Lions, Donkeys and Dinosaurs by Lewis Page, 388pp, Arrow Books.
This is an extremely interesting account of, to quote the book “waste and blundering in the (UK) military”. Page’s argument is, essentially, that although UK defence is adequately funded, the men at the sharp end don’t have the equipment they need because of the high level of waste and inappropriate spending.
The idea that much money is wasted is hardly new, or unfamiliar to the public. However it is alarming to discover that despite the vast sums (Â£39 Billion a year) expended, our troops, sailors and airmen at the sharp end still don’t have the equipment required to implement Government policy in real-life crises of the kind recently met or likely to be met in the future. Meanwhile vast sums are spent on ordering equipment that is of questionable usefulness or even 100% useless and unusable.
It is hardly possible to discuss the subject adequately without writing another book but here’s a summary:
The kind of things that are of proven usefulness are:
A force of light infantry that can be rapidly despatched to any part of the world.
Transport aircraft to transport advance party of said troops and their equipment.
Transport ships to transport rest of said force and their equipment.
Tactical ground attack aircraft to support said force and knock out tanks, strongpoints, airfields etc.
A couple of aircraft carriers equipped with proper aircraft and airborne radar, able to sail to any part of the world ready to fly off attack aircraft, with all stores ready on board.
tactical attack helicopters
tactical transport helicopters
Submarine warfare helicopters
Advanced tactical missiles for attacking land, sea or air targets.
AWACS style airborne surveillance
We are poorly equipped or non-equipped with several of these items.
Items not of proven usefulness or poor value for money:
Tanks and heavy field guns (take far too long to ship to theatre and then require thousands of tons of heavy stores to be transported far inland – tactical aircraft can do similar job)
Type 45 destroyer – designed for air defence. A carrier force with carrier airborne radar could do the same job more flexibly and with much more time available to mount a response.
Anti-submarine frigates: (Expensive and easy to torpedo. Recent enemies don’t have submarines.)
Eurofighter. An advanced air superiority fighter. Not required in most current and past theatres, and very troublesome to move to remote theatres.
Trident Submarines: Arguably effective as a threat during Cold War with USSR, but no use since. Recent enemies not a suitable target, or are too mad to be deterred by nuclear threat.
The insistence on having equipment designed and made in Britain causes vast overspend, and according to many the quality of kit is poor. Anyway this policy doesn’t work; it’s impossible to have 100% ‘made in Britain’ nowadays. (e.g. The Type 45’s electronics is provided by Microsoft) As for employment and exports, it would be cheaper in the long run to ruthlessly buy off-the-shelf equipment from anywhere, pay redundant workers well to shut up and relocate, invest in sunrise industries that would benefit the UK in the future, bribe regions around closed miltary bases to shut up, and STILL have money left over to spend.
This mostly means buying American: even today, America has the power to stop us doing anything they don’t want.
Wasteful administrative structures:
Powerful interest groups resist efforts to trim their budgets or take away their pointy shiny toys. Ridiculous insistence that cuts be applied equally to Army, Navy and Air Force regardless of need. Huge over-supply of well-paid senior officers in all three Services. Overmanned MOD supporting small number of men at sharp end. (In the Army, the number of Men With Rifles is a disturbingly small proportion of the total 80,000).
Actually, I have trouble in seeing what the RAF is for nowadays, as tactical ground attack should be under the Army, and naval aviation under the Navy. That leaves UK air defence (most likely against a terrorist attack).
Wasteful BAE Systems:
Most of UK defence procurement spending goes to BAE Systems, in the guise of maintaining all-UK defence provision (impossible) and supporting British jobs (better to support British jobs in some other industry) and arms exports (exporting arms and technology that could be turned against us isn’t clever.)
Page’s book (written 2006) is now slightly out of date; for instance it does not discuss the two huge aircraft carriers now under construction, but the points made still seem valid. Press, public and MP’s are still not putting the defence budget under serious scrutiny.
I wrote to my MP after reading the book, and got a reply stating that he wasn’t qualified to comment and would pass my message on to the relevant Minister. Not reassuring.