SDSR in 10 Easy Pieces

When all the wailing and gnashing of teeth of teeth has finished and the media moved onto the CSR there will be time for a calm reflection on the SDSR. With this in mind I am working on a detailed analysis but for now, my initial take on the SDSR in ten easy pieces


Was anyone really surprised, we all knew it was going to be damaging, we all knew there was going to be very little by the way of strategy and we all knew the boast about it not being a series of salami slices was going to be complete and utter shite.


Let’s not forget why we are in this hole, champagne tastes and mild ale pockets. The constant project slipping, extending and general avoidance of the word ‘decision’ by the previous labour governments, coupled with a head in the sand attitude by the defence chiefs  meant the bow wave of unfunded wishes was always going to have to be addressed at some point. Combine this bow wave with increasing PFI payments, operations in Afghanistan and the general financial crisis and you have a recipe for deep cuts. So the Labour Government, MoD and previous service chiefs must shoulder most of the blame for the need.


One of the greatest myths in modern politics is that the Conservative party are ‘strong on defence’, whilst they hide behind the achievements of ‘our brave boys’ and wrap themselves in a flag, they have a rather shocking track record when it comes to paying for it. Anyone who remembers Front Line First or the destruction of forces medical facilities doesn’t fall for the fallacy and neither should anyone else. As for the Liberal Democrats, well, the less said about their stance on defence the better, let’s build a camp fire and we can all sing songs. Whilst the need was obvious, the choices can be questioned. If, as David Cameron repeatedly points out, defence is the first duty of government, why has the overseas aid budget been ring fenced, why are we paying yet more into the EU, why do we spend money on the most ridiculous of things but find it acceptable to cut 7,000 personnel from the Army whilst engaged in operations. It is simply unjustifiable that we can spend £7bn on overseas aid yet have to cut defence.


If anyone thinks this is the model for a review of the nations defence and security, the first duty of government, they want their heads examining. Especially in the run in, the amount of leaking, briefing, counter briefing, information operations and all sorts of nefarious skulduggery was, and is, shameful. The conduct of the SDSR and in particular, the inter service bitterness that has been promulgated by yesterdays men and an eager press, was just wrong. We needed strong leadership and we got an unedifying display of bickering. Must do better next time. The quality of some of the reporting was equally rubbish and generally, comically inaccurate.


For all the macho talk of taking tough decisions a cold analysis reveals the exact opposite. There was no real strategic change, we still aspire to punch above our weight, be adaptable, contribute fully in world affairs, be a force for good (oops, sorry, that was the last one) and various other soundbites but the unfortunate reality is that without the means, the ends are simply nothing but wishful thinking. Pick your metaphor, fur coat and no knickers or paper tiger, that is what the armed forces are heading for. Industrial and political self interest played just as big a part in the decision making process as it always had. Where was the tough decision on Lynx Wildcat or ceremonial, to pick two just examples. Yes there have been some harsh decisions but were they really tough, I don’t think so. In fact, one might be forgiven for thinking that some of the decisions have been based on how much political capital they could extract, better to stiff New Labour on the Nimrods ill fitting wings and safety of the old MR2 than actually bring what is quite probably the most versatile and useful aerial asset we have into service, the MRA4 is more or less paid for and the small running cost savings simply do not make any sort of sense when measured against the capability loss . We can also conveniently forget that the projects with the largest cock ups were in fact inherited from the last conservative government, sshh. As with all defence reviews since the end of the War, this one is about dressing up reductions across the board as some all seeing, all knowing strategic vision, it’s not fooling anyone.


The 1998 SDR introduced us to a whole new language of military fashion speak and this one is no different. Does anyone really understand what focus and integrate diplomatic, intelligence, defence and other capabilities on preventing international military crises or ensures those capabilities have in-built flexibility to adjust to changing future requirements actually mean?


Apologies for yet more food metaphors but the tough decisions have been dodged (see point 5) and the cuts evenly applied across the forces. No doubt each service will be arguing that they have taken the biggest hit, complete with dubious comparisons with other nations/eras but the cuts have been pretty evenly applied. Equal pain for all, now what was it the Conservative government said about being bold enough to take tough decisions and not making salami slicing the order of the day?


There are hidden agendas galore but the one that seems to have caused the biggest stir is greater European integration. Tucked away near the end is plenty of evidence for a reduction of independence and greater co-operation with the European Union and especially France. The smokescreen about the F35B being the most expensive to run is just that and complete and utter nonsense, as has been proven by every single study the MoD has ever carried out. People seem to think that the RAF wanted F35B against the wishes of the Royal Navy but nothing could be further from the truth. Neither services wanted the STOVL model so why has it been the preferred option for FJCA from the start? Because the Treasury quite rightly dictated the requirement based on the lowest through life cost against a set of modest requirements. The statement about interoperability with allies is yet more smokescreen because our other allies, like Spain, Italy and the USMC will be operating the F35B so going for a conventional CATOBAR arrangement for our shiny new carrier actually reduces flexibility and interoperability for us. Instead of being able to operate from any USN or USMC carrier, plus any French/Australian/Italian/Spanish and others carriers 9including in extremis, other large deck vessels) we will now be limited to just conventional carriers as owned by the USN and France. So we get less interoperability and flexibility but France and the US Navy get more, what’s in it for us exactly. The only way this makes any sense is if we are heading to a single, joint UK/French carrier force, the USN do not need more decks to operate from but France does, go figure.


Everyone is hoping that an improvement in the financial situation will lead to more money for defence. I want world peace and an end to the Coke v Pepsi debate, but hope is not actually a sensible strategy, don’t hold your breath.


The speed of the review process means that it has inevitably created just as many questions as answers. Many decisions seem to have been made without the full facts, switching to the F35C for example will come back to haunt this government. The next few weeks, months and years will see the true picture unfold because it is not over yet. Plenty of scope for more blogging so watch this space!

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October 20, 2010 12:43 pm

Point 1
Perhaps its my youth, but I am surprised. It become clearwer near the end, but inititialy, I was hoping for a strategy, even if it was one I didnt agree with.

Point 2
It is Labours fault, and that cant be overstated, but the problems were easily fixable.
Cut Fres. Bang, problem solved.
Cut The Carriers and Airwings. Bang, problem solved.

Point Three
I think thats a bit unfair. The Soldier Soldier Cuts werent perfect, but FFS the USSR had collapsed and half its ground forces had asked if they could be on our side from now on.

Since Thatcher, the Tories have deployed the armed forces for a short defence of the Falklands and a short attack on Iraq.
Labour have found every bar room brawl and sent our brave boys to play world police.
The Tories dont have a track record of being friends, but theres simply no comparison.

The rest, and point one.
No strategy, no joined up thinking, just the protection of pet projects, for that, I make no excuse.
I was calling for Cameron to step down or be strung up before sunrise on the seventh of May, I can repeat the call, but am excluded from the Sofa Government already.

October 20, 2010 1:06 pm

My big fear is a “sea grab” for resources in about 20 to 30 years.

The biggest threat to UK security in Afghanistan are the poppy fields. As the oil runs out to be replaced by renewables and advanced technologies (fusion, nanotech) the importance of the Middle East will evaporate. Actually I would contest that Middle East security is a real non-issue. It is only the left that bring the region to the fore all the time. Me? I am more concerned about the polar regions.

The first duty of the state is to protect its people. And international aid and development budget being seen as bulwark against failing Third World status is a mistake. “We” could have used that 9.1billion over the life of this parliament to reshape our armed forces.

I could go and on but it won’t do any good.

October 20, 2010 1:31 pm

X, you bring up a good point in a few years time then chances are all the European nations, Canada Russia and the USA will all be scrabbling around looking for resources or arguing over the North West/East passage. People think I’m mad when I mention that the nations of Europe have been knocking shite out of each other for centuries and the last 65ish years have been an abnormality.

Also as you in a roundabout way mentioned energy that is something I’ve always thought about what could we do if we flung £10+ billion a year at measures to improve our energy security? Hell double that if we ditch the overseas aid and development budget in its entirety then we should really be getting somewhere at a decent pace. Soon enough the Middle East will become less important but for now and for a while yet it still is rather important especially since we are not prepared for anything but a smooth road.

El Sid
El Sid
October 20, 2010 2:09 pm

“The smokescreen about the F35B being the most expensive to run is just complete and utter nonsense, as been proven by every single study the MoD has ever carried out.”

Ahem. “Overall, the carrier-variant of the JSF will be cheaper [than STOVL], reducing through-life costs by around 25%.” (SDSR p24)

So are they just making this up, or has there been at least one study that thinks differently?

I don’t know if that’s using the latest costs of the F-35B, or whether the new study is looking at EMCATS rather than steam now that EM no longer represent quite such a leap in the dark as they did in 2002. Or whether it’s just something as simple as the effect of F-35C being four years later than F-35B, which reduces the present cost of the combined system…. Or just the numbers looking different given the smaller numbers invovled now?

x/Euan – the grab for resources is already happening, China won’t beat us with carriers and submarines, but by having sewn up the world supplies of tungsten and rare earths. (which has already happened by the way) We haven’t got time to wait for fusion etc – recent oil prices are already telling you that the traditional way of life is over for the West. In round terms the world is never going to produce much more oil than it does now, but that oil is going to have to be spread among many more people. Things are a bit better for gas, but that just makes the Middle East more important not less. Euan – you do realise that since last year, 20% of our gas supplies are coming from 3 platforms just outside Iranian territorial waters? Protecting those 14 LNG ships is a major new mission for the RN. I’d agree that the Arctic will also be important, but the Gulf will produce more hydrocarbons than the Arctic for at least the next 20+ years.

October 20, 2010 3:48 pm

Points1 and 7:

These being the case, what do you suggest the Honourable man who promised us that…”gone will be the salami-slicing approach…. replaced with a considered, coherent, long-term direction for Defence policy that is achievable and sustainable.” Should do?

Does the SDSR pass the test of leaving Defence as a whole in a stronger position?

What should its architect do?

It either did what it said on the tin, in which case back slaps all round, or it didn’t. He promised to act ruthlessly and without sentiment you know…. so I guess the question is what next?

October 20, 2010 4:26 pm

I should have included some time scale in comment. I was talking in terms of decades for fusion and other less well known source of energy.

I tend to see the Middle East in a different way than most. Israel doesn’t scare the Arabs as much as the Iranians do….

I just think it is bad all round. But cuts to the Navy are serious as they will have an effect one, two, three decades and so on.

Um. Perhaps you need also to factor in the liberal/socialist/globalist lens through which IR is conducted? As resources become scarce I see a more realist approach taking a hold on the Western politics.

October 20, 2010 6:17 pm

And I have just seen these over at Military Photos,

This sort of sums up how I see China.

paul g
October 20, 2010 7:24 pm

here we go, point 1; no
point 2 not just gordon’s fault, jackson cut the infantry and then got brave after de-mob, jock sick-cup was just a complete oxygen thief, he even had a high ranking officer write a paper called one nation one air force, jumped up little shit
point 3 tories, silent asassins, post proves with history
stopping there as i accidently read a lewis page review and bless he was true to form “all tanks should’ve gone” and this govt will be responsible for deaths after cutting the chinook order, so i’m not a happy bunny.
oh don’t get the bread out waiting for that jam moment!

October 20, 2010 7:39 pm

Gives us the link to the Lewis Page thingy Paul, I could do with a laugh…….

October 20, 2010 7:47 pm

El Sid – ref: ““The smokescreen about the F35B being the most expensive to run is just complete and utter nonsense, as been proven by every single study the MoD has ever carried out.”

The thing is Admin likes to include the full lifecycle costs of fitting cats and traps, down to the wages of the CPO EMCAT Maintainer and his team – I am not sure I have ever seen any of these MoD studies either. Of course they might have been heavily spun MoD studies when we ‘wanted’ STOVL.

Personally I can’t see how the jet with the power take off shaft to the great big spinning fan and thrust vectoring nozzle could possibly be cheaper to maintain than the one with a nose wheel cat-bar and a tail hook – but then thats just me :-)

October 20, 2010 8:02 pm

@ x – here is the Lewis Page link.

October 20, 2010 9:50 pm

Admin – yes I know, you also include training etc as indeed you should :-)

It’s just that I disagree because I think the increased maintenance costs are a large part of those whole through life costs. However I have no data on which to base a comparison of training a pilot to do vertical (or rolling vertical) landings in the UK, as opposed to, for example piggy backing on USN carrier qualification training. So you might be right…… I just suspect that in the end F35B (if the USMC now don’t ditch it) will be an expensive maintenance hog :-(

paul g
October 20, 2010 10:20 pm

now i know i’ve studied electronics, however i tend to stay inside during thunderstorms such is my aversion to electricity and the shocks that come with it. With that an electrical launch will be linear ie the power at the end of the rail is the same at the start, for arguements sake we’ll say 2g. Now steam is a one off blast so to get 2g at the end you need 6g at the start which is where the wear/tear and stress on the frame come in. Hopefully (i’m not in the know) this will prolong the airframe life.

October 20, 2010 10:31 pm

Read this for just another example of how the SDSR is baking in yet more inaccounted costs for defence, this time to the tune of £1-2Bn….

Lord Jim
Lord Jim
October 21, 2010 6:26 am

The MoD needs to move away from the use of “Capability” as a means of meeting requirements. In the begining the idea seemed to make sense but now it is being used a both a smokescreen to hide a lack of capacity and a tool to fudge programmes allow for reductions and delays whilst still proclaiming the UK has or will have the capability.

Instead the MoD needs to look at its requirements and operational needs in a much more focused way btu unlike in the past look globally at what platforms meet the requirement. So instead of saying we need a land based direct fire platform and pending time and money to decide what type of platform etc the requirement should look at what platforms exist, who in using them and how. Too many IPTs have had their projects held in the asessment phase because either funding was held up or goal posts were changed. The MoD spends so much time these days in the Assessment phase that by the time they make their mind up things have often moved on and the programme is no longer relevant. Things often get worse in the Design phase as again requirements are changes for either budgetary of requirement issues, again wasting time and money. If by a miracle a programme gets to the Manufacture phase it is still endangered by further interferrence. A classic cases of these problem is the Warrior upgrade which has moved at a snail’s pace, and the Nimrod MRA4.

What is needed is for programmes to bring a core platform into service, powerplant, hull, Communications and ohter basic systems to meet a basic core requirement. All future platforms should be designed for the ease of modificaton and upgrade, with as little bespoke equipment as possible, and using as much existing equipment as possible also. Future small incremental steps should be taken, to maximise speed and cost effectiveness as the programme matures, allow it to take into account requirements and operational changes rather than large block upgrades.

A good example of this is how the Jaguar GR1 was continuously upgrades after it gained a new lease of life after GW1. With the exception of the Adour Mk106 programme it was a great success and very cost effective. How the Typhoon programme is being managed is an example of how the opposite is true. In most cases it involves large block modifications made worse by having to obtain the agreement of multiple nations. This is a strong case for operational sovereinty. With the Jaguar we were able to carry out an upgrade programme at our own space and scope whist keeping our partner (France) in the loop. I know there are other factors such as funding starvation inpacting on the Typhoon but that is also partly down to the MoD’s poor programme management.

October 21, 2010 12:15 pm

Regarding point 6- “focus and integrate diplomatic, intelligence, defence and other capabilities on preventing international military crises”. I understand this means “The cutbacks are ok, because we’ll just avoid having any wars”.
Don’t know about anyone else but that’s put my mind at rest.

October 21, 2010 1:51 pm

@ MC re.

“So what will happen to the extra 29,000? Either we’re planning on giving the land forces a break and allowing them to be more inefficient. Or there is a secret plan to cut numbers after 2015 that the government are hiding.

The clue may be in the fact that the head of the army pleaded with David Cameron to announce no troop cuts beyond 2015.”

the quote answers everything we need to know.

reduce one brigade from army by 2015 + support = 7,000 men
> reduce these from germany by 2015 + 3000 redeployed = 10,000 men

leave afghan in 2015 = lose another 10,000 men by 2020, bringing an eight brigade army down to six and you have an army of at most 90,000, and quite possibly as low as 85,000 if you axe those brigade supporting elements.

there are no baked in costs, there are just unannounced further army reductions once they leave afghanistan, as should be obvious to anyone.

November 7, 2010 7:57 pm

It is quite clear our armed forces will be reduced to being a self defence force in the near future.
The review carried out made a convenient number of conclusions which amounted that the armed forces had too many aircraft ships, tanks and manpower.
And low and behold we could do away with them,it has for the first time been able to predict for the forseeable future what conflicts they would be engaged in .
The fact is this review delivered what it was told to do deliver spending cuts .
The list of conflicts which HM Forces have been involved in are well documented,the lack of readiness equipment ,training that inevitably goes out the window,the price paid is in blood.
FACT we will have to relearn the lessons and the real ballbreaker those responsible will never be held to account.