Monday, June 2, 2008

Response to Michael Smith of The Times newspaper defence blog item on June 1st, 2008

Posted in response to Michael Smith of The Times newspaper defence blog item on June 1st, 2008, "The Winners and Losers from the MoD's £2bn Black Hole, or Do I Mean the Losers and the Losers?"

Every twenty years there is a defence programme of such scale all else bows before it. The RAF through the 1990s endured bureaucratic attacks on Eurofighter and its relevance in the wake of the end of the Cold War - whilst the Navy and Army suffered cuts in their plans. The same is now happening with the CVF (future aircraft carrier).

People are forgetting two issues. Firstly, the "smaller but better" mantra of a decade ago - the peace dividend of the 1990s was widely seem as an error, which, when coupled with increasing propensity of the Labour administration to use the armed forces without reinstating funding has created the funding gap. Despite this the MoD has viliantly succeeded in reinvigorating the RAF (just look at where it was post-1991 in terms of the size of fleet and complexity of supporting it).

The current situation is more problematic - FRES probably needs to be fundamentally re-visited and its technologies integrated into the array of vehicles being puchased under UOR's. What is essential right now are more helicopters - the fiasco surrounding the £200m wasted on eight chinooks was near criminal in nature - and is being redressed.

Of greater concern to the Royal Navy, and flagged by others are the cuts to the frigate fleet being made to preserve CVF - after all, a CVF cancellation (unacceptable to the RN, MoD, Westminster and the unions) does not result in the RN getting £4bn to reallocate elsewhere. The Future Surface Combatant programme requires more protection, as does the Astute programme. Challenging issues.

A historical lesson from the 1960s, when the RN lost its last aircraft carrier procurement was that it was the economy - a series problems followed by IMF intervention - which did for the best laid plans of the Ministry.


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