The Royal Navy is at its ‘minimum capability’, First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Mark Stanhope has told the Portsmouth Evening News.
With a full defence spending review likely whoever wins the next General Election, the armed forces have already begun talking about possible cuts. Admiral Stanhope warned that he faced a battle in the Defence Review, and that the Navy could take no more cuts if it was to carry on with its existing roles. Not only does it have its existing roles to think about, but also any unforseen developments on the global stage. Who could have predicted 9/11 and the impact it would have on global security?
With massive cuts in public spending necessary in light of the global recession and spiralling national debt, it is inevitable that some Defence projects will come under threat. This is a difficult balance to find. Big construction projects, such as shipbuilding, secure many jobs around the country, and are vital to economic recovery in several industries. Also, we are committed to projects such as the Eurofighter Typhoon. Even though we probably dont need 200+ Eurofighters, we were committed to ordering that many to keep the international consortium building them afloat.
Public support for the Army is very strong at present, given its visible role in Afghanistan, and the persistent outcry over the lack of and inferiority of equipment issued to troops serving in theatre. The price of a few Eurofighters would pay for a hell of a lot of top quality body armour.
The Royal Navy faces a particularly though time, as it has committed itself to two huge 60,000 ton aircraft carriers, at the expense of frigates and destroyers. Indeed, the new Type 45 Destroyer was cut from a planned 12 ships to an eventual order for 6, which of course is nowhere near enough. There are as yet no firm plans to replace the Type 22 and Type 23 Frigates. Ships can only be in one place at any time, and for every ship on duty, you have to plan for at least 1, possibly 2 being in port or refit.
One cannot help if we might have been better served with several smaller, cheaper aircraft carriers and more escorts to protect them. The first Aircraft Carrier, HMS Queen Elizabeth, will be safe as work has already started on her and it would cost more to cancel her. But the second, HMS Prince of Wales, will almost certainly come under threat. We could potentially be left with one huge and expensive to run aircraft carrier, which is far too inflexible.
As much as politicians may give credit to our armed forces, their commitment – or lack of it – really shows when it comes to finding the money to back them up for real. Defence Reviews are a notoriously tricky business and have caused the demise of more than one politician, as John Nott will testify.
Expect to see more Generals, Admirals and Air Marshals making their cases in the news in the coming months.