FOREWORD - DEFENCE MANAGEMENT JOURNAL, Issue 51
General Lord Dannatt
After weeks of speculation, months of uncertainty and years of anticipation, the long-awaited Strategic Defence and Security Review has, at last, been published – but perhaps only now the real debate begins. The coalition government came clean on Tuesday 19 October with its agenda for the future of British defence policy - but how does that translate into definitive decisions about the size and shape of our armed forces, the numbers of personnel to be retained in uniform or made redundant or, more pertinently for British industry, the equipment programmes to be taken forward or cancelled? Behind the headlines of the announcements, the real detail has still to be revealed.
Current operations in Afghanistan have quite properly been given the highest priority. How else could we have justified the huge cost in blood and treasure had that not been the case? But what after Afghanistan - that is the real debate? Will the future look like further campaigns necessitating the deployment of large numbers of ground troops on protracted stabilisation missions or is there something out there, more subtle, yet unseen that requires a different priority? Is there indeed a threat to the territorial integrity of the United Kingdom that we have not spotted, or if spotted, not given sufficient priority? If such a threat exists, to what extent can it be deterred by possession of an independent nuclear deterrent?
But what about these aircraft carriers? Of course all true Brits would love us to see an enormous British aircraft carrier putting into foreign ports around the world from time to time, but I think we all agonise over the rationale behind that programme. Is it really acceptable to make an expensive case for carrier-based airpower to be available in a decade's time, while it is acknowledged that there is no such need now? As a trading nation dependant on the sea for 90 per cent of our overseas trade, is it right that our major investment in the maritime area only comes to fruition in ten years time? The hierarchy of the Royal Navy that persuaded the Coalition Government of this policy have their work cut out to convince the population at large that this programme is in the best interests of the defence of the realm.
In the meantime the numbers of fast jets we operate will reduce, plans will be made to shrink the Army's heavy armour and artillery and return it from Germany where too much has been marooned expensively over twenty years after the Cold War reached its climax. Sorting out these anomalies all make sense to even the most casual observer. But for those who fear that their cherished capability or programme might be a catastrophic casualty of the decisions, there is the less publicised intent by this government that we will review our defence needs every five years. Those who see themselves as "losers" now might become "winners" later, as the uncertainties of the future reveal themselves. But the real challenge to this more flexible future is the agility of our defence industries to respond to the armed forces' changed needs in the light of evolving strategic shifts. Strategic shocks happen, policy changes. The armed forces must be prepared to adapt, but can British industry respond in a timely fashion? That is a key question.
General Dannatt's autobiography, "Leading from the Front", is published by Bantam Press.