In Defence of Our Defenders

I’m not happy about the swingeing cuts being imposed on the military. It’s sad to see so many servicemen and women being sacked, especially those on the front line, and I’m sure it’s not necessary. I’m also sad about equipment cuts, particularly those that leave us with no maritime air power, I’m sure they are all harmful to our interests. I’m sad too to see the open squabbling between Defence Secretary Liam Fox who is ordering the cuts and the top service chiefs who are protesting against them.

It’s not a tough call to decide who’s side I’m on. It’s easy in fact. I’m on Liam Fox’s side. I’m not on the side of the pultroons who caused the problem by years of sheer incompetence and infighting. The admirals and generals and air marshals cannot say it’s all the fault of the politicians. True, Labour had some of the most useless defence ministers in the history of the department, but what did the top brass do? They went along with that circus of madness, they were and they remain part of the problem.

Quite frankly, now we’re facing up to reality again I would be quite happy to see everyone of two star rank and above made redundant. I know there will be many highly capable officers lost in the process, but the same can be said of sacking hundreds of lower ranks, we will lose a lot of talent there too. At least by sacking the upper echelons en-masse we will expunge the old attitudes that led to the present difficulties and we will create wonderful opportunities to promote fresh talent.

The truth is, Liam Fox hasn’t singled out who gets the sack and who doesn’t, it was the senior officers who are now hypocritically complaining about the cuts who made the choices.

I think we’re getting rid of the wrong people. We threw out all the useless politicians a year ago, now we must complete that process and throw out all the useless generals. All of them. I have no confidence they’ve learned what went wrong, and I’m more worried that the next level of top brass have all been selected and schooled in the same dysfunctional ways. We have institutionalised incompetence and as the present outbursts show, we reward in-fighting. Bin Laden probably died a happy man.

£25 Billion Bail-out for Britain’s Military

The government announced a £500 billion bail-out for Britain’s banking system in October 2008, extended with a further £50 billion in January 2009.

We need to do something equally urgent and equally dramatic about our defence forces because they are in serious peril. We need a bail-out to give immediate relief from the demands for cutbacks, to cover the added expenditure of unplanned operations called for by the government, to halt the scrapping of vitally needed weapons systems, and especially, to stop the redundancies.

I know there isn’t an area of government where deep cuts are massively unpopular and often demonstrably harmful. I know that. Yet because of the disaster that was thirteen years of New Labour profligacy, coupled with crass incompetence, those deep cuts must be made and if anything, made deeper.

But defence is a special case because we’re at war right now and calling on the army, navy and air force to deliver above and beyond the call of duty on two fronts. They are already suffering the ill-effects of previous cutbacks and the catastrophic mismanagement at the Ministry of Defence over the last couple of decades. They can’t take it any more.

We were the nation that could launch an armada at 48 hours notice to sail eight thousand miles to the south Atlantic and liberate the Falkland Islands, and do that against an enemy operating close to their homeland, equipped with modern weapons and with ample time to prepare their defences. We were the nation that was second only to the military might of the USA when liberating Kuwait from Sadaam Hussein as a key player in a multi-national alliance. We are not that nation any more.

The shambles of procurement means that new weapon systems are delivered late and massively over budget. Some are only run to completion because the cost of cancellation was prohibitively high thanks to penalty clauses. Who was in charge when such contracts were signed? How was this allowed to happen? Other contacts, presumably without penalties to protect them, are cancelled leaving us without vital operational capability.

I applaud those senior officers who are now speaking out about the strain the operations over Libya in particular are causing, on top of the climate of cutbacks and uncertainties in general.

Here is a very depressing speech given by Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham (retired). It’s depressing because it confirms from first-hand knowledge what we have suspected all along. Here’s one point he makes: “We are used to the comforting and rather romantic thought that our forces are world class, and that we are military leaders in Europe. I believe this is no longer the case. As just one piece of evidence the French, now indubitably the leading European military power, have flown three times as many sorties in Libya as the RAF.” And even that level is unsustainable.

There may be hope on the horizon if Liam Fox, the Defence Secretary can bring about the degree of organisational restructuring that is needed, here’s his business plan.

We must also hope that The Defence Reform Unit under Lord Levene will also propose meaningful reforms. Unfortunately, it’s not clear who they are taking their advice from and there is very little to be discovered in the public domain, here’s an introduction on the MoD web site.

Clearly they must have a period of open consultation where experienced and reform-minded individuals can tell them in no uncertain terms what is needed, otherwise they’ll only get their input from the vested interests who are already in the MoD. I can’t see anywhere that says they will do this, and they are due to report by the end of July – in a few weeks time – so someone needs to rattle their cage. Here’s my shortlist of who they ought to invite to talk to them: Air Chief Marshal Sir Michael Graydon, Lieutenant General Sir Henry Beverley, Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham, Major General Sir Patrick Cordingley, Major General Julian Thompson, Air Commodore Andrew Lambert, Colonel Tim Collins, Commander John Muxworthy, Antony Hitchens, Allen Sykes, Andy Smith.

We must have serious reforms in place to justify the bail-out. We must have that bail-out.

Sack no Soldiers; Sack no Coppers; Sack no Nurses

I wish I had their confidence. The government is so convinced there could be no Mumbai-style attack in Britain they are cutting back on every resource we might need to deal with it. And as Liam Fox, Defence Secretary, told a Chatham House conference yesterday, there is more to come. He is right to say, “Tackling the crisis in the public finances is not just an issue of economics but an issue of national security too,” but as I asked in a post last year, “Should economic reality trump military necessity?” After all, we either spend the money and defend ourselves adequately, or we have no need for budgets for anything. This is a matter of survival, plain and simple.

Al-Qaeda could continue to target London, or they might do what the IRA did and seek out softer targets where they can stage what they also now call a “spectacular” with a higher percentage of success. In other words, an attack could happen anywhere in the country and we need the resources to cope with it throughout the country. But what are we doing instead?

Reducing front-line capabilities, but not tackling top-heavy administration.

Reducing front-line capabilities, but not tackling top-heavy administration.

Reducing front-line capabilities, but not tackling top-heavy administration.

As Rolf Harris used to say, “Can you see anything yet?” Is there a pattern emerging? Yes there is. Soldiers, policemen and nurses are bearing the brunt of the cut-backs, but not the generals, police chiefs and hospital administrators. Yet in a Mumbai-style attack, the police will be the first on the scene, large numbers of casualties will need to be taken to hospitals, and ultimately the army will need to be called in to assist as even a small number of armed terrorists rampaging through a city would be beyond the resources of any local police force. The police and medical services would still be stretched even if the attack was a series of coordinated bombings across a city. I ought to acknowledge that the fire service also has a vital role to play in these scenarios.

The government needs to focus attention on making the cuts where they are most warranted – at the highest levels, and not where they are most damaging – at the front line.