Wednesday, 18 November 2020

£15 billion and a packet of Benson and Hedges please mate

So then, it was announced yesterday that the MoD is to get a £15 billion uplift in funding over the next four years, thanks to the efforts of the defence secretary who has been so active that I can't actually remember his name right now despite having seen it nay but a few hours ago, and cannot be arsed to go and look up. 

Of course MilTwitter in the UK has been losing its shit, as everyone starts getting excited and making plans about where to spend the money, dreaming of a return to the Napoleonic navy or the cold war British Army Of the Rhine. What is needed then is some kind of counter-balance; a person of such undying cynicism and truly miserable spirit as to be able to come along at this happy hour and generate the feeling of someone having broken into your house and pissed all over your early christmas present. I accept this mantle with a heavy (honest guv) heart.

So as I see it the devil is in the detail and this is going to go one of either two ways. The first is a modest increase initially, with most of the £15bn backloaded to later years. If you'll forgive the sporting aside, this is often seen in the contracts of players playing in sports - predominantly US sports - that have an annual salary cap. On paper it looks like the player is set to make a fortune, having signed a four year, $80 million contract. Until you realise that they'll never see most of that money because of the way the deal is structured, and the strong likelihood that their team will cut them or force a renegotiation long before those lucrative later years come around.

It's not hard to see how this would go down politically. You promise a bumper budget rise, which of course will trigger a budget grab from other departments, but you shift most of it into the later years and then in autumn 2021 you start talking about "understanding the true scope of the cost of the COVID pandemic" and before you can say "But you promised us £15bn you slimey little bastard..." the money has gone, scythed away by a very serious and regretful looking Chancellor to pay for, I dunno, whatever the government's latest wheeze is. Fucking, electric bikes for the Lake District or something, which advisors have assured them will generate twice what is spent in ancillary economic benefits.

Option two is probably more likely, or at least we should all hope it is, which is where the £15bn is spread out almost evenly over the next four years, accounting for inflation. That's roughly £3.75bn per year, a bit less in the beginning, a bit more at the end, and assuming that the £15bn figure already has inflation built into it. If we're really lucky it's £15bn plus inflation. But this is the Treasury we're talking about, so you'd probably have more luck betting on Fulham to win the Premier League this year.

Great stuff then! The best part of £4bn per year extra for defence! "What is there to possibly shit on about that?" you may ask. To which I would say "You don't read much of my stuff do you? And not just because I only write one blog post per Lockdown..."

Let me take you back to the halcyon days of 2018, when Theresa May was still PM, Labour had yet to be officially recognised as being institutionally anti-semetic, the Christmas number one was "We built this city on... Sausage rolls" (No non-Brits, that's not a joke) and more than six people could sit around a table in a pub. Alright, so maybe 2020 is a better year than we all give it credit for, but I digress. 2018 was also the year that the National Audit Office released its review into the MoD's equipment plan for the ten years spanning 2018-2028. And in it they estimated that if all identified risks materialised into a worst case scenario - which seems somewhat quaint now in hindsight - then that would leave a black hole in the defence budget of.....

You guessed it. £15bn. Or maybe you just cheated and had a peek at the next line, in which case shame on you.

And herein lies the problem dear reader. Even that £15bn was considered by the NAO to be something of an optimistic assessment, three words which could be used as the title of a history of the Ministry of Defence from at least 1989 to the present. Perhaps then we should temper our expectations just a little. Instead of dreaming grandiosly about all the flash new equipment that might be on the way it's probably better to take a step back, take a deep breath, and then sigh begrudingly because you've just realised that the MoD needs this money just to stand still.

The Challenger tanks are knackered and either need an upgrade or a full on replacement. And that's basically the same story for most of the Army's armoured vehicle fleet, along with a good chunk of the non-armoured stuff. Warrior for example will celebrate it's 37th birthday next year. AS-90? A mere youngster, a virtual whipper-snapper at 29. That's before we start getting into the work needed to start the Vanguard replacement, funding for Project Tempest, the cost over runs for programs like the Type 26 frigates which are now in the region of £1bn per ship, and so on.

£15bn is not the dawn of a new era for defence. It's desperately smashing a piece of wood into a hole to stop the whole fucking thing from sinking into the abyss.

1 comment:

  1. IF and it’s a big if, it is spent well and we see an end to the current woeful system of purchasing failures. It could achieve a fair amount.