Budget 2010: Defence procurement cuts needed

The budget should make clear all major defence procurement efforts will be subject to a full and frank reconsideration as part of the Strategic Defence Review.

The Budget should make clear all major defence procurement efforts will be subject to a full and frank reconsideration as part of the Strategic Defence Review. To the extent possible, the budget should look at suspending spending on or slowing contract negotiations on all major areas for defence procurement spending that should be subject to the Strategic Defence Review.

In real terms, this should lead to a willingness to cancel any to all of the following:

The “Super Carrier” project: The planned 65,000 tonne carriers are already £5bn over the original £1bn budget and according to the ippr’s influential “Opportunities in an age of austerity” report should be “firmly in the frame for cuts”.

The Joint Strike Fighter (F-35): The Ministry of Defence currently has on order 140 JSFs at a total current estimated price of £8.68bn. The JSF has seen its individual per fighter price tag increase from £37m to £62m in the last four years alone. Given that the last time the Royal Air Force was engaged in a dogfight was the Falklands war the need for major spending on the next generation of air superiority fighter is questionable at best.

The Future Rapid Effects System (FRES): The House of Commons defence select committee has repeatedly criticised delays and cost increases in the planned £16bn new military vehicle procurement programme. Such a move would emulate the Obama Administration’s cancellation of FRES’ US counterpart, the Future Combat System.

Trident: Cancelling the successor to Britain’s existing nuclear deterrent would allow Britain to retain its nuclear power status for at least another 20-30 years and could save the taxpayer anything from a remarkably conservative Ministry of Defence estimate of £20bn to Greenpeace’s estimated £97bn over the course of the decades to come.

Alternatives to a full scale independent nuclear deterrent range from accepting an end to British nuclear weapons power status from the 2040s onwards to a scaled down nuclear weapons platform to be delivered via the existing Astute-class submarine to President Sarkozy’s idea of joint UK-French nuclear patrols allowing each country to cut back the size of its nuclear submaine force.

In each of these instances the government will have to consider whether more cost-effective alternatives can be found if Britain wishes to retain its capabilities in these areas or if they should be discontinued in their entirety. As such, the Strategic Defence Review should consider the implications for strategy, procurment priorities, spending and indeed sovereignty that these dramatic options entail.

The government’s existing insistence however that major items like Trident and the Carriers are “off-limits” in the budget and the Review risks undermining both the very utility and credibility of the Budget and the Review.

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