Defence Review – the rumour mill gathers pace

The mudslinging and inter-service squabbling regarding the Strategic Defence review has reached an undignified level in the past few days.

Firstly, Colonel Richard Kemp was quoted in the Sunday Express as saying that he would rather see an end to the three independent services than see the Army lose a single Infantry Battalion. Its probably worth pointing out that although Colonel Kemp is usually quoted as ‘former commander of British Forces in Afghanistan’, this was quite some time ago, prior to the current Helmand deployment.

In the Portsmouth News today Read Admiral Chris Parry stated that Kemp’s idea was ‘silly’, and that “No one in the services would go for it. The Canadians tried it and it was disastrous from a morale point of view and they couldn’t do their jobs properly.” Parry’s comments sound very much like a hissy fit. And whilst morale is very important, I wonder if the average sailor would be hugely bothered? I wonder whether the Canadian Forces structure is really as bad as Parry suggests – I doubt it.

These retired officers have clearly never heard of the dictum ‘when the armed forces argue, only the Treasury wins’. Will no-one poke their head above the parapet and at least say something constructive and realistic about UK Defence as a whole, rather than arguing their own corner and to hell with everyone else? No-one wants to go down in history as the commander who sold their service down the river, but once again the bigger picture seems to suffer.

By being so partisan and parochial, serving and retired officers are unwittingly making themselves into even juicier targets in the long-run. If they cannot come up with reasonable proposals for restructuring, then there is more chance that the Treasury will simply impose cuts arbitrarily.

This all comes as details emerge of possible cuts in the armed forces as a result of the Defence Review:

Royal Nacy Cuts

  • 2,000 personnel
  • 3 Amphibious Assault Ships
  • 2 Submarines

Apparently the Bay Class Landing Ships are seen as most vulnerable, and there has been talk of mothballing one of the Albion Class LDP’s. Both possibilities are ever so slightly ludicrous – the Bay Class ships have been great value and flexible platforms – landing ships, aid, disaster relief, transports, mother ships… Cutting Amphibious capability severely limits power projection. The possible cost of the 2 new Aircraft Carriers is all too evident now.

Army Cuts

  • 2,000 front line troops, plus 5,000 from Germany by 2015
  • 40% of Tanks, tracked artillery and Warrior armoured vehicles
  • Territorial Army cut from 32,000 to 15,000

It seems that the plan is to draw down the Army’s presence in Germany – this has already been slowly happening since 1990, and recently with the move of the Allied Rapid Reaction Corps from Rheindalen to the UK, and 4 Mechanised Brigade from Germany to York. British Forces in Germany are in the main armoured, a legacy of the BAOR of the Cold War. Eventually the Army’s presence in Germany will probably consist of use of the huge Sennelager training area. Most commentators agree that in the current climate the Army is too armour-heavy, although whether 40% is the right level to cut remains to be seen. Cutting the TA by more than 50% is also likely to raise eyebrows.

RAF Cuts

  • 7,000 out of 42,000 personnel
  • All 120 Tornado Fighters/Ground Attack Aircraft
  • Combat Aircraft cut from 250 to less than 200
  • Joint Strike Fighter buy cut from 150 to less than 50

The early retirement of the Tornado before it has been fully replaced will undoubtedly leave a huge gap in the RAF’s inventory, with only a few Squadrons of Eurofighter Typhoons currently in service. In addition, the proposal to buy less than 50 JSF would seriously reduce the RAF’s close air support capability. And what it means for the Fleet Air Arm’s JSF plans, who knows? As with the Aircraft Carriers causing the loss of Assault Ships, it seems that the need to operate Eurofighter comes at the expense of other combat aircraft. Thankfully, there is no mention of any cuts to the RAF’s transport aircraft or helicopters – functions which the junior service has neglected somewhat in the past.

It should be added of course that there has been no indication of where these details actually came from… of course it could be a load of rubbish someone has made up… or, on the other hand, it could be something that the MOD has floated out to gauge opinion?



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

29 responses to “Defence Review – the rumour mill gathers pace

  1. Admiral Parry is absolutely right. The Canadian ‘unification’ experience was a disaster. Overnight, the members of each Service lost their separate identity, their hard-won ethos, their distinctive uniforms, their service-specific ranks and the maintenance of their unique historical traditions. As a result, morale suffered hugely and this adversely affected unit cohesion, team spirit and effectiveness.

    I remember how shocked the audience was at a military tattoo in British Columbia when Canadian service personnel appeared for the first time in their soulless, anonymous green uniforms. Everyone was so stunned that the service personnel were greeted with absolute silence: no applause, no cheers, not even any boos. Just incredibly hurt feelings and angry mutterings.

    Since restoration of the Canadian separate service structure, members of the individual services have been regaining their pride bit by bit and the recent restoration of the ‘executive curl’ above the stripes on the arms of naval officers’ uniforms has been greeted with great delight.

    Canadians were especially delighted to see Prince Philip wearing the uniform of a Canadian Navy admiral during his recent visit with the Queen and the latest campaign is to restore the ‘Royal’ prefix to the Canadian Navy and Air Force (see I wish them every success.

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  3. James Daly

    Thanks for the insight on the Canadian experience Rob. It does sound to me like they went too far. Theres nothing wrong with reducing duplication, but making everyone wear nondescript green uniforms sounds to me to be un-necessary. If theres any need for cuts, mergers etc its in command structures rather than wholesale butchery.

    When making cuts, mergers etc it should be very clear what the implications are. After all it takes 5 minutes to disband a regiment, but years to repent.

    Mind you, mergers are nothing new – Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, Blues and Royals, and most of the current Cavalry Regiments sound something like the 1/24/54 Light Lancers (Currassiers).

  4. I think it is wrong to blame any naval cuts on CVF.

    There are very worrying remours that the Navy will lose about half of its mines countermeasures vessels. This at the time when Iran is making noises about the Strait of Hormuz and Abrabian/Persian Gulf.

    • James Daly

      What is strange about that is that MCMV’s are relatively small and cheap, but being GRP and having a lot of specialist equipment they take time to order and build. Same with the men to man them – minewarfare is a very specialist field. MCMV’s have also been used as patrol boats in the past, particularly off N. Ireland. They are also a vital part of the career progression for officers.

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