FOREWORD - DEFENCE MANAGEMENT JOURNAL, Issue 57
Admiral Lord West of Spithead GCB DSC PC ADC
By the time this goes to print, there should be some clarity regarding the further adjustments to the defence programme to remove the so-called 'black hole'. The most significant decision relates to which A/C type will embark on the new carriers. It seems that the major factor in the decision is cost, and somewhat strange is that Bernard Gray's £5bn slush fund isn't to be used to resolve the problem.
There is no doubt that the JSF Programme is crucially important to the UK aviation industry, and decisions relating to it and other procurement plans may reignite the debate about ordering off-the-shelf or developing systems in the UK.
Such decisions are clouded in controversy, claim, counter claim, lack of empirical evidence and downright lies. For example, if a recent study for RUSI suggesting that 34% of the cost of defence equipment sourced and manufactured in the UK returns to the Exchequer is correct, then it would suggest that any foreign off-the-shelf equipment needs to be at least one-third cheaper before it even compares on purely cost grounds. How do ministers weight the preservation of hi-tech skills in the UK workforce and their inevitable benefits to the overall economy?
Have we really identified the essential capabilities we as a nation need to ensure the ability to modify and upgrade equipment over time without another nation's approval? In the final analysis, sovereign nations take action in their own perceived national interest, even if it adversely affects a friendly nation.
On a different tack, how do the MoD and NSC calculate capability, cost and value for money? Our nation is planning to have an SSN force of seven boats, whereas it is quite clear commitments have shown we need a minimum of eight. The stretching of the building drumbeat for the Astute has added £800m to the cost of the programme for seven boats. To have had eight boats at the original drumbeat would mean an eighth boat could be built for effectively £200m extra.
Clearly, there are issues of running costs, but have we really made an assessment of the massive capability enhancement possible for limited extra outlay? Similarly, are we really going to pay for idle shipyards via the TOBA agreement when we could be building warships for a derisory extra cost to the Exchequer? I would have proposed an extra three T45 destroyers at £300m each, but understand BAE Systems has destroyed the jigs. Can this be true?
Of course, the fundamental problem is that we are spending too small a slice of our diminished national wealth on defence. Clever use of cyberspace will not change that. There is considerable backbench support in the Lords and Commons for an increase in defence expenditure as a percentage of GDP, but the front benches see no votes in such a move.
I believe any government has a duty to the nation when it comes to defence and security – more than in any other area – to take the right action, even if there are no votes in it.