
The first RAF Merlin helicopter crews are ready to deploy to Afghanistan following pre-deployment training in the United States. The Merlins, from RAF Benson in Oxfordshire, will deploy soon and will provide vital support to ground operations and increase the capacity of UK helicopter lift in Afghanistan by a further 25 per cent.
El Centro Naval Base in California is the US Navy’s main training base and has played host to crews from 28 and 78 Squadrons. They have been training for the unique challenges of the Afghan environment: the hot, high and dusty conditions.
The entire fleet is undergoing a £45M upgrade programme that will allow the helicopters to improve performance in the harsh conditions and protect against threats. Modifications include new rotor blades for ‘hot & high’ conditions and improved defensive aids against hostile threats.
Merlins can carry up to 20 personnel and will provide an additional capability to the Chinook and Lynx. Personnel from 78 Squadron are already in Afghanistan preparing for the arrival of the first helicopters, which are due by the end of the year.