Tuesday, March 03, 2009

British bullets for British guns

The Telegraph wins back some of its credibility today with a good comment about defence spending.

The Armed Forces are so severely under-funded and over-stretched that within five years, for the first time since the 1930s, they will no longer be in the front rank of military capability.

The Telegraph points out that this Labour government has committed our armed forces to more campaigns than any other in recent times while, at the same time, reducing the level of funding it provides to them - and where it does splash the cash it spends it on inappropriate projects such as FRES and the Eurofighter.

The Telegraph argues that the government has to make a choice - either fund the armed forces properly or withdraw it from foreign adventures and make it a purely reactive force. It's a good article and provides some valuable insight into how the government views the armed forces with disdain and also highlights the reasons why Gordon Brown is so committed to rescuing the financial sector.

It does, however, miss an opportunity. That being the opportunity to point out that defence spending would be the perfect economic stimulus that could prevent the recession slipping into a depression. However, having said that, it is also dependent on us having a defence industry worthy of the name.

Even so, there are things that could be done. First of all, I should say that I favour the idea of withdrawing our forces from foreign intervention and making them a purely "reactive" force, but one with considerable punch.

First off, let's start with what we should not be doing.

We should cancel the FRES project and also give up on the idea of replacing our submarine nuclear capability. They are both expensive and unnecessary. We should also withdraw from NATO - which no longer serves its purpose - and withdraw all our forces from Germany where they are doing nothing other than propping up the German economy (at the expense of our own). I also think the overall size of the regular Army should be reduced by between one third to a half - down to around 50-70,000 personnel instead of the current 100,000.

Our government should be commissioning new equipment for our Army from British manufacturers. Trucks, tanks, helicopters, artillery, rifles - anything and everything from bootlaces to helicopters and everything in between. It is vital that these are British made - if we don't have the current capability then we should develop it as a matter of urgency and the government should take the lead in doing this.

As an island nation, The RN and RAF are our first lines of defence. Our shipbuilding industry could receive an enormous boost (along with our economy) if we started to commission and build new ships for our seriously deficient navy. The current naval strategy is appalling. The plan to build two new super carriers is a worthy one, but the navy is so short of fleet protection vessels that these new aircraft carriers would be hard pressed to defend themselves let alone Britain.

We need more smaller vessels as a matter of urgency and we should set our shipyards to building them. Not only would that boost the shipbuilding industry, but it would boost our technology industry too. These vessels need radar, surveillance systems, weapons and guidance systems and so on. Imagine the boost that would give to our industry as well as our education system. With more and more graduates chasing fewer and fewer positions we certainly need it - plus we might get more people taking engineering and associated degrees rather than media studies and pop music.

The RAF also needs a complete review and rebuild, but this is trickier as we don't have an aerospace industry of our own anymore. Given that situation, the obvious thing to do would be to develop one. In that circumstance I think the best option is for Britain to somehow acquire a licence to build British versions of US warplanes - notably the F16.

This would require establishing a new, government owned facility to manufacture the planes which, over time would begin to manufacture their own designs. At the same time as they are doing this, they should be setting up other arms manufacturers to compete against those we currently have with the intention in the medium term to privatise these new companies (with the provision that they remain wholly British owned and British based).

Yes, this would all cost money and a lot of it, but it would be money well spent. Not only would we have armed forces which are equipped to face any threat that we may face, but it would give a massive boost to the economy providing jobs where they are needed and a demand for high quality graduates.

Above all, it must be a British focused initiative with everything being made in Britain from huge sheets of steel to the smallest plastic clip. And it would be a far better long term investment than pouring more and more money into propping up our bankrupt banks.


bernard said...

Good points Stanley, but giving up our nuclear submarine capability is not so good.
The reason is, these submarines don't just use atomic weapons but also have conventional missiles & torpedoes.
They travel the world covertly, monitoring failed states like Pakistan/North Korea, and are a very considerable deterrent.
Remember, after the Falklands war, the Argentine navy admitted that most of their fleet remained port-bound because no-one knew what lurked beneath the ocean.

Stan said...

Sorry, bernard - I don't mean giving up our nuclear powered submarine capability, but I don't see the point of replaciing Trident. In the days of the Cold War I could see a point to them - the fact that USSR could entirely obliterate the UK, but would face a considerable threat from our subs beneath the waves was a powerful deterrent against a nuclear strike. Now, though, they are irrelevant. Which country is going to launch a nuclear strike against us? If anyone it is likely to be a non-state actor and will just be a single and, comparatively, small attack. Who do we fire back at? Spending billions of pounds replacing Trident would be a waste of money.