Britain’s Military Future

Strategists on both sides of the Atlantic believe Britain’s wisest course would be to strengthen its army. Today what matters is how many boots can be deployed on the ground. Our current strength of 98,000 is clearly inadequate, and an increase 115,000 is operationally essential. However, if the UK is to have a 21st century army with appropriate air support, it will also need the political will to impose severe pain on the other services.

If our armed forces today commanded the same GDP share as when Labour took office in 1997, they would have another £4bn to spend per annum. Brown has taken out this money and thrown it at his client state of jobsworths in the public sector. The result is that our troops have rotten personal equipment and rely heavily on the Americans for helicopter lift, air support and increasingly even troop reinforcements. Worse still, the Brown’s toxic time as the Enron Chancellor encouraged such “creative accountancy” in the MoD that many bills have been pushed back well beyond the next election.

Thus, sacred cows must be sacrificed to square the numbers. The most obvious candidate is the Trident nuclear deterrent which is clearly unusable. Any attack would most likely be from a bomb detonated in a container covertly delivered to a British target, rather than launched from a ballistic missile of which the origin would be instantly identifiable. The Royal Navy’s two aircraft-carriers, and the US-built F-35 aircraft to fly off them, should also be binned. What the navy really needs, in the new world, is a substantially larger number of cheap and cheerful floating helicopter platforms. Lastly, the RAF’s large Typhoon Euro fighter purchase is a total embarrassment. Britain needs battlefield air support not interceptor fighters. The growing ascendancy of unmanned drones for battlefield surveillance and fire support shows the way ahead. We need to strengthen our drone, helicopter and air transport capability.

The mess left by Gordon Brown offers a once-in-a-generation opportunity. The defence community is in no doubt that decisive choices are needed, not simply a continuation of the wearily familiar doctrine of distributing pain equitably between the three. We also need to address the astounding mediocrity of the civilian dominated MoD. Political ineptitude has left us ensnared in contracts for the Euro fighter so that it will be almost as costly to withdraw as the stay, but we should still pull out. Even if we take delivery, they will only be mothballed. It is time to count the cost of ZANU Labour; time to start again.

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