As UKIP develops its offering for the 2015 election one subject that often gets missed by the parties is defence. All claim to care about it, none have any policies for it and it has been ‘entrusted’ to the Ministry of Defence to get on with it
This was a mistake. The Ministry of Defence is a wasteful and inept department par excellence, head and shoulders above other departments. A brief examination of the department’s history reveals wars won despite, rather than because, of the ministry’s appalling foul-ups. Many brave personnel have met an untimely end due to civil service ineptitude over the past 200 years.
The bureaucracy are not totally to blame. The partisan nature of the service chiefs, coupled with weak and apathetic government ministers lacking any vision other than budget savings, has led us to the sorry state we are in. They have time and again relied on the dwindling numbers of resourceful and brave men and women serving in our forces to overcome adversity to shore up the reputation of our country. This is not an acceptable state of affairs. The UK suffers from the malaise that only the victor can suffer from; because we won last time does not mean we will win again.
Recent examples of this ineptitude for your consumption: Firstly the news – over budget carriers are not equipped with catapults to launch planes or arrestor cables. This means that, thanks to the lobbying by defence companies, the Royal Navy have, on their hands, a turkey that cannot launch effective carrier-based aircraft other than the massively over budget, poorly performing F-35 – bought off the Americans.
No ‘proper’ aircraft can be launched from this carrier. Why was this decision taken? Who knows. The US Navy operate a wide variety of very effective aircraft from their massive carriers. We will not be able to. Well done Ministry of Defence, or is it Ministry of Defence Contractors Making Large Profits?
Second mishap is that the UK will not be renewing our heavy tanks. How very far sighted! We are losing the ability to produce such vehicles and if lost it will be very hard to regain. We will buy from abroad and thus we become reliant on countries who, when we need the equipment the most, may choose not to supply us. This applies the USA as much as the EU.
So what is the direction that we should take? Whereever it points expense will be the result. We must prepare for that. The first point is one of principle – all purchases and investment must be from business based in the UK. If we cannot make it, then we must invest so we can make it. After that a cohesive strategy to how we defend the UK, and project our power when needed, must be settled upon. Any strategy must endure for the next 50 years, and thankfully history gives us the template.
We are an island. We need a strong Navy. We now have large carriers. These need protecting. We also need a navy capable of launching amphibious operations at a Division, or at least Brigade, level. Some ships are suitable for both, but the carriers will need top notch air and submarine defences. So we have our surface strategy, two carrier groups and an amphibious group. Submersible operations could tie into both, and they have the added burden of protecting our nuclear deterrent.
“The British army should be a projectile to be fired by the British navy” – a quote attributed to Lord Edward Grey by Lord John Fisher. It must be remembered that Lord Fisher was a former First Sea Lord and may have had his own views on the Army/Navy relationship, and the funding that followed being “top dog”. Yet he was not wrong. The Army is second in importance to an island nation. Our Army needs to be small, effective and capable of quickly scaling up. It needs a core of heavy assets that is can bring to bear with reserves of materiel and men to meet threats. It needs an effective expeditionary force strategy, with lighter assets capable of being deployed quickly. The core of every army lies with a strong, well-resourced infantry component. The British Army should have its own air support in the form of fixed wing ground attack assets though. If it was not for the appalling Ministry of Defence these could have flown off our new expensive carriers, but sadly not!
The Royal Air Force strategy is both simple and problematic. A service to which, rightly, we have a deep affection, but one whose role falls between the Army and Navy. The job of an air force is to gain and hold air superiority. After that the ground attack assets can do their work. The RAF should be concentrated on that, and that alone. The dominance and destruction of enemy air assets should be their one and only aim. Investment in the next generation of air power, which may well be drone based, is a must.
Finally there must be leadership over the three services to ensure taxpayers’ money is not frittered away on pet projects. It is unclear how this could be achieved, but the involvement of service representatives, all focussed on a simple strategy is essential. What is needed is the elimination any inter service rivalry, give us and the service personnel who serve our country a much better deal.
Finally a more economic, or is it emotional, call. The call is for more shipbuilding in our old English ports. Invest in the robotic construction techniques such as exist in Asia. Build ships that would be registered in our own Merchant Navy, but more important build ships that do not use fossil fuels to power them. You may think this is an eco-warrior call for a green deal and other political throwaway phrases, but it is not. We should lead the world in building ecologically sound vessels – they would be, in the long run, cheaper to run, provide us with energy independence and import and export in a more cost effective manner. In short it would be better for us, and who could object to that?