DefenceSynergia Comment – Government Spending The NHS and Defence

The House of Commons Select Committee on Defence (HCDC) has this week published its preliminary findings ahead of Her Majesty’s Government (HMG) and Ministry of Defence (MOD) report into the Modernising Defence Programme (MDP). The bottom line from the HCDC is that HMG should be funding MOD with a minimum of 3% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). DefenceSynergia (DS) supports this view but is not optimistic in the light of current political circumstances. Were the Defence capability deficiencies more widely known the public might well be willing to pay but they are never informed or asked.

According to some analysts increasing United Kingdom (UK) defence spending from its current 2% to 3% of GDP would equate to an annual cash increase next year of circa £17bn. Depending on which data set is used – based on a £38.5bn Military Defence budget plus R&D for FY 18/19 – the actual cash increase required is somewhat lower at circa £12.8bn. This calculation is based on official Treasury Spending figures presented in the table below where, at first glance, it might seem that Defence has a projected 2019 annual expenditure of £47.2bn but this would only be true if £8.7bn in Foreign Economic Aid from column 4 is included!

Estimates for FY 2019 in HM Treasury Public Expenditure Spending Analysis (PESA) data

2015

2016

2017

2018

2019

Defence

n/a

49.5

47.2

n/a

47.2

1

Military defence

n/a

36.6

36.6

n/a

36.6

2

Civil defence

n/a

0.0

0.0

n/a

0.0

3

Foreign military aid

n/a

0.0

0.0

n/a

0.0

4

Foreign economic aid

n/a

11.0

8.7

n/a

8.7

5

R&D Defence

n/a

1.9

1.9

n/a

1.9

6

Defence n.e.c.

n/a

0.0

0.0

n/a

0.0

This data illustrates what a disingenuous minefield HMG statistics can be. It also questions the data being used by HMG when estimating the UK’s annual percentage defence spend. The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) may be satisfied that the expenditure data used by HMG fits with NATO eligibility criteria, but our enemies are more discerning.

In any event, whether the additional cash sum required for Defence spending to reach 3% of GDP is £12bn or £17bn the notion that the Treasury under the current Chancellor will find such a sum is a fantasy. Indeed, following the Prime Minister’s support for extra spending on the NHS, the Chancellor, Mr Hammond, has already warned his Cabinet colleagues that, however the increase for the NHS is funded, there will be no funds available for increases in other departmental areas – notwithstanding the results of the MDP, that would seem to include Defence. The die has therefore been cast.

The question that DS puts is this: In the absence of any increase in Defence spending by this Government, irrespective of the outcome of the MDP process, what is to be done to ensure that what funding MOD has is maximised to provide best effect?

Our answer is in the conclusion to the DS input to the HCDC inquiry into MDP in which we said:

Joint/Combined operations are affected by a lack of cooperation across the three Services and has generated a severely stove-piped and poorly equipped and incoherent UK military Force. We believe the result of a lack of a ‘system-of-systems’ approach in MOD has made the deployment and operation of extant Brigades highly problematic for the Chief of the General Staff (CGS) who rightly requires highly mobile and combat effective Brigades in his order of battle (ORBAT). However, to achieve this he relies on Capabilities provided by the RN, RAF and Joint Forces, as well as supporting Army assets, many of which are below par or non-existent. In reality CGS’s fighting capability, mainly UK based in peacetime, will not be highly mobile, safe nor sustainable without MOD recognising the Joint/Combined funding and training requirement required to provide dramatically improved layered air defence and cyber/Electronic Warfare (EW) capabilities, counter bombardment, an operational QEC Task Group supported by air and sea escorts with defensive and offensive clout, cyber and EW resilient communications and broader logistic and sustainment support than is currently the case.

The MDP (Modernising Defence Programme) must start by being ruthlessly honest and eschew decades of political denial, underfunding and tinkering, to admit the previously unthinkable and unspeakable – in reality, the UK Armed Forces are an incoherent shadow of what they try extremely hard to aspire to be. The MDP must recognise the true cost and detrimental combat effect of a lack of a ‘system-of-systems’ approach to Defence capability planning. Very importantly, the current Capability Management, Defence procurement and infrastructure organisations must be fully audited to review their fitness for purpose and rationalise them to be fleet of foot in the rapidly changing threat environment?

It is DS’s view that, since the totality of the Armed Services are currently unfit to fulfil their declared roles in NATO, other alliances and in direct defence of the realm, a complete reorganisation of the Ministry of Defence, the single and joint service organisations and elements of other departments contributing to the Security and Defence of the Realm should be re-evaluated in an operational capability and cost effective manner.

However, if the MOD did manage to somehow gain a real and significant increase in funding for the next decade, what would it prioritise this funding on? How operationally future proof and threat adaptable would it be. The ultimate question to be answered is – is MOD, with HMG support, prepared to ruthlessly review, reorganise, re-process, plan and deliver combat-winning Capabilities in a coherent manner, including paying for a mass of adaptable and rapidly re-roleable equipment, or will it once again reshuffle the deck chairs?