Amidst allegations of conflicts of interest and personal mis-judgements, Defence Secretary Liam Fox has finally resigned. (To be replaced by Philip Hammond ) The Royal Navy is facing a ‘perfect storm’ – lack of money, lack of stable political leadership and above all lack of long-term national strategy for defence compounded by the fact that the US is no longer willing or able to subsidise Europe’s defence. While the ‘grown-ups’ in the Navy Board try to plan and build a strategy for the Navy’s future with a dwindling budget, the ‘children’ in Westminster play at politics, driven by short-termism, unable to see beyond the next election or tomorrow’s headlines. An example of this is the aircraft carrier programme that survived the last government only because it created a lot of jobs near Gordon Brown’s constituency. It only survives now thanks to BAe Systems being wiley enough to write a bullet-proof contract for their construction that would cost the government more to cancel then continue. The carriers are not being built because politicians really understand they are a long-term strategic tool. This was demonstrated by the contradictory axing of HMS Ark Royal and the Harriers. [We consider carriers vital and are building new ones that are central to our defence strategy / We don't consider carriers vital and won't have any for the next 10 years] Duh!
Spinning the truth to suit their version of events, David Cameron claimed that the success in Libya ‘vindicated the his Strategic Defence Review while ex-Defence Secretary Liam Fox told a bare-faced lie when he said the Harriers couldn’t have done what the Tornadoes achieved in Libya. Libya has actually strengthened the case for aircraft carriers and put paid to an Army view that suggested all future conflicts would be counter-insurgency and our forces should be radically re-shaped accordingly. (Although they cling to their irrelevant & expensive main battle tanks). It is possible that if HMS Ark Royal had still been operational at the start of the uprising, she could have arrived off Libya within a week. In the initial stages of the revolution when the rebels were at the gates of Tripoli the Harriers could have deterred or prevented Gadaffi’s forces from rolling them back, thus shortening the conflict, saving lives and cost. Instead the RAF mounted ludicrous/ineffectual long-range Tornado missions from the UK and deployed to Italian airbases and hotels at great financial cost. The RN used amphibious assault ship HMS Ocean as a makeshift carrier operating Army Apache helicopters to provide some close-support but this was no substitute for what the Harriers could have achieved. (The French strike Carrier Charles De Gaulle was pretty vital to the operation). Long after media interest has moved on and the RAF have gone home for tea and medals, RN elements remain off Libya – HMS Bangor clearing mines and making the ports safe and HMS Liverpool clocking up 150 days at sea in an epic deployment. (Soon to be relived by HMS York). An official summary of the excellent work done by the RN during the Libya operation can be viewed here.
The 5,000 redundancies forced on the RN were always going to be painful and unfair on some individuals (see previous post) but further analysis shows the supposed cost benefits may not even exist. Taking into account recruitment, training, redundancy payments and possible welfare costs, a study by The Phoenix Think Tank concludes that the average sailor laid off now, will cost the tax payer more for the next 3-4 years than if they remained employed in the RN. In other words the cost-savings from these redundancies will not be felt until at least 2017. Not only is the RN badly weakened by losing a sixth of it manpower strength, but it is questionable what financial saving will be made.
Many are asking why the RN is not making more Admirals and senior officers redundant while ratings bear the brunt of cuts? There are 3 good reasons for this. (1) The RN is the most technically complex and diverse of the services and requires a greater proportion of officers and skilled men. (2) It makes sense to retain the more qualified, experienced and expensively trained people than those who could be more easily replaced. (3) Any organisation that is ‘down-sizing’ still needs its leaders even if the main workforce is shrinking.
RN flagship HMS Albion, commissioned in 2003 has paid off and will now go into ‘extended readiness‘ (ie laid-up in mothballs) for the next 5 years at Devonport. This modern and versatile ship will be unavailable to the RN and Royal Marines until 2016 as another cash-saving measure. At least there are no plans (at present) to flog her to a foreign navy or even scrap her. HMS Bulwark becomes the new flagship – the 3rd in 2 years after the loss of HMS Ark Royal.
There are many fine pilots and hard-working ground staff in the RAF but beware the mighty RAF self-promotion and PR machine (funded by us all from the defence budget). A recent survey by a market research company revealed that there are approximately 3 pro-RAF stories appearing in the media to every one for the RN or Army and this publicity monster employs more than 150 photographers – more than the RN, RM and Army combined! The RAF News is published fortnightly while the Navy and Army manage with monthly publications. In the academic world, RAF-supported airpower students heavily outnumber naval students thus ensuring an enduring weight of support in the Civil Service and institutions. The Red Arrows looping the loop all over the UK ensure the RAF is kept in the public consciousness together with the almost religious reverence for the ’1940 Battle of Britain myth’. (Without wishing to diminish the achievements and bravery of ‘the few’ of Fighter Command, it was ‘the many’ of the Royal Navy’s Home Fleet that was as important in deterring the Germans planning the amphibious invasion). It takes serious dedication and a lot of tax payer cash to keep justifying the existence of 40,000 people, 630 aircraft (of which 143 are gliders) and £7bn a year for the RAF when many of its functions could be done more efficiently by the other services.
- Defence Secretary Liam Fox resigns (telegraph.co.uk)
- Former head of the navy says Liam Fox was ‘right to resign’ (Portsmouth News)
- The implications of Royal Navy personnel cuts (Dr Lee Willet, RUSI Video)
- Plans to mothball navy’s flagship HMS Albion remain (Portsmouth News)
- The RAF Argument is wearing thin’ (Phoenix Think Tank)
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