15 June 2012
The current defence budget could be made to go a lot further if the military and MoD were subjected to radical reforms, argues UKIP MEP Godfrey Bloom
National defence is very much like the annual insurance premium on the family house. Most folk rarely claim, houses rarely burn down or have their entire contents stripped by burglars. However, it is the responsibility of the head of household to ensure the premium is paid. So it is with the state's primary responsibility - defence of the realm. In recent years, this fundamental priority has shifted. Government no longer believes this is a priority. The new priority is protection of the banks, industries too big to fail, social and corporate welfare and an energy policy built on junk science and political manoeuvring.
Yet the defence budget is adequate in itself, the failure is the apportionment of that budget. Since the Great War, the tax allocation to defence has not been based on primary or even secondary threats to the United Kingdom but a systematic subsidy transfer to the British defence industry – compounded in recent years by a flawed commitment to European defence industries.
Procurement is, and has been, the downfall of a strategic policy since the last war. There are pitifully few politicians of any party who understand defence or even have a military background; the Ministry of Defence is not regarded as a step on the ministerial promotional ladder. As the choice of second division politicians, it is bottom of the barrel stuff. This is why we found a £40bn hole in the budget. Something I flagged up in a paper to the National Defence University in Washington six years ago.
How can we put this right? How can we sort out decades of incompetence and neglect? We must be ruthless, in order to do so we must form a cross party authority. The Liberal government and Conservative opposition worked together through the Haldane reforms in the early 1900s so there is a strong precedent for joint party solutions. The MoD is not able to reform, it must go. It should be replaced by a procurement agency taking its briefing as directly as possible from the Chiefs of Staff. We must get away from senior service squabbling over ships, soldiers or aeroplanes. Away from 'either, or'. There are enough top senior civil servants, who are capable of driving this through within the MoD already. They need a free hand and motivation to bring the new agency into being as a matter of urgency. Civil servants and service personnel acting as officials need culling on an unprecedented scale. We really cannot disband infantry regiments to maintain Whitehall warriors.
Notwithstanding the howls of protest from the defence industry in marginal seats, military hardware must be at the right place on time for the right money. We do not need to pay £100,000 for Army trucks, £60m for combat helicopters, £1bn for all-singing, all-dancing super multi-role fighters. The procurement motto must be 'off the shelf', wherever possible. I am afraid this will have to mean a policy of heavily buying American. Certainly, weapons platforms and airplanes. We can fit our own weapons systems where they can be developed at the right price and they must work.
The UK's prime defence capability has to be at sea and in the air. We have never traditionally had a significant standing army like the continentals. It is not credible that the British Army should fall below 100,000. Four divisions, air portable. The reserve to be made up of a further three divisions of territorial troops. The brilliant Haldane set out the blueprint for this, as sound today as it was 100 years ago. The infrastructure is already there. To make this work, there must be an uncompromising social commitment. Pensions, bonuses, family healthcare, our commitment must be total. Too often, we have failed our military post-conflict.
There are plenty of radical ways we can retain expertise. City-style warrant options, for example, based on service - not just length of service but type of service. Counting blankets at RAF Snodsbury is not the same as patrolling Helmand Province. We must also close the gap between Admiral Snooks on £200,000 per year and Marine Atkins on £300 per week. If potential long-term career officers want big salaries, choose a different profession. Warrants and bonuses for regulars and territorials should be significant. Recruitment should never be an issue, not with 24 per cent youth unemployment. Carrot and stick please. As Churchill would have said: 'Action this day'.
This article first appeared on sister site PublicServiceEurope.com.