18 Oct 2010

Strategic Defence Review: What’s up for grabs?

Cheap petrol, expensive cocaine, rescue at sea, every computer you use today. They’re all in play in the Defence Review, writes Carl Dinnen.

Strategic Defence Review: What's up for grabs? (Reuters)

And this could be bad day if you drive a big tank.

David Cameron’s got it in for the tanks. In yesterday’s Security Strategy he said the UK’s military equipment is “too rooted in a Cold-War mind-set … Main battle tanks aplenty, but not enough protected vehicles to move our forces on the insurgency battlefield.”

The army can hardly be touched – tanks aside – and the rest can hardly be paid for.

Tanks in trouble
That Security Strategy sets the scene for today’s Defence Review so the big tanks could be in big trouble. Designed to fight World War 3 on the central European plains they may not be something the government wants to keep.

If you’re lost far out at sea it’s arguably a bad day already, but those doing so in future may stand less of a chance of being rescued. That’s because the Nimrod reconnaisance plane looks like going too, and they’re great at searching for people lost in the great blue yonder. Designed to hunt Soviet submarines the Nimrod – despite its useful peacetime application – is also likely to prove no longer necessary.

Harriers are for the jump as well. That’s not just a annoyance to anyone working on Harriers or near their last remaining base at RAF Wittering (will it survive?), it’s also a potential aggravation to anyone whose tax is paying for two huge aircraft carriers which will now start life without any fast aircraft to carry. Almost £6bn worth of our money and they’ll start life not fit for purpose, waiting for the eventual arrival of the new Joint Strike Fighter.

What the Navy has left to work against piracy in the Gulf (keeping petrol cheapish) and narcotics in the Caribbean (keeping cocaine expensive) remains to be seen – some of its ships will be cut. It also has to protect those aircraft carriers with something.

Cyber security
At least the boffins trying to protect the UK against cyber attack are likely to get a boost – one of £500 million apparently. The Security Strategy wants “a transformative programme for cyber security”. We need it. Last week the head of GCHQ said they can only handle 80 per cent of the possible threats to UK networks (and that’s everything from banks to government to air traffic control).

This Review will be skewed by circumstance and constrained by finance. The army can hardly be touched – tanks aside – and the rest can hardly be paid for.

At least the review isn’t the last word. The defence analyst Paul Cornish sees the government muddling through and says “If ‘muddling through’ is the most likely outcome of the 2010 strategy review, then at least efforts need to be made to acheive the highest possible form of it.”