UK Defence Spending: Another Strategic Defence and Security Review
Way back in 2010 (Sea Breezes December issue) I criticised the so called ‘Strategic Defence and Security Review’ carried out by the then Coalition Government, the results of which were announced just days before the 205th anniversary of Nelson’s famous victory over the combined French and Spanish fleets at Trafalgar. I said then, that what no enemy had been able to achieve over centuries had been carried out by our own government - the emasculation of a once great Royal Navy.
This was no ‘Strategic Review’; it was an ill thought out, brutal and, in my view, irresponsible and dangerous cost cutting exercise for which a heavy price might be paid in the future. HMS Ark Royal (Invincible class of aircraft carrier) was axed almost immediately, to be followed later by the carrier HMS Illustrious. The destroyer and frigate fleet was to be cut to 19 ships, whilst the ‘Harrier’ jump jet fleet was also axed. Just as importantly, the RAF Nimrod fleet on which huge sums had been expended was quite literally broken up. Although essentially spy planes, the Nimrods carried out important search and rescue operations and submarine hunting duties.
Fast forward to 2015. Our two new aircraft carriers are currently taking shape in Rosyth, but since 2010 and at least until 2020, there has been and will be a ‘carrier strike force’ gap, because of the disposal of the Harriers and the fact that their replacement, the Joint Strike fighter (F35) is not yet available. The loss of the Nimrod fleet has been seen by the Russians as a real opportunity to step up their intelligence seeking operations around our nuclear submarines and their Scottish base. Shamefully, in late 2014 when a suspected Russian submarine was spotted off the Scottish coast, our lack of submarine hunting aircraft meant that we had to depend on the help of France, Canada and America to provide maritime patrol aircraft.
It was therefore with some trepidation that at the end of May 2015 I heard that the recently elected Conservative government had announced that a new ‘Strategic Defence and Security Review’ was to be undertaken.
British power and global influence was made possible by the reach of our navies (Royal and Merchant) and the overall strength of our combined armed forces. As an island nation the protection of our Merchant Navy, trade routes and country must surely be given higher priority and that requires a level of ‘defence capability’ that must be protected. In an increasingly uncertain world in which Russia and China flex their muscles and build up their armed forces, and with other multiple areas of potential troubles, we should not be sending out signals of further diminished capability and weakness.
As a necessary beginning, the Prime Minister, who called in 2014 for all Nato countries to commit to expenditure of 2% of national income on defence, should ensure that Britain itself upholds that target.HAMISH ROSS, EDITOR