DefenceSynergia Commentary – HMG Complicity in MOD Underfunding


DefenceSynergia (DS) has been highly critical of the 3 services for allowing HM Forces to be steadily reduced and emasculated under the guise of ‘capability’ enhancement and then offering PR ‘can do’ to cover the obvious deficiencies. Recently DS were quite critical of the Air Staff for balancing the budget by gapping essential capability like the E-3D and imposing reductions in overall ISTAR/sensor platforms.


However, the impetus behind all these unwelcome and, at times, baffling decisions comes not from within the Armed Forces but from HMG, most especially HM Treasury. The buck must rest with the political elites who have for decades sought to take a post Warsaw Pact peace dividend several times over. And with an establishment that is so focused on domestic welfare and health issues that money is hosed at them whilst MOD, uncomplaining because of convention and legal gagging orders, is forced to put on a brave face and just accept what it is given.


Since 1989/90 Governments of several hues have reduced the budget and tasked HM Forces beyond their funded capability. The term ‘overstretch’ has been used consistently and it has never been properly addressed. When Ministers are challenged on supply and sustainment issues, over the shortage of trained and equipped units, a paucity of battlefield helicopters or combat aircraft they have fallen back on a standard response akin to: “the Chiefs of Staff have been given everything they have requested”. Whilst at the same time the Defence Planning Assumptions (DPA), which for decades before 2015 provided the public with a yard stick to measure ‘overstretch’, have been, mysteriously, classified secret.


This is so disingenuous a position that it should be considered an insult to the intelligence of all serving personnel, defence analysts and the general public who care about the Armed Forces. Yet, time after time, Prime Ministers, Defence Secretaries and senior Civil Servants use this smokescreen to mask their complicity in creating the circumstances that have led to British forces being over-tasked, under-equipped and outnumbered in personnel and platforms – nearly running out of ammunition in combat; people being blown apart in unprotected vehicles; dying without body armour; being trapped in minefields when British winch equipped helicopters were not available!


But of course, we are told, all that is history, the issues have all been addressed. Yes, but always after the event! Therefore, it is vital, now, to look forward.


DS is convinced that the weaknesses in the UK’s defence posture expressed by ourselves and others stem from three fundamental causes.


  1. The first, alluded to above, is the fiction that technical advances in equipment can substitute for quantity when the requirements are global and multiple. Technical advances merely maintain efficacy against similar potential enemy advances; a more from less argument is vacuous.
  2. The second is an illusion that effective defence costs can be contained within a budget affected by inflationary devaluation, exchange rate fluctuations and arbitrary definitions of what is included in that budget. Both these elements translate into a significant decline in operational capability once the defence and security budget is defined within an unfaltering percentage of Gross Domestic Product.
  3. The third element has already been discussed above and results from the MoD being the “butt” for savings measures however they may be dishonestly justified.


DS believes that the only way to rectify this decline in operational capability is to:


(a) Define a National Grand Strategy

(b) Derive a Defence and Security Strategy from it in order to match and counter the known and expected threats

(c) Taking into account the resources of our allies, develop a coherent set of armed forces to defend our national and international interests.


Ideally, this should begin from first principles but, we are where we are so, the existing Order of Battle should be most carefully examined as to the importance of each element in a new order and retained or replaced accordingly without parochial interference.


All this is imperative in the face of growing global threats and recent western nation failures to achieve politically desired outcomes. Time for HMG to act and reset.