Guthrie: cuts ‘essential’

A former Head of Britain’s Armed Forces has warned that the Ministry of Defence is not fit for purpose. In a speech at the Centre for Policy Studies, Lord Guthrie of Craigiebank considered the options for the looming Strategic Defence Review, due after the General Election.

Guthrie was Chief of the Defence Staff during the last Strategic Defence Review in 1998, and thus has much experience of working through the trying process of a Review.

Guthrie outlined three options:

  • to give the defence budget a large increase (unlikely)
  • to make large cuts, particularly to equipment programmes, and ruthlessly to prioritise
  • Third to do nothing (impossible)

Guthrie said, “The second option is the only realistic choice. There is actually a very good case for increasing defence spending although alas there appears very little hope of this happening whatever Government appears after the next election.”

Like all other Generals, Admirals and Air Marshals, Guthrie advocates his own service. This is not un-natural. The key thrust of his speech seems to be that the Army must be protected at all costs, as current and future threats point to a need for more troops, not less. In Guthrie’s opinion, savings should be found in ‘nice to have, but non-essential’ assets such as the huge purchase of Eurofighters, 2 large new aircraft carriers and the need to renew the Strategic Nucear Deterrent. While the Admirals and Air Marshals will cry foul, in hindsight (always a wonderful thing) they set themselves up for cuts by ordering such expensive programmes at all.

I believe that Guthrie is correct with his ‘nice to have, but not essential’ theory. It would be nice if we could a vast fleet and an air armada, but in challenging economic times we cannot afford to be all things to all people. In the same manner, we cannot afford to plan accurately for every future threat that we may face, and we should especially not try to do this at the expense of current conflicts. The irony is, that failure in current conflicts would seriously affect the future wars in any case.

Aside from talking about the Armed Forces, Guthrie also posed serious questions about the MOD itself. “Dr John Reid, when he moved from Defence to the Home Office questioned whether it was fit for purpose. Could he have asked the same question about the MoD?” The mishandling of procurement in particular does suggest that large parts of the MOD are unfit and inefficient. And if the ‘front-line’ services have to face cuts, surely the MOD should contract in line with them?



Filed under Army, debate, defence, Navy, News, Royal Air Force

16 responses to “Guthrie: cuts ‘essential’

  1. Jed

    Mmmm’ – may I respectfully disagree ?

    Although Lord Guthrie (is he the head of my clan ? My mother was a Guthrie ?) is obviously going to ‘fight his corner’ that does not mean he is right by any means.

    You say: “I believe that Guthrie is correct with his ‘nice to have, but not essential’ theory” – really, and so where is the close air support for his vitally important Army going to come from. Not from carriers because we dont need them (even when friendly air bases are running to full capacity or denied to us by host nations). Not from an RAF denied its “huge” purchase of Typhoons – I mean “huge” seriously, he had to have had a few whiskey’s to use that word.

    You also say: “While the Admirals and Air Marshals will cry foul, in hindsight (always a wonderful thing) they set themselves up for cuts by ordering such expensive programmes at all.”

    Ohhh Mr Daly, I expect better from you. That is not true at all. The carriers, and the RAF plans for their fleet were drawn up in accordance with the last strategic defence review. The Admirals and Air Marshals did not set themselves up for anything at all. The Govt. has taken the country to war without funding the armed forces appropriately, and not a single service chief has the guts to take a single politician to task for this in public.

    What Lord Guthrie does not say, is that given that any increase in defence spending is highly unlikely, then the UK should actually withdraw its troops from Afghanistan ! But no, because then the Army would not be our savior from the muslim hordes…..

    Honestly, as we have discussed here on your blog, at Think Defence, at Defence of the Realm and many other places in cyberspace, we flattened the bad guys in response to 9/11 – fine. We went into nation building with good intentions – also fine. Our chief ally dragged us of to another fight and took their eye of this ball. The diplomats also took their eye of the ball and the Kharzai government has got away with too much for too long. So, lets quit our involvement in a hundreds of year old “civil war” and save some money that way. Maybe then we could buy some planes for our carriers, enough to protect people who want to remain British citizens even though they live far away.

  2. James Daly

    Jed you can say or do anything if you do it respectfully!

    In all honesty, part of the problem I’m having with the SDR is seeing the wood from the trees – every couple of days we have a new comment from someone, and I find myself agreeing, and then agreeing with the next one too… I keep changing my mind on a lot of aspects of it. Of course we shouldn’t be in this situation in the first place.

    I think the problem with the last SDR is that it was based on the Blair doctrine of interventionism that we saw in Kosovo and Sierra Leone. 9/11 did change things, but as you rightly say the Government has made big commitments for the forces without backing them up.

    The sad thing is the amounts of money we’re talking about are minute compared to the amount of money that been thrown at social security and international aid, for example.

  3. Jed

    James as you mention international aid, lets look at that briefly. As I have mentioned in the ‘SDR – Maritime’ section at Think Defence, the Italians have a nice model where some naval assets such as their smaller landing ships, are paid for basically from the ‘aid’ budget.

    Now I don’t think we need any more amphibs, although HMS Ocean will need replacing soon, BUT where have all the big natural disasters been – and who has got there first ? The Indian ocean tsunami, Hurricane Katrina, the Haiti quake, the Chile quake – first responders (from the west) largely maritime forces and largely amphibs.

    So perhaps in our case we could alleviate some small percentage of the military budget by funding the MARS programme to replace RFA vessels with modern (i.e. internal law compliant ‘twin hulls’) capabilities, by funding it from the ‘international aid’ budget. Such vessels would (as they always have been) be available to assist in time of crisis all over the world. It’s got to be a better use of our cash than sending monetary aid to India, a nation with a nuclear deterrent and bigger armed forces than ours !!

  4. Jed

    OOOPs – typo – “internal law” should have been international law (as in IMO regs). Sorry.

  5. James Daly

    Jed what do yo think about the new Dutch JSS? They look like an evolution of what the Bay Class are doing.

    It does occur to me that what Largs Bay is doing in Haiti is far more meaningful than throwing money countries that are rich enough to take care of themselves!

    One of the findings of the Iraq Inquiry is likely to be the MOD and DFID working together better, perhaps a way forward is tasking RFA ships for aid more?

  6. Jed

    Great minds think alike ???

    I like the Dutch JSS a lot :

    I thin we should get some to replace the 4 x Fort Class (both different types) in the AOR role, and throw in an extra one to replace the RFA Argus too ! And get DfID to pay for at least 2 of them… 🙂

  7. James Daly

    I wonder if we’ve been missing a trick with the structure of our fleet. We talk about carriers, destroyers et al and then bolt on the logistical support as an afterthought. However if you take something like the Bay Class or the JSS at the centre of a task force and build around it, thats a more sustainable and flexible projection.

  8. But without the combat power?

  9. James Daly

    By ‘building around it’ I meant adding in the combat power if an operation calls for it. At present Largs Bay doesnt require any combat power for aid-relief, but then again for an amphibious operation it would require escorts. I could see something like the JSS being an ideal mothership for a number of FSC’s, say off Somalia. We’ve looked at the same kind of concept before, with the Fort Victoria Class originally planned to act as the mother ship to the Type 23’s in the ASW role in the North Atlantic.

    At the moment we’re in this unsustainable situation where we’re planning a fleet of carriers, escorts and amphibs, but without the logistics to support it. And if the rumblings about the future of the RFA are to be believed this is only going to get worse.

  10. Mike Burleson

    You make much sense here, James, as usual, and as does Lord Guthrie. The 19th century was about seapower, the 20th airpower. Today we have a return to land power, where it has historically been before. Nothing strange, or unnatural as you say about it.

  11. Jed

    Mike that has to be one of the strangest things you have every said ! Your blog New Wars has a real focus on ‘sea power’.

    Historical analogies only take us so far. No one is going to exercise any kind of military power in a polarized way. Afghanistan might be a land locked theater, but the ‘forced entry’ could not have been achieved with out the US Navy’s considerable ‘sea power’ nor would the campaign be progressing without the considerable amount of air power being applied – whether C17’s deliver logistics, UAV based persistent survailance or even B1B bombers delivering “close air support”.

    If we should learn one thing, it is that when an Air Force officer tells us all future wars will be won in the air, and then next major ‘war’ has a land focus, then you just better not take your eye of the sea. Balanced forces are what are needed.

  12. Jed

    Oh by the way Mike “a return to land power, where it has historically been before.”

    We (UK) invented “combined operations” in the 17th / 18th centuries.

    Napoleon = greatest ‘land power’

    Great Britain = greatest ‘sea power’

    Lord Wellington – General who knew how to work with the Navy and as such forced France out of the Iberian peninsular.

    Balanced forces 🙂

  13. James Daly

    I’m more and more coming to the conclusion that we can’t really take any of the comments of these retired or serving senior officers too seriously, they’re too couched in parochialism.

    No one wants to go down in History as the Air Marshal who presided over the disbanding of the RAF, or the Admiral who lost the Carriers, for example. But where does the bigger focus on UK Defence sit in amongst this?

    I still think that by sticking to rigid force division by land/sea/air we’re creating these wrangles. Maybe its still divide-and-conquer by the Government, if the services are squabbling amongst each other its easier to control them…

  14. James Daly

    Jed you’re quite right about the Napoleonic combined operations analogy. We read that up until 1914 the British Army was primarily a small, professional army to be landed by the RN, then retrieved again. Mondego Bay in 1808 is an early example, followed by the evacuation from Corruna. Fighting on the European mainland? We don’t go in for all that continental nonsense old chap! Thats why WW1 was such a culture shock I think.

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