Admirals urge re-think on Harrier axing

A group of former senior Royal Navy officers have today urged the Government to rethink its plans to scrap HMS Ark Royal and the Harrier fleet. In an open letter to The Times Admiral Lord West of Spithead, Admiral of the Fleet Sir Julian Oswald, Vice-Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham, Vice-Admiral John McAnally and Major-General Julian Thompson argue that the recently announced defence cuts “practically invite” Argentina to re-invade the Falklands, and that such an invasion would be a national humiliation on the level of the fall of Singapore during the Second World War. Julian Thompson and Lord West in particular have got more of an insight into this matter than most, having been the commander of 3 Commando Brigade and HMS Ardent respectively in 1982.

Building on Lord West’s recent speech in the House of Lords, the letter goes on to explain that the Tornado fleet will need re-engining in 2014, at a cost of £1.4bn – roughly the savings expected from scrapping the Harrier. They are quite right too that the Harrier can take off from much shorter airstrips, has a much quicker response time, is better at providing close air support, and can remain in service until 2023 with little investment. At risk of sounding like a broken record, the Harrier vs. Tornado face-off clearly had more sinister agendas going on behind the scenes than mere defence and cost-cutting.

Finally – and most pertinently, in my view – the Admirals point out that the last Treasury-driven Defence ’10-year-rule’ came in the inter-war period (prompted by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, a certain Winston Churchill), and history tells us the folly of that particular policy. I wrote some time ago about the historical parallels between the current Government’s 10 year naval aviation gap and the catastrophic 10-year assumption between the wars. Any aggressor almost always has the initiative; take for instance the Falklands invasion in 1982, and to a lesser extent Germany in 1939. If you leave your defence planning dormant until a threat emerges, the threat has the initiative and will already be on top of you before you have any chance to respond.

There are two kinds of threat: an immediate unidentified threat (such as the Falklands), or the looming threat which is prone to being ignored by weak politicians (such as Hitler in the 1930’s). There’s never much you can do specifically about an unidentified threat specifically, apart from making sure your forces are flexible enough to react quickly if needs must. But wilfully ignoring clear and looming threats is at beat folly, and at worst treasonable.

And the comments from the Defence Minister Nick Harvey are naive in the extreme. Four Eurofighters, an infantry company and an obsolete Destroyer are not a defence against invasion. They’re a better tripwire than in 1982, but a tripwire none the less. The potential for reinforcing British forces in the Falklands is minimal now, and will be non-existent after the SDSR’s effects have hit home. That is the key point that Harvey fails to grasp – if anything were to happen in the South Atlantic, we could do virtually nothing beyond what we already have there.

And while we’re talking about naive politicians, how about the Defence Secretary’s comments recently about how Argentina is a vibrant peace-loving country playing a full role on the international scene – hasn’t he heard any of Mrs. Kirchner’s rants over the past few years? Has he not heard about Argentina’s plans to acquire a landing ship from France? Its the same country, with the same kind of Malvinas complex and social problems as in 1982. Sure, Argentina may not be governed by a military junta, but can you take seriously any ‘democracy’ where the President is the last President’s wife? South America is clearly an un-predictable and volatile part of the world.

A Government getting its military history from the Janet and John books whilst wearing rose tinted glasses. And its policy from an ideology that places swingeing cuts over protecting its citizens. Will Dave and Boy George backtrack? Somehow I doubt it…



Filed under debate, defence, Falklands War, politics, Uncategorized

23 responses to “Admirals urge re-think on Harrier axing

  1. For those of you who think that the Admirals are being paranoid, here’s a link to the Buenos Aires Herald – as close to a “newspaper of record” I can find:
    And the Argentinians are still dedicated to reclaiming them, since they are fighting against the British in the halls of the United Nations:
    Is there an immediate threat? I doubt it – Argentina has enough internal problems to keep it busy for a while. Then again, there didn’t appear to be any threat to the Falklands in March of 1982 – just like nobody thought there was any danger to Poland in August of 1939. Reminds me of an old saying – “If one wishes peace, one should prepare for war.” In my humble opinion, cutting out the Harrier force and decommissioning Ark Royal aren’t exactly good preparations for war OR peace.

  2. James Daly

    I’m more and more astounded every day by some of the utter crap being spoken by some of our ministers… where the hell do these people come from? In that Buenos Aries article Nick Harvey calls the Admirals letter ‘overblown rhetoric’. Which says something about Nick Harvey and his idea of history.

  3. x

    I think Think Defence makes a compelling argument for Tornado. Though GrandLogistics (tangosix) makes a more rounded case for Harrier (if I read him right!)

    As for “but can you take seriously any ‘democracy’ where the President is the last President’s wife?” well for a good part of the last 13 years our PM was the PM’s wife so……….

    To be honest I am past caring. At the GE, though I am believer in the Anglosphere, I couldn’t see a British PM ever getting involved in an American interventionist war for a generation or more. But now I am not so sure. By 2018 I can well see British soldiers ashore at in Aden without carrier air cover. A place “we” retreated from 40 years or so ago, supposedly, in a time of peace under cover of two carrier air wings. Will the RAF be there flying from French bases in Djibouti? Probably not……..

    (Though really I think by the time 2018 rolls around who is ever in the White House will be more worried by troop movements in the deserts of Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, and California, than those of the Middle East.)

    • Don’t talk about troops in the SW American desert with too much of a chuckle, X. There are bills trying to pass through Arizona, New Mexico, and California to aid Border Patrol with National Guard troops. The fight over NG troops still rages in Arizona, despite the first pass of the state bill being defeated. And the Border Patrol police are using Humvees, starlight scopes, UAVs …. pretty much everything the Army uses that doesn’t have treads (yep, soon as the Strykers come home from Iraq and Afghanistan, guess where they’re already slated to go?). And with the drug lords in Mexico right against the border, well, if I lived in Phoenix, I’d be looking for somewhere safer to live – like Basra!

      • x

        I am not joking about the southern US border. I am expecting the brown stuff to hit the fan. Nor do I any joy from the situation. There must be a dozen or scenarios I can come up with which could signal a 9/11 like shift in US home security. Those southern frontier states are the traditional centers of “natural gun ownership.” (Funnily enough so it Vermont, those pesky Canucks!!!) Can you imagine a Democratic president trying to do away with 2nd Amendment with US citizens virtually at war? Can you imagine the consequences on ROE in US ops abroad if the enemy is at the gates at home? What about US European relations as the latter rolls back its defence spending? (Though I can see the EU turning the Turkish border into an armed camp. I can easily imagine a EU Turkey conflict.)

        I will stop rambling……

        • x

          Can you imagine the articles that will start to appear in Guns & Ammo…..? 🙂

          • Oh, and you’re more than a year late about the Guns N Ammo articles. The various firearm magazines have been declaring imminent Armageddon since Obama was elected. And the violence has gotten so bad, our one cable channel called Spike (Guy TV, basically – cop shows, ultimate fighting, and car shows) has started running a series on how to use guns, knives, and whatever else to defend yourself “in times of crisis”.

        • Sorry, X, I didn’t mean to imply you were taking the situation lightly. It scares the devil out of me to think how close we are to active combat. The biggest fear is two-fold – we have relatively inexperienced troops flying UAVs that can be easily and quickly armed; and (as you mentioned) we have a collection of over-armed, hopping mad, anti-government (or maybe more like anti-Obama) rednecks tearing around in their pickup trucks looking for trouble. Throw in a bunch of heavily armed paramilitary drug runners, and I thank my lucky stars I’m all the way up in Ohio. All I have to worry about are drunk hick hunters shooting anything that moves – and my dog is large and brown. And people wonder why my wife and I wear a bright orange vest lined with flashing red LEDs when we take him for walks?

          • x

            Do you think Barry O. would like the John Ford Cavalry Trilogy on Blu-ray for the holidays? 🙂

            There is a line and it is about to be crossed. And my money is on the citizenry of middle America.

            I think the rule breakers have been protected by the left for too long.

            • Why do you think I still have my WW2 field phones w/ switchboard and pedal generator, CB radios, solar battery chargers, over 2 dozen kerosene lanterns, and over a dozen functional swords? After all, you can run out of ammo, but you can sharpen a blade by hand! 😀

  4. x

    I should have said couldn’t see above. Please could you edit that James?

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