There is nothing wrong with the armed forces that an injection of sustained funding cannot cure. While some sectors of the public services have been protected over the last seven years – if in monetary terms rather than real terms – the Defence budget has not been deemed important enough to warrant the same treatment. This is fundamentally unfair because that budget has been the subject of sustained cuts for more than twenty-one years. Politicians like to term this as the peace dividend. With the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of Communism, together with the breakup of the USSR, we were told that ‘peace had broken out’ and the money could be better spent. Come 2010, and the start of public spending cuts, no account was taken of the previous cuts to the Defence budget. The Treasury would counter that the MoD capital spending plans were too ambitious and had not been properly costed and budgeted for, resulting in the fabled black-hole that was swallowing taxes intended for the forces basic current spending. Someday, someone with inside knowledge will write a book revealing the real facts.
Rather than a period of peace the UK has been involved in a series of conflicts that seem never-ending. This has taken us back east of Suez and the establishment of a permanent navy base in the Gulf at Bahrain. In anticipation of the two new aircraft-carriers entering service, some top-brass have speculated on a return to involvement in the Far East and a reminder that the Royal Navy still has berthing rights in Singapore. Events in Korea and the South China Sea might oblige the UK to aid its Commonwealth partners. Strategic and security links with ANZ and the USA would make it very difficult to ignore requests for direct military involvement. We are ill prepared to respond positively.
The Defence Secretary states that the RN is being grown, while ignoring the shrinking that has and is taking place. The net result is frightening. There are not enough sailors to man all the ships that we still have. Ships are laid-up for long periods, with guns and other essential equipment being shared and transferred. Our deployable warships are tiny in number. The training and promotion opportunities are limited. Over the last ten years we have advocated for this to be remedied, with a ship-building programme. Two years ago we prepared a shopping-list, which we are now reviewing. Under the present plans and programmes it will be 2035 before the RN can achieve the status quo. At that rate it will be 2050 before the Fleet can deliver on the aspirations of politicians in any meaningful way.
Save the Royal Navy – is a website that deals in depth with these issues. It has a wealth of informed opinion that recommends itself for your attention. Its aims and values are consistent with our party programme. Last year it posted two articles setting out some immediate actions. Its latest post calls for an honest debate about the future of the RN.
These links will direct you to the relevant information. After that you can explore their website at length and at your own pace.