Just a reminder from 1994 for those who can see the similarities;
“Front Line First”
The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Malcolm Rifkind) : With permission, I should like to make a statement on the outcome of the study known as “Front Line First”.
At the end of the cold war there were major changes in the international situation. In response, along with all NATO countries, we have reduced the size and adjusted the balance of our armed forces. We believe that our plans for the armed forces reflect the challenges that are likely to confront us. We are determined to maintain that position, and not to drop our guard. Accordingly, I have no proposals to announce that would reduce the fighting strength of our armed forces.
Defence is expensive. This year, we are spending £23 billion, a larger proportion of our gross domestic product than most NATO countries. That amount is being reduced, as was announced last autumn. There is a continuing need to ensure that the administration and support of our armed forces are subjected to the most rigorous analysis. Only by doing that can we ensure that the money available for defence is being spent properly, and in a way which contributes to our fighting capability.
That is why I set up “Front Line First”–not to consider fighting strength, but to consider headquarters, stores, infrastructure, manning and all other aspects of defence administration and support. I have also been determined that we should benefit from the experience and ideas that are to be found in all parts of the armed forces and in the civil service. Accordingly, we invited service and civilian personnel to contribute their ideas, and they did so to a splendid and unprecedented degree. More than 3,000 proposals were received. All those proposals were considered, and many endorsed. We recognised from the start that strong and efficient support is a necessity and not a luxury ; unless the armed forces are recruited, trained, clothed, fed and supplied in a professional and successful manner, their operational capability will suffer. Accordingly, every recommendation for change was examined against one major criterion–would it directly or indirectly affect the operational capability of the armed forces ?
We relied heavily on the professional advice of the chiefs of staff. If it was concluded that a proposal would damage the fighting capabilities of the armed forces, it was rejected.
The proposals that have now emerged are set out in detail in the report published today. I have placed copies in the Library of the House. I do not have time in this statement to go through every proposal, but I should like to set out the most important of our decisions.
A number of themes have emerged from the work that has been done. First, the Ministry of Defence and other headquarters at all levels are too large, too top heavy and too bureaucratic.
Secondly, there is scope for far more delegation of responsibility down the management chain. We can simplify working practices and increase personal responsibility and accountability. We should try to bring to our peace-time working practices the reliance on personal responsibility which the armed forces show so effectively in operations.
Thirdly, recent experience shows that military operations are increasingly conducted on a joint service basis. Our structure should reflect that.
We intend to reduce the Ministry of Defence in central London still further, from more than 5,000 to a central core of 3,750–a reduction of more than 25 per cent. on previous plans. They will be housed in the main building and in the old War Office, instead of four separate buildings as presently planned. We have decided to form a permanent joint headquarters at Northwood, to replace the current approach where headquarters staff are drawn together ad hoc in response to developing crises.
The Procurement Executive headquarters will have 500 fewer staff. We will go ahead with the planned relocation of the executive at a single site at Abbey Wood near Bristol, but it will now be collocated with another headquarters, which will allow significant capital savings.
We have looked in depth at our arrangements for holding and distributing stores for the armed forces, such as clothing, food and fuel. We have found that modern supply techniques mean that we can reduce unessential holdings, enabling us to rationalise storage facilities while improving our ability to get stocks to the front line.
That will allow the closure of 17 depots of varying sizes in the United Kingdom. They are identified in the report published today which I have placed in the Library, and details have been sent to those hon. Members in whose constituencies they lie. Altogether the changes in our logistic arrangements set out in the report will save the defence budget more than £200 million a year and will improve operational capability by providing a more efficient supply chain that is better able to deliver essential stores to the front line. A number of the studies took a fundamental look at the arrangements for recruiting service men and women, and our procedures for managing and training personnel. The total cost of our recruiting activities amounts to £100 million each year and is unacceptably expensive, especially when recruiting needs are low. At present, it is costing between £5,000 and £15,000 for every recruit.
It has become clear that there is scope for closer co-operation with the Employment Services Agency. Subject to the successful completion of a pilot trial, we intend to use the facilities of the 1,300 job centres as the first point of contact for those wishing to join the armed forces. That means that we can replace the existing network of more than 200 careers information offices with a much smaller specialist regional organisation. We expect that proposal to save us £25 million a year.
Given the joint service nature of military operations, we believe that it is right to combine command and staff training at senior level and create a joint services staff college. Further work is in hand to examine whether that should be located at Camberley or Greenwich, and whether junior command and staff training should take place on the same site.
“Front Line First” identified a number of ways in which we could reduce the cost of flying training. We intend to establish a single defence helicopter flying training school for all three services at Middle Wallop near Andover or at Shawbury near Shrewsbury, increase the involvement of civilian instructors and contractors in much of our flying training activity and rationalise training. That will mean that RAF Finningley and RAF Scampton will no longer be necessary, and they will be closed.
Skilled medical support is essential for the armed forces, but at present service hospitals have substantial overcapacity and there is considerable scope for closer links with the national health service. We intend, therefore, to reduce the number of service hospitals in the United Kingdom from three to one, which will be situated at Haslar in Gosport, and to establish regional military district hospital units in NHS hospitals at Derriford and at two new sites, and to retain a presence at Catterick.
We have also looked at military music. This is part of the fabric of our armed forces and makes an irreplaceable contribution to morale and fighting spirit. We have therefore decided that the number of musicians and bands which I announced last year should remain. But there is a need to rationalise and reduce the costs of training. The Royal Marines believe that training their musicians at Deal has become prohibitively expensive. The maintenance demands of the buildings, and other running costs, have resulted in costs per musician trained of up to £300,000. We therefore intend to transfer Royal Marine music training to a new location by April 1996. I now turn to naval infrastructure. In 1993, it was decided that the Portland naval base would close by 1996, which would leave four bases at Portsmouth, Plymouth, Faslane, and Rosyth. Over the past three years, the number of ships in the Royal Navy has reduced further, and over-capacity has increased. We should not be spending large amounts of money on bases unless there is an operational requirement to do so. The money spent on excess base capacity could and should be spent on enhancing the Navy’s fighting capability. The Royal Navy therefore has examined whether the number of bases could be safely reduced.
The conclusions were that Faslane on the Clyde should remain, in view of the operational need for a strategic submarine base. It is also necessary to retain at least two surface ship bases, given the substantial size of the Royal Navy. Of the three surface ship bases, Rosyth is the smallest, and is designated as the base for two of the three squadrons of minehunters and for the fishery protection squadron.
The Royal Navy has concluded that there is no strategic need to keep these ships permanently at Rosyth. We have therefore decided to move one squadron of minehunters to Faslane on the Clyde, which is closest to its normal area of operations. The second squadron and the fishery protection vessels will move to Portsmouth. That is sensible, as the fishery protection squadron operates almost entirely off the coast of England and Wales. The Scottish Office provides a fishery protection service around the Scottish coastline.
Rosyth will not, however, close. There is a continuing need for other Royal Navy-related activities at the Rosyth naval base site. These include necessary support for Rosyth dockyard, for storage, accommodation, Defence Research Agency activities, and the Defence Land Agent. Rosyth base will therefore become a royal naval support establishment continuing alongside the Rosyth royal dockyard. We will also retain the option of using Rosyth as a forward operating base should it become necessary to establish such a base on the east coast of Scotland.
All in all, these proposals will mean that over 900 civilian and service jobs will remain at the Rosyth base ; 70 new jobs will be created on the Clyde. Around 700 civilian jobs will go ; around 600 civilian jobs will remain.
We expect these proposals to save about £22 million a year, with no operational disadvantage. A consultation document on our proposals for Rosyth is being issued today. The royal dockyard at Rosyth is not affected by these proposals and, as announced last year, can look forward to a substantial programme of surface ship refits.
We have also looked at arrangements for the shore basing of naval aircraft. We have concluded that the naval air stations at Culdrose and Yeovilton should continue and that the Lynx squadrons now accommodated at Portland could be moved to Yeovilton without any detriment to operational effectiveness. This will save about £l2 million a year.
The air station at Portland will close by 1 April 1999. This will involve the loss of 400 jobs at Portland, though some of these and about two thirds of the service personnel based there will transfer to Yeovilton.
In the aftermath of the cold war, there is no longer a requirement for the maritime HQ at Pitreavie. We therefore intend to close it in 1996. We intend to transfer some staff, together with Flag Officer Scotland, Northern England and Northern Ireland, to Faslane. The rescue co-ordination centre for the whole of the United Kingdom which we had planned to move to Pitreavie will now be set up at RAF Leuchars in Fife.
The Special Boat Service headquarters will be transferred from Poole to Portsmouth, where the facilities will meet our requirements. This will enable the closure of Royal Marines Poole. We are also rationalising Royal Marines barracks at Plymouth, and, subject to the outcome of current studies, we hope to transfer certain units to Chivenor, which is no longer required by the RAF.
We have also looked at our requirement for ranges. We have concluded that we can provide the armed forces with all the range capacity required and at the same time make savings of £7.5 million a year. This will involve the closure of the ranges at Kircudbright, Pendine, and Hurn. There will, however, still be a need for the ranges at Aberporth, and at Benbecula in the Hebrides.
Finally, so far as RAF Germany is concerned, we have also decided that we require only one air station. The Harriers and helicopters currently based at RAF Laarbruch will accordingly be redeployed to existing operational air stations in the UK. That will have operational benefit, because aircraft now based at Laarbruch often have to train over the United Kingdom.
Change on the scale envisaged in “Front Line First” is bound to have painful consequences. The overall impact of the package will mean net job reductions of about 18,700 over the next three years. Compared with previous plans, the number of civil servants in the Ministry of Defence will fall almost 7 per cent., or 7,100, and the total of uniformed personnel will fall 5 per cent.–of which the Royal Navy will reduce by 1,900, the Army by 2,200 and the RAF by 7,500. Those cuts will fall on all levels of service and civilian personnel. We anticipate that more than 20 senior military and civilian posts–that is, major-general level and above- -will disappear. That will bring the total reduction in senior posts since 1990 to about one third.
A proportion of those reductions will require redundancies in the armed forces and the civil service. We will wish to deal sensitively and fairly with those who have served the nation well. The terms on offer will be the same as have applied to other recent redundancies. It will be seen that manpower reductions are higher for the Royal Air Force. That reflects in particular the conclusions of work set in hand by the Air Force Board some two years ago. The work addressed the scope for reducing costs by civilianising or contractoring out uniformed jobs. It also looked at savings to be derived from introducing new engineering work practices, and from reducing the number of expensive aircrew occupying ground posts.
The Air Force Board endorsed the outcome of that work, which is reflected in the measures that I have announced today. Like all the other proposals that I am announcing, those manpower reductions will not adversely affect our front-line fighting capability.
I should now like to outline our plans for the future of the Territorial Army. The Government remain committed to making greater use of the reserves. There has been a detailed study of the structure and manning of the TA. One option was to make a major reduction in the size of the TA to reflect the reduced home defence role. We decided, however, to reject that option.
In future, the role of the Territorial Army should be to act as a general reserve to the Army. It will remain an integral component of our defence forces on mobilisation, and we intend to make greater use of it in peacetime. Our previous plans were for a TA with formed units of 59,000, plus a recruits pool of 4,500.
The latter is no longer necessary, but we intend to retain at its current level of 59,000 the formed units of the TA. We shall consult widely within the TA whether there should be some reroling of units or other changes within the 59,000 total, and we will announce the outcome later in the year.
We do not underestimate the challenge that the proposals I have announced represent for all involved. They will have a significant impact on the lives and prospects of many who serve in the armed forces, as well as on civilians in the Ministry of Defence. The changes are, however, essential if we are to focus our resources on sustaining and enhancing our operational capability and fighting strength. “Front Line First” has enabled us to do that. In particular, “Front Line First” has allowed us to make a number of highly significant enhancements to our front line capability, which I will outline to the House.
For the Royal Navy, I am able today to announce key equipment improvements across a range of capabilities that will enhance the Royal Navy’s ability to sustain operations, as well as being of value to Britain’s warship building industry. We will complete the modernisation of our amphibious capability. Last year, we ordered a helicopter carrier. Today, we are announcing that we shall shortly issue an invitation to tender for two new assault ships to replace HMS Fearless and HMS Intrepid.
We will also extend the Royal Navy’s capability for anti-ship and anti- submarine warfare well into the next century, with the invitation to tender for the design and build of a new class of nuclear-powered submarine–the batch 2 Trafalgar class, which will replace the Swiftsure class.
We are able to carry forward our programme to build a force of 25 modern and highly capable mine counter-measures vessels. Accordingly, we are today placing an order with Vosper Thornycroft for a further batch of seven Sandown single-role minehunters. Four type 23 frigates are currently on order. We plan to issue invitations to tender for a further batch during the coming year. The Government will assess the case thereafter on the basis of price and operational need.
For the Army, we can now confirm the order of a further 259 Challenger 2 tanks from Vickers Defence Systems. This will enable us to field an all- Challenger 2 fleet of tanks, improve the quality of the country’s contribution to NATO’s Rapid Reaction Corps and ensure that we have a continuing capability to make a significant contribution to the type of coalition operation we saw in the Gulf. This order will be very good news for Vickers and its work force of nearly 2,000 at both Leeds and Newcastle, and to the company’s sub-contractors throughout the country.
An order is also being placed with Royal Ordnance at Glascoed, Gwent for 400,000 rounds of 51mm mortar ammunition.
Finally, we will use some of the additional 3,000 personnel made available last year for the Field Army to allow the Royal Armoured Corps Training Regiment, currently the 9/12 Lancers, to be given a role as a third and additional armoured reconnaissance regiment and to take its place in the front line.
For the RAF, we are placing a production order for the mid-life update of 142 Tornado GR1 aircraft. This will provide improvements to the aircraft’s avionics, navigation and armaments systems. It will maintain the operational effectiveness of the RAF’s long-range attack capability well into the second decade of the next century, and help to preserve British Aerospace’s manufacturing base at Warton in Lancashire in the run-up to production of Eurofighter 2000. As for weapons programmes, the Gulf conflict demonstrated the value of precision stand-off weapons to allow targets to be attacked accurately, while reducing aircraft vulnerability. We are therefore placing an order for advanced laser-guided bombs with the associated thermal imaging and laser designation pods. The bulk of the work will be done in Edinburgh and elsewhere in Scotland, in the west country and on the south coast.
In addition, the Government believe there is a good case in principle for a new long-range air-to-ground missile, CASOM. They will continue to examine the case for CASOM carefully and, subject to the outcome of that examination, intend to open discussions with industry later in the year.
This is a substantial programme of investment in new equipment. The orders that I have announced today, and orders resulting from the invitations to tender, should together be worth about £5 billion, and are expected to sustain directly over 10,000 jobs. These decisions represent a major boost to British industry, as well as providing vital enhancements for all three services.
The success of “Front Line First” has also identified resources that can now be used to deal with other pressing priorities. I have decided that the most important priorities are to reverse the hollowing-out measures of recent years, and to increase levels of operational training.
To that end, I can announce that the success of “Front Line First” has enabled me to increase RAF operational force levels by moving 12 Harrier GR7 aircraft from the reserve fleet to the front line. I can also inform the House that the frigate and the submarine previously planned to go into mothballs within the next few years will remain in service as part of the operational fleet. I know that those proposals will be particularly welcome within the armed forces.
Equipment levels are themselves of little consequence unless they are backed up by intensive and highly developed training arrangements. Here, too, I am able to announce proposals for all three services. For the Army, we shall be improving our training areas in the United Kingdom and Germany. This will allow an increase in such training of between 50 per cent. and 100 per cent., particularly at the battle group level. We shall be acquiring additional training aids to allow more complete simulation traininq. For the RAF, it is important that pilots should have sufficient regular flying to preserve and enhance their skills. As part of our shift of resources to the front line, I have decided that the current level of aircrew flying training hours will be increased progressively over the next three years. When completed, the increase will bring the level of flying training for each aircrew member up to 20 hours a month, a total increase of 8,000 hours a year for the fast jet force.
For the Royal Navy, we shall be purchasing additional anti-submarine and gunnery targets to allow more realistic training for ships and naval aircraft deployed away from usual target facilities.
One of the most important achievements of “Front Line First” will be progress in tri-service operational capability. I have already referred to proposals for a joint headquarters, a joint staff college and a joint helicopter school.
I am pleased to be able to say that we intend to develop a joint rapid deployment force. We have already the fighting elements of rapidly deployable forces such as the Royal Marines, the Parachute Brigade, and 24 Air Mobile Brigade. We shall be looking at how best we can develop the capabilities of those forces to enable them to intervene even more effectively and speedily together.
We shall be providing additional communications infrastructure to improve their effectiveness, and many of the equipment enhancements announced earlier will contribute directly to improving this important area of capability. The concept of the joint rapid deployment force is one that can be built on, and the overall ability of our forces to operate at speed and effectively in the sort of situation described will be a high priority for the future. In the changed strategic environment, there is a wider range of operations in which our forces may be deployed. In this context, for the Navy, we are therefore also examining the case for acquiring and committing to NATO conventionally-armed Tomahawk land attack missiles, and we will be seeking information from the United States of America Government and from industry.
I am conscious that the changes that the armed forces have undergone since the end of the cold war have been painful and demanding for them as well as for civilian staff. The nation already owes them a great debt, and successful implementation of the proposals that I have announced today can only increase that indebtedness. That process of change needs to be managed with sensitivity and care for our people, and that we will do. The changes are necessary and justified. They will enable us to preserve the front line and proceed with a programme of investment necessary to maintain its operational effectiveness. Today, we have demonstrated the Government’s determination to preserve and enhance our fighting strength and to ensure that our armed forces, soldier for soldier, pilot for pilot and ship for ship, remain the best in the world. I commend the proposals to the House.