Kim Sengupta: In these tough economic times, it's clear that the defence budget will have to be cut

All three services are scrambling for scarce resources - the RAF is particularly vulnerable

Share
Related Topics

It was a startling admission to make. The Chief of Defence Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup, said it was "certainly plausible" that the RAF – which he was head of until 2006 – may cease to exist. Within minutes his admission was headline news on television, a graphic illustration of the massive cutbacks being faced by the British military.

There was a misunderstanding. Sir Jock had, in fact, said it was "certainly plausible" that the services would escape merger. However, this in itself was hardly a declaration of confidence, and he went on to say: "There are interesting issues to be debated here... There is an issue of organisation and the way you do that."

All three services are scrambling for their cut of scarce resources in the knowledge that the main political parties are clear that the defence budget will need to be slashed in the current straitened economic times.

The RAF is particularly vulnerable. Some defence officials are asking why its role cannot be subsumed into the Army's Air Corps and the Navy's Fleet Air Arm. Critics charge that the service is stuck in a Cold War mentality with £18bn spent on the Eurofighter Typhoon and more billions on the F35 Joint Strike Fighter. More resources, they say, should have been spent on assets for a counter-insurgency operation such as Afghanistan – unmanned aircraft (UAVs), transport planes and helicopters which could be run by the other two services.

The RAF insists that it has already made significant economies and points out that, according to accepted doctrine, without command of air in Afghanistan by Nato, 10 times as many troops would be needed on the ground. The Royal Navy, too, had been predicted to suffer in the Strategic Defence Review (SDR) with one or both of the new aircraft carriers being jettisoned. Admiral Sir Mark Stanhope, the First Sea Lord, had made two speeches titled "Beyond Afghanistan" with an air of almost desperation, arguing that defence policy should not become too "Afghancentric" – in other words, focus on land warfare.

But, to general surprise, the Government appeared to be seeking to ring-fence the carriers from SDR cuts. There is a belief that this was not based entirely on military considerations but to preserve shipbuilding jobs during the recession.

The Army, some of whose senior officers have argued vehemently in private against the new aircraft carriers, say that beyond Afghanistan lie more Afghanistans; similar wars where "boots on the ground" and winning over the local population would be essential rather than expensive warplanes and warships which are relics of the Cold War.

The troops on the ground in such conflicts are particularly vulnerable to roadside bombs and mines – around 91 per cent of British and allied casualties in Afghanistan are caused by IEDs (improvised explosive devices). Millions have been spent on a tranche of armoured vehicles for Helmand under Urgent Operational Requirements, but many of them have continued to be vulnerable to blasts.

The Army has felt short-changed in recent defence budgets, despite doing the bulk of the fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq. The service's main aim is to avoid cuts in the number of troops and ensure more investment in equipment to combat IEDs. A failure by the SDR to deliver this would lead to a fierce reaction.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing & Sales Manager

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A reputable organisation within the leisure i...

Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: I am currently working in partnersh...

Recruitment Genius: Doctors - Dubai - High "Tax Free" Earnings

£96000 - £200000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Looking for a better earning p...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer

£32000 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A rapidly expanding company in ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
British Prime Minister Tony Blair (L) pictured shaking hands with Libyan leader Colonel Moamer Kadhafi on 25 March 2004.  

There's nothing wrong with Labour’s modernisers except how outdated they look

Mark Steel
 

Any chance the other parties will run their election campaigns without any deceit or nastiness?

Nigel Farage
Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee