FT Article by Max Hastings re the SDSR


War Hero
Stop salami-slicing defence and cut the behemoths
By Max Hastings

The British government’s forthcoming Strategic Defence and Security Review has a grand title, but threatens to achieve an outcome driven exclusively by the need to save money – £8bn ($12bn, €10bn) over four years. This is not unprecedented or even unusual. Economics rather than strategy persuaded Britain to withdraw from east of Suez in 1967.

Today, however, Britain’s armed forces are already so small that further cuts will leave them looking threadbare. One mooted National Security Council scenario would have cut troop numbers by 30,000. The army is thus expected to be grateful that the latest favoured variation, following last Thursday’s meeting, demands a loss of only 10,000.

A major difficulty is the lack of intellectual firepower among civil servants carrying out the SDSR to match that of Michael Quinlan and Frank Cooper in past generations.

The official most closely involved in the current assessment also played a large part in drafting the last government’s white paper commit-ting Britain to replace the Trident nuclear deterrent, not a persuasive document. The Ministry of Defence’s top civilians are focused upon appeasing the Treasury.

Likewise, each of the three services is struggling to protect its interests. The army says it is madness to cut troop numbers when we are fighting the Afghan war. The other services, and some politicians, argue we cannot allow the Afghan commitment to dictate our future posture, which must maintain a balance of forces to meet a range of threats. Sailors and airmen mutter sourly that boots on the ground have little advanced Britain’s interests in Iraq or Afghanistan.

In so serious a resource crisis – and crisis this is – the greatest danger is that the government will opt for the familiar expedient of distributing pain equitably: “salami-slicingâ€. This would be an egregious mistake.

Liam Fox, the defence secretary, is committed to radicalism. A critical first step would be the axing of the Royal Navy’s two planned aircraft carriers. The cost of the hulls alone is now £5.2bn. They represent a poisoned chalice for the sea service itself, because the designs lack flexibility for multitasking, and are tailored to provide deep-water platforms for F-35 joint strike aircraft and helicopters. They cannot be adapted for amphibious warfare. If the carriers go ahead, most of the navy will be chained to their support and protection.

Cancellation costs of the behemoths are alarming, but less than those of sustaining them at sea. The navy needs a larger number of relatively cheap platforms, including small carriers, capable of undertaking a wide variety of missions. The United States is now the only western nation that can afford fleet carriers and F-35s.

The RAF can cut several thousand personnel. It seems certain to withdraw its Tornados and Harriers from service earlier than planned. It is common ground among everyone except airmen that Britain has far too many fast jets. Many of the Typhoons currently under construction will languish in hangars for lack of cash to fund them in operational service, and indeed of any useful function for them to fulfil.

Britain’s generals are happy to accept substantial cuts in artillery and tank strengths – at least 40 per cent. General Sir David Richards, the chief of the general staff and designated chief of defence staff, wants an imaginative reconfiguration of his service for the new world. He believes unmanned drones will be a vital force in the future, providing both reconnaissance and precision fire support.

He wants an army of five multi-role brigades, each of 7,000-8,000 men, capable of overseas deployment on a rotating basis. This seems a minimal requirement. Gen Richards is known to believe that the lesson of Iraq and Afghanistan is: when you commit, do it properly. Deploy adequate forces from the outset.

The most radical initiative from an SDSR would be replacement of the Trident nuclear deterrent by a much lower-specification alternative. Trident is designed to address a first-world enemy. Yet it seems incredible that Britain could use it to threaten China or Russia. For deterrence against rogue states – surely the only credible retaliation targets – no second-strike capability is necessary. A minimalist system would suffice.

But, even in Britain’s current dire financial predicament, I doubt the government has the nerve to make such a leap. Old arguments about Trident “buying Britain’s place at the top table†will prevail. We shall almost certainly squander £20bn on a full replacement.

The challenge is to think realistically about plausible threats. A phrase in vogue at the new National Security Council is “Vigilant Britainâ€. This is popular among advocates of a “balanced defenceâ€, and effectively means “Fortress Britainâ€, shielded by fast jets and high-tech warships. Yet which second-world enemy is likely to deploy submarines against our sea-lanes? Is it conceivable that the Russians will launch manned bombers against British targets?

Cyber-warfare poses more serious perils to industrial societies than do many traditional forms of attack. Effective intelligence services will matter more to countries such as Britain than tanks or big carriers. A striking statistic emerged this week: the US spends $75bn a year on intelligence, one-third more than the entire British defence budget.

David Cameron’s government is pledged to original thinking, and in few policy areas does this seem more important than defence. We must retain a credible army to deploy in support of the US or other allies. For this, deep cuts elsewhere are not only essential but rational. Britain needs to make clear, harsh choices and will flunk these at its peril.


War Hero
I wonder why he is not involved in the SDSR with such thoughts - oh yes its because he is a......


War Hero
Wasn't he caught with a satellite phone in Falklands Sound (after they were supposed to be handed in or turned of) and that was supposed to have been a contributory factor in the Argies knowing the whereabouts of certain sections of the task force? Allegedly.
But I agree, he's a smug bastard. King of Walts in his local I bet.8)