The Ideal SDSR 2015 Part 1

First UK F-35 Delivery Ceremony

I started off trying to write a quick post on what I would like to see in and ideal SDSR 2015. But I got a bit carried away on the preamble of strategy and threats so decided to split it into two parts. This part is the pre amble so feel free to skip to the next post that will be the bit most of us are interested in on all the new kit and capabilities we would like to buy. 

In the run up to the next Strategic Defence and Security Review SDSR 2015 the UK is faced with a pivotal choice. The cuts made in the last defence budget have not yet fully come though and the loss of capabilities that we have sustained while heavy is manageable and recoverable. However I believe the worst parts of SDSR 2010 are still to come. Largely in the form of the stealth cuts enacted by the treasury above the 8% cuts imposed in 2010. This stealth cut comes in the form of the decision to move the trident replacement program from the Treasury to the MOD’s core equipment plan. As the procurement of the successor submarine program begins to increase towards the end of this decade and the beginning of the next so we will find that more and more of the defence budget is eaten up from it and the likely result will be a severe loss of capability which we will never recover from.

SDSR 2015 is pivotal for several reasons. Firstly some capabilities that were lost in 2010 could still be regenerated relatively quickly if given funds fast enough. Critically I am thinking of MPA here where the necessary skills and people to form the core of a future capability should be preserved by the seed corn initiative until 2019. Secondly many of the other crazy decisions of SDSR 2010 won’t take effect until after 2015 such as the withdrawing of the Sentinel R1 and the MOD having to fund the Successor submarine program.

SDSR 2015 will also be the first defence review conducted in a decade and a half which did not see large numbers of British forces deployed abroad on enduring operations. This means that for the first time in a long time we can start to consider our strategic direction instead of simply reacting to operations.


So the choice of SDSR 2015 is relatively simple. Either the government can find more funds (not a huge amount) and maintain an engaged foreign and military policy by setting right some of the wrongs from the previous defence review or it can continue with the policies enacted in 2010 and see a much more limited military able to do very little other than a token support for US Lead operations.

SDSR 2015 also has another opportunity. Due largely to the good work of Phillip Hammond, sense seems to have returned to the MOD procurement budget. For the first time in a long time the MOD does not have a looming black hole in its equipment plan and most of the legacy projects that ate up much of the budget for the last two decades have been finished or are at least far enough down the road that costs can be relatively accurately ascertained.

Also I feel that after a long dose or staring into the abyss the top brass have become more realistic in their aims and are willing to accept simpler more off the shelf solutions to equipment than the Gucci bespoke kit which has caused us so many problems in the past. In short I feel that SDSR 2015 is the first time in a long time where we could reasonably say that budget increases even a modest one could drive up capability and that extra funds won’t simply disappear.


At the end of the day virtually everything about any defence review in peace time will come down to the budget. In the face of vague threats in an otherwise peaceful world how much of the national treasure are we willing to spend to maintain a military force. While the hoped for SDR budget of 2.5% of GDP with Trident program funded from the Treasury seems beyond the current political climate there must be an admission that spending the bare minimum NATO requirement of 2% of GDP is not sufficient. If the minimum budget is all that can be afforded in the long term then it would be better for the UK to fully withdraw from the world and retain nothing more than a self defence force spending perhaps 1% of GDP on defence. The UK should also commit to withdrawing from the UNSC. As we have seen time and time again no matter what our politicians say about no new wars for the next 5 years the pressure of international events can be too much to bear.

Operations in Libya, Mali and the Central African Republic have all been made despite the reluctance of both politicians and the public to get involved. The prospect of a dictator using chemical weapons against children was almost enough to bring us to the brink of war in Syria even though none of us wanted it.

The fact is that when the s**t hits the fan the world rightly or wrongly turns to a handful of countries with the capability to do something about it. If we want to be one of these countries and a UNSC permanent member then we should be prepared to spend the resources on it. If we are not prepared to do so then we should have the decency and grace to resign our position and be prepared to take a back seat in the way that Germany does. I think as much as possible the military should lay the argument out like this to the politicians. If you want to strut around on the world stage you must be prepared to invest your political capital is something other than pensions and the NHS.

So I will conduct my SDSR 2015 wish list on the assumption of a new government coming to office with a decent fiscal position prepared to spend a bit more than the previous government  and looking to maintain and active and engaged foreign and military policy.

The trident funding decision will be reversed. A separate one of budget of several billion pounds  will be made available to rapidly fill the gaps left by SDSR 2010 and the defence budget will receive above inflation funding for the five years of the next parliament.

This is hardly fantasy fleet type stuff and would be affordable to any government coming in after the 2015 general election. It would certainly not be enough to get us anywhere near the envisaged funding levels of SDR 1998 nor even back to the pre-2010 levels but I feel it should be enough to allow us to retain a decent sized force with a broad spectrum of capabilities.



I’m not really going to go into threats because one, I don’t think they have materially changed since 1998 and two, I don’t think we can plan for what threats we will actually face. Previous defence reviews have often gotten these assessments wrong and it’s generally the threat you don’t plan for that jumps up and bites you in the ass. Sufficed to say that in an uncertain world we need to retain as broad a set of military capabilities as possible with in the budgets allowed.

Also in a world where most of the threats we will likely face are asymmetric we should emphasize the breadth of our capabilities more so than the depth. We don’t need 1,000 tanks or 500 fighter bombers but we do need C4ISTAR platforms and other enablers. As with everything we must achieve a balance between depth and breadth of our capabilities but breadth should be emphasized more.


We must admit that we are not a global power. However we are one of a handful of countries in the world who can and do have a special role to play both in our region and beyond. As a member of the EU and NATO our backyard does not stop at the Channel or even the Polish boarder but stretches down to Africa and across to the Middle East. Events in these areas affect us directly. Weather its mass migration from failed states, drug running, terrorism or governments gassing their own people we are involved whether we like it or not.

We also have to acknowledge that our previous strategy of simply trying to engage the USA in all our issues may not be sufficient in the future, especially as the USA continues to pivot to the Pacific to counter the rise of China.

So our defence strategy should take two forms. Firstly continuing to support and engage with the USA and being able to provide meaningful contributions to US lead coalitions for large scale operations.

Secondly, being able to provide enablers to allow UK and or European NATO forces to conduct medium sized sovereign operations with minimal support from the USA.

We acknowledge our limitations and also our global responsibilities. We should maintain our focus primarily on Africa where we would see the French as our main partner and the Middle East and Gulf where we would continue to support the USA and key Arab allies. Other than some key areas like the Falkland’s, Straits of Malacca etc where we have special interest or territories we should refrain from getting involved in any way shape or form beyond minimal diplomatic efforts and off course humanitarian assistance.

We should acknowledge that the nation building exercises of the past decade have been largely a failure and the UK should refrain from making anything but a token contribution to such efforts in the future if they ever arise again.

However we should also acknowledge that small scale rapid interventions can be useful in changing events on the ground and prevent the failure of states such as in Sierra Leone and Mali. We must also be highly disciplined in preventing mission creep into such operations and should only be prepared to commit forces for a limited time in support of UN or other coalition operations.

Treaty with the USA

The Nimitz Carrier Strike Group conducts an underway.

It’s been a long time since we had a bilateral treaty with the USA. In many ways over the past decade our friendship with the USA has become strained. This is common in war time just look at the relationship between our two militaries by 1945. As the USA continues to move its focus east it will need others to pick up the slack it leaves behind. So a I think a bilateral treaty covering non NATO commitments for both party’s going forward could be useful.

One thing that I would like to see out of this is a larger British commitment to the Fifth Fleet in the gulf. The UK could commit to maintaining its current force level of One SSN, One T45, One T23 and MCM squadron but also commit to having one of the Queen Elizabeth Carriers in the region for six months of the year.  This would be achievable on our part although the carrier would probably have to carry two squadrons of F35B at the very least. It would free up carriers for the USN which I think it will be increasingly short of in future and it will show a firm commitment to our gulf allies as well.

(It also comes with the added advantage of making the carriers and the F35B near bullet proof in future defence reviews when no doubt the RAF will try to work its usual magic)

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December 23, 2013 3:28 pm

I do think it would be a useful exercise to define what the terms of the relationship with the US actually are.

The Securocrat
December 23, 2013 4:34 pm

Put bluntly, I think the proposals above, regardless of how reasonable they are, are probably a non-starter. The financial position we are in does not even meet the expectations which led to the NSS/SDSR last time around, when the Government was assuming it would eliminate the structural deficit by 2015. The recent comment by RUSI ( would seem to be closer to the mark, about what Defence (as distinct from other security structures) should expect.

The Prime Minister’s ‘strong personal opinion’ that the Defence budget should increase after 2015 has been seen to be exactly what it was; political rhetoric. The best that Defence can hope for is that the 1% increase for the Equipment Budget remains protected, in which case it will have to consider how to balance the non-equipment budget.

The Government has continued to cut after Libya, and hankering after action in Syria. So what I’d like to see in NSS and SDSR 15 is a more realistic approach to what we can and can’t do. The SDSR constrained the Defence Planning Assumptions, but the Government has showed little sign that it understands why and what this means. Your points about a more geographic focus are sensible and echo one of the better parts of SDR 98, as does the idea we should beef up our enablers for others C-17 for the French in Mali is a good example).

There is almost zero chance of the Deterrent coming out of core – but at least the current (just) balanced Equipment Plan includes this, albeit at eye-watering cost towards the end of the decade.

Focussing on threats can make you reactive, though it’s worth noting that the NSS/SDSR are actually as much about risk as threat, so I’d like to see more flesh on the bones of the idea that we will do more engagement and intervention ahead of time: how? Is there much evidence this works? Through what means? The Defence Engagement Strategy and Building Stability Overseas Strategy need to be placed more centrally in cross-government thinking if they are going to mean anything. Finally, that means the National Security Secretariat could be beefed up; the National Security Council keeps being lauded as an important innovation, but the evidence sessions with the Joint Parliamentary committee on it tend to be a bit abstract and leave me uneasy. Do we have a national security infrastructure that still needs improvement? Given recent events I’d argue reform of intelligence oversight needs to be included; if you can’t use your intelligence capabilities because of ethical or legal concerns, you risk becoming neutered.

December 23, 2013 5:27 pm


I do not agree the likely budget. Just before the election who is going to go to the country with a multi billion defence budget hike???? In which case if they do it after the election the political hit will be massive.

This smacks of – there must be more money if I want to do it my way therefore there will be more money… Thinking.

What happens if you don’t get the separate nuke budget???

Also TD

What if one does not accept the need to tread the worlds thrones beneath our wellington booted feet?

You do seem to be starting from the position of status quo ante re threats and aims. WASAWPYK (security council and all that)*.

If so why review at all? Your review is simply give defence more money or else………

* The security council thing is for frightening children to go to bed at night. If we go the French go, if the French go Europe looses it seat.

Regardless of that then the shit really hits the fan coz the great ‘who replaces the Brits argument breaks out at which point; sit in the stalls bring lots of popcorn and a big soft drink, put on the 3d glasses and sit back and watch the show; as countries around the world rip out each others throats, stamp on their (and one another’s) grannies, for the space. Lots of ‘well if we can’t have it they’re not having it’. secret agreements, treaties bribes, etc etc.

Oh the fun will go on for years.

Not loosing any sleep over that not likely to happen, and even if it does, still bothered about as much as I am about Scottish independence, Syria vote, and the bloody unicorns eating my roses.


I think that makes a lot of sense. We and the US should really sit down and talk about the future of our relationship.

BTW quick defence update.. My cat has been watching my hedge for 3 years now, it’s still there no one has stolen it yet.

December 23, 2013 6:17 pm

“So the choice of SDSR 2015 is relatively simple. Either the government can find more funds (not a huge amount) and maintain an engaged foreign and military policy by setting right some of the wrongs from the previous defence review or it can continue with the policies enacted in 2010 and see a much more limited military able to do very little other than a token support for US Lead operations. ” – This for me is the absolute crux of the next SDSR – anything less will just be a fudge. Treading water at best.

Some have suggested more pruning – like selling one of the carriers off – but to me this is just stupid. Either you have a carrier based expeditionary capability (which means two at least, unless you want to go part-time like the French) or not, in which case sell them both off (shudder). We can’t do anymore pruning; the only cuts we can make now will in reality mean shedding capability. Sell the carriers; scrap the MBTs; cancel Successor; reduce the army to a Home Guard; etc. Some will support that – you’re entitled to your opinion but I beg to disagree.

We also need to make a real decision about what we want to be able to do alone not in coalition and whether we are prepared to pay for it.

Haven’t read Part Two, the wish list, yet. Can’t wait to see how many long range bombers we’re having :-)

December 24, 2013 9:50 am

@ martin
NHS does alot with very little, much like the miltary.

December 24, 2013 10:14 am

@Zaitsev: or not that much. Last interaction I had was when the wife did her back in, whereupon she was informed she had to wait for 6 weeks to see a physio. No problem doling out Valium, which is just as well as she couldn’t sleep or walk.

I paid for a physio :-(

December 24, 2013 10:17 am

maybe you should campaign to spend as much on healthcare as the French. If not then stop paying less then expecting more.
You are spending less in taxes on healthcare than other countries so stop fucking complaining you cheap skate

December 24, 2013 10:28 am

Sorry that was a bit harsh, but anecdotal evidence can be a bit infuriating. We have to have a more sensible look at our health care service. Can we improve things and should we complain when things are wrong yes of course, but I Worry that if we simply rubbish it without realizing that it performs better than average when taking into account how much money we spend on it we should be careful of going down the ideological route of the Americans and potentially dooming our economy.

December 24, 2013 10:57 am

@Zaitsev: with regard to “going down the ideological route of the Americans”, you do realise that Medicare and Medicaid are both state funded programs, and that the VA is a mini-NHS? And that they together account for half of all US health spending?

If you want an example of a privately funded health system, you may want to look elsewhere :-)

December 24, 2013 11:15 am

@Zaitsev: if the idea of a state run and operated health service is such a great one, why the severe shortage of imitators?

And as a matter of fact, this evil cheapskate pays in taxes a little more than the Frogs, because although the French spend 10.5% of GDP on health compared to 9.5% for us, more than a fifth of their healthcare spending is private. Sacre bleu!

December 24, 2013 11:20 am

I did know that but how they are funded is not the whole issue though, it is how it is run. The American system has a no system in place stop doctors and pharmaceutical companies pushing as much unnecessary treatment on their patients as possible. For example they do twice as many Appendectomies as in the uk and have the same health outcomes. Meanwhile the drug companies marketing straight to the patient, who then goes to a doctor who is also being payed by drug companies. So when the patient asks for the unnecessary drug he saw on tv the doctor says yes and every ones insurance bills go up. The American failure is an example of how the profit motive when completely unffetted drives up enormous costs and makes patients overly medicated. When apple does it we end up with a shiny new iphone and create jobs all over the world. When hospitals and drugs companies do it we end up up to our eyeballs in Ritalin, without our appendix, and with the worlds largest hospital bill. There is nothing to drive efficiency. In the NHS however we decide what treatments are possible and try and provide those treatments as cheap as possible. Im not saying its perfect and cant be improved, and there needs to be better mechanism for patient to drive better practices, but at least there is someone to put a break on the costs.
Don’t you think that if were paying less for healthcare than other developed nations then maybe the nhs is not simply a giant vacuum cleaner for defence spending.

December 24, 2013 11:24 am

“And as a matter of fact, this evil cheapskate pays in taxes a little more than the Frogs, because although the French spend 10.5% of GDP on health compared to 9.5% for us, more than a fifth of their healthcare spending is private. Sacre bleu!”

So what their still spending more what diffranace does it make if its private or from taxes they still spend more money on the heathcare so they get better results, dosnt free any money up for defence does it.

December 24, 2013 11:46 am

” if the idea of a state run and operated health service is such a great one, why the severe shortage of imitators?”
I believe that country is called france. Works well when you invest in it properly dosnt it?

December 24, 2013 11:48 am

@Zaitsev: the reason I suspect the large amount of private health spending in France contributes to their good outcomes is because it allows competition between different providers, for the end users. BTW, the majority of healthcare providers in France are not state-owned or operated.

“The American failure is an example of how the profit motive when completely unffetted drives up enormous costs and makes patients overly medicated”. You do know how Medicare and Medicaid work, right? There’s no health management per se, the government states which procedures it will pay for and how much they will pay. No competition. And legal issues tend to drive defensive medicine.

Anyway, I’ll call it a day on healthcare. Said my piece, and this is supposed to be a defence site :-)

December 24, 2013 11:56 am

Fair enough as long as it isnt a go to answer for how we get MPA, even if the nhs is complte crap, were not going to get decent health care for much less unless we go the japnese route of green tea, exercise and loads of fish, and who wants to do that

December 29, 2013 8:09 am

Sorry but like others here I would have to see this as starting from the unrealistic assumption of I want more money, so let’s just imagine we get more money!

Osborne started with a plan which said he would eliminate the structural deficit by 2014 and hoped to deliver Tax cuts in 2015, to then win re-election. What has actually happened is an economy which has stalled so no growth 2010-12, so more than predicted borrowing and so he now plans for the deficit to be overcome by 2017, but he only plans to do that by substantial further unknown cuts in 2015-18. The assumption of most commentators is whoever wins the election the cuts will not be quite as brutal as proposed and we will see a combination of more borrowing by allowing the deficit to stay in place till 2020 and higher taxes. However there will be more cuts in public expenditure. Even when the deficit has gone we will still be in another world based on the total debt. Government debt, fell from well over 100% of GDP in 1945 to around what was accepted as manageable of 40% of GDP in the 1990s. UK Government debt is now 85% of GDP and still going up and will continue to go up till we eliminate the deficit but we will then be faced with the slow slog of paying down the debt itself.

The 2 biggest other call on government expenditure are NHS as has already been mentioned, and benefits in terms of OAP pensions. The NHS has been held on a diet of 0.1-0.2% growth 2010-15, while that is protection compared to most of government the NHS has been used to average growth of 3% a year since 1948, so you are going to see pressure for more money spending there, particularly with the growth of the over 70’s in the population. The other big spender is often described as benefits but is actually pensions and benefits and most of it is pensions. It is about £130 billion a year and OAP pensions is over £70 billion, while unemployment benefit (or JSA) is around £2billion. We can force people back to work, but we can not stop people getting older. The Government has announced changes such that eligibility for OAP rises from 65 to 70 over the next few decades but those changes are already planned for and they will only help reduce the growth in the pension bill not reverse it.

You are going to have to get used to the idea that absent a major state threat I.e. The Red Army marching down Whitehall, defence expenditure will have 2% of GDP as a ceiling and will more likely bounce around between 1.5% and 2%. If you accept that and plan for that you can husband resources such that capabilities could be regenerated if a significant external threat leads to increased expenditure, or you can keep pretending that this is a temporary blip and next year of next SDSR the money is coming back and so we make the wrong cuts.

In terms of the UNSC seat, well Russia and China both have seats but both are confident enough in their own position that they do not rush around demanding action. Both contribute to anti piracy in the Indian Ocean and to various UN peacekeeping missions. There has been a long argument for reform of the security Council, but as all existing members have a veto of any reform no one is actively, publicly arguing for us or the French to get kicked off, but India wants a seat! and we say we are in favour, Brazil wants a seat, Africa wants a seat and Nigeria and South Africa are arguing it should be them, Japan wants a seat. It is a mess of competing interests and nothing is going to change quickly.