The UK Defense Secretary says spending will have to be “tough decisions”
LONDON – Further evidence that Britain’s conventional defense capabilities are ready for major upheaval came in a speech by Defense Secretary Ben Wallace on December 11th.
The British armed forces are facing tough decisions about whether to scrap capabilities and cut old programs as part of the transformation effort made possible by the recent announcement of a larger, multi-year budget increase for the Department of Defense, Wallace said at the services institute’s Royal United Virtual Event.
“There are still some tough decisions to be made. But these choices will allow us to invest in new areas, new equipment and new ways of working. … Sometimes it means quality instead of quantity or the good and not the perfect. Or just let go of some skills. Too often we cling to sentimentality when looking for alternatives, ”he said.
UK Secretary of State for Defense Sir Stephen Lovegrove spoke a similar language earlier this week.
He gave evidence to Parliament’s Defense Committee, signaling that the Department of Defense would have to cut legacy programs if it wanted to move to more relevant capabilities in cyber, space, underwater, and unmanned and other high-tech sectors.
More details on what goes and stays on the capacity front are expected to be revealed in the next few weeks prior to the release of a government report on defense, foreign, security and development policies expected in late January.
Howard Wheeldon of Wheeldon Strategic Advisory said the cuts will be substantial if they happen.
“We could well see some rather large and very questionable changes being announced that may or may not include medium and heavy airlift capabilities and either of the two non-contracted armored vehicle programs,” the adviser said.
The British Army already has a major armored armored upgrade underway. The ARTEC Boxer 8×8 personnel carrier and the General Dynamics Ajax reconnaissance vehicle are already under contract for production.
As things stand, a program to upgrade the Challenger 2 main battle tank will be submitted to the Department of Defense’s investment approval authorities in the next few days, while a Lockheed Martin upgrade of the Warrior infantry combat vehicle is scheduled for production approval in 2021.
“I welcome the planned increase in spending on Royal Navy and maritime equipment, as well as the various planned new digital, cyber and space technology programs. All of this is very positive, but that doesn’t mean we can get rid of conventional defense equipment in the way I fear, “said Wheeldon.
The budget increase Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced last month adds over £ 16 billion in the cash registers of the MoD. That’s an 18 percent increase over the next four years, an increase that has not been seen in decades. The budget today is about £ 41.5 billion, or $ 55 billion.
However, Wallace pointed out that the budget equalization, which will come into effect in budget year 2021/22, has not eased the pressure on spending for the current year.
“Tomorrow’s agreement will not relieve our immediate financial pressures. You can’t get out of a decade of procrastination and underfunding overnight, ”he noted.
Reports surfaced earlier this week that the Department of Defense cut training, temporarily shutdown the Royal Navy reserves, and took other cost-cutting measures to offset the books in the current fiscal year.
The National Audit Office, the government’s financial oversight agency, has forecast for years that the UK’s ten-year running budget of several billion pounds of defense equipment is priceless.
This existing black hole of funding needs to be addressed, and the Department of Defense needs to cut legacy programs to allow scope for transformative changes in how things are sourced like spacecraft, future warplanes and unmanned vehicles.
Wallace’s RUSI speech painted a bleak picture of the ministry he took over as Secretary of Defense nearly 18 months ago.
“The decades of delayed funding were about to hit the buffers. Sham efficiency, austerity goals, erosion and the lasting effects of fighting the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan are all things that will consume valuable resources long after the political leadership that led them has left, ”he said.
Wallace said the British and others would need to adjust their approach to develop exactly how to respond to a changing global security picture in which potential adversaries are outmaneuvering the West on equipment and other fronts.
“They are fluid, we are static. They leverage willingness, innovation and presence while we remain fully predictable in our processes and attitudes, ”he said. “In truth, they are masters of the sub-threshold as we get caught up in self-imposed risk matrices, conflicting legal frameworks, and often bureaucratic barriers,” warned Wallace.
The use of a Turkish drone, the Bayraktar TB2, attacks on tank and air defense formations in Syria, Libya and elsewhere, and the development of hypersonic weapons by Russia are examples that “we are no longer leading and innovative enough,” he said.
“We run the risk of just being prepared for the big fight that may never come, while our opponents may outstrip it even if it does.”
At the same time, Wallace said Britain would not give up the idea of ”large-scale warfare” or the use of armaments.
“Old capabilities are not always redundant, just as new technologies are not always useful,” said the Defense Minister.
Wallace said he had three priorities for the UK Department of Defense. “I want to see a defense policy that meets my three priorities for the department: threat-focused, proactive and sustainable.”
The first step in UK defense reform will be the establishment of a net rating and challenge function in the Department.
Called the Secretary of State’s Office of Net Assessment and Challenge (SONAC), it includes war games, doctrine, red teaming, and external academic analysis.
“It will focus and amplify existing efforts, work closely with defense intelligence, and examine all areas of defense, particularly the doctrine and equipment choices we make,” Wallace said.