Finding unqualified Good News about UK defence is not impossible but, beyond the professional and dedicated service of our hard pressed personnel and the sterling work of the Defence Medical Services, it is harder to define. This short DS Commentary examines the problem.
DS Commentary – Searching for Good News about HM Armed Forces
It is fair to say that reading the various UK media and website offerings on the subject of HM Armed Forces can be a depressing affair. We in DefenceSynergia (DS) are not pessimists by nature but, in respect of our defence research, have been corralled into such a position by what we consistently find. Therefore, it would be great to be able to say something really positive for a change but, like the product of a ‘Stalin Tractor Factory’ good news about defence can be an illusive and heavily caveated business.
So what good news can DS point to about HM Armed Forces?
Top of the agenda must be that despite every effort by the Ministry of Defence (MOD) to shoot itself in the foot when it comes to morale – redundancy programmes, legal witch hunts, low manning, extra tasking, equipment failure and shortages – the people who serve still do so with commendable fortitude, bravery and professionalism. Indeed, despite every MOD self-induced obstacle young people still want to join even though the numbers doing so are, understandably in the circumstances, currently below what is required to meet even the low trained strength that is funded.
However, one inspiring ‘good news’ story must be the advances made within the Defence Medical Services (DMS). The skills and medical systems in use by the UK are truly world beating and of universal benefit. Evolving medical techniques – gained through combat experience – are now being taught in an enormous variety of situations and the state of the art deployable infrastructure that has been developed are contributing to UK’s reputation as a force for ‘good’ in the world.
Looking to the future there are encouraging signs that some MOD research and development (R&D) is focusing in the right direction. Personal protection and ergonomic utility of combat clothing and accoutrements is improving all the time, even if, for the infantry soldier, fire-power at the small unit level is, by all accounts, being reduced. The introduction of the ‘Ajax’ armour protected family of ‘Greek Gods’ for the new Strike Brigades is welcome news, albeit, the illusive part of their planned introduction is still to be addressed – how, if they will be based in UK, will they get to where they are needed in any sort of hurry?
R&D is also being conducted into new technology such as unmanned sea and air vehicles and directed energy weapons. Let us hope that in the case of the latter MOD ‘boffins’ help to inform the power generating systems requirements on all future air and sea platforms that will be designated to carry energy weapons.
It is also welcome news that the Army will have new Apache helicopters and the Royal Air Force (RAF) will receive a number of P8 Poseidon for maritime patrol and protection of the Royal Navy’s (RN) nuclear deterrent force and more Typhoon squadrons are promised, assuming that the crews and engineers can be found to fly and maintain them.
However, (there is always an ‘however’ when it comes to analysing British defence policy), the unanswered questions are; when will most of the promised equipment arrive, and, most importantly, how it will be paid for? Which is why DS only offers a qualified welcome to Her Majesty’s Government (HMG) commitment to spend 2% of Gross National Product (GDP) on defence when it is still unclear how much will be real extra cash, recycled money from other budgets or revenue from internal MOD savings and/or underspend.
To be honest this commentary has been difficult to write because real, uncaveated, ‘good news’ stories about UK Defence are difficult to find except when it comes to the dedication of our much put upon service personnel and DMS. The MOD Public Relations (PR) machine may focus on public interest stories about our excellent service people and veterans in order to cover bad news, but truth will out. If British service personnel perform brilliantly, getting the very best out of the equipment they are given, then it is not because of HMG/MOD or Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition, but despite them.
Many neutral observers are concerned about the future well being and capability of the British Armed Forces. They are apprehensive following more than 20 years of continuous cuts in the budgets leading to, as General Sir Richard Barrons has most recently alluded, the current ‘hollowed out’ position. Therefore, if our enemies and allies, not just political rhetoric, still genuinely held that the British Forces – combatant for combatant, weapon for weapon – are the best in the world, then that indeed would be a Good News story.