Heavy metal is so passé

19th October, 2010 12:42 pm

aircraft carrierBy Andy Hull

Today sees the publication of the coalition government’s Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR). But will it be fit for tomorrow, or for yesterday?

We have seen profound change in the global security environment in the wake of 9/11 and the economic crash. Power is shifting rapidly from West to East, from the Atlantic seaboard to the Pacific rim. We live in an increasingly multi-polar world in which conflict within states is now as important as between them. Weak states now pose as much of a danger as strong ones. Non-state actors are now significant players, with individuals able to deliver destruction on an industrial scale. New commons are opening up, such as cyber-space, and our governance arrangements have not kept up.

We need a UK military and security apparatus configured to reflect this changed strategic landscape. Judging by the many leaks from the SDSR, we may not get it.

The Ministry of Defence, according to the National Audit Office, is £500m over budget for the current financial year. There is already a £9bn black hole in its budget, with a projected shortfall of at least £36bn over the next decade. Business as usual is not an option. We need visionaries now as much as accountants: some tough choices have to be made.

We should invest in what we are good at and where can add real value in the context of our alliances: areas such as special forces, command and control, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. But we have to ask, when defence is facing cuts of 8% now and a possible further 10 per cent by 2015, should we really be persevering with big-ticket equipment programmes we don’t need and can’t afford? Two new aircraft carriers, when the US already has thirteen? Joint Strike Fighters to fly off them, when the days of mass air formations are long gone? These programmes, along with the force protection that comes with them, could cost us up to £20bn. That’s a very high price to pay, in straitened times, for heavy metal, Cold War, museum arms.

Andy Hull is a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute for Public Policy Research (ippr).

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