Recent unrest in the Middle East has prompted suggestions that the UK is carrying out its planned defence cuts at the worst possible time, reports Strategic Defence Intelligence.
Over recent months, the UK Ministry of Defence (MOD) has started implementing the cuts outlined in the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR), published in October 2010. So far the Royal Navy flagship, the Ark Royal, has been taken out of service and the Harrier jump jets flown by the Navy and the Royal Air Force (RAF) have been retired, leaving new aircraft carriers with no accompanying planes for nine years. The Nimrod surveillance aircraft is due to follow shortly.
Chief of the defence staff, Gen. Sir David Richards, said losing military capability as a result of defence budget cuts would pose risks, but insisted they will be manageable, and that these targeted programmes were less risky than losing other capabilities.
However, the timing of the recent cuts has drawn particular criticism, coming as they do during a time of increasing unrest in the Middle East. The MOD has announced 11,000 redundancies among service personnel just as the international community considers imposing a no-fly zone over Libya, which could, in turn, easily develop into a more lengthy engagement.
Another direct impact was felt during the evacuation of British people from Libya. One of the rescue ships, the HMS Cumberland, is one of a fleet of Type 22 frigates based out of Devonport that are due to be scrapped. The recent involvement of such ships in the rescue mission drew calls to delay their scrapping to offer some ‘breathing space’.
It could be argued that there will never be a perfect time to carry out such severe defence cuts. In fact, as NATO’s involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq is drawing to a close, it would seem like a convenient cut-off point after such missions have drawn heavily on resources for years.
However, the timing of these cuts, which will have such an extensive and immediate effect on current events, strikes a bitter blow when it is revealed how much of the MOD’s budget has been wasted on overruns, soaring costs, and programmes that never make it to the front line.
For example, the National Audit Office (NAO) recently revealed that despite the number of Typhoons on order by the MOD having been reduced by 72, development and production costs have soared by 20% to £20.2bn. The NAO estimates that each individual aircraft will cost 75%, or £55m, more than originally estimated and that the total programme cost will reach £37bn.
Though the effects of the SDSR may have an immediate impact on current and imminent military events, hopefully its legacy will be to ensure future budgets are correctly and efficiently allocated, and waste minimised, so that the MOD can maintain world-class armed forces for the UK.