A few thoughts on a future UK Defence policy post- Brexit

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.

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)
  • Piracy.

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?

In summary

  • 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


Photo by grobertson4

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  1. JohnReply

    Ok, so a few Questions and ideas,
    Firstly I agree that the f35 should be kept as far away from RAF and FAA pilots as humanly possible, but what would be it’s replacement, the hawk isn’t designed for use against Migs and Sukhois, and no matter what you do if it doesn’t land vertically, it can’t land on HMS qe2 (Nooo don’put arrestor wires on the new carriers BAE, i’m sure the F35 will never suffer a fault that causes the engine to fail to transition into vertical mode, also essentially turning the qe2 into a helicopter carrier in essentiality), and if you want a capable multirole fighter I think the best option is to buy new Su 35s from Russia, also a concept that might be worth investigating is the arsenal bird concept.
    Second, I agree that UK home waters are patrolled nearly well enough, but hydrofoils aren’t a good idea for patrol, they sit too deep in the water, might I suggest looking at either 1. Austal USA’s LCS frigate redesign, 2. Swiftsure USA’s concept for a 75m patrol boat, 3. the chinese type 22 missile boat. If organised in a three tier system of sorts, I think UK waters might be far better off for it.
    I agree the successor class subs shouldn’t need to be built yet, the Vanguard is more than capable of sailing for a decade or two more, but in order to maintain a deterrence against attack we need to keep the bomb, I personally think we should have missile silos in the UK itself.
    As to a missile defence network, I’m torn between the americans THAAD or the russians S500, I think we test examples of both systems, and license-build whichever is better.
    Now as to the Carrier force itself, carriers are inherently expensive it’s just a fact, the INS Vikramaditya, ex-Gorshkov cost $2.35 billion, and that was just to refit it. The model I think we should follow is the Kuznetsov. Around the same size as the QE2, but with much heavier Ciws systems and a battery of p700 missiles for offence so the ship can fight alone without need of escorts. One idea i came up with some time ago was a naval variant of the A10 which would be very capable in the role of antipiracy.
    Another idea worth investigating is the AFSB from Maersk, which was to take an container ship and equip it with expansive quarters for troop tansport, a large garage for carrying vehicles or cargo, and a massive flight deck on top for operating MV22 Ospreys, the project was cancelled by the americans but it’s worth following up.
    One last idea, the royal navy will never be able to catch up to the US, Russia, or China if we try building by tonnage, The royal navy of WW2 tried that idea and that didn’t go so well for them, so we need to be clever and build the best and most innovative ships, to do this UK shipbuilding needs a stimulus, but instead of throwing money at the problem, instead i think we should cut as many taxes and as many regulations on the shipbuilding industry as possible, make the UK simply the cheapest and easiest place to build ships in and let the free market do the rest.
    Those are a few things I thought of, if you want more feel free to contact me.

  2. Hugo van RandwyckReply

    Thank you John,
    Great comments and alternatives.
    Agreed a new way of spending the defence budget to help UK defence.
    And the UK can’t match the US, Russians and Chinese for spending, so why bother. What can the UK do, that is different than the US and more effective.
    Not sure about having Russian aircraft, especially reliant in them for spares.
    I like the idea of converting a commercial cargo ship into a carrier, great idea:)
    Prefer to have lower cost aircraft carriers, than aircraft battleships – like the QE2s
    And yes, having carriers with plenty of missiles defences, so needing less escourts is great too.
    Missile silos, i’m not so sure about. Prefer, mobile land based option, similar to the SS20s, the Russians had, and also having bombers in the air – so in effect reducing the cost and making a first strike less of an option, plus ABMs. And freeing up funds for more everyday defence.
    I like the hydrofoil, for it’s speed, so could be part of a blended coastal defence.
    Yes, the other patrol boats are likely able to go further in shallow waters, ideal for stopping dinghies.
    Yes, the Hawks aren’t designed to go against Migs.
    Perhaps a more blended approach, with emphasis on low cost and multiple equipment and also upgrading existing technology.

    Instead of 150 F35s at £100m each = £15bn
    2 squadrons of F35s = 24 aircraft, £2.4bn
    3 squadrons of improved Tornados = 36 aircraft, £30m each = £1.08bn
    300 Hawks at £18m each = £5.4bn
    50 Wildcat helicopters at £26m each = £1.3bn

    With plenty of funds for more troops and more missiles for high altitude bombing, with clear airspace, and Hawks also acting as bombers and attack.

    This would allow the UK , to still assist any option with the Americans, and importantly have an independent defence capability. Also Hawks can be used to offer developing countries a defence arrangement, so they can spend less on defence and more on growing their trade with the world and prospering.

  3. StevenReply

    I agree wholeheartedly with you on that Adam. Yes, it is high time Britain stopped following the US around like a demented lost puppy and joining them in wars which appear to have no readily-apparent British national interest at stake. They wouldn’t do this for us ie 1939/1940 so why do we do it for them? All we get in return are maimed/dead servicemen and women, a huge bill and Islamist terrorism and extremism growing at home. Unfortunately though a REAL change to a decidedly pro-British defence/foreign policy won’t come about by our electorate continually voting for the globalists of Lib/Lab/Con but for a credible nationalist party which Britain doesn’t have and which even if it existed would have a very hard job of getting elected under the profoundly undemocratic electoral system of First Past The Post.

  4. Adrian WhiteReply

    Why ever should Great Britain fight to prevent Russia annexing the Crimea, which was transferred from Turkey to Russia in 1783 and was never in its long history part of the Ukraine till the Communist dictator Khrushchev gave it away on a whim? Do we want the Russians to attack us over the allocation of the counties of Ireland? A poor excuse for wasting public money on weapons! This is the third time in a hundred years that Germany has tried to bring the Ukraine into its sphere of influence and our country should have nothing to do with it.

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