Budgetary constraints may force defence spending rethink

A panel of experts believe the current economic situation will require the government to seriously re-think their defence spending options.

An expert panel of academics, government and industry, speaking at yesterday’s Demos/BAE Systems event at Labour party conference, have acknowledged the huge strains being placed on British Defence policy. Dr Tim Edmunds, senior defence lecturer at Bristol University, said this was because the Government “tries to have it all – which causes huge pressures on policy, organization and operations.”

Speaking about Trident, Bob Keen, head of government relations at BAE Systems, stressed his preference for a new submarine system to succeed the current Vanguard class but, questioned by Left Foot Forward, acknowledged that a modified version of Astute could be capable of serving as a nuclear deterrent platform but that such a move would represent a certain degree of trade off between costs and capabilities.

On Monday Left Foot Forward reported that replacing Trident with Astute could save £45 billion.

He said that given the unpredictability of future threats and the constrains on government spending, future defence industry work would have to set a higher priority on the importance of flexibility and modularity so as to allow future systems to serve multiple purposes.

To limit such a trade off, Mr Keen added that though he did not advocate it, should such a change occur it should be to modify Astute from its current non-nuclear armed status to an intercontinental ballistic missile equipped submarine, as opposed to a nuclear warhead armed tomahawk cruise missile submarine. Crucially, however, he accepted the practicality of such a potential change.

Talking about the need for an industrial approach that maintains “minimum reconstitutable capabilities,” Professor Trevor Taylor of the Royal United Services Institute said it was important to design and develop areas of technology that “you can maintain and expand – for instance it may make sense to build at least one carrier to keep the knowledge and abilities that you need should you wish to build more later.”

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