MoD agrees to 8% cut as Army chief and Clinton voice concerns

The Ministry of Defence has agreed to cuts of around 8 per cent in the department’s £37bn annual budget. Frank Spring looks at the likely impact of the cuts.

The Ministry of Defence has agreed to cuts of around 8 per cent in the department’s £37 billion annual budget, the BBC revealed today. The Army has to cut about 7,000 personnel over the next five years; the navy will have fewer new aircraft and its overall fleet will be reduced – though it will get two new aircraft carriers; and RAF bases will close, with the Joint RAF/Fleet Air Arm Harrier force set to face the axe while some RAF Tornado jets could be saved.

The agreement, on the eve of the Strategic Defence Review, came as the Chief of the General Staff warned the prime minister he could not accept cuts in Army numbers and training which would hamper the Afghan operation – forcing Number 10’s hand, Downing Street sources last night saying David Cameron had blocked Treasury demands for 10 per cent cuts in the MoD’s budget.

Writing in The Daily Telegraph last month, Con Coughlin had warned that Britain’s Strategic Defence and Spending Review was in danger of turning into an “unseemly squabble between the rival Services”; this was fair enough, but hardly comprehensive – the squabble over the defence budget has escalated to the highest levels of the coalition government in recent weeks and has now jumped the Pond, with both US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates inveighing against stark cuts in the British defense budget.

Some of the concern may be based on numbers. NATO members are expected to spend 2 per cent of gross domestic product on defence, although in practice Britain has been the only NATO member besides the US to regularly meet this standard; current cuts would bring British spending in at below 2 per cent.

Both Clinton and Gates, however, understand budgetary constraints, and the percentage decrease in British spending is comparable to that of the US, where spending could fall from 4.9 per cent of gross domestic product to 3.5 per cent. Many of the cuts in the American defence budget, however, have come from procurement – weapons-systems and platforms like the F-22 Raptor and the Future Combat System manned vehicles have been scrapped, while others, such the Littoral Combat Ship, have faced cuts in order to avoid future abolition.

Where possible, the cuts have been made according to a sense of what the US’s future defence needs will be – the F-22 was a Cold War relic, for example, while the utility of the FCS was always up for debate. The Littoral Combat Ship, by contrast, is designed for, among other things, near-shore surface warfare against small boats, useful against Somali pirates or violent extremists in coastal or islanded areas, and for protecting major assets like aircraft carriers against swarming boats, yet even it might not survive the cuts. Spared from the axe was the Joint Strike Fighter, seen as an asset in multinational coalition operations such as the one in Afghanistan.

Anticipating the nature of future challenges has been a responsibility for every major national power’s defence chief for as long as such posts have existed, and no prediction can be absolutely accurate. Making allowances for that, however, the cuts in UK defence have been strangely out of sync with the kind of conflicts Britain is likely to face in coming years and does, in fact, face now, and it is this that should have US officials concerned.

While British defence policy should in no way be determined by the needs of the United States, interoperability is the order of the day and looks likely to be the order of tomorrow. What, then, would be of utility both to Britain’s own independent interests and to its joint operations, and would not sink the financial ship?

The first answer is easy: well-resourced, highly-trained, mobile infantry and special forces. It is hard to imagine a conflict in which such a force would not be of the first value to Britain or a NATO coalition, and, indeed, British troops continue to distinguish themselves in Afghanistan. Yet, as has been covered here at Left Foot Forward, the coalition government has threatened to reduce the British infantry by a brigade or more, including scrapping the Gurkhas.

What else would be of independent and cooperative use? Naval forces capable of engaging in anti-piracy and near-shore support operations – essentially, frigates, the kind that Coalition has scrapped to allow for supercarriers.

What of the plans that are going ahead? The biggest procurement is, of course, the supercarriers. Carriers, and their attendant battlegroups, are primarily useful in state v state wars, where an enemy has fixed terrestrial or naval assets to be bombed. One wonders what country on the other side of the world the coalition government imagines it will need to fight in the coming decades. From an interoperability standpoint the carriers’ value is questionable at best – an extra platform here and there is always handy, but the US has carrier battle-group capacity of its own.

Of even greater expense is, of course, Trident. The coalition has not renewed Trident yet; indeed, it has bravely thus far not taken any position at all on the £97 billion question. Apparently, the notion that to govern is to choose was wrong all along.

So US officials are left with this: a close ally cutting or scrapping capacities they both need today – and will likely need tomorrow – in favour of major procurements of questionable value and indecision on the biggest procurement question of all. It is no wonder Clinton and Gates felt moved to voice their concern; it is to be hoped that someone, perhaps even David Cameron, might be listening.

Like this article? Left Foot Forward relies on support from readers to sustain our progressive journalism. Can you become a supporter for £5 a month?

10 Responses to “MoD agrees to 8% cut as Army chief and Clinton voice concerns”

  1. jake lampner

    MoD agrees to 8% cut as Army chief and Clinton voice concerns …: The Littoral Combat Ship, by contrast, is desig…

  2. Rachael

    RT @leftfootfwd: MoD agrees to 8% cut as Clinton voice concerns: <<Wish Clinton favoured children rather than military.

  3. Frank Spring

    In which I take the Condem gov to task on defense.

  4. Kiern Moran

    Now I do not want to get all geo-political and realistic but it would be absolute madness to scrap the new carriers. You cannot win the ground war without control of the air, this is basic strategy. The wars of this century will increasingly be focussed and characterised by the struggle for resources; particularly hydrocarbons especially in light of Peak oil. The parts of the world containing untapped hydrocarbons include the Arctic and the Antarctica as well as the sea areas around the Falkland Islands. Without a blue sea navy, which means carriers, we will have no say.

  5. cw

    MoD agrees to 8% cut as Army chief and Clinton voice concerns …: The Ministry of Defence has agreed to cut…

  6. jeff marks

    cuts in spending or cuts in future projected increases in spending?

    they are different

  7. CND: Is it now time to scrap Trident? | Left Foot Forward

    […] (one wonders why they didn’t just bring it out last week) it seems that despite an expected 8 per cent cut in the defence budget overall, spending on combatting cyber warfare will […]

  8. Mr. Sensible

    The Coalition’s decision to delay a decision on Trident is politically motivated.

    Nothing more, nothing less.

  9. Fat Bloke on Tour

    The whole discussion surrounding matters military needs to change.

    The issue that needs to be addressed is the military industrial complex supporting the armed forces and the value that it generates for itself and its shareholders rather than the boots on the ground. The cost / value structure of the ongoing programmes is now unaffordable / unsustainable and it is now the industrial cart that is leading the military horse.

    TB / Trident replacement = Timing was based on “British Waste of Space’s” availability of build slots rather than a direct military need.

    Nimrod replacement = Sonething was badly wrong when the programme generated talk of new building Comets from scratch.

    T45 = £6bill programme for 6 hulls / 45K tonnage slipped through without comment while the carrier programme is on everyone’s lips at £5bill approx for two hulls / 130K tonnage.

    Please note that the language surrounding the carrier programme shows how out of touch it has become, they are not “supercarriers” at any level. They are run of the mill angle iron engineering of the most basic kind, such much used hyperbole only serves to boost “British Waste of Space’s” profit margins.

    The issues that need to be addressed are what are we getting for out money, how many squadrons of fast jets will the RAF now be deploying and how many sprogs will be getting their private education subsidised by the public purse?

    Root and branch reform is now the only way.
    eg, Aircraft Carrier = £500mill a pop.
    Anything else is frippery and ego tripping.
    330m x 75m (oa) x 10m = 90K tons @ 26 / 28 knots.
    Hyundai does a nice container ship at £100mill a time not including volume discount.

    Finally the stuff about the LCS is intereresting in that it shows that the USN has similar issues with their officer class generating an complex, expensive, industry friendly solution to a simple problem.

    We need to sort out the £50mill frigate.
    Fights fires, sorts out pirates and does disaster relief.
    They are out there, they will do the job but the navy and the indusrty that supports them does not want to make them.

    Time to clean out the stables.

  10. SNP: Defence cuts would be a "calamity for Scotland" | Left Foot Forward

    […] that the Ministry of Defence budget faces an 8 per cent cut in Wednesday’s spending review, the Scottish National Party’s Westminster leader Angus […]

Leave a Reply