Saturday, 15 June 2013

UKIP... I'll take the first watch (Ba-dum tish!)

Right, apology's for the delays, but we're finally here.

Now, about three or more weeks ago I sat down with the intention of reviewing the defence policy of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP). They had just done pretty well in the county council elections, were being splashed across the front pages of many newspapers, and generally causing a few political waves. Inevitably when a small party starts to rise up the polls its members and its policies will come under greater scrutiny. That was my intention.

Till things got rather hectic for me personally. A warning perhaps about the dangers of unexpected circumstances?

In that time, UKIP converted their defence policy from a downloadable document to page on a website, so if you want to read the whole thing (take you about 10-20 minutes, depending on the number of distractions you face!) then you can read it here;

Otherwise, read on for the summary version.
In summary, UKIPs' defence policy is... a summary.

Let's face it, it's a political policy document. And like all policy documents by political parties, it's light on substance and big on sound bites. There's very little detail and a lot of broad sweeping gestures and talk about changes in very open terms that allow the reader to fill in some of the blanks with their own prejudices. For example, on the section about the military covenant there is very little detail about what will actually be done or how the policy will be delivered. It simply talks about doing more for veterans and to properly look after those who are injured in the line of duty, to which each person will naturally attach their own view on what constitutes "a fair pension" and "employment support for life".

But we can remove some of the bigger sound bites and study them in a little more detail. We'll start with the budget. 

At one point UKIP was talking about a 40% increase in defence spending and three new aircraft carriers. That has since been revised to an estimated budget of £50bn (and just the two aircraft carriers), though that doesn't provide a breakdown of how much will actually be spent on Defence Capability, or in other words the bits of the military that are easily recognisable as providing the fighting capability, as opposed to things like foreign military aid.

 Perhaps the biggest point to discuss is UKIPs' plan to dispose of the MoD and replace it with.... I'm not really sure what? There's talk about a separate procurement body and a separate body for strategy and policy, but that sounds an awful lot like what happens anyway. There's your usual talk about getting rid of civil servants and leaving defence policy to the professionals, but that ignores the reality that defence policy is tied very closely to the civilian body otherwise known as "the government".

Does UKIP really intend to leave all strategic planning to a group of Joint Chiefs? You're telling me they're not, under any circumstances, going to get involved themselves in such planning, or appoint people to meddle on their behalf? I smell something, and it's certainly not roses. 

The reality is that while every military operates under a variety of constraints, they also operate under the whim of their contemporary government. If the government of the day cuts the levels of funding, then "strategy" changes. All of a sudden the things considered critical to UK defence can be brushed aside to fit the new economic reality. I'm always suspicious of people promising something that they have little chance of delivering on, thus I treat these claims with scepticism.

I also wonder quite what sort of body UKIP hopes to create? Unless they're going to fill the chairs of the new organisation with service personnel, then inevitably they're going to end up with a fresh hoarde of civil servants, potentially ones with less experience than those cast aside before them. I also find the idea of involving shadow defence ministers to be one that sounds good in practice but is unlikely to bring about any benefit. It assumes that the shadow government will a) not use such access for political gain and b) agree to all of the plans proposed by the then government, following through on all of them if and when they achieve office themselves.

Moving on, UKIP views the army as rising to around 100,000, supported by three reserve divisions. Or is it four? Or five? They can't even seem to agree with themselves about how many reserve divisions there will be; "... supported by 3 well trained Territorial Divisions with a further divisional reserve would suffice for normal operations. A third full-time division will be maintained as an operational reserve based upon the Regular Reserve."

So is that three TA divisions with a fourth in reserve (how do you have a reserve, reserve division?)? Is the third full-time division based around the Regular Reserve, a reserve division for the regulars? Or a reserve for the reserve? Is it included in the three TA divisions or separate? How do you have a full-time division made from regular reservists? I have my reservations about how well thought out this policy is.

I'm also not sure how well the regular forces will take to the idea that they will be facing a mandatory three year exposure to call up after they leave. Also of concern is a statement about young people being a national resource that should be utilised. That sounds a little too much like the potential for conscription for my liking. 

On to the Navy and UKIP plans to bring both carriers into service, though it seems from reading between the lines of their document that they're not happy about the decision to go with the 'B' version of the F-35, instead looking for alternatives. With the increased size of the proposed defence budget that could be a possibility, but it does smack a little of causing yet further delays to a project that has already seen more than its fair share of them.

There is also a vague comment about increasing the number of surface combat vessels. Presumably that means Type 26 frigates, because there is no time or capacity for any other option. Unless UKIP is planning to head out and buy goods from abroad?

On to the RAF, and it would appear UKIP plans to turn Tornado into a reserve aircraft. There is mention of developing a reserve force that would train together and then be declared operationally capable, but again, lots of questions are left hanging. How many aircraft? How many men? How are they going to maintain their levels of readiness? It's one thing to keep an infantry soldier on reserve and refresh his skills now and again. It's quite another to keep the pilot of an advanced jet aircraft on reserve and attempt to requalify him on a regular basis.

The only other mention in the air is about Maritime Patrol Aircraft, though it's not clear whether UKIP sees this as a joint asset. Nor is it clear which solution they favour. Or how many. The reference is literally just that maritime patrol is important they'll restore it. Somehow. In some form.

Perhaps the policy point that will draw the most attention is their ambition to replace Trident and the continuous at sea deterrent with some as yet undeveloped solution based on high speed, stealthy cruise missile, apparently based around Storm Shadow.

The plan is to have air launched, surface launched, and sub-surface launched systems. There is a precedent I guess in the form of things like Frances' ASMP air launched weapon, which could probably be adapted for surface or sub-surface launch if required.

Conceivably you could bodge a nuclear warhead into Storm Shadow, and we already know that Tomahawk can be adapted for nuclear weapons, but given that UKIP is planning on investing a significant boost into UK defence I just don't see the point? Ideas built around cruise missiles are really a solution to providing a nuclear deterrent on the cheap, in a budget constrained environment. If the budget is going up then surely Trident would be a more than manageable expense, especially when you consider the degree of guaranteed retaliation that it offers?

To end then, I don't understand what UKIP is really going for. They're planning to pump around £10bn extra into the defence budget, but seem to have no real idea on what to spend that extra money. There is talk about the importance of defence against cyber terrorism and the need to keep sea lanes open, but no real analysis of how those threats my manifest themselves, where they might be more likely to come from (though we can't expect them to be anymore psychic than previous governments), or how the rather vague statement about increased numbers of warships helps. Or even what form this increase would take.

It's classic political policy work. Heavy on tough talk and pretending to understand the need, but without any real concept of what the need is or how to tackle it. It basically boils down to a promise for more money and very little else.


  1. Hi Chris

    Is there any reason given why UKIP think GR4 should be moved into a reserve fleet and to what end? As you've stated their would be little savings, there is/would be a larger flying program than most people would imagine. I don't really see their point. I suspect they have few people to grasp any idea of defence or foreign policy.

    1. Hi Topman,

      Erm, no, is the answer. I suspect it's more to do with the hope of saving money, or being like the big cousins with an air natinal guard, than any sort of genuine need.

      Penny wise, pound foolish it would appear?

  2. Like most of UKIP's policy positions their defence paper doesn't actually add up. However, it is the sentiment rather than the specific that is gathering them support.

    For those of a certain state of mind the question, "Should we be spending £10bn on overseas aid to places like Pakistan (which has its own nuclear weapons programme) or use most of that £10bn to boost our defence, and in the process create thousands of high-skilled jobs in the UK?" has only one answer.

    Right or wrong, like it or not, UKIP is gathering support from those who feel the present lot (Lab, Lib or Con) have forgotten them.

    1. Morning Hurst, and I'm not so sure.

      After the county council elections I asked my father (give him a plug as its fathers day) how he voted and he said "UKIP". The reason was because he wanted to show the main parties that issues like immigration and the EU mattered to him, although perhaps he chose the wrong place and time to make that protest (incidentally the UKIP candidate won in his area).

      However, when I asked him whether he planned to vote the same way at the General election his immediate response was to laugh quite hard. He knows, fundamentally, that UKIP are not ready for that level of responsibility and as their policies come under more and more scrutiny, so they lose more and more wind from their sails.

      Certain moments give their party a lift (or at least ammunition), like the reaction of those yobs who mobbed Farage when he went to Scotland. But when the nitty gritty details of their policy gets aired, that's when things start to go wrong.

      I personally can't wait till UKIP is engaged in a TV debate on healthcare and their plans for the NHS. The backlash from that is going to be something special.

    2. Morning Chris,

      Sorry for the delay in replying, but I have actually had to do some work this week (I got through it OK and am now feeling much better).

      I hesitate on your blog to slide too far away from defence and into politics, but I must say that I don't believe the UKIP representatives and their policies will stand serious scrutiny. However, I am not sure that matters. The feeling that UKIP are "on my side" will, indeed, probably already has, change the terms of the debate.

      As to whether UKIP representatives are of a sufficient calibre to cope with the realities of government. The likes of you and I may say not, but jut look at who has had office over the past twenty of thirty years. Not many intellectual titans there and very few who would have passed the RCB.

    3. @ HurstLlama,

      Eventually real work catches up with us all. We must strive onwards, to abusing our Internet privileges! And political chat is fine by me.

      I just can't see UKIP pulling it off when it counts. I think people are smart enough that they'll see through the hype. I mentioned my Dad. He's not a huge politics person to be honest. But even he can see that UKIP is not a viable answer for government.

      Maybe all of us who comment over at TD should band together and form a party? If it goes the way most of our discussion go... we wont even be able to agree on the colour of sh**e.

  3. I think Chris is right in so much that most people when push comes to shove wont trust UKIP with their vote but that also assumes they dont sharpen up in the next couple of years.

    We might think of UKIP as an influencer, the mainstream parties see the shift in peoples thinking as evidenced by UKIP success and respond accordingly.

    Anyway, good piece Chris, you are spot on with pointing out the silliness of some of their stuff

    1. I think the big problem is that people have always cared about the issues of immigration and Europe, the main parties have just never taken that debate seriously. I think now they're starting to realise it can be an issue that might swing a tight election, hence they've all started to get in on the act.

      Next on the list, a devil's advocate post.