Friday, 9 March 2018

2018 Strategic Review, Part Two; Electric Boogaloo. Actually Part Three; The RAF

I'll leave you to unpick the multiple potential meanings of that title, while simultaneously glossing over my lack of actual blog activity. There's a reason I don't even get nominated for awards for this shit, notably for using words like "shit" and instantly triggering about half of all potential readers work based Internet filters. One potential meaning of the title might be that I'm not taking this whole defence review that seriously, much like the government (boom, boom).
For a start we've gone into full blown red scare mode. In the light of the poisoning of Sergei Skripal this week that might seem like a sensible approach. That is until you start reading about how this act - if it is indeed attributed firmly to the Russians (as it almost certainly soon will be) - is being used to justify a spike in defence spending. Quite how more tanks, planes and ships will stop former spies from being poisoned on UK soil is so far unexplained, though that certainly hasn't stopped every man and his uncle (and maybe even the man from U.N.C.L.E.) from trying to connect the two dots. 

It's almost like politicians want more money for defence because they think that it will win them more votes (and thus proving that even many seasoned politicians don't understand politics) and that the defence chiefs want more money because, well, they're defence chiefs. They're certainly not going to argue for less money. Then there's the usual assorted basket of special interest parties. Quite why it's caught on among some others is still a mystery. 

I do wonder sometimes if it's just me that seems to think this is all a little silly. I check my bank balance on a regular basis so I'm pretty sure I'm not an unwitting paid Russian troll, unless the Russians pay their trolls slightly less than Google Adsense, which is difficult to imagine (being borderline impossible). Indeed it perplexes me just where people think the money is going to come from to meet this new-but-not-actually-new threat, given that the government is still almost £40 billion in the hole annually. And no, the budget is NOT in balance now, only on day to day spending, which is fine as long as you're not interested in capital spending for new schools, hospitals, roads and Trident carrying submarines (like Jeremy Corbyn... boom, boom).

So the chances of kicking the magic money tree and another 0.5% of GDP falling off of it and into defence's lap are slim to none. Best get on with some creative accounting then, as mentioned in my two previous posts on the subject, which can be found here (for the Royal Navy) and here (for the Army). In this round we shall focus our attention on the Royal Air Force as it prepares to celebrate its 100th birthday.

And frankly, the RAF has already got pretty much everything it wants. Whereas the other two services seem to be in a bit of quandary about how to make the numbers add up, the RAF seems to have basically everything fixed financially for the foreseeable future. Makes for quite a boring post really.

Unless of course we dig into some of the deeper elements, e.g. the fact that while the RAF has its jets, it still doesn't have any SEAD capability, having given that up with the retirement of the ALARM missile. In theory this could be replicated by new means and weapons, after all it's the end state that matters and not the actual specific solution. There's also the missing anti-ship capability, which will potentially be filled by Poseidon when that shows up (are we calling it Poseidon? I honestly haven't checked). 

There's also a distinct lack of any kind of surface to air missile system, which seems one of the more glaring absences given that virtually every other country is starting to see the advantages of SAM systems as; a backstop; as a potential anti-ballistic missile system, and - as in the Russian application - ; a handy tool for placing large swathes of airspace at risk, and as such subject to serious political calculations, with what is basically a glorified tipper truck. 

But happily for a change it seems the problems are quite limited and if extra money is needed then the available options are not hard to come by. The Atlas fleet seems so far, so good, which leaves the option on the table of retiring the Hercules fleet early and/or the potential gradual winding down of the C-17 fleet over an extended period, should money be desperately needed for something. Reversing the decision on keeping Tranche 1 Typhoons and canning the Puma fleet early are two more.

In short (though it doesn't make for an especially juicy post) the RAF seems ok. You could argue that it could make the suggested savings in order to pump money into defence elsewhere, but that would involve punishing a service for keeping its financial house in good order and is unlikely to set a particularly good precedent for the future. They could make the cuts and use them for something else, some shiny new bomber for example, but I'm not sure there's a pressing need for that right now either. 

So... erm, how are you? Have you been well? Excellent, excellent. Terrible weather we've been having lately, eh? Yeah, terrible, terrible. Right, I best be off, let you get on. 

Bye then.

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