DefenceSynergia Response to the Integrated Review – Defence Command Paper – Defence Industrial Strategy – An Air Perspective
The media and other commentators have had a field day with the UK government’s Integrated Review, Defence Command Paper, Defence Industrial Strategy. If nothing else the triple announcement has put UK security and defence on the front pages, albeit not necessarily for the right reasons. The future looks as uncertain as DefenceSynergia (DS) predicted just a few days ago in a commentary entitled Defence Spending an Historical Perspective. There is no disguising the government’s cutting our defence capability under an aegis of modernisation
For DS the triple announcements have been long awaited, and, with the possible exception of the non-event that was the Defence Industrial Strategy, well trailed and leaked. There were few surprises, only a hollow feeling, not just in our defence capability but the hearts and souls of patriotic Britons and supporters of Her Majesty’s Armed Forces. Not least those who value Air Power.
To be clear, there was much to commend in the ambition behind the review, the desire to bring balance to the budget and the depth of thinking that has evidently influenced the decision takers. However, the methodology proposed is straight out of the SDSR 2010 play book: to gap capability under the pretence that this does not matter; that we have time in hand and, despite the Review’s own admission of increasing threat, presumably nothing serious enough on the horizon of note so that MOD can risk that at some (unspecified) later date the (unquantified) gaps will be filled. Some others may never be. For example, the retirement without replacement of the C130J is not just a sentimental talking point for SF aficionados but a net loss to UK Air Transport capacity. And, if the Chinook and Puma helicopters being retired are not replaced, the net effect will be even less battlefield mobility than we have now!
A new Prime Minister and Defence Secretary are trying to pretend that all will be well if only, we, the public, could see the logic behind the essential changes required to make our ‘superb armed forces’ even ‘more superb’! With the very greatest of regret: just who do they think they are fooling? Our prospective opponents have their own intelligence capabilities and can see through smokescreens.
The problem as all Defence analysts know – friendly and not – is that eleven years after SDSR 2010 the RAF is still behind the capability drag curve compared to its position pre 2010. The first of the ordered 9 x P-8 Poseidon to replace the force of over 20 LRMPA Nimrod MRA2s that were gapped are just arriving. Now we are being asked to accept the risible position that 3 x P-7 Wedgetail AEW can replace 7 E-3D AWACS (the latter still the mainstay of NATO, USAF and French Air Force). Moreover that this will happen after another gap in capability as the RAF retires its AWACS fleet several years before the new P-7 enters service, and then as a greatly reduced operational fleet capable of mounting just one continuous surveillance barrier. To do what, when and where? This is the stuff of public inquiries, though DS doubts the government would allow such openness.
The RAF with, it seems – another point worthy of public inquiry – no objections from the British Army, is also retiring its Sentinel (ASTOR) fleet. A battlefield sensor capability retired without replacement and yet one of the most potent systems available.
All this despite the raison d’etre behind The Review being that UK needed to improve its capability in all manner of cyber, sensor, AI, ISTAR, autonomous command and control system areas.