Strategic Review My Arse

It’s late on Friday and I have had one too many cheekies so apologies to the long suffering readers if I get a bit sweary.

One might have thought that the Strategic Defence and Security review would have started with the usual array of planning assumptions, foreign policy objectives, reviews of potential threats and a workable idea of the budget framework in which the outcome must fall within. There is nothing at all wrong with having a financial element in the initial planning matrix, without funds, a strategy is merely wishful thinking and there is no point basing ones strategy on the promise of jam tomorrow.

Evidently not.

Reported across a number of media outlets tonight is the unedifying spectacle of the horse trading that has characterised the review process. It is a few days before the white paper is published that will inform the nations strategic defence and security arrangements for at least 5 years, we are facing a diverse and growing number of threats and more importantly have personnel from all three services in harms way. As the theatre unfolds perhaps those doing the cutting/strategy might pause for thought, maybe theatre is the wrong word, circus might be a more apt description for in a circus one finds clowns.

Clowns are self evidently in charge of the piggy bank.

General Sir Peter Wall, the Chief of the General Staff, made clear to Number 10 that he could not accept cuts in Army numbers and training which would hamper the Afghan operation

What the fuck is going on, words really do fail me, we have 10,000 personnel on a very warm two way lead exchange and the Government was even contemplating cutting training and numbers in the Army.

Mr Cameron’s intervention followed a day of threats from senior defence figures. The angry response from the top brass came after the Treasury attempted to force the Ministry of Defence to make cuts deeper than those which had been agreed previously. Military chiefs had described the move as a “betrayal”.

It had appeared on Thursday that Dr Liam Fox, the Defence Secretary, and George Osborne, the Chancellor, had agreed a deal for a seven per cent cut to the MoD budget. But the Treasury position hardened yesterday morning, with officials making renewed demands for 10 per cent cuts.

The last-minute switch caused fury at the MoD, and Forces chiefs were sent to Downing Street for crisis talks. In private meetings, senior commanders told Mr Cameron’s team the bigger cuts package would undermine the Afghan war and potentially force Britain into a humiliating early withdrawal.

Daily Telegraph

What sort of clowns do we have at the Treasury, they come to an agreement with the MoD and a day later say, only joking, we want more.

We can’t even run a defence and security review without last minute fuck ups like this, the pubic bitching between the services and total absence of any foreign policy input except to say, its whatever the EU says  just puts the icing on the cake, no wonder Hilary is worried. In fact if I was her I would be embarrassed, not worried.

Best polish them shoes for next week.



This blows away any pretence that the review was anything more than a slicing job so let’s just drop the act and get back to cutting budgets, tripping over and squirting water from flowers.

Toot toot

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October 16, 2010 9:23 am

Fox promised a “considered, coherent, long-term direction for Defence policy that is achievable and sustainable” in the SDSR.

The test of which is that, as he said himself “Defence as a whole must come out in a stronger position.”

If on Tuesday next week, Defence is not in a stronger position and we have not had a considered, coherent, long-term direction for Defence policy that is achievable and sustainable then Dr Fox must act “ruthlessly and without sentiment.”

He must go – it will cause trouble for the ruling coalition, but go he must – having, in the parlance of the day, written cheques he could not cash.

October 16, 2010 9:37 am

If on the other hand we have passed those tests, he deserves every credit and a big well done in what must have been a very difficult environment.

October 16, 2010 11:37 am

Cameron does not have a hold of this government. If he can’t get the two top Tory’s to agree what chance does he have of getting the Liberals onboard once they see that they will be forced to accept Trident and oh by the way will be closing Plymouth the biggest employer in the South West of England and Lossiemouth one of the biggest employers in the North East of Scotland. About the only two places who actually vote lib dems in.I still think SDSR will be a white wash. It’s enough to split an already fragile government.

yvonne walker
yvonne walker
October 16, 2010 1:26 pm

The three services need to be subjected to an external independent review. Wanton waste riddles all three and misuse of tax payer’s money is apparent even to the most simple minded. We are told that the Troops in Afganistan are short of equipment due to lack of moneey. In light of this, how does the MoD justify the Army’s presence in Germany as the Cold War ended around 20 years ago? There can be little if any training value there and who are they defending? Germany, the richest country in Europe? Look at the cost of medical cover, overseas allowances, forces schools,boarding school allowances, travel allowances and more. Our loss is Germany’s gain as their economy benefits from the cash injected by the MoD to cover medical costs, rented accommodation and much, much more. It cant be due to a shortage of land for training in the UK. The MoD is one of the biggest owners of land in the UK and training on the terrain of Northern Europe does not equip service personnel who are destined for places such as Afganistan, futhermore, as there has been no RAF presence in germany for 10 years, what army goes to war (or practice for war) without aircover? I believe that we are talking more than millions in terms of saving and having them based in the UK will enable them to put money into our economy as opposed to the German economy, allowing for better standard accomodation and facilities including medical care for forces personnel.

The fact that the MoD is one of the biggest landowners in the UK should also be scrutinised. Just one example that comes to mind is the number of TA centres etc that are located on prime locations and their actual productivity
– are they cost effective? An example of this is on the Gateshead side of the River Tyne (within 200 metres of the Tyne Bridge) where there is a Royal Navy base, next to the Baltic mill and the Opera House. On the opposite (Newcastle) side of the river slightly down stream is a large Royal Marine (reserve) barracks. Furthermore there are a number of TA centres in the same area, including Fenham Barracks in Newcastle near the BBC studios. Having been able to have an insider view of the MoD through the eyes of my husband both as a serving memeber and later as a civilian contractor, I can assure you that this situation is not unique to the Newcastle/Gateshead area.

The jobs of no real purpose that exist other than to enhance the income of retired officers is another area of great concern. Establishments like Abbey Wood (Bristol) and Witton (Nr Huntingdon) need close scrutiny by an independent organisation. Many people having visited these establishments on a number of occasions and along with my husband, were was apalled at the blatant abuse of public funds, with members of staff chatting in corridors, outside smoking and inside playing card games on thier computers. Overstaffed and underworked, using funds that could otherwise be used to improve the lot of the servicemen and women who put their lives on the line on a daily basis. The men and women who are in the front line deserve better than having to front organisations that provide jobs for the people who often proved inadequate in their military role and then go on to ‘cushy’jobs (often of no little purpose other than existing to bolster up a safe haven specifically for retired officers) where thier inadequacies can continue to shine, unchallenged while they feather thier nests.One example is an officer who was so poor at his job, he remained a junior officer until his retirment. However, despite the Service having the opportunity to send him packing with his more than adequate pension, they allowed him the opportunity to continue to provide very little for a lot of salary in a retired officer’s role where he could continue remaining overseas, using his own personal service vehicle for personal use, buying tax free cars on the very profitable (for him) 6 month exchange basis, golfing most days (during normal working hours)and meanwhile service men and women were dying in areas of conflict. So that while he (and there are thousands more like him – believe me!)is stealing (and that is exactly what it boils down to)from the MoD coffers, the MoD (where this culture of ‘stealing’is rife from top to bottom), continues with amazing speed and ease, to bemoan its lot (using the sick ploy of the plight of the front line service personnel to get public sympathy)when it comes down to budgets. However, with the same speed and ease, every time the MoD is challenged about their management of tax payers money(procurement has been one of the big issues)again with amazing speed and ease, up go the smoke screens as we watch the ranks closing.

October 16, 2010 5:50 pm

Well we got the fudge we were expecting.

To the CVF supporters club: – YUou got your carriers with 40 (count em 40), aircraft, about enough in reality (allowing for wedding funerals and Barmitzvas) for 24 on one carrier.

You can loose that lot in a days air to air combat.

We now have a whole 15 surface vessels (some one please tell me we are keeping amphibs and that 15 includes Ocean Bulwark Albion and the Bays). Or beter still they don’t count as part of the 15. Do the 15 include the Rivers and the minehuters?.
Cos we have either lost the only vessels we have (the River class) actually patroling home waters and might have chance of stopping a Mumbai Style attack.

Or does the 15 refer to frigates destroyers etc only.

The RAF get to keep some Tornados (why there nearly as old as I am). And we lose the Harriers. And of course we get to keep Typhoon, No more transport and no more Helicopters though. Still they do look so smart on battle of Britain day, in there nice blue uniforms.

The Army win hands down.

October 16, 2010 7:10 pm

‘To the CVF supporters club: – YUou got your carriers with 40 (count em 40), aircraft, about enough in reality (allowing for wedding funerals and Barmitzvas) for 24 on one carrier.
You can loose that lot in a days air to air combat.’

Again, a nonsense argument IXION. Which airforce that isn’t a peer (meaning we would not be engaging them alone) would not have extreme trouble handling 24 F-35’s thrown at them? How many times did the FAA/RAF lose 24 in a day against the Argentine Air Force? Exactly.

As for the Army winning hands down, well i’d suggest they should as they’re engaged in a real hands-on conflict for the next 5 years.

October 16, 2010 8:28 pm


I am very tired of arguing about CVF. However here we go again.

The detractors, (like me), see them as steel white elephants.

The supporters(I assume you), see them as gods in steel worth sacrificing their first born for.

I actually hope I’m wrong about this but I do not think I am.

CVF will cost a fortune to build (What UK Warship programme has been on time and on budget, since the Leanders).

Right now any airforce in the world with a Cesna, can out fly the F35B, it does not exist as a functioning combat aircraft yet, and it still has a lot of problems. And it too will cost a fortune. Never mind the the sheer economic madness of only buying and maintaining 40.

The cost will spiral. There will be further cuts in the capababilities outfit etc because the costs will be unaffordable. The inevitable 2015 review will probably announce they will be cancelled.

Assuming at some point they can get it all to work then somwhere about 2020 we will have 24 of them afloat, and There are plenty of air forces around the world that could well “Get Lucky” or “Get Skillfull”.

IT will all cost so much and be so important, it will only be risked (or should only be risked) when fully with protected with type 45’s and 26’s et al. Which will make the cost of sending that lot out will add up to the national debt of Zimbabwe. So I would not be expecting to to leave Uk waters that often.

Still I’m sure Im wrong

October 16, 2010 8:45 pm


I sure that my last post is all nonsence.

I am sure this one will be too.

As for the Army may I pray in aid Yvonne Walkers post, and several others about the stupid organisation, Byzantine behaviours, and ridiculous wastage that goes on in that organisation, (and the other services as well).

I see no reason why with 10,000 soldiers in Afghan, an organistation with 10 times that number in uniform struggles to keep and suport them there, and has to ‘Borrow’ so much form the US.

It is riddled with inefficiencies from top to bottom. So no I do not see why the Army has in effect escaped any real cuts in budget.

Or why we have kept an Airforce.

October 16, 2010 8:50 pm

I would love to comment on TA centres which are the preserve of regional RFCAs. But I can’t as it would give too much away by who I am………….

But the waste and blatant stupidity are frightening.

All I will say is don’t blame the TA, RNR, etc. they are mere tenants.

Dangerous Dave
Dangerous Dave
October 16, 2010 9:07 pm

@ Ixion:
I hope we *do* manage to keep an independent airforce, putting all the sharp point aircraft under the Navy would be a mistake. When they had a fully functioning FAA, they were always mor insterested in geting more Grey Boats than advancing the art in naval aviation. However, since HMG seems only to see airpower as an adjunct to the other 2 services, I think the RAF are on a hiding to nothing.

October 16, 2010 9:18 pm

we have a 10k deployed, 6months deployed 36months home requires 70k.
That leaves 30k choppable.
More when you consider how many arent army, RAF int fighters and flyers, navy int flyers and fighters.
You could cut 20k from the army and improve the afghan situation.

October 16, 2010 11:04 pm

Would it not be better to deploy for nine months?

October 16, 2010 11:19 pm


Not every soldier in afghan is infantry

October 16, 2010 11:23 pm

Anon said “Would it not be better to deploy for nine months?”

No. Afghanistan for infantry is a hot (OK and at times bloody cold), dusty, shit hole. 6 months is tops. You have to think about the mental as well as the physical load. Even for a ship’s company 6 months away is a long time with showers, good hot food, and e-maol. Sometimes the infantry’s condition in the field seem to be little improved over those endured by their 19th century forebears.

October 17, 2010 12:33 am

How long do the Americans do?

In financial terms, squeezing an extra 90 days must be attractive. Save 1/3 on the training overhead. Would mean going less often as well.

October 17, 2010 1:02 am


The Americans typically do a year, unless you’re a crab in which case it’s 4-6 months. They often did even longer, and multiples, in Iraq. The results weren’t pretty, in terms of the physical, mental, and professional fitness on return after two or three tours. (Not to mention incidence of divorce and family economic catastrophes, especially among the National Guard.) Canada’s had similar deployment schedules (although I think the Forces cap around nine-ten months) and may be accumulating the same kind of “wastage.” But if you capped the duration of a mission and everyone went once in a 4x rotation, nine months a time gets you three years to deal with what needs must in someone else’s country and either produce a broadly-undestood victory (a very rare bird) or go home before you wear out your welcome.

Admin and IXION,

Afghanistan, as currently fought, isn’t good for the infantry. Good close-quarter practice, and modern squaddies still have the old viking in them. But in operational, practical, maybe even moral terms (how many times do you ask troops to do something whose results are mostly brief and ambiguous?) this just isn’t good.

DD, Dominic, and several others,

The army could indeed shrink, though. If you culled the right stuff you could probably come down to about 90,000 and hardly notice. Even when you cut some muscle (in the name of making what remains more efficient, and doing things like converting to a brigade model, with larger self-sustaining bdes around 7-8000 strong) down to about 80-85,000 is less a blow to the Army’s capabilities *relative to what they are now* (not more fallow days pre-Options) than to budget shares and the sort of feather-bedding Yvonne’s pointed out.

Those sorts of cuts can, and must, be made across the services (they never were good at hearts and minds on home turf :) Beyond that, though, it’s a legitimate national-security issue to look at the Treasury and its institutional world view. “Political economy” isn’t a term that’s property of beardy Marxists or wild-eyed free marketeers. How a country arranges its finances and its economic priorities is a whole big hunk of its well being and its ability to be secure in good times and bad. If you have a Treasury that worships the inflated value of sterling with the same zeal that the C of E studiedly lacks (because HMT and its private fellow travelers basically view the UK as a huge bank, a giant financial estate, with this inconvenient population that try to make useful things or render services people might need), that’s almost spitefully penny-wise, and that indulges the worst kinds of departmental feather-bedding because it (and the power to cut that off) buys them outsized leverage in Civil Service politics, well, all that’s a problem. And it’s been a problem a long time. And like many other things, people presume it will just carry on in elegant decay. But I’m not so sure. I think there are a lot of political and bureaucratic habits world-wide that are hanging on by their fingernails and, over the next ten years or so, must clamp down to save themselves (and, like previous dinosaurs, often go extinct in the act) or change. It’s beautifully inconvenient for them, too, that thinks like “Web 2.0” have come along at the same time. You get bold pamphleteers like our blog boss (no, really, he is even though he doesn’t know it, and lots of other bloggers likewise) who are stirring up people with new/different ideas. Ginger now, pressure tomorrow. And developing ideas where to put it, the pressure points our buddy Sven would call “schwerpunkt” (count on German to make it sound even rougher ;-) to get some changes made. Twelve years ago an SDSR could, and would, have been bullshit bingo while Carry On Feather-Bedding and Carry On Decline kept playing a double bill. Now it’s still bingo night — or clowns, like Admin said here — but the end results have a chance to be different, once we’re looking back from twelve years out.

October 18, 2010 10:24 am

discussion of the strategy that should underpin the SDSR:

October 18, 2010 11:42 am

@ Jackstaff

An interesting an exercise to perform would be to draw up a table of deployable forces per army size for comparable nations. It always seems to me on prima facie evidence that the Army and RAF had inordinately long tales, even after a decade or more of civilian-isation. Look at the New Zealand army or the Irish army both of which function very well in field. Of course the security issues of a nations on the peripheries are different. but unlike these states we have (even now largish) strategic forces too.

My recent tongue cheek in reference to scrap the army come from the fact that no HMG in the next 20 years will get away with another Afghanistan. Our European friends have no appetite for that type of adventure. And it appears that within the next decade US man-power-heavy security effort will be directed towards its own southern border. We appear to be entering an age of Western isolationism; rather like a latter day Byzantium. What this will mean for Western security in the latter half of the 21st century as China, India, and perhaps Brazil fill the vacuum who knows?

The army takes half the budget, can’t go anywhere on its own, and seems likely to be under utilized in the coming 2 decades. A theme I have seen here is that if we can’t do everything only bring to the mix what we are good at. It could be argued that an island doesn’t need a large army. We could use the overseas aid budget over 5 years to scrap the a good chunk army. If we guaranteed everybody in the remaining armed services a starting salary of 20k we would never be short of good recruits and still save money.

Richard Stockley
Richard Stockley
October 18, 2010 11:52 am

X, starting salary of £20k and basic selection course of RM or P company. That would whittle the numbers down to a manageable level!

October 18, 2010 3:19 pm

@ Richard

I believe I am right in saying When the RAF were short of recruits in the ’30s they raised, not lowered, their entry requirements and they soon filled their quotas. I think we have a tendency to sell our young people short. I don’t see why a RN rating just out of Rayleigh isn’t worth as much as probationary copper.

Richard Stockley
Richard Stockley
October 18, 2010 3:43 pm

X, sounds like a valid point. Given the technical advances in the last few years and the ones that will soon be with us, perhaps now the modern infantryman needs to be technically qualified and adept.

October 19, 2010 1:47 am

Ok..confess Ive had one or two more glasses of red than one would normally have before one would post, but just got in and turned on Sky, so heres what I just sent to my (newely elected Tory) MP! This is TOTALLY outrageous. As a serving member of the armed forces I always feared the Tories were going to be a total disaster for defence, but hoped beyond hope i was wrong. Unfortunately most of our senior leadership are dyed in the wool blue, and believed that the panacea to all our ills would be a Tory government. On all the armed forces blogs they slagged Labour,without recognising the fact that New Labour left us with the best equipped and capable armed forces that we have seen for a generation. I took part in four out of the five interventions ordered by Tony Blair and I regret none. We intervened when required to preserve human dignity, and did it well. These cuts will make us nothing but a puppet of the US, unable to act alone or as a leading player in a UN, EU or Commonwealth force. This is far , far worse than the last time the Tory’s had their hand on the helm. John Notts cuts would have been a total disaster in 1982. We were only saved by the fact that the Galtieria regime launched their attack on the Falklands six months early. Aircraft Carriers were crucial to strategic independence then, and remain so now. David Cameron’s history teacher at Eton should hang his/her head in shame. We were the junior partner to the US in 1940?? Has he never heard that Pearl Harbour was in 1941 – the US hadn’t even entered the war! I regret ever having voted for you, and will never do so again. Matt of Battersea – totally frustrated – and betrayed.

October 19, 2010 7:22 am


That’s spleen well vented — and at a personal level I couldn’t stand Blair. (I’m no Tory, either, just of no party these days when in comes to British politics but definitely well to the left of them, and deeply suspicious of the same motives you’ve called out. This is more high-Tory/hard-Conservative genteel financiering nonsense that beggars the nation in every way.) But the comments you raise are entirely fair ones. Three thing’s I’d say in reply to the rumours raising everyone’s hackles at the moment:
1) We’ll know the truth in the morning (well, later than that for me since I’m not on GMT these days.) Till then it’s all spite, fear, and sensationalism worth about as much as what you feel like using before you flush.

2) Even then, some versions of the current rumours sound like it’s just more temporizing. Build but hang on to it for a few years? There’s just nothing rational to that — you should be trying to flog it on as the hot new thing while it’s not off the slip yet — except that it gives you wiggle room to change your mind later if you piss off the wrong people, where “wrong” is for values of “will this cost us the next election?” The whole thing, then, is likely to be played out like that, not merely salami-slicing, but juggling the pieces for a while so you can stitch the ones people make most fuss about back on long enough to get another term. Feh.

3) I’ll say this and keep saying it and might even open up my own shop to repeat it so I don’t have to keep boring people with it here: the last SDR took place before internet politics as we know it even existed. This one isn’t. There is no more reason to take it as holy writ and the next step in a long and irrevocable cycle of We’re Doomed Dooooomed Ah Tell Ye, as to believe that Her Majesty’s Treasury actually does a sensible and responsible job allocating public monies. I’ll say that one more time too, echoing Jed’s “we can do any of X, Y, or Z, as long as we *decide* to afford it” — fighting over the scraps and reading each setback as portents of doom is living in the dysfunctional world HMT has built. Go at the root of the problem there and you can get useful change. Anything else is just complaining about the heat while Rome burns.