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While it is the case that Britain only had a Strategic Defence and Security Review in 2015 circumstances have clearly changed.

The last Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) which took place in 2015 was criticised by many as being conducted through the lens of accountancy. However, fast forward to present day, and there are already discussions taking place in the Ministry of Defence and Whitehall in London over the financial reality of the armed forces.

The current political discussions are based on reducing defence expenditure including the possibility of cuts to our amphibious warfare capabilities such as the HMS Albion and HMS Bulwark and the dismemberment of the Royal Marines. Both of which is strategically nonsensical.

It is of my opinion, the best way to reach an agreement in terms of resources needed to match the changing security architecture is for a fresh review to be brought forward in Parliament, so it can be debated in the Select Committees and to be open to all the branches of the military to have an input and say on future defence policy including procurement, what should be included in our National Security Strategy, the current and future balance of forces, and also current and future spending.

As the political system and the nature of separate branches encourage debate on the nature of those interests between the Royal Navy, Royal Marines, The British Army, and the Royal Air Force, this is a good thing. As such, I realise there will be competition among the branches who will get the most allocated to them but that is the nature of the bureaucratic system, and there will no doubt debate. But that is a good thing. Not something to ignore. It is both necessary and essential for our national interest to do so if we are going forward with our security operations in the 2020s and beyond. While it is worth mentioning that the last Strategic Defence Review was concerned with enshrining that Britain retains its nuclear capabilities in the new Trident replacement in the Dreadnought class submarines, this new defence review will look more broadly at the status of our current and future force structures, and material.

With the commissioning of the HMS Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier this month, with a lifespan of 50 years, it will be expected to operate until the late 2060s or maybe even beyond that lifespan. We have to consider what type of military and in particular what type of Royal Navy can our country sustain if Britain is going to continue to have global reach?

However, for Britain to have a global reach it must have an amphibious capability based upon the ability to deploy Royal Marines in any combat zone across the world. On a final note, this brings us to the question of security itself, and how the United Kingdom defines its security interests in this increasingly multipolar, and unpredictable environment.

The only benefit the Cold War gave us, is the security community knew who the enemy was, and it was a state-based international system. Now with the advent of international terrorism and the concept of failed states, we are no longer dealing with monolithic states with global ideologies, but extremists. We are living in a multipolar world, where security cannot be necessarily guaranteed by the United States and NATO, which means that countries such as the United Kingdom may have to become more innovative in how it meets its defence needs, and contemplate the possibility of acting unilaterally if necessary or with its partners.

Plus, we have to reconcile our strategic interests with the rise of China, a nuclear-capable North Korea, and a resurgent Russia in the East. All of which needs to be discussed and explored within a new defence review so that Britain can articulate its strategic vision to the world, and match it with current and future capabilities.

45 COMMENTS

  1. Is it selfish to say the Pacific should be left to the Americans? The UK doesn’t have the resources to get involved especially if Australia selects another Spanish design to replace the Anzac class, there would be no cross over in terms of maintenance and training to make it worth the effort other than exercises.
    There is plenty of policing to be carried out in the Med and Horn of Africa without getting involved in the SC Sea.
    The Warrior upgrade program appears to be at serious risk. If they cut the numbers in half but pay the same price it would be better value to axe all of them and order more Ajax vehicles which is the same size and weight.

  2. Hmm, so, was having a discussion with a former minister (fm) t’other night about defence and the carriers.

    Some takeaways worthy of sharing;

    1) Cameron, Clegg and Osbourne were absolutely going to scrap the carriers early in the 2010 parliament.
    2) Something happened and Cameron changed his mind. Various reasons suggested by fm but none confirmed by Cameron to him;
    a) Cost to cancel
    b) American pressure
    c) Impotence over Libya
    3) fm thinks the carriers are white elephants that should be given to gulf states so they can parade them around not us
    4) Thinks there won’t be enough money for the F-35s
    5) Believes defence is funded well enough – wouldn’t give a penny more until role for carriers is defined
    6) Think RN played Govt with the carrier naming so should now be forced to make other choices
    7) Every pressure group known to parliament trying to strong arm the Govt pre-budget thinking Govt would cave in, are now surprised it didn’t and being vocal about it (especially defence)
    8) There is only one thing which truly unites Tories right now and that is to not to further misstep their way into a GE

    Slightly off track but related was his view of Corbyn and McDonnell; Jeremy is actually quite a nice bloke, a naive man but fundamentally all right. McDonnell on the other hand is a full on Marxist thug. A clever, intelligent man who would happily shoot half the people in the room – any room. His nickname ‘Beria’ is fully deserved – the most dangerous man in parliament.

    All presented without opinion or comment

    • From memory Gordon Brown along with BAE ensured the carrier contracts where so water tight the compensation from canceling them would cost as much as the carriers.
      Overall I think they will be good value for money the two of them cost $1bn less than a single US nuclear carrier.

      • FM sounds very capable and very credible. The carriers are clearly white elephants and Defence is in a mess because the nation has bought them.
        Any sensible, objective Review will conclude that selling the carriers will put the Armed Forces in a better place.

        • How is defence in a mess because of the carriers.

          Is defence in a mess due to 16 billion cost of Typhoon?

          No to both.

          Defences problems and the reasons why are well documented but blaming the carriers is far too easy, and plain wrong.

          • Defence is in a mess because of the carriers because we don’t need the carriers. We haven’t needed carriers since 1982. And that only occurred because British foreign policy gave off the wrong signals to Argentina.

            (We didn’t “need” the carriers in the Middle East, the Balkans or Libya)

            We do, however, need Typhoon.

            Blaming the carriers is not only easy but absolutely right. Carriers are nice to have, not essential. Air defence capabilities on the other hand are vital.

            If the UK keeps these white elephants, then the Navy need to find the money and manpower to resource them. And we shouldn’t lose the RM either…………… nor should it impact on the Army or RAF.

            Its not too late to sell the carriers – hugely embarrassing for the UK – but the right decision.

        • I didn’t agree with the FM although I understand the argument against the carriers in the light of budget constraints.

          I argue this from two per perspectives;

          1) It’s just not Ok to leave it all to the US
          2) We are the northern flank of NATO and I believe it’s a significant part of that deterrent

          I also proffer that defence spending as a whole is just too low because the other holes mentioned in this thread are equally valid and need addressing.

  3. If Brexit is about trading with the future and the future is Asia then we need to be there. Even with The Belt & Roadway project the seas will remain strategically the most important.

    The world is changing, we have good relations with China, Japan and India and we have an opportunity to become a trusted party in the region.

    The RN should absolutely have a significant presence in the region – little of which can be done with current hull numbers other than a rare visit. I don’t think the QEs are right for the region or this strategic mission as they send the wrong message for that role. They should be deployed on NATO’s northern flank, Atlantic and ME.

    However, RN subs and escorts should be part of our diplomatic arsenal and likewise ensuring the rules are kept by all.

    Will need more resources to make it happen though – see comments from fm above

    • It comes down too resources.. You can only do so much with so little.. The UK Military has become a shadow of it’s former self.. The days when she had 12 aircraft carriers and 100 frigates and destroyer are long gone.

  4. Stupid suggestion, what would be the point until after Brexit, if we don’t know the financial ramifications of Brexit?

  5. I look at the military with a slightly different view to most – yes it is there to defend us but it does so much more for this country.

    1. It provides opportunities for those who are from less advantaged backgrounds or those who have made mistakes in their past.
    2. It turns these individuals into useful citizens and adds a number of highly qualified trades people to the workforce.
    3. It provides the high tech, engineering and heavy industries with orders that ensure we remain relevant and at the cutting edge globally.
    4. This trickles down into the wider economy.

    I may be getting old – but standards across the whole of our life have dramatically dropped as successive governments have went for an industry self regulation model aligned to cost cutting. Small things do make a difference – whether that is the milkman delivering milk and having interaction with old lonely people or the postman doing the same (Sky TV understood this when they launched and bought the Football rights to underpin their sales). Some things are worth protecting as they are part of our culture and I think the forces are one of these things.

    The USA treat their armed forces like heroes, we in that very British way apologise politely for ours… It really needs to stop – we need to regenerate our national belief and be proud of what and who we are, especially post Brexit.

    The armed forces can help people change their lives for the better, offer British industry opportunities to build and Grow and actually provide a sense of Britishness that is fast diminishing.

    Yes, lets look at what they need to do, but also lets not forget what else they bring to the table in terms of culture, opportunity and the ability to turn the tide back towards a set of values that make us a great country to live in.

    • Agreed but what you are saying is that:

      the armed forces embodied a way of thinking and policy that promoted a better way of life than the reasoning and policies we have today.

      So the question is not about the value of the armed forces, for if they embody a corrupt way of thinking or destructive and short sighted policies they would not hold your respect.

      The question is then, what was fundamentally different between then and now? I am not asking about superficial observations about being nicer to each other or more respectful etc. but what fundamental beliefs did society hold then about reality and humanity’s place in it which differ from today’s? What were the absolute bedrock, motivating beliefs that shaped thinking, which in turned influenced policy that was eventually enacted and finally embodied in the armed forces?

      • Hi Nathan

        Fundamentally, I think everyone is in it for themselves and govt policy has facilitated this. The military seems to hold onto a higher calling and the fact that the total is bigger than a single contributor.

        I also think this affects the military – as some of its leadership is not doing what is best for the whole – but what is best for their own careers. Sad but true.

  6. I fear another SDSR would just be opening a Pandora’s box, giving the Government an excuse for a further 60 pages of obfuscatory wuffle about ‘soft power’, ‘international aid’ and ‘the growing cyber threat’, prior to again cutting the equipment budget, key capabilities and service numbers.

    I would like to see one party bring forward a green paper on defence – a discussion document prior to a White Paper – where the minimum peacetime requirements and serious current shortfalls were set out clearly, role by role.

    For instance, if circumstances dictated that we had to send two Typhoon squadrons to Estonia and Germany/Poland, we would have just 3 squadrons left to meet any action in the North Atlantic, to defend the UK, to carry out other global tasks. We are minimally 2 squadrons short – and it takes 2-3 years to train and raise a new squadron from scratch.

    Equally, 8 MR aircraft cannot conceivably cover the UK’s maritime exclusion zone and identify submarine threats, at the same time as overflight of the Carrier Battle Group and whatever other tasks arise – any more than 7 fleet submarines can do likewise.

    Again, anything less than 8 army brigades + 4 regular/reserve ones would only enable us to put 4 into Eastern Europe and the Baltics if circumstances dictated – a sixth of the number Russia deployed in Zapad!

    The trouble is that there is no informed debate in Parliament on the bigger defence picture, yes, the Defence Select Committee knocks lumps out of the Government’s defence policy but it is completely ignored when the SDSRs are put together and the members are a dew informed voices in the wilderness.

    The format of a green paper needs to be: These are our real-world military commitments, here are the minimum forces needed to fulfill each, here is what we’ve actually got – and here is the yawning current gap between ‘punching above our weight’ and reality. Now, which of our commitments – overseas expeditionary power? Defence treaties with the Commonwealth and others? Defence of our overseas territories and the Falklands? Nuclear deterrent? Offshore patrol of UK waters? Etc, etc – do the House wish to retain and are prepared to lose? Because it is either cut the commitments, which we cannot anyway fulfill in most cases with current service numbers and platforms, or increase the budget by 20%+ to get us somewhat closer to meeting the big spectrum of tasks we are expected to magically undertake with insufficient resources.

    It would at least generate some real debate and a lot of media write-ups and maybe even impinge on the consciousness of the great, uninformed British public, a large number of whom still firmly believe that we have military capabilities far in excess of the realities.

  7. Why are we even talking about this ? For the same reason we’ve been having these reviews as regular as clockwork for 50-60 years. The MoD or the armed forces or both are completely incompetent. When was the last time a defence procurement came in on time and/or on budget or even anywhere near ? It makes no difference what we give them to spend they’ll make a ‘spherical objects’ of it and be back throwing their teddys out of the pram like the spoilt brats they are. Cynical ? No. Fed up ? You bet.

  8. As an American who is tired of paying taxes to support the world’s largest military it is disappointing to see the UK continuously wringing its hands to squeeze money out of its defense capability.
    American blood and treasure should not be taken for granted by the European powers. We in the US need to spend more on our own infrastructure and social services, and less on our military. There is growing sentiment for that in the US.
    The UK and other European powers should confront the need to raise their spending and capabilities to cold war levels, at least 5% of GDP, before it is too late. One benefit of restoring UK military forces to their 1980s levels would be a more influential seat at the table, which would act as a brake on misguided US adventurism such as the invasion of Iraq.
    Whatever the level of competence or incompetence there is at the MOD, it is the British public and Parliament that have to accept the UK’s national, Commonwealth, and global responsibilities, and spend and plan accordingly.

  9. The time is fast coming that the poor hard pressed tax payer MUST be consulted before yet more money is thrown away on vanity projects. I await with bated breath in the hope that the Chancellor has his way and we see spending within the means of what we as a medium sized country in Europe can afford. It is high time that reality in terms of threats were properly identified. Huge white elephants including Trident are doing nothing to defend this country. I feel another letter to the Chancellor coming on.

    • TH – I think thats what happens when an election is called.

      What I would like to see is a legally binding costed manifesto that clearly states what % of its budget the government intends to spend on each key department / area and how it intends to raise the taxes for these funds.

      I then expect them to act upon this instead of constantly borrowing money that we will have to pay back at some point.

      • Taxpayers were consulted during the elections. Now tell me if I were to ask a British taxpayer do you think everyone is paying there share? Should we cut the Army, Education, Healthcare, and name your favorite government project to give people who hide their money overseas another tax cut?

        That isn’t what tax cuts do but that will be how the press and the Labour Party will spin it. Do you think Jeremy Corbyn will give you a tax cut? Because if that is what you do you will land him in office faster than you can blink. Good luck with keeping your taxes or (private property) then.

    • “spending within the means”

      you are absolutely right here and I share your concern and belief that the UK spends too much on Welfare and the NHS. There are huge cuts to be made here.
      Spot on – for once, we agree

  10. Excellent comment from a Times reader:

    “The conversation we should be having is about the role the UK can afford to play in a post colonial world. We cannot afford to punch above our weight and I suspect a large section of the public don’t want us to. If we have no colonies left to protect why do we need to project ourselves globally in a world of shifting socio-economic relationships.

    It is time for us to rediscover who we are and recognise that the emperor is naked.”

    • TH that’s a great idea let’s have a debate and ask some awkward questions such as the £13bn borrowed ever year only to be given away. Because if you ask that question a large section of the public will give an answer your average Times reader wouldn’t like. Hence why £1 or £2bn extra for defence is nothing when spending on everything else is out of control.

    • And the sacrifice of tens of thousands of lives by ANZAC and commonwealth soldiers in defence of your freedom has been forgotten apparently, because those countries can no longer depend on the UK to reciprocate when the chips are down.

  11. There is no doubt in my mind that the budget is ok – the main issue is that it is inefficiently spent.

    Defence needs to get its house in order and decide what it must do as a minimum and concentrate on that and start building from there.

    I would like to see Gavin Williamson set out what happens to the UK economy without the military spending its money on UK industry or what could happen if it spent more. At the end of the day the govt. are happy to subsidise the UK car industry – so why not the military sector which also provides high end jobs across the country – often in areas of low unemployment that would otherwise have a severe economic impact.

    £40bn p.a is enough for defence – lets get a 50 year equipment schedule planned and take it from there.

  12. I agree that there should be a new SDSR. The RAF has too few fighter squadrons and will probably be more or less OK in the present mini defence review because bombing our enemies from a safe height is the sort of operation to which our spineless politicians will commit. The Nuclear Deterrent is probably safe for now but continuous at sea deterrence may be sacrificed in a future round of cuts. The aircraft carriers are probably safe for now but purchase of F35Bs will be slowed or cut and if the current finance driven approach continues expect to see HMS Prince of Wales sold to Brazil in the mid-2020s. The Army and Royal Marines are not safe because our current politicians are probably too lacking in will to put “boots on the ground” so you can expect them to make savings in these areas. The amphibious shipping is at great risk because:
    • Again, due to the “boots on the ground” issue, politicians will see little point in the capability if they know in their hearts that they do not have the will to use it.
    • Politicians simply do not seem to understand that the amphibious force is an integrated system to which each class of ship brings specific attributes that cannot be fully compensated for by the remaining classes. HMS Ocean (paying off in 2018) provides primarily helicopter assault attributes but can also launch 4 small landing craft she carries on davits. Using the second Queen Elizabeth class ship as a helicopter carrier does not address the loss of Ocean’s landing craft and the helicopter capability will be degraded because it is unlikely that these £3bn ships will be committed as close to the shore as the £300m HMS Ocean so transit time will increase and force build up will be slowed. The LPDs provide command and control facilities but these can probably be transferred to other ships (at a cost which will eat into the savings made by paying off the LPDs.) Perhaps more significantly the LPDs can each carry and launch 4 large and 4 small landing craft plus hovercraft, they have 2 helicopter spots and they carry the beach units which enable men and vehicles to flow across unprepared beaches. These LPD attributes cannot be readily squeezed into other classes of ships and their loss will prevent rapid build up ashore and make landings vulnerable to counter attack. The Queen Elizabeth class lack the docks and davits of the LPDs for the landing craft and hovercraft. Bay class docks can only take one large or 2 small landing craft.
    A new SDSR should, as always, be based on threat assessments so this could perhaps at least force politicians to face up to their fears about particular military options and specifically “boots on the ground” capabilities. A threat led SDSR might also:
    • Educate our politicians to realise that our prospective enemies are more likely to exploit those areas where we have chosen to weaken ourselves, not those areas where we have chosen to remain strong.
    • Educate our politicians to realise that defence capabilities are built up systemically from platform, weapon and support attributes. Deleting specific attributes from these defence systems can cause widespread capability erosion that will limit options for using force in the future.

  13. I believe in a defence budget paid for from our hard earned taxes which is sustainable and reflects this country’s place in the world. Now, just who are the real enemies? Russia, China ? Nonsense! It is terrorists and extremists and they aren’t deterred by white elephant carriers and Trident!
    Fortunately, as I am fast finding out, posters on here are in the minority and I and others will plague politicians endlessly until reality is faced.

    • Unsc P5 member.

      G8 member.

      One of worlds biggest economies.

      But your warped view actually happily demotes your own nation.

      Your obsession with disarmament always entails the western democracies disarming first.

    • So Russian backed proxies shot down a civilian airliner over the Ukraine. Russia invaded sovereign nations – Ukraine and Georgia. Russia is propping up a Syrian tyrant who used chemical weapons on his own people. Russian information operations – state backed – are attacking the West on a daily basis.
      There is your real threat.
      Fortunately, as we are fast finding out, apologists – or Russian trolls 😉 – like you are in a minority

  14. And if you really wanted to save money, then stop this appalling waste of between £35 to £40 billion to buy our way out of the EU whilst leaving a back door wide open via Eire. If I ever witnessed the act of absolute dimwits, it was those who voted for this utter fiasco and who were dumb enough to be conned into voting Brexit, something which will never fully happen.

    • That’s just around 3 years of what we pay to the EU anyway.

      Add to that the 13? Billion in foreign aid.

      So 27 billion a year that should go on our own services including defence.

  15. TH at last you show your true colours. You were in a minority who voted to remain but of course over 17m people are dimwits because they had a different opinion to you. It seems you are part of the establishment after all with it’ jobs for boys in the City and maintaining the status quo.
    Giving your total disdain for democracy of course you could of course move to Russia and China and see what it is like living in a dictatorship.
    Those two nations are very much opponents of the west whilst terrorism is a very unpleasant nuisance it is not on the same scale in terms of long term threat. Look beyond that idiot Trump and our allegiance is to other western democracies, which are undoubtedly weakened but what we have is worth protecting from countries such Russia and China.

    • I don’t think you can honestly say brexit was a success for democracy, considering the low turn out for the election, the proven lies that the brexit campaign were spouting out about the amount that would be saved and the era of protest votes around the world that ultimately lead to Trump.

      However, it is all smoke a mirrors. The money we have agreed to pay to leave, is the money we already committed to pay, and so we are no worse off from the 35b or whatever the final bill will be. Its the same with the exchange rate, yes today the rate is far worse against the dollar than a year or so before the vote, but exchange rates vary and making decisions based on todays low rate is insane short term thinking.

      Th reality is the defence budget was never fully funded and the 2015 defense review was just full of vague promises aimed at winning an election and getting PM on the side of the governement.

      • Steve I would just like to point out I did not say Brexit was a success for democracy but to put some balance to your statement the lies extended very predictably to both sides. You are right though many Brexit voters were probably protesting about a lot of things but it is hard not too feel that the political class of the UK had this coming for many years. I for one believe it needn’t have happened but the direction of the EU (it is going to be a Superstate) and the weakness of our leaders meant it was always going to happen. Unfortunately we now rely on those same idiots to negotiate our departure.

  16. The reality is that we are a permanent member of the UN Security Council and for many smaller countries in the world perhaps the only sensible one who will argue their corner? With that position comes responsibility and that involves having an offensive military capability. To stay at the top table these days means SSBNs and Carrier strike. Step away from the UN and then you can have a purely defensive force with off the shelf US kit at a fraction of the cost. It’s not a military decision it’s a political one. Suspect one of the CVFs will end up with an Indian flag on it.

    • we are a permanent member because we set it up after WW2 and we have a veto to prevent us being removed. We could close our armed forces this afternoon and not be removed.

    • Completely disagree. We could remain a permanent member of the UN Security Council without SSBNs and carrier strike. We could even remain without a nuclear capability because you have made the assumption that a nuclear capability has to be SSBN.

      However, I think we should retain a nuclear capability because of wider global implications and it probably should be SSBN.

      We absolutely don’t need carrier strike to be a permanent member. We will never operate in the world without access to land bases. And if we don’t have a land base, what are we doing there in the first place. We are now in the era of coalitions and allies.

      The other question is: should the UK even be a permanent member any more? We share interests with Canada and Australia – why not a time-share agreement 😉

  17. Leave the Government,s politicians out of this including the Defence secretary ,normally a Lap dog of the Treasury . Just the Military Chiefs, Security Services and Specialist international Bodies to assess threats now an the forseeable future.Fat chnce

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