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General Sir Richard Barrons, former Commander of Joint Forces Command, warns that the defence budget must be increased so the UK can protect against potential attacks from China or Russia.

The General told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme:

“I’m sure I haven’t convinced him because I am sure nobody in government is at the minute having the profoundly important debate that we need to have about how the world has changed, how the UK is at greater risk and what we need to be prepared to do in the future because the future will not replicate the comfortable recent past.

The risk today and more so in the future is that countries like Russia and China already have capability that could hold the UK homeland at military risk at very short notice.

We can’t really deal with that and we also run the risk in the future that British citizens or friends abroad will be in great jeopardy, they would need military help and we would have removed the ability to help them and our place in the world would be much diminished and we would be at risk.”

Sir Barron also warned that the Army should not shrink in size any further:

“I think the army of 82,000 plus a strong reserve of 30,000 is a good place to start. I don’t believe it can be any smaller. Below 82,000 is a problem but it is not the core issue. The core issue is what equipment does that Army have and how do you get it to the places it needs to be to do the things it must do.”

Sir Richard concluded by remarking that the MoD needs to “think about defence in its historically normal context of being prepared for wars of necessity where public opinion demands action.”

Last year, General Sir Richard Barrons wrote a scathing 10 page assessment of Britain’s armed forces in a private memo to Defence Secretary Michael Fallon. Below are excerpts from that memo.

● There is no military plan to defend the UK in a conventional conflict. “Counter-terrorism is the limit of up-to-date plans and preparations to secure our airspace, waters and territory . . . There is no top-to-bottom command and control mechanism, preparation or training in place for the UK armed forces [to defend home territory] . . . let alone to do so with Nato.”

● Navy ships and RAF planes are often deployed without adequate munitions or protections because they have grown used to depending on US forces to protect and support them. “Key capabilities such as radars, fire control systems and missile stocks are deficient.”

● Small numbers of hugely expensive pieces of military equipment make the UK’s capabilities “extremely fragile”. It is unlikely the UK’s two new aircraft carriers, which cost £2bn each, will ever be sent within 300km of the Chinese coast, for example. “We operate platforms that we cannot afford to use fully, damage or lose — industry would take years to repair or produce more.”

Read more about the memo here.

43 COMMENTS

      • Attitudes do need to change in every line of activity from defense to hospitals. The mechanisms currently in operation in the UK services, need to change in order that the most potential can be gleaned from every employee regardless of rank. The rules need to be rewritten in order that key players can flag issues of concern and have the reassurances that no negative actions will ensue. That means the capability to put forward ideas and suggestions, without fear of reprisal from management/seniority. Industry operated in a similar mode until relatively recently, where you did your job and shut up. Such a modus operandi could not continue without serious damage to development, profits, and competitiveness.

        The MOD needs to be cut free from past conventions to break free real innovative ideas can be created and allowed to grow, with everyone taking an active role. The concept of military action against our homeland has been treated with scant regard by consecutive governments, mainly to place stricter controls on budgets. That has lead to the majority of the nation not placing too much importance on home defense, with some sections seeing it as a complete waste of money and resource. People of all service ranks need to believe their concerns are addressed, and not ignored, as unwarranted mutterings of a disgruntled workforce. It only takes one hostile act against the UK to trigger fear and recriminations against those whose duty it is to protect us.

    • Retired seniors can say what they like virtually, and are useful to raise concerns. I daresay serving officers have words with them as well. Stanhope was one of the few who spoke out while still first sea lord, and was either booted out or due for retirement a couple of years later. Haven’t heard a thing from Zambelias, West is around a lot. What Stanhope said by the way was the the RN was running hot, and wouldn’t be able to do a sustained Libya, or another one.

  1. I would agree that there are fundamental problems with our defence spend. But I would beg to differ that it is not the absolute level of spend that is the main problem. For all of the forces the first priority is not the defence of this country or it’s friends. their first indeed overwhelming priority are their bloated, under worked officer corps. I would suggest a solution to them. That defence spend would be increased to 2.5% on one condition. That the proportion of officers should be reduced to the level of the USMC or IDF. I will guarantee you that that would induce apoplexy followed by deafening silence.

    • Hi David

      You have hit the nail on the head. The USMC has an externally audited budget of circa $30bn pa is larger than the whole UK armed force and has more tanks, aircraft than the UK – it is scheduled to have 400+ F35 against the UKs 138 – but I believe that is their operational requirement not their total order so far worse than it looks.

      Clearly the USMC do not fund a nuclear deterrent or Navy or the policy elements and civilian staff of the MOD but for the additional $20bn p.a that constitutes the remaining UK budget (of $50bn) I think we can have a great force for this and for me the IDF and USMC are the leaders in cost control and value creation.

      It should be noted that the UK defence budget is often quoted around $68bn pa by certain sources – so I really dont know what they spend it on and get so little in return.

  2. Realistically the defence budget can only be increased through more borrowing. Cutting other departments isn’t going to work as they have all been ravaged and no politician will argue that we need to reduce pensions and welfare to pay for frigates, nor should they. Foreign Aid could be used to fund humanitarian work by the armed forces but only after a change in rules at the OECD. We could reduce our commitment to the OECD but that would play out badly on the world stage.

    Deferring the elimination of the budget deficit seems to be the only answer.

    • Why is Foreign Aid even in the budget? If the preachy little parasites in the NGOs want to waste their time and hard earned money that is their prerogative. Helping prop up incompetent and often totalitarian governments and tin pot dictatorships by giving them loads of cold hard cash is all it accomplishes.
      Also who why not reduce the welfare rolls the threat imminent starvation was a very effective incentive to work in my youth. Unlike the pensioners they have not earned any of the money they are receiving.

      Also who gives a single solitary damn about world how the world stage would react.They don’t pay taxes in the UK and they are looking for a handout.

      • I don’t disagree with the sentiment on welfare – but if we do make savings in that area then it will almost certainly be used to bolster the NHS and education budgets, not defence.

        Given that we are now supposed to be looking to the wider world for trade etc do you not think that a foreign aid budget is a good idea to keep/gain influence and goodwill? It needs to be lower though and we should be able to spend it on humanitarian missions like the recent hurricane response.

        With other departments crying our for more funding defence will be low on the Government’s list. We should however try and increase the tax take to funnel resources to the MOD.

    • Point taken Rob but a ring fenced Foreign Aid budget of 13Bn is far, far too much and needs to be drastically cut. DfiD is literally sitting on billions with nothing to spend it on whilst the coffers of the Armed Forces and other Depts – esp the Foreign Office – are empty. This needs to be changed; in times of austerity when money is tight across the board, 0.7% if GDP simply can’t be justified.

      • Totally agree on it being too much. Foreign Aid should be under our control and spent where it really will make a difference.

        • I think foreign aid is poorly managed and badly abused

          Humanitarian aid on the other hand – the uk could be a world leader

          Imagine if we had delivered a load of container homes to the carribean after the recent hurricanes – made in the UK to very high standard. This not only benefits UK industry but actually would give those people in overseas territories a head start on rebuilding their lives.

          Incorporating the latest solar and water technologies the uk could become a world leader in humanitarian aid and its delivery.

          I also believe hospital ships crewed by RFA staff but managed by MSF or RC is the way to go as well.

          Instead we are funding girl bands in Africa… madness

          • Well said Pacman27 – why shouldn’t British industry benefit from the DFID budget; the money is spent supporting UK companies whilst the purchased products are shipped overseas to where they are needed – it’s a ‘win-win’ and makes perfect sense.

  3. The deficit can be cut by introducing a simpler fairer tax system that generates the maximum amount of sustainable revenue in the long term.

    Trouble is current crop of politicians do not have the courage to tell the voters the hard truth and implement the changes necessary.

  4. The armed forces require a complete overall of their command structure, we need to radically shrink the number of O-5 (Lt Col, Commander) ranks and above, and to use these reductions to increase the other ranks. The RN for example is short of front line sailors but has more Admirals than ships, and something like 9 or 10 ‘command’ grade officers per fighting ship. The military as a whole is a fraction of its cold war size, but we haven’t seen a corresponding cut in the upper ranks. Honestly, its time to ask if any of the services actually require a 4 star commander, or if the CDS should be a 4 star with 3 star heads of service….

  5. Completely agree with much of the above. Many jobs currently filled by Officers can actually be done by SNCO’s too. We have far too many very senior Officers because for some reason industry etc feels better when they talk to someone with a degree. (not withstanding the fact many SNCO’s in all 3 services have higher education qualifications)

    The Foreign Aid budget needs to go…..it just does. I couldn’t care less about ‘Up stream engagement’

    The welfare budget needs to be seriously looked at. People should be rewarded for working not sitting around on their collective fat asses.

    I’m not sure how many tax payers there are in the UK, but I think that 5p a month extra from every taxpayer would amount to a fair bit of money? I’m happy for someone with better maths skills that me to correct or corroborate.

    The sad fact is though, the vast swathes of the British public may claim to love the Armed Forces but would never sacrifice any more money or their benefits to fund it correctly.

    • No votes in defence.

      Unless we get attacked in some way of course then everyone will be asking why we didn’t have this or that. Politicians should be able to see past their own short term-ism and properly fund defence but we all know they will not do that at the expense of vote winning policies such as more funding for the NHS, education, and state pension increases.

      • Used to be Rob, the Conservatives used to be the party of choice for defence back in the old Cold War days where Labour were seen to be weak. Different days now.

        • Sadly, I can’t but agree but look at the other options. Sends a shiver down your spine! Let’s pray that the promises of an increase is some how brought about

          . Michael Fallon could make himself and the Conservatives very popular with an awful lot of people. and pull in a lot of votes. There are huge numbers of people in a lot of marginal seats who depend on defence for their livelihood.

  6. Agree with all of the comments.
    the armed forces top brass need to take a long hard look in the mirror. Why is it that they retire then and only then mention the perilous state of our armed forces.
    summed up best by having some exquisite kit but to little of it and too few personnel.
    There is no resilience built into our armed forces. It seems the navy operates with the concept that war is never going to happen and if it does we will suffer no ship or submarine loses or battle damage. Even though the RN is the most recently battle experienced navy in the world. Gulf wars and Falklands.
    I would cut top brass in the armed forces by 50%
    Then cut foreign aid entirely to nothing but disaster relief.
    Then cut welfare so maximum benefits anyone can get out of the state is £20k per annum so that noone on benefits receives more than a nurse, police officer, soldier starting their careers and actually serving the country. Yes this would also include housing benefits and mean a maximum cap of £40k for a 2 adult household.
    The defence budget must go up to at least 3% gdp to defence ratio
    The RN is the service at the most high risk of defeat in battle.
    soon no anti ship missiles, not enough escorts (19 only and 2 of those are in dockside training roles) not enough subs (just 7 attack subs). Only 48 F35Bs to arm the QE carriers when we need a total force of 100+ in active service.
    No firm commitment on numbers of type 31 frigates when the RN desperately needs at least 10 more vessels.
    Type 26 order reduced to just 8 vessels pushing unit costs upto and above £1 billion each. The RN needs 12-13 of these high end vessels not just 8.
    HMS Ocean being sold off due yo manpower issues when the RN should be retaining her until a suitable new replacement built. Ditto the batch 1 river class, which could go to the coastguard and help develop an armed police unit such as the US CG have. Why not?
    No plan to replace challenger 2 and face upto the threat of the Aramata series tanks being built at reasonably low unit costs in Russia.
    No unified plan for the defence of the UK? That says it all really…anyone surprised by this.
    in ages gone by heads would roll (literally)

  7. There is lots of debate on this blog but I think all of the problems mentioned have roots in the fact that our procurements and service structures are not efficient. We therefore have less than we should for our 2%. I think the following is needed…

    PEOPLE

    Eliminate the bureaucraticly expensive procument system and wasteful competitions and long decision timelines like FRES, F35-B/C and T26. Cut the Defence Equipment and Support Agency (we don’t need 20,000 people to buy food and toilet paper for our 150,000 armed forces personel), and stop handing over cash for stupid stuff like the £0.5bn spent a few years back on a loitering munition demonstrator project.

    We probably don’t need all the 56,000 civil servants in the MOD costing maybe £2bn, plus £3bn to look after 1.8% of UK land, valued at £20bn.

    We don’t need a 30,000 strong Joint Force Command and still have the three service commands that it was supposed to replace? We have 1,600 Lt Colonels to command just 49 Infantry Battlions and 1,500 full Colonels to command nothing. We have 438 one or more star officiers but only 9 Army Brigades and a total UK military strength almost small enough to be commanded by a single 3 star officier. There are 75 Commodores and 38 Admirals for just a tiny handful of capital ships, and a very high rank heavy RAF with Wing Commanders in charge of Squadrons and most Group Captains in charge of not much more than the airbase facilites budget.

    So eliminate the RAF and transfer assets and aircraft crews to the FAA or AAC. If it mostly flies above land and supports the army its AAC, if it mostly flies above the sea or off a carrier its FAA. This would also eliminate most of the inter-service fighting and promote efficiency rather than the “make sure it’s us who gets the most budget” method. e.g. using Predator+LMM against ISIS snipers instead of using A330 AAR and Typhoon+Brimstone/Paveway.

    Shake up the personel left to have less ranks, 8* officier ranks instead of 12 should be enough. Organise ground units into 300 man squadrons, or 1200 strong full battle groups with organic ground support instead of temporary structures made up of several pieces that each have their own Corp command structure that just adds extra rear echelon hats. Remove them, retire out those who don’t get promotions and recruit recruit recruit at the lowest level to get more on the front line especially those tough Marines and Paras.

    * Four and two star Admiral/General, Commodore/Brigadier, Captain/Colonel (Big ships & Battle Groups), Commander/Major (Smaller Ships and Squadrons), Lieutenant (Company), Ensign (Platoon), and Cadet. Note the new army rank of Ensign to match the navy, the promotion of army Lieutenant to a Company, and the loss of army Captain to avoid confusion with the higher navy Captain. The WO1 rank could also go.

    Sell off the MOD land and buildings we don’t use and bring up to date what we do. Provide good personal kit with more pay at the sharp end and a good working plan for re-introducing personel into civi street so we don’t have a top heavy structure. Perhaps the MOD civil service should be full of ex forces types with the right apptitude so they actually know what they’re buying and whether it’s useful or not.

    EQUIPMENT

    Rationallise weapons, e.g. NSM instead of Tomahawk, Harpoon, Storm Shadow and the Future Long Range Effects program, and guns like 30mm for example instead of 20, 25, 27, 30 short, 30 long and 40mm. This will eliminate choice in the future but choice only delays projects and adds operational costs of multiple systems. It will though improve R&D as manufacturers will be trying to fit their latest fuse or whatever into the size we will buy instead of trying to sell us something that is only a little bit different like the new 27mm which we don’t have anywhere except in the Typhoon.

    Do the same with vehicles, e.g. Foxhound instead of Fuchs, Ridgback, Foxhound, Jackal, Husky, Panther and Bushmaster. This will reduce the training, maintenance and supply chain costs, will support long term jobs in industry and enable economies of scale to reduce costs further.

    Build larger quantities of ships of fewer designs with modular configurable spaces. After all a ship is just a thing that carries stuff. Three yards for surface vessels (large, medium and small), another one for subs, and Royal Dockyards for weapon and sensor fitting. Recycle them here too. Make sure the build rate is balanced between fleet size and service life so that no production gaps exist and that fleet size can’t drop without closing a yard and eliminating all building capability of that ship size. Some will say this puts all our eggs of each type in only one basket but UK Gov always cuts capacity but less so capability so by having only one yard for each ship size means the next gov or any after can’t reduce numbers of any type without losing all building capability of that ship size.

    So many big ideas but no polititian to do it.

    • I knew the UK had a officer heavy force but I didn’t think the Army would have more general officers than the US Army’s active duty list and nearly 7 1/2 times the USMCs.

  8. Bloody Hell TH. for once you are bang on the money and I find myself in total agreement with you… Not something I ever thought I would admit to..

    A single force structure with the RAF absorbed into the other services is needed, we also need to concentrate on Cyber as a supporting force.

    I have stated a few times I believe we should have a 6/7 Division UKDF structure with 2 Divisions being expeditionary (carrier groups/RMs etc), 4 Divisions conducting our standing commitments and a single core command/control/logistics support core. Each division would be rotated through tasking on a yearly basis and this would give us a need for no more than 12 training areas (super bases) in the UK.

  9. In a similar vein I believe welfare should be capped at 50% of minimum wage (as that is what we believe the minimum wage people should earn – surely we should not be paying people more for not working)

    Minimum wage should be tax free.

    A single uniformed police force for the UK and an FBI style force for all major crime (separating community policing from the more serious crime).

    But of course this will not happen – from a tax perspective – not taking money from people only to give it back to them must be far more efficient than what we have now.

  10. Welfare should be capped so that no person out of work receives more in benefits then a newly qualified nurse, policeman, fireman eg someone who serves the public good. So max benefit payment (including housing and everything else, should be £21k.
    It is ridiculous that in the uk you can be a career unemployed benefits claimant, never work a day in your life and earn more than a soldier, sailor ir RAF personnel who potentially will risk their lives for their country.
    although risking your life is not just restricted to armed forces. A nurse working in the frontline of the NHS is a bloody dangerous job these days, ditto police, firemen and ambulancemen/ women.

  11. – Spending 2% of GDP on defence would be a good start…. £34bn is not 2% of GDP

    – There isn’t even 82,000 people in the army, which he well knows.
    As of May 1st this year the Army had: 78,000 personnel.

    • Absolutely agree Joe and within that 34Bn is the nuclear deterrent, pensions and others line items that shouldn’t be. Fallon and HMG threw everything they could muster to pretend to meet the 2% GDP requirement but fooled no-one in the process. Everyone who cares knows we don’t truthfully meet it and 2% is the NATO stated MINIMUM – not the desired goal!

      I fear the neglect of our Armed Forces will some day come back to haunt us as a nation – we need the British public to waken up to what’s going on!

      • Gideon Osbourne really did a number on defence when he moved everything into core spending.

        When Doris in the canteen took early retirement, that money comes out of core defence expenditure.

        It’s farcical

  12. All this heartache. It’s not going to happen. Britain will find its true place in the world, a medium sized European country and budget accordingly

  13. the huge number of civil servants / non combat staff needs to be addressed. The plan for cutting the defence budget was the cut private sector roles but maybe they need to look at public sector also. The problem is the unions would go nuts and the government has no desire to fight the unions, so instead equopment gets cut and lives put at risk.

    One of the biggest takeaway from the Afghan/ Iraq mess was there wasn’t enough helicopter and yet it seems they are slowly reducing down again. Already apache numbers cut to 50 and rumours of more cuts.

  14. yes i think there is about 74,840 regs and 2,940 Ghurka plus mobilised reserves and 4600 phase 1 trained troops.. According to 1st September monthly personnel figures..

  15. As a remedial action we need to invest an additional 3 billion into Defence per annum, right now!
    This money would be recovered from the foreign aid budget

    This would be used (in part) to offer decent incentive led pay rises to personal we desperately need to retain and for that matter re-join.

    The services are loosing highly skilled men and woman to the private sector every day (same issue in the NHS), to combat this I would move away from the public sector “straight jacket” thinking of everyone gets the same salary at a particular rank or grade. That would be kicked out and replaced with incentive / achievement based pay grades.

    Reward hard work and encourage under achievers to try harder, with a boot up the ass where needed!

    Moving forward, Defence absolutely needs to be pegged at a not unreasonable 3% GDP and that money very carefully spent … i.e not used to prop up UK defence jobs (that’s the DTI’s remit), but spent after listening to the specific requirements of the armed forces and then implementation of those requirements.

    We have to stop MP’s lobbying for their local contractor and delaying procurement decisions, purely based on keeping their Westminster seat and nothing to do with the equipment … that has to stop now, its why the Army has Wildcat Helicopters that are eye wateringley expensive and of very limited utility.

    Of all the armed services, The RN needs to be turned around with increased urgency, I would set a deadline of 2030 to return it to health and fit for the 21 St Century.

    Ship and sub numbers returned to year 2000 levels as a start.

    • we need a more realistic strategy.

      saying oh let’s take money out of the foreign aid budget and put it into defence, is clearly a non-starter. Firstly it would be immensely unpopular with the electorate and more importantly any additional cash first needs to go into other areas like the NHS or the transport infrastructure.

      Equally avoiding political interference is a no go, this is done all over the world and is human nature for the elected politicians to want to get re-elected by being involved in jobs going into their area. Additionally politicians love confirming future big purchases without fully budgeting for it, and this will never change.

      The budget is the budget and the military are stuck with it. We are not going to see an increase to 3% unless we return to a cold war era, which we are no where near currently.

      What they need to do is somehow live in this political bubble that they are stuck with and work a way to spend the money smarter and do better PR to get more public interest.

      • Hi Steve,
        I understand what you are saying, the trouble is we are currently sleep walking into a hugely dangerous world situation.

        Let’s take a look at the Cold war for instance, yes we had Northern Irish domestic terrorism to deal with and numerous east/west sparked and fueled flash points and of course the threat of Nuclear war, but at least those Nukes were in (relatively) stable hands.

        the world today is far more dangerous and our country is in much more danger. Yet Defence policy is purely politically driven. The 5 year Defence reviews were supposed to stop this….

        Defence is paired to the bone, while we borrow money to give it away in foreign aid!

        The NHS finds itself struggling today because it refuses and fights any serious efforts to reform it. Funding has been massively increased over the last 20 years. We simply cannot afford to spend more without serious efforts to stop the waste and ensure maximum money flows to the sharp end and is spent on high quality services people need

        The Police much the same, I agree with a single UK Police force (or at least a small number of forces). At the moment, we have masses of pointless, very expensive, duplication of command structure. After all we don’t have county based separate Armies, we moved away from local militias a very long time ago!

  16. Gents

    I think its time all parties are required by law to map taxation to spending commitment as whilst I support an increase in the defence budget I would also like an increase in education spending so that we are producing enough key skills staff in this country to stop the madness of having chronic shortages of key skills whilst we have record numbers of people at university.

    By putting this into the public domain and then having to maintain these spending pledges by law, we would get the required traction. Its pretty simple in reality.

    Health duties (cigarettes alcohol etc) – NHS funding
    Income Tax – Pensions
    National insurance – Defence / Law and Order
    Transport tax – Environment and Transport
    Corporation Tax – Education and Training
    VAT – Energy and Infrastructure
    Import Duties – Debt reduction
    etc etc.

    In this way we understand what we are paying and what we are spending it on and perhaps get more social responsibility going as a side effect. I do think people have lost site of how much things cost and where the money actually comes from and if they want better services then we all must pay for them.

    • Spot on Pacman, excellent suggestions, trouble is all the main parties would jump at the idea to to get voted in …. Then use their majority to change the law!

      You just can’t expect ANY political parties to be honest or indeed honorable…

  17. Paceman- genius- that would utterly end all the smoke and mirrors and the grey areas of creative accounting rife in this country- like creative accounting is going to stop Putin, a resurgent Russia or any other despot dictator

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