Defence Post General Election – A Post Truth Era?

A thought piece from one of our members, Tim Dainton.

Ice skating uphill is not very profitable, you get nowhere fast, but despite its weak denials that’s exactly what the United Kingdom’s (UK) Ministry of Defence (MoD) seem to be doing- with the Secretary of State still maintaining that spending is increasing and this somehow equates to an increase in capability which is patent nonsense.

The list of bad news stories – the Carrier project, F35 Lightning aircraft, the Types 45, 26, 31E surface ships, the Astute submarine and now the Ajax armoured vehicle programme – are problematic in their own way. And the defect list seems to grow not reduce as mission critical cancellations are introduced to programmes, due in part to cost overruns, that diminish our military capability at a time when we should be building up our resources and resilience, against state on state threats, cyber attack as well as terrorism.

Our warships are having their surface to surface missile systems removed; Cooperative Engagement Capability (CEC) for the fleet has been cancelled; the propulsion and power system for the Type 45 destroyer is undergoing an expensive refit; the design for the Type 26 frigate is not yet finalised but £3.7bn has been added as a budget line item; the Type 31e is just an aspiration; the Royal Air Force E-3D Airborne Warning and Control Systems (AWACS) aircraft are denied Block 40/45 (Project Eagle) open system architecture upgrade; the F35 project is well over budget and has thus far failed to meet development and production expectations and it is uncertain when and how many aircraft UK will have for its Queen Elizabeth Carrier currently undergoing sea trials. From a Project Management perspective the F35 project resembles the failed 1980’s Nimrod AEW3 where UK also got it wrong, then spent far too much money developing a flawed concept before cancelling in favour of the now ‘open system architecture’ challenged E-3D.

To make matters worse the UK Armed Forces seem to have capabilities that now take longer to deploy, even in a benign security environment and that are harder to resupply even when adequate spares are available. This reduces effectiveness and utility – in essence making our armed forces a sluggish, one shot deal – with little hope of achieving much other than in small unit formations whilst always taking the inevitable casualties. Therefore, although denied, morale is at an all time low whilst MoD plays politics with our security seeming to relish winning small victories over government, the press and the people it is meant to protect, the British public.

Military secrets are an important part of defence, but ruses to hide poor management, wasteful procurement or poor planning do not protect secrets, just reputations. This tactic may fool the innocent but not our allies or our foes. The much used adage that if one wants peace then carry a big stick and prepare for war is still true. Sadly, however, as UK defence weakens, and our enemies know it, conflict becomes more likely. Not because our government want or desire it but because, UK, seen by our enemies as weak and by a beguiled British public as strong, leaves the door open to serious miscalculation.

Therefore, it is time that MoD, aided by Government ministers, stopped ‘gilding the lilly’. It is time for honesty.