People are asking a number of questions about UK defence policy, including its priorities, the amount of funding and if the approach is right for current and future needs. Some of the questions asked include:-
- Has defence spending been affected by the EU “White Elephant”virus, e.g. like huge nuclear power stations and HS2?
- Why were 2 huge carriers built at a cost of £6.2bn built when there aren’t enough patrol boats for the UK coast?
- Why are troop numbers being reduced when more are urgently needed?
- Why is so much being spent on huge new nuclear submarines, which are not used?
- Is the procurement of expensive equipment being used to buy votes in elections? – and at the expense of defence capability?
The defence budget currently amounts to £45bn. I believe it cold be spent in a more effective manner. Let us start by looking at current trends and recent events.
- Afghanistan, Iraq: High altitude precision bombing – no aerial combat
- Troops on the ground – insufficient to win the peace, relying on US troops, who are not natural country builders
- Mediterranean: Massive influx of illegal people across the sea into Europe– hopeless response
- The decline in the numbers of UK combat aircraft: 2006 = 220, 2015 = 149
- The decline in the total number of UK Troops: 1990 = 120,000, 2017 = 80,000
Areas needing defence capability now:
- Humanitarian aid
- Natural disasters
- Smuggling (all types)
Are these concerns being addressed by current defence spending?
During the Cold War, up to 6% of GDP was spent on defence. It is now down to 2% – currently £45bn. It includes the following:-
- New large Trident submarines – 4, £31bn (£7bn each) with £10bn contingency for overruns
- New F35, approximate cost £100m to £150m each, 17 ordered already, total expected to be 138, total over £13.8bn
- New Wildcat helicopters – £26m each, 28 in total
- New Destroyers: Type 45, current 6 vessels costing £1bn each, speed 35mph, range 7000 miles, more planned
- Frigates, anti-submarine, type 26: 8 on order, speed 26 knots, range 7000 nmi,
- Type 31 warships (smaller) : 5 planned to be built
- New aircraft carriers: 280m (920ft) long, 9 decks, speed 26 knots (30 mph, 49 km/h), range 10,000 miles, troops 250 to 900, crew 769, berths 1600, 40 to 70 aircraft,
It sounds very impressive, but is still a defence cut in real terms. Has our cutting back militarily been a factor behind the Russian annexation of Crimea? – or the refugee influx? What is more, our defence spending duplicates areas where the American military has similar resources – and vastly more than we have or are planning to order.
Instead, I am proposing a complementary defence spending approach rather than duplicating the Americans. This would also help developing countries save on their defence spending?
Simpler alternatives – increasing capability
- Nuclear deterrent: switch to 4 mini submarines, with 2 missiles each, regular 8 hour shifts into North Sea, ability to stay at sea for 4 weeks, operating deep enough not to be spotted from the air. Aim to construct these for £250m to £500m each, saving £29bn in procurement spending
- Develop an increased ground launched missile capability
- Develop air launched cruise missiles as well. These would cost around £1.5m each, with a speed of 550 mph and a range of 1550 miles
- Improve ABM (Anti Ballistic Missile) capability
Total saving with this revised missile programme would be around £25bn
- Order no more F35s, saving £13.8bn
- Buy Hawk planes (lightweight fighter) carry up to 3000kg (6600lb), speed 638 mph, range 383 mi (617 km), see if a short take off version can be built – for aircraft carriers, £18 million each, buy 300 Hawks, approximate cost £6bn
- Buy an additional 50 Wildcat helicopters at a total cost of £1.4bn
- Buy simplified aircraft carriers, 10 or more. Adopt a creative approach in the specification and leave off the bells and whistles. The vessels should be fast and able to carry 20 aircraft. Ideally, these should cost no more that £250m a piece. Start with answer: flight deck length and width to withstand combat aircraft landing, room for 20 aircraft, crew, up to 200 personnel – troops and/or civilians, lightweight. Blue sky thinking: 4 to 6 hydrofoils, holding up a lattice network of beams, supporting a landing deck and 1 deck for aircraft, speeds up to 70mph (110 km/h), with defensive armaments, and redundancy built in in case of attack. Usual catapult and also arresting wires. There are many other ideas which could be explored here.
Total cost £2.5bn
- Patrol boats, hydrofoil: 20 fast hydrofoils with armaments, £10m each. Total £200m
- Landing craft – to deal with the problem of illegals
- Buy more new Tornadoes (£30m each), new Harriers (£30m each), Jaguars (£15m each) Chinook £15m each) Apache (£15m each). Perhaps turboprop planes for troop transport. Let the Americans buy F35s.
- Troops: We currently have 80,000 plus 35,000 reservists. We should be aiming for 200,000 troops plus reservists.
Military spending among developing countries is high, e.g. Africa $40bn (Approx £35bn) a year. These valuable funds could be better used for schools, health, transport and the environment. Perhaps the UK could use the increase in aircraft and troops to offer – as a part of overseas aid – help with defence, so that developing country funds can be redirected to more useful ways in building their economies?
- Cancelling: 120 more new F35 aircraft purchases, cancelling the new Trident submarine order. Saving £38bn.
- Buying: 300 Hawk aircraft, 4 mini submarines, increasing full time troop numbers from 80,000 to 200,000, trialling new ideas for lighter and faster aircraft carriers, new fast patrol boats and hydrofoils.
The EU model of wasting funds on useless projects is not a good role model for UK or even European defence. With Brexit, we have an opportunity to liberate the UK from the EU way of thinking and develop a more effective defence capability.
The aim of this article is to highlight possible new ways to approach defence spending which are useful and have an immediate use in the wider world. Copying what the Americans can do with a bigger budget has left huge gaps in our defence capability. The UK’s expertise of winning the war and the peace has been compromised. A more practical approach to defence spending and simpler engineering, can make an improvement both to our own defence and also to our capacity to offer humanitarian assistance.
Hugo van Randwyck