‘Revolution’ needed in UK defence

POLITICIANS are falling prey to a “positively dangerous” illusion that Britain’s military is a powerful as it was a decade ago, defence experts have warned.

A helicopter flypast at the formal naming ceremony for HMS Queen Elizabeth in Rosyth Dockyard, Fife, in November. The Civitas report says more spending should be directed on research rather than costly long-term programmes. Photo: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) requires a “revolution in thinking” on acquisition, and needs to reduce its reliance on major programmes delivered by a few prime contractors if it is to meet the UK’s security needs within the limits of a much tighter budget, the think-tank Civitas said.

It must develop a research base that is able to respond quickly to the specific demands of any new threat or campaign, rather than get locked into costly, long-term schemes that do not represent value for money, such as the £7.5bn contract to build two new aircraft carriers, former Shadow Defence Secretary Bernard Jenkin, who co-wrote the report, told The Yorkshire Post.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

“We can’t have the old style 
defence planning where we invest in big bits of kit and wait for something to happen. We haven’t got the money,” he said. “If we spent a fraction of that money on battle-winning technology, we’d have an edge over our competitors in Europe and America, we’d have something to trade, and we’d be able to create more jobs and spin-offs for the civilian industry.”

The report goes on to say that small and medium-sized enterprises have the “agile capability” to respond, and flexible funding from the Treasury should be better targeted on research and development.

It said: “Today’s defence depends upon a strong and agile knowledge and expertise base, which is able to respond in times of crisis and at times when the UK’s national interest requires it.

“A state spending only two per cent of its GDP on defence cannot have the ‘robust’ defence structure of previous decades. It must build a force for every campaign in a different way appropriate to that campaign.”

Julie Bickerdyke, managing director of Leeds-based Austin Hayes Group, which has worked with the MoD in refurbishment of ammunition packaging since 1953, said SMEs are ideally placed to help the Government reduce spending and to meet urgent operational needs.

She said: “Although there will always be an argument for sticking with tried and tested companies for their experience and reliability, SMEs are more likely to be able to cope with fluctuating demands through their flexibility, agility with leaner staffing.”

Labour’s shadow defence secretary Vernon Coaker said the Conservatives’ “botched attempt” to reform defence procurement had left gaps in our military capabilities and “an erosion of our role in the world”. The report comes as new Nato figures show that the UK is one of just five of the organisation’s 28 member states to meet the target of spending two per cent of GDP on defence this year.

However, the 2.1 per cent spend in 2015 was down from 2.2 per cent last year and an average is 2.5 per cent in the late 1990s.

An MOD spokesperson said: “With the fifth largest defence budget in the world, the UK is investing more than £160bn in equipment over the next decade. This investment, alongside the 4,000 brave and capable men and women of our three Armed Forces currently deployed on 21 different joint operations in 19 countries, demonstrates Britain’s powerful presence on the world stage. Recent reforms to defence acquisition mean we already have an agile and flexible system for delivering the equipment that our Armed Forces need at the time they need it, as was recognised by Lord Levene in December.”

Comment: Page 12.