I very rarely comment on US politics because to be perfectly honest, there is enough in the UK to be worried about, but the comments about horses and bayonets was I thought a brilliant put down and worth discussing because it has wider resonance and some relevance for the UK.
Here is what I am talking about;
Mitt Romney was on to something when he talked about the ability to prosecute two simultaneous conflicts because that talks directly to capacity and what we in the UK call Defence Planning Assumptions but his comments about the size of the Navy or the age of the Air Force show what happens when you have a) a lack of understanding of the subject and b) a team of advisors that share that ignorance but then also combine it with the temptation of an easy point to be scored encapsulated in a 30 second soundbite.
I hold no brief, opinion or even great knowledge of the US political scene but as a put down, Obama’s response was perfectly timed and delivered with some panache, but was he correct?
It is far too easy for politicians to distil complex issues into easy soundbites, we have seen it time and time again, and in this case the issues are as equally complex as any other and whether there are any underlying influences from a political or industrial perspective in this case, I don’t know.
That military capabilities have advanced beyond all recognition, even in relatively recent times, is without doubt.
And this is an important point, the unit cost escalation that has been the result of these capability improvements has come at a cost.
This obvious penalty is a reduction of equipment numbers, whether it be ships, planes or tanks.
Whilst a Type 42 is nowhere near the capability of a Type 45, we only have 6 of them and unless someone has, Star Trek style, changed the laws of physics, destroyers cannot be in two places at once.
Equipment can be damaged in accidents or as a result of enemy action, it might be on the other side of the world or in a refit so no matter how superior, if it is not available at the point of need, it is absolutely and unavoidably useless.
This is why, despite the Presidents comments about things having changed, the immutable Law of Sod, i.e. shit happens, means that numbers matter and will always matter, no matter how good your kit is.
There are no easy answers to these questions, a bigger Navy is not necessarily better than a smaller one.
Politics should always be a factor in discussions about military issues, politicians, after all, speak to and represent the people that pay for and are served by the military.
This is by no means a rant about politicians, in fact, I rather admire the fact that defence and security are debated in this manner. But, complex issues, such as the balance between capabilities and quantities, need to be considered properly, and hopefully, not subject to lazy thinking and over simplification.
Plus of course, bayonets and horses, get in