Defence Review – correspondence with my MP

Motivated by the balls-up of the Strategic Defence and Security Review, the hammering that the Royal Navy took and how the RAF somehow managed to escape with its Bugatti Veyron‘s intact, I took WEBF’s suggestion and emailed my local MP, Penny Mordaunt (Con, Portsmouth North) to express my views. Now, it would not be a surprise to many to state that my political views lean towards the left, but its only fair to see what my MP thinks.

Just to give a bit of background about the constituency, Ms Mordaunt was elected in May 2010 with a majority of 7,289. The seat had previously been held by Labour since the 1997 landslide. MP’s for Portsmouth North traditionally take a very strong interest in defence and naval affairs, given the proximity of the naval dockyard and the importance of the defence industry to the area. MP’s such as Frank Judd and Syd Rapson showed strong defence interests. Interestingly, Ms Mordaunt is currently training to be a naval reservist.

Here’s the email that I sent Ms Mordaunt:

Dear Penny Mordaunt,                        

I am a historian, specialising in military and naval history, inparticular modern conflicts such as WW1, WW1 and the Falklands War. Ialso run a blog discussing military history issues, in particular naval history analysis. I am writing to express my dismay at the recent Strategic Defence and Security Review. I am sure as a naval reservist you will share my incomprehension at how imbalanced the Review is. I feel that there isno overarching strategy to the Review, and that it leaves our armed forces serious imbalanced and in a very difficult position for facing uncertain times.

Scrapping the Invincible Class Carriers – and by default naval fixed wing aviation – as well as the bulk of the Royal Navy’s amphibious assets makes little sense, particularly when compared to the Army keeping the majority of its armoured units, and the RAF retaining the majority of its fast jets. The skills and expertise to not only run carrier-borne aircraft but to operate them to the high standard that the Fleet Air Arm historically has cannot simply be ‘turned off’ for 10 years and then turned on again as if nothing has happened. Naval aviation has repeatedly been proven to be more efficient and effective than land-based aviation in any case.

It would make far more sense to retain HMS Illustrious instead of HMS Ocean (which was built to inferior commercial standards and isreportedly in a poor state) – the Invincible Class carriers have acted effectively as helicopter carriers in the past. Maintaining a carrier capable of operating harriers would also allow us to host US, Spanish and Italian Harriers. Illustrious is also in the middle of an extensive refit, which would make her fit to continue operating for some years tocome.

That the RN is being forced to lose its Harriers (a proven, flexible and effective aircraft) while the RAF somehow manages to retain the Tornado (which is due to be replaced by Eurofighter in any case) issurely down more to inter-service politics than front-line effectiveness, namely the RAF trying to undermine the Fleet Air Arm.

Our forces in Afghanistan are in need of effective close air support, a task for which the Harrier is far more suited than the Tornado. But the RAF has never really been bothered about the Harrier, even thought the cost of retaining a naval strike wing of c.12 Harriers offers far better value than scores of Tornados.

The steep cut in number of destroyer and frigate hulls will no doubtmean that many routine tasks – such as patrols and guardship duties -will not be able to be performed. In addition, ships and crews will be under far more pressure with less time for training and rest between deployments. In my opinion these cuts send out a terrible signal, not least to an Argentina that is seeking to purchase a Landing Ship from France, while we cut ours. With no aircraft carriers and minimal amphibious capability we would be in no position to retake the Falklands.

Thank you for your time, and I look forward to hearing your views.

Yours sincerely,
James Daly

And this is the reply that I received:

Dear Mr Daly,   


Thank you for contacting me regarding the SDSR. I agree with you that we are not in an ideal place.

I was pleased that we managed to secure more funding for the defence budget and that we proceeded with the carriers, which in turn will enable Portsmouth Dockyard to develop as the home of the surface fleet. However I am concerned at the gap in CSF and the hit the FAA have taken.

I have tabled some written questions on the costs of the harriers vs. other aircraft and will be meeting with the Secretary of State on the subjects you raise. Next week I have requested to speak in a debate on carrier maintenance (1st November) and on the SDSR (4th November) and I will send you copies of the debate once Hansard is published.

I will also be looking to guard against future imbalance – for example when the refit for tornado engines falls about the same time as the T26 will come to the table, and in understanding what are the long-term plans for some of our surface ships.

The review was a dramatic event, but it is not the end of campaigning or talks on the matter, and I will continue to make the case for the navy, now and in the future.

I will keep you informed, meantime please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any other concerns.

Yours Sincerely,

Penny Mordaunt

I’m glad that the issue of Harriers vs. Tornados is at the forefront of thinking, and I have to admit I had not realised that Tornado engines will be due for replacement around the same time as the Type 26’s are due for committal. Sadly however I’m not really sure what campaigning now after the Review can achieve – any backtracking is a political climb-down, which never makes anyones career – even in the event of War (Nott, Carrington for example).

I’ve also had a look at Hansard records of recent debates in the House of Commons…

House of Commons SDSR Debate 19 October 2010

Penny Mordaunt (Portsmouth North, Con): I welcome the decision that we will build the new carriers. Can the Prime Minister confirm that Portsmouth will be their home and that the Navy can meet its commitments with a surface fleet of 19?

Prime Minister: I can say yes to both those questions, particularly the second, which is: do we have the naval assets to meet the tasks of tackling piracy, combating drug running, maintaining patrols and suchlike? Yes, we do have that capability, and it is extremely important that that should be on the record.

How anyone can think that the Royal Navy can perform its current global roles with 19 escort hulls is beyond sanity. Those 19 ships will consist of the six Type 45 Destroyers, the Type 23 Frigates and the remaining Type 42 Destroyers. History would suggest that of that deceptive figure of 19 you can instantly half it to take into account ships in refit, and either working up or shaking down. That leaves us with say 9 or 10 Frigates of Destroyers available. Obviously these can’t always be on station, so with handovers ships will be sailing to and from patrol locations. And thats even before we factor in the likelihood of ships hitting uncharted rocks, flooding, etc etc and being taken out of the RN’s Orbat.

At present Royal Navy Destroyers and Frigates are deployed in the South Atlantic, the Carribean, off the Horn of Africa, in the Mediterranean and in the Gulf. Thats five standing patrol tasks. With 9 or 10 active ships in the fleet, thats cutting things fine. Also, for most exercises and other such deployments one or two frigates or destroyers will accompany a carrier of amphibious task force. Already in recent years we have seen auxilliary vessels taking on Frigate patrol duties. Its also inevitable that the Type 45 Destroyers will spend most of their time acting as gunboats rather than providing area defence for Aircraft Carriers. The impact on men and machines is going to be brutal in terms of sea time, rest, refits and wear and tear.



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35 responses to “Defence Review – correspondence with my MP

  1. I see a serious danger of the RN losing its’ patience with a certain long-term deployment to rush to the next “forest fire” (“brush fire” for you British folk?). For example, the current deployment to the Caribbean is helping support Haiti’s earthquake recovery, but that happened many months ago and is “old news” – likewise the African deployment to stop piracy. Instead, the smaller fleet will be rushing around between small wars (Iraq, A-stan) and various humanitarian crises. This will only serve to wear out the older craft, further cutting availability.
    James, I am delighted that you heard back from your MP. Unfortunately, like you, I don’t see room for the current government to back down. The repeated talk of sharing assets with the French is also worrisome. I fear your politicians are grabbing for the same kind of cost-cutting straws that have left the US with a majority of it’s fighter force dating back to the 70s, it’s latest ships either falling apart or failing basic functions, and a Marine Corps in danger of becoming ship-based Army soldiers. Let’s hope that some wisdom strikes both No. 10 Downing and 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, as well as the houses of Parliament and Congress, so that those we elected will see what’s obvious to many of us, before it’s too late!

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  3. Pingback: SDSR - Dig beneath the hyperbole and its not all that bad? My own assessment

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  5. Pingback: Decision to axe Harrier is "bonkers". - Page 5 - PPRuNe Forums

  6. Lot of rumours are currently in the air.

    • WEBF- I’m not as fully in the loop, being on the wrong side of the pond. What rumours?

      We have our own collection of rumours and defence news. Including the great anti-Solomon response to the Navy about choosing one of the two Littoral Combat System prototypes. The government has decided to build 10 of each type, rather than just selecting and making 10 of ONE particular type. Twice as many for about 3 times the price, and rising as more cost overruns are announced. So much for reducing our deficit spending!

    • James Daly

      not a sausage. Not even the Hansard transcripts she promised. Even though I have the wherewithall to find them myself, its not the point – an MP would doesnt follow through with promised correspondence has her card suitably marked in my book.

  7. Atren’t they required by law to reply to correspondence from constituents?

    WRT Hansard, I’m not sure the matter got discussed in the Commons.

  8. James Daly

    “Next week I have requested to speak in a debate on carrier maintenance (1st November) and on the SDSR (4th November) and I will send you copies of the debate once Hansard is published.”

    Its these that I haven’t seen. Mind you to be fair I’m not sure about the timescale for publishing of Hansard, it might be that it hasn’t been published yet.

  9. I’ve been writing myself – in fact not long after the decision was announced by Call Me Dave. I forgot to mention that contracts were given to BAE Systems and Rolls Royce to keep the Harrier going strong until 2018….

    …. and yes, they contain cancellation clauses. Doh!

    Perhaps things have gone quiet as the debate continues behind closed doors?

  10. What do you make of the story that was in the Telegraph last Wednesday (sorry, no link)…

    Navy Chiefs’ plan to save jump jets

    A last-ditch attempt has been made by the Royal Navy to save Harriers from the axe, with a proposal to allow reservist pilots to fly them.

    As the last flight of the jump jets takes place at RAF Cottesmore today a plan, said to be backed by the First Sea Lord, has been put forward to preserve a rump of 20 Harriers.

    Navy chiefs have warned of an “unbridgeable skills gap” for pilots needed to fly the Joint Strike Fighter off the new aircraft carriers that will come into service in 2020 if carrier training is stopped. Without the ability to fly off carriers for the next 10 years, Navy pilots will lose the skill of landing on rolling decks in bad weather and deck crews will not get the practice they needed to safely launch and recover aircraft.

    The decision to scrap the Harrier in favour of the RAF’s Tornados in the strategic defence review infuriated the Navy.

    But hopes of saving the Harrier, of which there are 65 serviceable aircraft in total, will be raised at a meeting of the defence board in January.

    A proposal will be made to allow Royal Navy Reserve pilots to continue flying the planes at weekends from Yeovilton, Somerset.

    Senior naval officers say the RAF is rushing to retire the Harriers to make the defence review decision a “fait accompli” before alternatives are put in place.

    • James Daly

      I remember seeing that while I was away in one of the Brit papers I managed to get hold of.

      I think the RN’s plan isn’t a bad idea. Far from ideal, but at least it would give us a rump that we could regenerate from in a crisis. In any case, (IMO) a handful of part-time Fleet Air Arm flown Harriers are eminently more useful to British defence than endless Tornados.

      Imagine a situation whereby the RN suddenly needs air cover for whatever reason… one of the decomissioned carriers is lying around, in decent enough shape to get sailing again… and part-time naval aviators go off to war… its almost asking for a Tom Clancy style novel.

      I have to say my impression of the current RAF’s modus operandi has gone through the floor. They will stoop at nothing to protect the ‘junior service’. I always knew the light blue was capable of some self-preservation, but the Harrier decision is one of the worst debacles in British political-military history.

  11. Was it in a different paper – ie at east one more than the Telegraph?

    When I read the story it did improve my morale, and help relieve the boredom of a train journey without anyone or anything to amuse me.

    I think this is a sign of the Navy’s desperation. The RNR Air Branch includes every single Fleet Air Arm trade, so potentially many of the personnel (not just pilots) would be Reservists – paid only as and when instead of 365 days per year. Additionally less aircraft and less flying means less maintenance, support, and spares would be needed. It could be made to work…

    And like all Reservists, any part time Harrier ryps could be mobilised if needed.

    [Crosses fingers]

    As for retired carriers, ILLUSTRIOUS will stay until 2014. OCEAN is having a £100 million super refit and could be easily modified to support Harrier flying for short periods (remove forward Phalanx etc). QUEEN ELIZABETH should arrive in 2014/5. So for most of this decade we should have a ship capable of embarking fixed wing aircraft.

    Perhaps our elected representatives need steering in the righ direction?

  12. Damn keyboard dyslexia! Least*, types*, right*

  13. Has Santa been kind to the RN?

  14. If meetings are still going to take place and decisions made, that would explain the lack of response thus far.

  15. James Daly

    Call my cynical but I’m not expecting any kind of re-think…. even if privately they would like to, any Government considering a climbdown over any cuts will be terrified of looking weak. Even though most people would probably think ‘fair play’.

  16. They’ve already changed their minds over a few things. This would not really be a U turn – just an adjustment.

  17. Funny – the link doesn’t seem to work – although the Google HTML version has a link to the original. The original liinks can be found the the general “qbout the RNR” page:

  18. Oh Dear – more cuts on their way:

    Perhaps if they hadn’t changed a great deal of the SDSR decisions right at the last minute – the weekend beefore the PM’s annoucement?

    • James Daly

      and maybe if the light blue hadn’t been so devious in fighting their own corner at the expense of joined-up defence. I’ve no doubt that thats where a lot of the last minute hare-brained cuts came from.

      If we’re going to make further cuts, I would suggest main battle tanks and Tornados. We simply can’t lose any more frigates. The escort fleet is on a near-constant deployment-rest-deployment cycle with no slack whatsoever as it is.

  19. Of course, Reservists could be used to preserve capabilities like armour – the TA already provide crews for Challenger II etc. So Reservists could preserve a mimimal carrier aviation capability.

    Did you see the RNR air branch magazine?

  20. WEBF

    I’m still awaiting a reply to my own correspondence over this issue.

    Not on my own PC, hence no link….

  21. At least I know my letter did get recieved – however, answering my points will mean talking to the subject matter experts (regarding carrier operations) that were ignored in early October…

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  23. Streetfighting uncaged? Err bit of an odd link to the Harrier issue surely

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