Articles from Warship World to do with the SDSR

Posted on January 12, 2011



SDSR – Recent Articles – January 2011.

Date Posted – 07/01/2011

The recent issue of the magazine WARSHIP WORLD, published by Maritime Books at Liskeard, addresses in depth the SDSR-Defence Cuts decisions.

Included are articles by Richard Scott “Austerity and Politics Drives Painful Cutbacks in UK Maritime Capability” whilst the Parliamentary Report by Christopher Cope provides details of the House of Lords Debate on SDSR.

It has been agreed by the Editor that a further two items from the latest edition of the magazine can be included on this website. The first of these is the Editorial by Steve Bush. The second is an extract from the routine reports in the magazine ” Naval Aviation News” which is by the well-known aviation historian David Hobbs.

Whilst David Hobbs also looks at the progress of the F-35C and the developments in the Un-Manned Carrier Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike project UNCLASS it is his article “THE IMPACT OF SDSR” which is added below.
EDITORIAL by Steve Bush.

As 2010 is consigned to history and we emerge into 2011 the debate in the wake of October’s Strategic Defence and Security Review continues to rage.

Sold to the nation as a comprehensive and strategic overhaul of our defence posture, it is increasingly becoming clear that it was nothing more than a bodged attempt at cost cutting. The more observers look into the detail of the review the more it is becoming obvious that the whole process was rushed and very little consideration was given to the long term effects of significant ‘capability holidays’ or indeed what resources will need to be put in place to ensure that the MoD can meet the demands of the review.

For the Royal Navy, the two new aircraft carriers were key to its future. The previous government had shaped the 1997 SDR around the acquisition of two aircraft carriers, capable of projecting power and of conducting rapid and decisive intervention. In opposition the Conservatives supported these new ships, but as the price tag rose and doubts began to circulate as to the capabilities of the projected F-35B Joint Strike Fighter, it was feared that the carriers might be lost.

The coalition however, came out in support of the carriers – indeed they even favoured the F-35C carrier variant of the Joint Strike Fighter, something this magazine has been advocating for years.

Concerns were voiced over the carrier contracts with MPs complaining that they were so watertight that it would cost them more to cancel than to continue building the ships – what did they expect? Any company that took on the job of building two huge vessels for over £3 billion are not going to want to be left unpaid and with two aircraft carriers should the customer renege on the deal (experience of which BAE has now had on two separate occasions with both Brunei and Trinidad warships now lying unsold at their shipyards).

The shock to the RN was caused by the instant withdrawal of current strike capability by decommissioning the Harriers and ARK ROYAL. Despite making a good case for a carrier strike capability, the coalition then totally destroyed their own reasoning by deciding the country could do without it for at least ten years. This must be the biggest act of collective stupidity to have been recorded in recent years. Having set out your stall on the premise that Carrier Strike is essential to UK defence posture, what sane person would then withdraw the current capability and leave it non-existent for a decade. The government must be naive in the extreme to think that there will not be a need for a carrier in the next ten years. Before the end of 2010, the US Navy had to deploy a carrier to the waters off Korea as tensions broke out into cross border exchanges of artillery fire!

While carrier strike is gapped, the decision to unilaterally withdraw Britain’s Long Range Maritime Patrol capability also beggars belief.

As a cost cutting exercise it is flawed, as the government had not entered into negotiations with the contractor about cancellation penalties – so to date they do not know how much this will cost.
As a strategic decision it is utterly indefensible. The Nimrod MR2 was grounded following a crash in Afghanistan. At the time of the grounding, it was said that the loss of the aircraft could be mitigated against in the short term by the use of frigates (another task for a dwindling escort force), mine hunters and helicopters. This short term mitigation has now become the only means of maritime surveillance. However, it cannot respond reactively to distant events in a timely manner; it cannot provide long range reconnaissance, search and rescue or anti¬submarine operations over a wide area in a short time frame. In short the UK cannot protect its Trident missile carrying submarines from enemy submarines; it cannot search for or assist UK submarines which may find themselves in distress and it can no longer provide surveillance above our own waters. This decision is one of gross negligence and if allowed to continue has the potential for great loss of life should a maritime incident happen in waters which for years have been monitored and protected by the Nimrod.

Despite repeated assertions from the coalition that the defence of the nation is its first priority, it has decimated many areas of defence capability citing the need to cut costs in the face of huge loan repayments inherited in the wake of the economic crisis. Just weeks after destroying the nation’s ability to fly fixed wing strike aircraft from its carriers and consigning Long Range Maritime Patrol to the waste bin, the coalition has managed to source between £3.5 to £7billion to help bale Ireland out of its financial mess. Just a small proportion of that money would keep Harrier and Nimrod and close a gaping hole in UK maritime defence – a gamble which this country is going to have to live with for at least 10 years!

THE IMPACT OF SDSR by David Hobbs.

The immediacy and severity of the cuts to the Fleet Air Arm’s (FAA) front line have made headlines around the world. Press reports claim that the decision to delete the Harrier force was arbitrary and taken only days before the Review’s announcement, coming as a complete surprise to the Fleet. The loss of ARK ROYAL and the remaining Harriers has been widely recognised as the defining decision of the Review, widely criticised as ill-informed, ill-considered and rushed.

Overnight the RN’s surface force has been reduced to mediocrity with less capability than the fleets of Italy, France, Spain and to an extent, Brazil and Thailand. The failure of the RAF to live up to the obligations it accepted when it agreed to participate in Joint Force Harrier highlights the folly of allowing a major weapons system, on which the Navy relies to deliver a core capability, to be under the control of an organisation that does not, as it has transpired, regard it as having significant importance. Those who imagine a land-based air force can deploy aircraft outside the UK to support operations at short notice have ignored the lessons of history and failed in their duty to advise the Government of the need for a defence policy that is effective and believable.

The ‘small-print’ in SDSR reveals other serious flaws. All Sea Kings are now scheduled to be deleted by 2016, not just the SAR aircraft at RNAS Culdrose but the whole Commando Helicopter Force and the ASaC 7s. Any navy without such assets would hardly be considered second-rate by the international community and justly so. SDSR ‘presumes’ that all fast-jets and major battlefield helicopters will be operated at sea ‘when necessary’ by the RAF, leaving the RN with about 20 Merlins and 20 Wildcats after 2016 although the exact numbers have yet to be confirmed.

The FAA has repeatedly proved itself to be not only effective and affordable but often the only British force capable of acting in the national interest and yet its capabilities seem to have been cast aside with such obvious disdain that the conclusions of SDSR are hard to comprehend. The one positive feature is the continued construction of QUEEN ELIZABETH and PRINCE OF WALES although, worryingly, this may have had more to do with the ‘water-tight’ penalty clauses in their construction contract than recognition of their immense value to the UK. It appears that neither will now be completed before 2020 but both will be modified whilst under construction to have catapults and arrester-wires. It was always intended that, after completion, one would be operational while the other was at reduced readiness in order to ensure one ‘on-the-line’ at all times but most commentators in the press were apparently unaware of this and have taken a negative line on the issue. The important fact is that the two ships are still under construction, albeit with a decade, and two Defence Reviews, to go before they become operational. The RN has major hurdles to surmount before the new ships enter service; it must keep the skills needed to operate a carrier alive somehow to the extent that they can be fully regenerated after 2018 and it must also fight for a viable number of aircraft to operate from them under its own budgetary, administrative and operational control. Knowledge of the ‘Inskip Award’ of 1937 that reverted full control of naval aviation to the RN and the ‘Morrow Board’ its USN equivalent would be a good starting point.

Lodge Hill, Liskeard, PL14 4EL