Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Editorial: Commentary on the unveiling of SDSR Resource outcomes

Editorial: Commentary on the unveiling of SDSR Resource outcomes
October 19th, 2010

Prime Minister David Cameron unveiled the outcome of the Spending Review for the Ministry of Defence in the United Kingdom earlier today.

A scorecard approach to the key points covered by the BBC News website runs as follows;

* "8% cut in real terms" - Does this exclude the MoD running over budget by approximately 10% ? If not, then the cuts are approximately 20% and this exercise represents political theatre.

* "RAF and RN numbers to be reduced" - For the RAF closing bases reduces headcount and is desirable - in the end aircraft availability is the only criteria for size. For the RN it is a little more problematic (as outlined below).

* "HMS Ark Royal will be decommissioned four years early" - The issue for the RN is how will they staff properly the new carrier(s) when they finally come down the slipway ? As usual there is more 'lust' in terms of wanting the capability than there is through-life management.

* "Surface fleet cut from 24 to 19" - A graph drawn for me a few years ago during a meeting a main building showed the trend in the fall of the Fleet since the 1960s - the logical outcome was a surface fleet of 16 - you read it here first ! The key question is how do you protect the carriers and replenishment vessels - with a couple of ships (best case) in dry-dock at a time seventeen ships covering 70% of the Earth's surface is challenging.

* Astute untouched - VERY good news as they will be key for special operations, surveillance and producing effect.

* "Trident delay" - Tolerable as long as the Astute drumbeat can be synchronised to ensure minimal loss of manufacturing skills (and pressure from the supply chain to maximise profit). The reduction in warheads is interesting and suggests cutting the numbers to fit a stretched Astute SSBN design. Vanguard has 16 missile tubes, each capable of carrying 8 warheads (under the START Treaty) implying each missile has 3 warheads. 40 warheads implies 10 tubes each with four warheads and associated shrinkage of the vessel's length (plus some simplification in terms of engineering and obviously, cost). That said Personally this Editor would favour stretching Astute acquisition using nuclear tipped Tomahawk TLAM missiles.

* Closure of RAF Kinloss and Nimrod to be retired - Sad news for the Scottish community - and no doubt the lack of Conservative support was an issue. Nimrod is technologically being outpaced by the likes of the Global Hawk UAV, and time needs to move on. Political pain around the tragic loss of a Nimrod in Afghanistan likely contributed to the decision to retire.

* Harrier retirement and Tornado part retirement - RAF should shed themselves of Tornado at a faster rate than Harrier. This move smacks of a play by the Air Marshals given Harrier is a joint force. Losing Harrier substantially ahead of JSF introduction will kill the skill level of the Fleet Air Arm operating from the new CVF. Very shortsighted from a joint perspective, good play by the perfidious Royal Air Force.

* Extra Chinook helicopters - Simply excellent news - bringing these to bear quickly is essential.

* reshaping the Army - the loss of 7,000 troops is obviously headline grabbing though difficulties with recruitment made the 100,000 target unobtainable. Rethinking the balance between 'ordinary' soldier and SF generation is crucial to ensuring UK usefulness to its Allies given numbers are simply not happening.

* The fall from six deployable brigades to five leaves only two brigades deployable (on the basis of a third in training, third on deployment, third preparing for Ops) - unless defence planners are treating the three Royal Marine Commandos as a sixth brigade - retaining their own independence in return for playing ball with the Army's deployment schedule ?

* MBT Tank and Heavy Artillery reductions - UK needs to retain skills for high intensity warfare even if it is not on the immediate horizon. A sensible move given the FRES programme was superceded by incremental acquisitions. Replacing Challenger is a big issue and how.

* Reductions in MOD civil servants - challenging insofar as the defence community is increasingly concentrated in areas which have little alternative employment - internal political manoeuvring is going to water this down unless the Government moves fast or keeps its eye on the ball.

No comments: