The recent commitment of 2% GDP for defence spending will not reverse the massive reduction in our armed forces; in fact it may not even stop a further reduction but it will at least slow the attrition. The hope is of course that an increased awareness by politicians and possibly the public at large will enable more funds to be directed to the defence of the realm. That awareness can be partially stimulated by the efforts of the UKNDA and further publication of bodies like the 'Phoenix Think Tank'. Engagement of the public and a robust verbal confrontation with the growing culture of naive pacifism must be the order of the day if recent trends are to be reversed.
The forthcoming Strategic Defence Review to be announced next month will affect our defence posture for the next quarter century. That being the case it is obvious that while small increases in vessel numbers and equipment may be possible, a large increase in numbers will not take place unless the nation deems itself to be in imminent danger and then the time frame for procurement, recruitment and training may be too short.
I recently read a comment that said "when budgets are tight act in peace as you would in war". This comment, which I believe has great merit, was aimed primarily at vessel and equipment procurement across the three services. While it would be nice to have 30+ frigates and destroyers with a dozen or more hunter killers, this is unlikely to happen and I believe that it is time a two tier navy was built. At the top end would be the hard hitting QE carriers, the T45's/26's, Astute submarines and an amphibious element. At the lower end would be the cheaper, far less capable but more expendable vessels that would provide 'a presence' and a platform for capable systems. I believe that the 'Black Swan Sloop' concept is exactly the way the RN should go for this lower tier. Built on merchant ship lines (albeit a little faster) they are in concept not dissimilar to modern oil field support vessels. Offshore oil & gas have been champions of the modular philosophy for decades; where the oxy-acetylene gas axe and the welding machine has meant that one vessel could change within days (and sometimes hours) between being a supply boat, dive support vessel, ROV command ship, survey vessel, topside and/or seabed construction vessel, pipe/cable layer or floatel with helicopter support, safety standby/rescue, pollution control vessel, deep-sea tug and yes, even a patrol boat. All of this may I suggest is done at a fraction of time and cost that a naval service could expect to pay. Six Black Swans for the price of one T26 or twelve for two might be a price worth paying.
Following is the full article on which I based my submission to the 2015 SDSR public engagement. It was précised to 1484 characters and spaces in order to fit the box provided and is, of course, a limited wish list. If, however, enough people speak up, the message might start getting through to the people who control the purse strings.
Manpower shortages, especially skilled, are affecting all 3 of the armed forces - address this and emphasise the recruitment of speciality skills in and through the reserves.
Expand the Defence Centre for Languages & Culture; increase linguists in the reserves.
The RN, in particular, is poorly equipped to engage in asymmetric warfare of the type that Iceland conducted in the 1960/70's, the Chinese Navy is becoming skilled at and the Argentines may choose to follow.
Reinforce the structures of all 4 Mk.1 River class OPV's, especially the bows, shoulders & quarters for glancing type collisions.
Start the Black Swan building programme, in England to maintain a 2nd. surface warship building yard and build them strong to withstand minor collisions. Give them a capable Dynamic Positioning (DP) control system and shoulder doors for the deployment of tethered remotely piloted vehicles (ROV's).
Employ naval personnel with the offshore oil and gas service companies to build operating skills and experience with DP systems and ROV's. Further to that have the commercial operators review 'none security sensitive' naval operations and equipment. They are widely experienced in some parallel operations and commercial pressures have made them very innovative.
From the foreign aid budget, fund the building or merchant vessel conversions of a permanent Caribbean Guard Ship and a hospital ship to replace RFA Argus.
Continue with the Trident replacement & formalise the contingency for bringing them and their related infrastructure south of the border; in the event that Scotland separates from the UK.
Acquire MPA's, build an HMS Ocean replacement and additional T26's, Astutes and/or SSk's as funds allow. Purchase sufficient F35's for 2 mixed carrier battle groups.
Develop an alternative Carrier launch/recovery system for heavyweight UAV's (not EMAL's as it is unclear how the electro-magnetic pulse of that system can be masked) and give each of the QE carriers an organic full spectrum area/point air and ballistic missile defence to supplement that of the T45's and T26's.
Retain the Tranch 1 Eurofighters (with upgrades) for pure air defence, after the Tranch 3's become fully operational and also the C130J's with remaining airframe hours, after A4000M Atlas becomes operational.
Develop munitions to kill Russian T14 tanks (metallised paint spray clouds fog optics?) and flood the infantry with silenced quad bikes to make them very mobile.
24th September 2015