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Defence on a Budget in 2012

    In the eleventh of the CPS' 'UK Policy Resolutions for 2012' series, Bernard Jenkin, the Conservative MP for Harwich and North Essex, explains why the Government must reform defence procurement. Yesterday, in the tenth in the series, Tom Burkard put forward proposals for improving child reading attainment.

    UK Policy Resolutions for 2012:

    • Undertake the ‘Hammond Review’ to fuse the Ministry of Defence, industry and commerce
    • Open up equipment supply to innovative new providers

    The sharp reductions in UK’s defence capabilities will severely limit the UK’s ability to deter aggression and to shape the global strategic environment.  There are some who are clinging to illusions, but the cuts are far bigger than the eight per cent headline reduction in spending suggests due to the £38 billion unfunded commitments in the procurement programme, yet UK policy still aspires to a global role.  Can we avoid fresh thinking any longer?

    The Government argues that it has established an "adaptable posture" for UK defences, but the surviving capabilities leave the UK only able to mount limited operations at limited scale and duration.  The Libya campaign showed this.  In the first 24 hours, the Royal Navy used two submarine launched Tomahawk land attack missiles – against 112 by the United States.  There was not a single Royal Navy ship left to defend British home waters.  One frigate was sent to Libya with only four air defence missiles instead of the 38 it should have.  Happily, Gaddafi’s resistance collapsed just before the RAF Tornados ran out of Storm Shadow missiles.  The National Audit Office warns we do not have enough submarines to meet requirements.  The Defence Select Committee warns that the Armed Forces are heading below 'critical mass' and suffering major 'capability gaps'.

    The global strategic environment is not inviting us to take more risks in our defence posture: quite the reverse.  Our EU partners are for the most part supine in the face of global threats.  There is a simple truth: that it is far cheaper to be ready to deter wars than to have to fight them, but the worsening fiscal crisis has closed down any prospect of increased defence spending.  Without money, the MoD needs radical new strategy and operational concepts.  It is no good just trying to do the same on half the budget.  On a budget of two per cent of GDP and shrinking, we must ask how to do things differently.

     

    UK POLICY RESOLUTION FOR 2012

    The “Hammond Review” should establish the capacity to think about how to do things differently and at low cost.  The traditional MoD structures cannot do this. CDS should build a new team for him of insiders and outsiders to explore how MoD can be enabled to adapt and evolve on its own resources so that it can generate the forms of power the UK needs in this rapidly changing world.   To determine the UK’s interests and strategy requires recreating the UK’s ‘competitive stance’.  The Secretary of State should involve others in Whitehall and in Parliament, from the City and commerce.  Just as the US competitive stance to ensure US technological and industrial dominance over everyone else, including the UK (and this includes actively degrading our industrial performance), we cannot rely on analyses done by US organisations like RAND.

    The UK has always been good at small.  We should exploit this advantage by harnessing the networks of small businesses, which are truly innovative and inventive.  They currently find it impossible to get their ideas into MoD or the Armed Forces.  The present programme means the UK cannot order anything new for at least ten years.  A new equipment programme could reflect what we actually need and could afford, and the capacity to generate what we need when it is needed.  The MoD faces huge challenges. Reconstitution and regeneration of the previously extant force is no longer an option; we have used up our force and cannot replace it.  It is time to think bravely.

     

    Bernard Jenkin is the Conservative MP for Harwich and North Essex and the author of The Tipping Point: British National Strategy and the UK's Future World Role. He has also served as Shadow Secretary of State for Defence (2001–03) under the leadership of Iain Duncan Smith.

    This article represents the views of the author only and does not necessarily represent the policy outlook of the Centre for Policy Studies, its board, staff or affiliated members.  

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    Comments

    Anonymous - About 2078 days ago

    There are many problems with UK MoD procurement as well as a complete lack of project management skills. The 2 main procurement problems are (I) the insistence by MoD on procuring next generation technology. This combines R&D for technology which does not currently exist with platform procurement when the technology is developed. It's a licence for cost overruns and delays. R&D contracts should be let separately (and in my view only to UK businesses ( including UK operations of foreign owned businesses) using identifiable stage- gates. The platform procurement should just be for current technology which would give much greater certainty on cost and timeline and tighter control to prevent overruns (ii) there are too many current and ex officers involved in procurement. Having dealth with many of them, their interests are primarily to secure lucrative Non Executive Directorships in the private sector rather than efficient procurement for the armed services. Whilst you obviously want to secure the best equipment available for the armed services, too much is currently procured from the US with horrendous conversion costs subsequently incurred when these need converting to UK software or to comply with UK health and safety standards. Not enough is done to convert military technology into commercial and civil applications which could be hugely profitable so the significant sums expended don't contribute to the UK industrial expertise base or to GDP (notwtithstanding offset) and are just a drain to the Exchequer. Closing Abbey Wood in Bristol and seeking Government commitments to restore the Defence budget if and when the economy recovers would be a good start.

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