Brown’s super-carriers are the wrong choice

Gordon Brown's commitment to the construction of new aircraft carriers is good news for defence sector jobs. But it is bad news for the defence budget and strategy.

The Prime Minister’s commitment yesterday to the construction of two new aircraft carriers is good news for defence sector jobs but bad news for both Britain’s defence budget and Britain’s defence strategy.

The Government is now in danger of eschewing the warnings of its own senior budgetary and strategic advisors. Defence economist Malcolm Chalmers’ recent RUSI report has warned of the grave dangers that await front line troops in terms of cuts if the government refused to take tough choices on big ticket items like the aircraft carriers or the joint strike fighter project. Similarly, the new Chief of the General Staff, General Sir David Richards, has likewise urged the government to make long-term choices between major procurement projects and front line resourcing.

The potential for a strategic redefining of Britain’s interests and consequent resource allocation was outlined in the recent ippr report ‘Opportunities in an age of austerity‘, in which former Defence Chief Lord Guthrie and noted security expert Andy Hull argued that:

“In concrete terms this will have to mean, above all, not developing new weapons to fight old wars. The new 65,000 tonne aircraft carriers, the planes to fly off them and the destroyers to protect them must be firmly in the frame for cuts. The super-carriers are currently costing £5bn (already more than £1bn more than originally predicted).”

This approach meets with favour even from military historian Max Hasting who recently observed:

“Opponents of draconian cuts in navy and RAF strengths cite the importance of a balanced strategy, which addresses potential future threats as well as current commitments, dominated by Afghanistan. The problem with this approach, admirably sensible in theory, is that it threatens to leave Britain’s forces balanced only in inadequacy.”

With the Conservative Party in disarray over its own cuts programme now is not the time for the Labour Government to prioritise defence contractor-pleasing procurement projects over a genuine strategic opportunity to set British defence on a firm and lasting footing.

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8 Responses to “Brown’s super-carriers are the wrong choice”

  1. Left Foot Forward

    Gordon Brown's super-carriers are the wrong choice for British defence

  2. Mark

    “good news for defence sector jobs”
    …funny how these are in Brown’s backyard and in Labour/SNP marginals, eh?

  3. Rob

    This one of the first articles on left foot forward that i have totally agread with. Dito on the comment about the Labour snp marginals refernce.

  4. John

    How are these aircraft carriers going to help fight Terrrorism?

    Most terrorists don’t have boats (only Somalian pirates do) – and I can’t think who we’re getting geared up to fight next.

    It’s clear to anyone who knows about the Navy that aircraft carriers need protection – and without it any battle will be a re-run of the Battle off Samar.

  5. Meandering Mammal

    I’d agree that it’s unwise to commit to expenditures without an underlying strategy, but I’d disagree that replacement carriers aren’t a key component of placing British Defence on a ”firm and lasting footing”.

    The key issue is how we see our forces operating in future, what do we expect the operations to look like? Do we want to retain an expeditionary capability or not? If we do want to retain an expeditionary capability where do we anticipate operating, bearing in mind that current operations are taking place in one of very few completely landlocked countries. Do we really see a near future with no ”state-actor” threats, can we rely on host nation support. Do we really see no requirement to advance from the littoral? Amphibiousity without the ability to provide air cover is suicidal.

    If we’re convinced that none of these things are what we want to be then it certainly reduces our requirement to invest in either the Army or the RAF.

    Ship to objective manoeuvre isn’t really required at this stage in the Afghan campaign, but I can see a lot of circumstances when it may have been used early on.

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