“We do not have to choose between strong fiscal discipline and strong defence, Indeed, in the longer-term one provides for the other.” It’s hard to believe it, but this is Defence Secretary Liam Fox, (quoting the US defence Secretary) speaking this week at RUSI (Royal United Services Institute). This depressing speech was for an RAF audience and was at times hypocritical and disingenuous. This government blatantly has chosen so-called ‘fiscal discipline’ over strong defence and Fox won’t find anyone outside his government who would agree that our defences have not been significantly weakened. The defence review is simply cost-driven disarmament and no one can dispute UK defences, in particular the Royal Navy are in even worse shape as result. The sudden axing of our small but significant carrier air power assets, 4 frigates, and 5000 sailors has simply made the UK even more vulnerable and the Navy more over-stretched than before. Fox talks as if the October 2010 SSDR (Strategic Defence and Security Review) was some sort of triumph for modernisation. This is nauseatingly dishonest to claim that despite huge budget cuts, everything is fine. We all understand the UK needs to reduce pubic spending but if the government was straight with us and admitted they’ve decided our spending priorities will not allow us to be a first rank world power anymore then at least they would be able to retain some respect and credibility.
Fox claimed the absurdly expensive Typhoon aircraft “have come of age” in Libya, Despite the fact that RAF operations are vastly more costly, less flexible and effective than Harrier/carrier operations would have been (using Governments own data). With its vast PR machine and Battle of Britain mythology, it would have taken enormous courage to even consider disbanding the RAF or reducing it to a UK airspace defence role only (most of its functions could be absorbed by the Army and Navy saving a lot of money and improving effectiveness on the frontline). There is a huge political uproar when the government attempts to close RAF bases but when a few frigates get axed no one seems to notice much. Unsurprisingly Fox confirmed the RAF has a bright future despite serious question marks about its competence, performance and value for money. Subtly implying that the RAF is the sole arbiter of air power, naval aviation gets absolutely no mention, despite the aircraft carrier programme supposedly being a central part of future defence policy.
With UK forces running at maximum capacity, Fox states that the Libya operation will go on as long as it takes. With huge understatement he admits that it will “increase the pressure on both personnel and equipment” However no significant extra funding or equipment will be made available and SDR cuts will continue without respite. HMS Ocean continues to provide a platform for 5 Army Air Cops Apache helicopters attacking targets in Libya. Very useful, but a pale imitation of what the Harriers could do. HMS Ocean is being worked hard but with typical disregard for people, the MoD has refused to give her ships company additional operational allowance. HMS Illustrious will need to complete quick post-refit sea trials and work up in order that HMS Ocean in relieved on station to get home for well deserved rest and long-awaited refit.
Fox rounded off his speech by having the cheek to mention that “too many European nations in NATO were trying to get a free ride off the US when it came to their own security” While this maybe true, he is no position to preach to others about not spending enough on defence!
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