The Five Fundamental Challenges for SDSR 2015

As we approach the regular inter service squabble, covert media briefings and letters to the editor of the Telegraph that is commonly called the Strategic Defence and Security Review there are a number of challenges that sit firmly on the road to the future land of milk and increased defence budget honey.

1. The Lack of Cash and Increasing Costs Pincer

Look beyond the politics and it is clear that the economy is still in the toilet with unsustainable levels of debt that cannot be simply inflated away.

At some point, the UK (and West for that matter) is going to have to face facts about loading debt onto future generations, the costs of an ageing population and cut back on public spending.

Defence is public spending.

Defence inflation is higher than wider inflation and we seem unable to constrain cost growth across a wide range of major equipments (see the light fitting on FRES as an example)

There are good reasons of course but that does not alter the fundamental, each subsequent generation of tank, plane or ship generally costing more than what went before, in comparative terms.

If equipment costs more, people definitely cost more. Rising life expectancy, increasing medical costs and the need to care for what is likely, an increasingly demanding ex service personnel community (rightly so), means people costs will increase disproportionately.

The traditional approach of capabilities compensating for mass is going to have less utility in the future as many trades and groups have already started to lose critical mass. The scope for increasing contractorisation, outsourcing and and loading military tasks onto civilian organisations is diminishing, most opportunities to rationalise the military workforce have already been taken.

In short, the wider economy is less able to provide money for defence and what is provided will buy less ‘stuff’ and fewer people.

2. Mission Accomplished – The Shortage of Bad Guys

The Cold War is well and truly over, the UK faces no direct military threat and after 13 years of continuous military operations overseas the UK is not perceived as any safer or under greater threat, one way or the other.

Hold the outrage for a second, this is not a commentary on Iraq and Afghanistan but a recognition that the nation has carried on pretty well as normal for the last couple of decades, no threat of Russians driving across Europe beyond its immediate sphere of influence and the threat of terrorism is something by and large, seen on the news. Yes of course we had the 7/7 bombings, Lee Rigby and the residual terrorist activity in Northern Ireland but if you live in Manchester or Newcastle or Cardiff, terrorism is something that generally happens on your 40″ LCD Smart TV.

Did someone not say a few days ago ‘mission accomplished’?

The readers of Think Defence know about the coming hot war between the Shia and Sunni sects of Islam, we all know about the impacts on security of climate change, water shortages, religious intolerance, population movements, energy insecurity, a belligerent Russia, expansionist China and a gazillion other things in Africa, the Middle East, Asia and the Antarctic but Think Defence readers are not the norm.

In short, increasing defence spending after ‘Mission Accomplished’, good luck with that.

3. Politics, Competing Priorities and a Strategic Vacuum

Whether it be for health, education, climate change mitigation, energy security, policing, overseas aid or welfare, the simple fact is defence spending is not a high priority for the general population and if politicians want to gain office, it will not be off the back of a ‘spend more money on defence’ ticket.

If a coalition or left wing government comes into power in 2015 then simple politics dictates a lessening of the demand for sustaining or increasing defence spending.

No amount of complaining about NATO minimums is going to trump back room policy deals and trade-off’s

Then of course there is service politics which conspires to reduce the value for money the UK obtains from its not inconsiderable defence budget.

Genuine strategic thinking seems to elude modern politicians and decision makers, in this vacuum, making the case for increasing defence spending whilst flood defences are crumbling or old ladies in bobble hats are freezing to death because they can’t afford to put the gas fire on is likely to remain incredibly difficult, see item 2.

Finally, Scotland.

4. Risk Aversion

The UK is becoming increasingly risk averse and this has been institutionalised in defence terms by successive governments.

If the deployment of military force becomes so fraught with ‘what might happen if’ questions and resultant paralysis in decision making the less they will be seen as an answer and this will be manifest in SDSR 2015.

See item 3

5. Resistance to Change

Despite increasing jointery the three services are still as fundamentally resistant to change and deep reform as ever.

Pressure from the defence industry, a lack of clear strategic thinking and old fashioned organisational inertia means radical reform that maximises outputs at the expense of tradition and ‘service first’ will remain stuck in limbo, other than that, the norm of making yesterday perfect will continue to influence defence decision making.

Whole herds of sacred cows will remain free to roam our green and pleasant land.

So what does all this mean?

SDSR 2015 will…

  • Reduce the overall defence capability and influence of the United Kingdom
  • Present itself as strategic thinking wrapped up in ‘tough decisions’ that honour ‘our brave servicemen’ whilst maintaining the outward appearance of normality because of ‘efficiency savings’ and ‘agility’ mean we can do the same with less
  • Provide for a few shiny baubles to keep the grown ups and the defence industry happy
  • Still consume billions of pounds yet waste many of them

Anyone that wishes for a new age of significantly increased defence spending in relation to actual increasing security threats should watch this video about wishes

SDSR 2015 is an opportunity for real strategic thinking about how defence and security in a budget constrained world can be delivered.

Instead it will be a ‘steady as she goes’ effort to preserve the current status quo.

My wish is that it produces fresh and innovative thinking which results in a set of defence reforms and a subsequent capability set that addresses modern threats to the UK and a range of benefits outside those threats in an environment of constrained spending, where innovation maximises every last penny.

Ah, now what was I saying about wishes!

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Sir Humphrey
January 5, 2014 9:00 pm

Couldnt agree more. I see little scope for any ‘exciting’ or forward looking reviews, more ‘steady as she goes’ and the quality of the force levels / deletions / enhancements will be impacted by Treasury largesse at the time.
Given we are close to half way to reaching Force 2020, and little has changed to alter most of the key judgements underpinning SDSR 2010, I’d see this as more of a tidy up exercise and real deep thinking ocurring in the 2020 review.

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same
January 5, 2014 9:21 pm

I agree with Sir H. With the caveat that the Scottish referendum would have an impact if it was a yes vote.

January 5, 2014 9:26 pm

Excellent post, very little to add. In the best case scenario the UK Armed Forces will come out of SDSR15 in roughly the same shape they enter it.

Sir Humphrey
January 5, 2014 9:28 pm

@TD – I will try and remember what I typed, but I think it boiled down to saying ‘these threads get quite reptitive and dull after a while as it boils down to those of us who have been there and know the threat being told we don’t know what we are talking about by those who haven’t’! :-)
come to think of it, isnt that what SDSR 15 is likely to be like!

January 5, 2014 9:32 pm

Likely changes will be minimal;

I expect to see all chat about a new MALE UAV expunged and Sentinel retained. Some vague promise to look at regenerating an MPA capability and lots and lots of discussion about how great T26 is. The carrier question seems to have almost answered itself with Ocean’s retirement in 2019 likely translating into one operational QE with one in refit/extended readiness. The RAF looks settled, some firming up of F-35 numbers, not likely to go beyond the two announced squadrons though and perhaps some noise about UCAV development with France/Europe and Typhoons long term future.

To me, the big question will be over the Army, if recruitment is going as badly as rumour claims then it might see some further shrinkage- the service also has the most outstanding equipment requirements to settle in the form of both upgrades and new build.

January 5, 2014 9:37 pm

Personally I think we should

1. Normal jogging with Trident and replacement.

2. Maintain core, hard to regenerate capabilities (longer than 5+ years) due to global uncertainty.

3. Maintain the ability to launch focused or non-complex BG+ level interventions (the bread and butter of what we will be doing).

3. Piss about the margins with names and numbers and so forth as much as they like as long as the above is maintained in that order.

Of course, every time we have a review we seem to have a war that shows the review was absurd. So who will we be fighting in 2016?!

January 5, 2014 9:41 pm

Have thought a bit recently about how you might reform a large organisation. Two things always come to the fore one naturally people worry about there jobs and empire building are the two main hurdles I see. If sdsr 15 started with a agreement that no jobs will be lost you may start to see some more willingness to explore other ideas. Empire building much harder to deal with.

January 5, 2014 10:30 pm


One major point that I think should be underscored. Force 2020 was formulated in 2010 based on optimistic GDP projections and on an assumed 2% real terms increase in defence spending per annum post 2015. In the background was the related assumption that the deficit would be gone by 2015.

The deficit will now not be gone until 2018, which means further cuts. The GDP figures, whilst briefly positive, have up until very recently been decidedly disappointing and the UK is still well below it’s 2007 peak. The treasury has thus far agreed to a 1% increase but this could prove vulnerable.

In short, additional capability reductions are more probable at this point than ticks being placed next to items on wish lists.

John Hartley
John Hartley
January 5, 2014 10:30 pm

In 200 years including fighting Napoleon, 2 world wars, the 1930s/1970s, we had managed to get the National Debt up to £400 billion. Then the one eyed Scottish genius was let loose, followed by Gideon & it is now expected to top out at 1.6 trillion before it starts to fall (slowly). My maths is poor, but if interest rates return to a normal 5%, then that’s £80 billion a year, without paying off a penny of the capital. All 3 parties have their collective heads in the sand over this. Saving a few defence pennies here & there will not make much difference when interest payments are double the defence budget. Join Argentina on defaulting on national debt anyone? Heres to bankruptcy!

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same
January 5, 2014 10:39 pm


The equipment plan has however been costed and approved. Also you just posted an exact replica of a Bob post?

The Securocrat
January 5, 2014 10:43 pm

If I could, I think the risk point is worthy of more discussion, because it’s one of the areas that changes most depending on what you mean. There does seem to a wider problem with taking casualties, and the coverage they receive (which the services themselves have become concerned about). However, I think we have yet to confirm whether this is because we have become risk averse, or whether it actually relates to the campaigns we have fought and the limited public support they enjoyed. So, with the Falklands in vogue in the other thread, if we had to do that again, do we think we’d still be so risk and casualty averse?

I also raise the point because it’s not clear the Government *is* more risk averse. Yes, they want the forces to suffer fewer casualties because of the media impact (see above), but they also want to still do things. In other words, risk aversion is being focussed at the tactical level, but the government isn’t recognising strategic risk (‘do we want to or can we do this?’). Two examples being the government launching Libya within months of SDSR 2010, and practically champing at the bit to get into Syria, in spite of not-so-subtle warnings from inside MOD.

Incidentally, I’m not sure the colour of government makes much difference. The Conservatives have a history of cutting Defence pretty heavily.

Some reasons for optimism:

1. We know we’re conducting an SDSR, not an SDR this time; we’ve had one go; the National Security machinery is already working across the various strategy groups; any number of studies are already underway within Defence
2. Defence is working from a much more stable financial baseline, with no large holes to close and some ideas about what the financial settlement will look like
3. Most of the major and difficult procurement decisions have effectively been taken (and I’m including the Deterrent in that, perhaps unwisely, but the budget provision over the next ten years is done)
4. The economy is picking up and may provide limited relief for Defence if the ‘NATO targets’ mantra sticks
5. The new Defence operating model should be running better and Joint Forces Command should be playing a more prominent role

But reasons for pessimism:

1. Financial guarantees may not be worth the paper (or email) they’re written on (see recent RUSI analysis)
2. We’re already short of the assumptions on finance and manpower made in 2010 to meet Future Force 2020, with no guarantees the supposed mitigating factors (eg Army reserves) can fill the gaps
3. There’s been little evidence over the past three years of sustained and serious strategic thought by the people that take the decisions (politicians) and that they’ve seriously reflected on what changes in geo-politics (especially the Middle East and US focus) mean for us
4. There is no way of knowing whether the Services will behave as poorly as last time in engaging in utterly destructive briefing and leaking, but I’m not holding my breath given there’s a smaller pie to fight over
5. We haven’t resolved the capabilities v aspiration argument (which is point 3 again)
6. The Election-NSS-SDSR-Spending Review cycle will be difficult again (I need to check but I think there’s a bigger gap from the NSS/SDSR to the Review, which can cut both ways)

So when I’m feeling positive, I think the next NSS and SDSR will be more coherent and result in less mess. But that is tempered by the feeling that it will be much more of a holding action, as TD says, and therefore miss an opportunity to be something conceptually radical.

The Securocrat
January 5, 2014 10:53 pm


Indeed, with one further (troubling) caveat: the 1% refers only to the Equipment Plan, and the baseline was reduced by the CSR last year (but not further by the Autumn Statement). The Prime Minister’s ‘strong personal view’ that the Defence Budget as a whole needed ‘real term’ increases after 2015 (and which the original Future Force plan was based on) was only a piece of political theatre, and never regarded as a promise. So although the Department has the unallocated contingency, most of which lies after 2015, and has been able to benefit from some rollover of underspend, it may have to eat into that to offset further cuts and only then begin to think what can be brought off the Single Integrated Priorities List (the ‘whiteboard’) which is where things could get tense between the Services.

January 5, 2014 10:57 pm


Costed and approved only through to 2015/16. The next Comprehensive Spending Review (2014/15) has the potential to bring further nasty surprises. See John Hartley’s post above yours for additional material on the fiscal environment.

Angus McLellan
Angus McLellan
January 6, 2014 2:17 am

Hartley: I wasn’t aware that Mr Darling was, as the French say, “borgne”. If you want to blame the PM, and many do, then it should be Cameron’s name there and not Osborne’s.

Be that as it may, any change in interest rates will have a relatively small impact on the cost of the public sector debt, always assuming that the deficit really history by 2018 or thereabouts. The average normal gilt had a remaining life of over 15 years at the end of the last fiscal year, and nearer 20 years for index-linked ones. So, it would take a long time for a rise in rates to feed through into spending cuts. Increasing the basic tax allowance to £12,500 in the next parliament, as was mooted last year, would have a greater net impact on available funds than any plausible rise in interest rates. Still, I suppose that from the MoD’s perspective it won’t matter whether there’s no money because interest rates have risen, or because the politicians decided on a tax give-away. The end result is the same.

Any bets on NATO dropping the 2% “rule” anytime soon, or will the fantasy continue a bit longer?

jon livesey
jon livesey
January 6, 2014 4:40 am

John Hartley : Rising interest rates don’t affect existing debt, only new debt, and Carney has said he will keep interest rates at the short end low for a long time. We won’t see 5% for at least five years. At present we pay less in interest as a percentage of GDP than we did back in the eighties, and the average maturity of the debt is 14 years.

That said, national debt isn’t what you seem to think it is. A country with its own currency doesn’t have to “balance the books” ever. We can’t run out of a currency we create. When a financial institution buys UK debt, it’s just buying a tiny sliver of future tax revenue. It doesn’t want to be “paid back”. If you did pay it back, it would simply buy more Government debt to generate risk-free income. Risk-free because a country that borrows in its own currency can never be forced to default. Defaulting on debt in the currency you create is meaningless.

Oh, and yes, we leave paying interest to future generations, but we also leave them the debt the interest is paid on. You can’t take it with you, right?

Rocket Banana
January 6, 2014 9:11 am


Sadly, I think you’re right.

It’s just too risky (from a politicians point of view) to change anything…

“If it ain’t broke don’t fix it”

…trouble is, it is breaking.

The Securocrat
January 6, 2014 9:16 am

It looks like the HCDC will be publishing its initial thoughts on preparations for the SDSR, tomorrow:

Given some of the criticism recently from James Arbuthnot, it will be interesting to see what they think, even though it’s ‘just’ a Select Committee.

January 6, 2014 10:55 am

All three services will individually say they understand the changing defence world and sacred cows need to be looked at and even cut. The problem is they will also say that those sacred cows to be cut are in the other two services.

January 6, 2014 11:15 am

jon livesey,

Unfortunately that debt has to be rolled over, and when it is it is rolled over it will be at the the interest rates at the time- likely to be much higher. The UK can print more of it’s own currency but in doing so will simply drive inflation which is what happened in part with QE.

Financial Institutions do want their money back, that;s how debt markets work, they want somewhere safe to store their money- debt is only safe if it can be paid back. Flows into and out of government bonds are huge.

January 6, 2014 12:41 pm

A few points on economics:

The UK can print more of it’s own currency but in doing so will simply drive inflation which is what happened in part with QE.

The big lesson from the last few years has actually been that increasing the money supply does _not_ automatically cause inflation. Lots of people thought that it would and issued plenty of warnings in 2008-9-10 that high inflation was just round the corner, but they were all wrong. The US managed to triple its monetary base and inflation actually went down substantially. The idea that if there’s more money around then its value will drop is superficially very plausible – after all, that’s what happens if there are lots of, say, apples around, the price of apples goes down – but it turns out that money is different from goods in this respect.

Countries, as people have pointed out above, aren’t like people; they don’t have to balance their books.

There’s no causal link between a high debt-to-GDP ratio (over 90%) and slow growth. Reinhard and Rogoff thought there was but they’d screwed up a spreadsheet and actually there wasn’t.

As a share of GDP (which is one of the only meaningful measures), the UK national debt isn’t particularly high by historical standards. It was higher than this for most of the 20th century and indeed for a lot of the 18th and 19th centuries. Didn’t hold us back. Far from being unsustainable, our current levels are lower than they were during the Industrial Revolution, and lower than they were during the long postwar boom.

In terms of the interest payments, they’re at near-record lows for the last century as a share of GDP.

The interest rate on government debt is not set by the Bank of England. The Bank sets the base rate – which is quite different.

January 6, 2014 12:52 pm


Actually printing money did drive inflation, the Bank of England admitted as much.

High UK debt did hold it back, debt burdens were major features of multiple post-war UK economic crisis (post both world wars) most notably the burden of interest payments.

John Hartley
John Hartley
January 6, 2014 1:14 pm

Well, before QE , I was getting 2.4 Australian dollars to the Pound, but now around $1.80. Before QE 1.5 euros, but now 1.16 Euros. The pound sterling buys less, so though the prices remain the same, I have noticed the quality of High St mens shirts have dropped. Many items in the supermarket are the same price , but smaller in size /weight. High items seem to be excluded from official inflation figures. Housing, energy & travel costs are deemed to trivial to count! There is a lot of hidden inflation about.
Yes we can print as many Pounds as we want, but will any foreign investors touch them without a huge interest premium?

January 6, 2014 1:31 pm

“Actually printing money did drive inflation”

Inflation is 2.1% (Dec 13), which is a four-year low. More than slightly lower than it was in 2009, before QE even started. And it’s not just us: as I say, the US tripled its monetary base and inflation actually fell a bit.

“High UK debt did hold it back”

There is no evidence that high debt levels are significantly related to slow growth. People thought there was, but they were wrong. If you look at when the UK saw its fastest economic growth, it was very often when debt ratios were very high. We had no recessions between 1945 and 1973, and debt load then was far higher than it is today (due to the hangover from WW2).

Key sentence: “the corrected growth rate is still lower for high debt countries, the difference is much smaller and nowhere close to being statistically significant.”

January 6, 2014 1:35 pm

This may be a bit off topic for a defence site, but I don’t think it is: if you’re making predictions about defence spending based on suppositions like “the economy is still in the toilet with unsustainable levels of debt” then it’s relevant to point out that current levels of debt are actually a lot lower than they were for most of the last century.

Gloomy Northern Boy
Gloomy Northern Boy
January 6, 2014 1:39 pm

I’m an Historian (by training) as opposed to an Economist, but my overall sense of the whole debt business is that it’s actually more to do with confidence in the market that in the final analysis the Debtor Country will maintain a stable government, the rule of law and the honouring of contracts…that is to say we will either service our debt or pay it back, not change the rules and steal other people’s money. For the same reason rich people from bad places want a house, a bank account and the right to reside in the UK, the US or a handful of other similarly stable and trusted places; it’s a bit like the belief that the sovereigns we minted in earlier centuries were definitely specie of the weight and quality claimed.

That seems to me to be the reason why we still have a continuing competitive advantage over both the BRICs and the new MINTs…and largely explains the success of the City…so the question is how do we factor that into a less economically divided country, and raise more tax revenue to build more ships (RIP@x) or spend more on legal aid (RIP)…

Answers on a postcard please…


January 6, 2014 1:49 pm


Using Dec 13 inflation is misleading as it is the lowest rate it has been for years, CPI peaked at over 5% in 2011. Also, just because inflation remains near (but still above) target it does not mean it is not being driven by QE. The Bank of England even said that the purpose of QE was to drive inflation

There is a difference between GDP growth and government spending, as long as debt is well managed there is no fundamental reason why it should retard growth. However, large interest payments reduce government spending power which over a period of time will eat into investment of things like infrastructure which reduces economic potential. Then of course there is the consequences of debt being badly managed. To keep this on topic though, higher debt interest payments takes money from other government departments- and that is the point.

January 6, 2014 1:55 pm

GNB is spot on (if he were an economist, he would be Dismal rather than Gloomy, I assume) – having a generally transparent and trustworthy legal/fiscal system is probably the UK’s most underestimated natural resource. It’s arguably the reason we were able to beat Napoleon – we could borrow money cheaply because we were trusted to pay it back. The French Empire, not so much.

so the question is how do we factor that into a less economically divided country, and raise more tax revenue to build more ships (RIP@x) or spend more on legal aid (RIP)…

Oh, well, that’s simple. :)

January 6, 2014 2:00 pm

GNB – and more lovely light armour!! No RIP required.

On the subject of revenue – I opine that over the past 90 years we have, inch by inch, been manoeuvring towards the situation where we live beyond our means. At each election there is another promise of extra benefit that must be paid from the public purse, when before the election the party in power declared there was no more cash to spend. I am of a mind that the public payout should skew even just slightly towards encouraging business – specifically exporting business – so that the balance of payments might be improved. A richer country results; richer countries can afford to spend more on their population. Between the (not really affordable) jam yesterday and the (more affordable) jam tomorrow there has to be a bit of dry bread & water. Or we can carry on spending what we don’t earn and fall more & more in debt. Mentioning no Brown.

Anyway Gloomy – what bit of history is your speciality then? The Angevins? The Crusades? Victorian industrialism? I’m guessing earlier rather than later based on knowledge put in comments over the past months…

January 6, 2014 2:03 pm

“To keep this on topic though, higher debt interest payments takes money from other government departments- and that is the point.”

But we haven’t GOT higher interest payments. They’re at near-record lows as a share of GDP.

January 6, 2014 2:07 pm

On the subject of revenue – I opine that over the past 90 years we have, inch by inch, been manoeuvring towards the situation where we live beyond our means

This isn’t a helpful way to think about national economics. Individuals can be meaningfully said to live beyond their means. Countries are different.

January 6, 2014 2:31 pm


If you had read my earlier posts you would have seen me point out that interest rates rise and then take affect on the outstanding debt stock as it reaches maturity. Interest rates will not remain low, building up a large debt stock whilst interest rates are low builds in risk- the same as taking out a high loan to equity mortgage does during periods of low interest.

Countries can be said to live beyond their means- sovereign debt crisis are very real things, there are a long list of countries that have experienced them. The only difference is a sovereign state can print it’s own money- but it does so at the risk of inflation and investor confidence vanishing, which if left unchecked causes very serious problems. On precisely that subject see Reinhart and Rogoff’s latest IMF working paper with regard to developed world debt levels.

January 6, 2014 2:31 pm

a – I am not a politician nor an economist nor financial expert. I keep things simple so I can understand them. Thus I consider the country to be exactly the same as a household. Therefore the Micawber principal applies:

“Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen pounds nineteen and six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds nought and six, result misery.”

If by some miracle the country grows richer when the treasury spend exceeds its income, I’d like to understand the mechanism – please explain…

January 6, 2014 2:33 pm

That should read ‘principle’ not ‘principal’ but the ‘click here to edit’ failed to materialise…

January 6, 2014 2:46 pm


The idea is that GDP will grow and therefore offset the growth in debt- it is for instance possible for a country to increase it’s nominal debt stock but still decrease it’s debt to GDP ratio. This is fine until things get out of control, ie there is some major debt shock like the sudden need to bail out a bunch of Scottish banks at the same time as a 7% peak to trough GDP contraction with corresponding falls in tax revenue. At this point, the UK is still increasing its debt levels and the cost of servicing that debt annually already exceeds the entire defence budget and that is with historically low interest rates.

Brian Black
Brian Black
January 6, 2014 3:03 pm

Economists don’t understand how the economy works, so there’s no point you lot arguing about it.

On the real pounds & pence side of the government’s finances, the chancellor has promised us 25 billions of further cuts between the election and 2018. Welfare is meant to carry 12 of those billions, but that still leaves a tidy wedge for the other departments to find.

How much of that remaining 13 billion quid is coming the MoD’s way? And which are the remaining dispensable bits of defence spending that we can live without?

Mike W
January 6, 2014 3:27 pm


“The only difference is a sovereign state can print its own money- but it does so at the risk of inflation and investor confidence vanishing, which if left unchecked causes very serious problems.”

Absolutely right. You could add to that the obvious danger of the state’s currency losing its value and the resultant entry into long-term decline. It’s happened so many times before. Over the long term, a state simply cannot spend more than it’s earning. Even John Maynard Keynes himself said that in the good times (Osborne’s “when the sun is shining”), money should be set aside for the bad times, or words to that effect)

“Or we can carry on spending what we don’t earn and fall more & more in debt. Mentioning no Brown.”

Also correct.

I’ve had just about enough of this Leftie/liberal nonsense regarding the economy. Think back to the 1970s. What was happening then? A Labour Government in power. Inflation at 27%; pay rises of 40% in my own profession; banner headlines screaming, “Is this country governable?”; the dead lying unburied in mortuaries, rubbish piled rooftop high on the streets; Britain known as the “sick man of Europe” and the Prime Minister of the time (Mr. Callaghan), when asked what the answer was, replying “If I were a young man, I’d emigrate!” Of course the rationalising apportioned the blame to the oil crisis, just as blame has been attached recently to the bankers, despite the fact that the last administration increased public expenditure by 60% over a decade although during that period on average we were growing at 2%. I think I’d rather be in this country than France at this moment!

Anyway, this is a defence site and I’ll now shut up on the subject.

Rocket Banana
January 6, 2014 3:29 pm

…which are the remaining dispensable bits of defence spending that we can live without?

CASD and the British Army.

January 6, 2014 3:31 pm

Brian Black,

Precisely. When SDSR10 was produced the deficit was meant to be gone by 2015, now it is meant to be gone by 2018 which means further government spending cuts- some of which will almost certainly fall on the MoD.

January 6, 2014 3:47 pm

I have to agree with TD on this one. There will be no more money and possibly further cuts. I see some form of MPA being thrown in but very likley the C295 cheap as chips version which will be largely in their like the F35C CATOBAR carrier decision in 2010 as a distraction for the telegraph to give the illusion of a government that cares about defence.

That being said even at the bare bones level of 2% of GDP which i seriously doubt we will drop below no matter the composition of the government we will still be spending $60 billion a year on defence. That’s a lot of money in anyone’s eyes.

So if we assume the budget won’t be increased its time to look at either reducing the spectrum of capabilities or reducing the readiness.

I know I will catch a lot of flack for this comment but give the political risk of another long term Army commitment anywhere other than small UN missions in Africa should we look to reduce Army numbers further. I am looking at the sustainment force in Army 2020 and I can’t help but see it as a what’s left over and how many cap badges can we keep.

Removing this part of Army 2020 should not affect our ability to deploy a one time force of 30,000 which I think is the main thing we should look at the army for. It will cripple our ability to sustain a force of 6,000 but then should we ever consider committing such a large sustained force to an operation again for any reason.

I see further cuts in either the airforce of the navy as getting to the point that the service will be completely usless. with much less than 7 FJ squadrons you have to ask what’s the point in an airforce. if we take the RFTG away from the navy then we may as well dump the rest of it and just have a costal defence force. However an army of around 65,000 could still retain and possibly enhance some of its major formations like 16AAB, 3 Commando and the armoured brigades. if used in a one off that’s still a pretty substantial force compared to anyone else.

I know the army guys will be against this but short of cutting the detterent I just can’t see anything left to cut in the other two service’s that will leave them as a viable forces able to conduct UK soverign operations on any scale.

if all we can do is contribute to coallition operations then one has to ask if the $60 billion a year would be better spent else where.

if we don’t reduce the spectrum then we will need to reduce training and readiness. however I see this move as effectively killing off what make HM Forces amongst the best In the world. Our military has never been about having shinny toys to parade once in a while but having the people witht he ability to use those shinny or not so shinny toys to clobber the enemy no matter what the conditions they have to endure.

January 6, 2014 3:51 pm

Over the long term, a state simply cannot spend more than it’s earning.

Why not? As long as the debt-to-GDP ratio stays constant, everything should be OK – and if your economy is growing, then in order to keep that constant you will _have_ to spend more than you take in.
The UK has been spending more than it earns pretty much for as long as the UK has existed. (That’s why there’s a national debt at all!) And yet, somehow, it survives.

But this is all a bit irrelevant for defence. The point is not whether the debt or the deficit are a TERRIBLE CRISIS. The point is that the government is full of people who think it is, and will act accordingly by introducing massive spending cuts.

…which are the remaining dispensable bits of defence spending that we can live without?

The carriers, I suspect, would be high on the list. For whatever reason, Conservatives don’t like aircraft carriers – they hate having to build them, and they sell them or scrap them at every opportunity. If they cut POW and sell QE they can save a huge amount in knock-on costs (like JCA and Crowsnest), and they can avoid having to give jobs to people who voted for Gordon Brown.

January 6, 2014 4:04 pm

On the economics front its worth noting that printing money will only produce inflation if their is a scarcity of resources in the economy.

Deflationary pressure is already seeping in from the vast amount China has poured into manufacturing capacity over the past five years and the fall in commodity prices.

Much of the QE money has been absorbed into bank balance sheets so it has not and possibly never will reach the real economy.

Currently the UK government effectively owns around 1/3rd of its own debt and has already written off the interest payments. If the government can print £300 billion and not produce a high degree of inflation then why should it not do this. Its all our money at the end if the day. if the government does not over the long term sustain a deficit close to inflation then eventually it will reduce the amount of government bonds to a dangerously low level. This almost happened in the early 2000 under Brown. we must remember than UK GILTS are a vital commodity for banks and pension funds in particular and with out them the financial system can grind to a halt.

Also we should not forget that we know how to deal with high inflation. we have been doing it for a long time. Noon one yet knows how to come out of a deflationary spiral. The Japanese are trying but still have a long and dangerous road to go. The US and UK will likely be much better off in the long term for all their money printing. Europe’s probably already f**ked and it’s only going to get worse for them.

January 6, 2014 4:12 pm


But that is the point, the UK is not maintaining a constant debt to GDP ratio, the debt to GDP ratio is currently forecast to keep rising through to 2015 and that cut-off is on the assumption of further cuts, beyond that date rising interest rates will progressively increase the cost of servicing that debt as it is rolled over thus placing further pressure on government spending. Which nicely brings us back on topic.

As for parts of the Armed Forces that are vulnerable, the Army is most obvious, with recruiting going badly and large numbers of outstanding procurement/upgrade programmes it looks especially vulnerable. Particularly taking into account the savaging the RAF took in 2010 and the Navy prior to that.

By the way, Leftists aren’t especially fond of aircraft carriers either, it was Labour governments that cancelled the Malta and CVA-01 classes and that decommissioned Victorious, Eagle (whilst announcing the complete run-down of the carrier fleet) and later Invincible. It was a conservative government that saved Ark Royal the older from the same fate in 1970.

January 6, 2014 4:14 pm

@ a

If we take away the carriers then we need to remove the amphibs and 3 commando because the carriers will be providing the helicopters.

Without the amphibs and the carriers I would question the need for any navy at all.

If we want to keep the amphibs then we would have to build a new LHd andI would question the wisdoms spending more money when we have already paid for 2 large ones.

I do agree that the Tory’s hate the carriers though. Not sure why no votes for them in scotland I suspect? maybe of the carriers where built in surrey it might be different.

January 6, 2014 4:17 pm

Sorry for all the spelling mistakes in my post bloody IPAD auto correct.

January 6, 2014 5:06 pm

hi everyone long time lurker here this my first post so please be gentle
looking at sdsr15 agree with re RN and RAF at barebones manpower and units wise for many reasons stated above
heres a thought though how about freein monies up to expand 16aab back to full strength and reestablish 24 cdo eng reg by funding public duties regiments in london and edinburgh from duchy of lancaster revenues as the monarchy is now funded(15%) with profits increasing from offshore wind turbine liscences/rent and increasing profits from property on mainland would this funding – aprox 2 guards reg 4 incremental coys, HCR , HAC etc enable this to happen ?
i understand the fisheries prot squadron is funded by another govt dept this way? Aswell as search and rescue ?
similarly red arrows for raf, various aac and para display for army
also why have so many adaptable brigades surely 42brig should merge with 4th infantry for north of eng and 160 (wales) and 38 (ni) merge to form rifles brigade covering wales and NI thus cuttin overheads and top brass? Gives 3 deployable and 2 infantry brigades supporting in adaptable div?
sorry if sounds off the wall just an interested observer of TD and uk armed forces

Not a Boffin
Not a Boffin
January 6, 2014 6:00 pm

“I do agree that the Tory’s hate the carriers though. Not sure why no votes for them in scotland I suspect? ”

Some Tories (though not I suspect Messrs Fox or Hammond) “hate” the carriers because their constituencies include a significant Army footprint, many of whom have fully bought into the “Our Boys lacked body armour, protected vehicles and helicopters in Iraq and Afghanistan because Gordon Brown wanted to protect shipbuilding jobs in his constituency and spent the money on two carriers” conspiracy theory. Others (like Osbourne and CMD) probably see the long-running re-hash of bad news stories as a stick with which to beat Labour.

January 6, 2014 6:05 pm

I would like to see some evidence for the Tories hating the carriers more than any other party, their actions in 2010 were were consistent with their aims of reducing defence spending. It was really the RAF that took the brunt of those cuts.

Unless something severe happens the carriers are probably safe anyway, they seem to fit quite nicely into the post 2010 model of RN flat top operations- essentially large LHAs. Two of them will allow for one operational and one in refit/extended readiness as has been the case since 2010 (and will be until Illustrious’ decommissioning next year) so that one is probably wrapped up. Outstanding issues are probably as follows:

RN: River class fate, T26 numbers confirmation, carrier confirmation

RAF: Sentinel and Shadow retention and Scavenger de-scoping. Also, total F-35 buy and long-term (2030+) Typhoon/Reaper replacement (do not expect any expansion beyond the 7 squadron force). We might also see some effort to reduce the helicopter force now the Army is shrinking, post 2015 do we really need all those Chinook’s and Pumas? It seems certain that the RAF Merlin’s will be upgraded and used to replace the Sea King Commando fleet for a start

Army: Many questions, likely to be the most vulnerable target with many programmes still not begun or heavily delayed and recruitment stalling- this could be messy with Afghan over

January 6, 2014 6:06 pm

…which are the remaining dispensable bits of defence spending that we can live without?

CASD and the British Army.

You naughty man.

January 6, 2014 6:15 pm


A few corrections. Inflation will still be caused even if there is not a scarcity of resources. Excess money supply devalues money and that causes inflation, you are thinking of inflation driven by rising costs. They are two different but related things.

Chinese manufacturing has actually acted as an inflationary force in recent years as Chinese workers begin to make wage demands that feed back into the cost of your ipad. The recent fall in inflation has been associated with falling commodity prices, tax rises running out and interesting methodology.

There is no such thing as “a dangerously low level of government bonds” that is a complete myth, without them investors will just find other assets to invest in.

Money printing is a funny thing, currencies rely on confidence which is a human emotion, £300 billion may not break it but £450 billion might. Finally, if you followed my earlier link QE did drive inflation, that was actually the point.

January 6, 2014 6:17 pm

If you read TDs break down on mod facts and figures you’ll have noted quite a large figure beside afghan operations. Not while year in cost are probably now a lot lower the cost of this operation will largely be removed from this year don’t know if its already factored in or if this could go toward that 25b or that matter a reduction in operational tasking to the gulf should relations improve.

January 6, 2014 6:28 pm


The cost of operations in Afghanistan are funded from the Treasury reserve, they are not part of the core defence budget and the draw-down with a 2015 target has been built into planning assumptions since 2010.

January 6, 2014 7:25 pm

I do wonder how in practice that works though. There’s lots of enabling needed for Afghanistan that is otherwise useful. How in practise is something like OPTAG funded? What comes from core (OPTAG predates Afghan) and what comes from reserve? How is it worked out? Will there be some loose change kicking around after HERRICK when certain enabling facilities are drawn down or has the MoD been sneakily grasping from the reserve pot to fund enablers they need anyway so money will be more tight post HERRICK?

The money for my BATLs courses, did they come from normal training budgets or a different pot? The extra MTDs to do PDT – from normal pot or HERRICK pot? Did my unit did into HERRICK money for normal training? And so on times hundreds of units and thousands of activities.

January 6, 2014 7:56 pm

Agreed, get rid of the carriers and you might as well get rid of the amphibious assault capability.

January 6, 2014 8:07 pm


‘It was really the RAF that took the brunt of those cuts’

I’d say the RN and RAF both bore the brunt of the 2010 cuts in order to largely preserve the Army whilst still on Herrick. With that almost over I really think the former two will probably see 2015 as a holding review which tidy’s a few things up but brings no further serious reductions, whilst the latter will see another chunk of manpower taken away as well as more reductions to the equipment budget and it’s real-estate, training etc.

A few educated guesses….

-HMS Ocean retirement date set, optimistically not until POW turns up but realistically a bit sooner.
-Both CVF retained but on the same active/extended readiness cycle as the Albion’s.
-8 ASW T26 ordered but the rest only hoped for rather than confirmed with dates/numbers fudged.
-New OPV’s retained alongside the River’s and maybe used for forward based patrol work.
-Crowsnest slightly accelerated but on existing Merlin HM2 air-frames.
-MARS SSS, Diligence/Argus replacements talked about but without any specific plans or dates.
-Small patrol boats to replace the Archers and for the RM’s either not mentioned or just vaguely mentioned.

-Sentinel retained.
-UCAV plans scaled down and put back.
-Either a bargain basement MPA platform selected or hopes for something more capable expressed post 2020.
-Fast-jet numbers and squadrons fixed at around 150 in 7 squadrons.
-F35B numbers fixed at 48 until at least 2025, with further orders/Typhoon’s future coordinated for 2025-2030.
-No change for the transport/tanker force except tentative talk about a BAE 146/25 replacement.
-Talk of a Tucano replacement for 2018-2020 but no change for the rest of the training fleet.

-Long-shot but maybe more money thrown at the Puma force to avoid replacing it in 2022?

Rocket Banana
January 6, 2014 8:57 pm


CASD and the British Army.

You naughty man.

Somebody has to take on x’s mantle :-)

Martin, Fedaykin,

Without the amphibs and the carriers I would question the need for any navy at all.

Agreed, get rid of the carriers and you might as well get rid of the amphibious assault capability.

I sort of completely disagree with those statements.

There’s certainly little point in the amphibs without protection from a carrier, but it doesn’t have to be ours. The carriers require escorts and tankers but are otherwise free to undertake no-fly, strike, interdiction, CAS, v-assault, SEAD, etc operations without a need for amphibs. The Navy should fundamentally be the “presence” around the world and do not require carriers or amphibs to undertake that incredibly important task. Oh, plus, maritime security / policing activities.

So I make that a pecking order of importance: 1) escorts, 2) carrier, and 3) amphibs.


Both CVF retained…

I’m starting to wonder :-(

Jeremy M H
January 6, 2014 9:14 pm


I am starting to worry that the 8 Type 26’s ordered in the original order may be all that ever get ordered. Would be a shame but the track record of picking up options on things to be ordered later is not all that great.

dave haine
dave haine
January 6, 2014 10:08 pm

@ Challenger
Agree with all above except your last few lines.
Don’t think there will be even a bargain basement MPA, unless the French suddenly cut Atlantique numbers, or the Germans decide to offload their ones, if they’re still of any use. We won’t buy new, of any stripe.
They’ll just quietly ignore the 146s and the 125s- both are still current and have largish civvie fleets extant, so no need to replace.
Hawk is already being replaced by….hawk T2, which are new build so no life issues. Tucano is long in the tooth, but the RAF will be expected to soldier on.

Puma? They’ll be allowed to wither on the vine, I suspect, then we’ll buy something lovely straight out of the Yeovil helicopter showroom. Or possibly the Eurocopter Caracal.

By the way I’m fairly sure that a number of the indian Merlins have already got other customers… there have been a lot of RAF blokes wandering around Yeovil B&Q recently (No I don’t work there). Oh and AW149 seems to be wandering in and out of yeovil a lot at the mo…noisy bastard it is, although not as noisy as the Wildcat, and Merlin.

January 6, 2014 10:14 pm


Whilst I remain hopeful that they will find 70m a year and more importantly scrape together the manpower to keep both ships around my optimism is sadly but slowly fading. If they are both kept then I think a cycle of having one active and one officially at extended readiness for ops but essentially mothballed as the Albions now are is the likeliest outcome.

It wouldn’t be the worst outcome, but it would of course mean we would only have one carrier (also acting as an Ocean replacement) which can’t be at sea 365 days a year. It would also mean that whichever was tied up would take months to reactivate thus doing away with any possibility or logical reason to have both ships operational at once.

@Jeremy M H

I guess we can be fairly certain that 8 full fat T26 will be ordered around 2015, but I agree that any additional units can’t at the moment be counted on.

As you say once you get into the murky waters of optional orders and vague statements of intent rather than concrete commitments it rarely ends well.

January 6, 2014 10:54 pm

Coming to this late.

“Instead it will be a ‘steady as she goes’ effort to preserve the current status quo.” – This perfectly sums up my expectation of SDSR 2015. But with cuts.

Some sacred cows which they might look at:

1/. Do we really need to keep heavy armour in air conditioned splendour?
2/. Do we seriously expect/intend to put troops ashore – in numbers and with heavy support – ever again? At least on our own. Or is it enough to put a small, light force ashore to secure a port/airstrip, e.g. for evacuating UK citizens. What do we need for that? Probably not an LPD.
3/. Do we still need a nuclear deterrent, and even if yes, does it need to be top of the range, i.e. CASD? I think they won’t touch this, but who knows, perhaps the LibDems or other small parties might make it a condition of support for the Tories or Labour to form a government.
4/. A reduction in NATO commitments, especially naval.
5/. Effectively no replacement for Tornado, with combat UAVs kicked into the long grass.
6/. One carrier, just six FAA F35Bs plus helos embarked most of the time, unless deployed somewhere “fighty” when it will get six further F35s, this time probably RAF as FAA won’t be able to generate a full squadron of 12.

To be clear, this is not my review – no third carrier ;-) – but what I fear may be in store. I expect more pruning and putting off; serious savings would mean capability cuts.

January 6, 2014 11:12 pm


The Navy had a big headline grabber with the carrier cut, but it was the RAF that was really savaged- not just to protect the Army but to protect the rotary-lift fleet that went virtually untouched. I suspect that might end soon.

Ocean will be kept around until QE arrives, then she will go, PoW will then replace QE when she goes in for her first extended readiness/refit period. That seems almost set.

I concur with whoever said Puma would be allowed to whither on the vine. The training fleet and 146/25 fleet will probably stay as is. Franco/UK MALE UAV will be noticeable by it’s absence, Sentinel and Shadow retained. Vague promises to study MPA.

Army is definitely where things will be interesting.

Gloomy Northern Boy
Gloomy Northern Boy
January 6, 2014 11:18 pm

– Sixteenth and Seventeenth Century Britain, Europe and their expansion into the wider world…hence my enthusiasm for an essentially maritime strategy, and our re-focussing on our long standing expertise in international trade and finance, and technological innovation as the basis for an export based-economy…my concern that egregious policy failures over at least fifty years have started to undermine the ties that bind…and my belief that however it currently stands, the Anglo-Sphere is of critical but often under-appreciated importance; having (arguably) made the modern world.

Howls of indignation will probably follow that last remark, but I note that they will be in the world language which is (still) English…and mostly from places whose systems of both Law and Government were largely mapped out in embryo on these Islands in those Centuries,,,and which are recognisably Anglo-Saxon as opposed to Islamic, Confucian, Hindi, Czarist, Latin or even Napoleonic…the last of which was recognisably and at the time admitted to be the bastard child of our own alarums and confusions between 1639 and 1689…


January 7, 2014 12:02 am

GNB – so correct me if I’m wrong; your favourite historical period was when state-sponsored pirates (or in the Politically Correct term of the day, Privateers) were helping themselves to Spanish gold for the glory of Monarch and Country. Remind me again of your solution to the Gibraltar issue? Har-har, Jim lad…

On the subject of SDSR, I still think there’s room for equipment economies if the MOD found some backbone and started risking a bit of pragmatism in their requirements. Then maybe, once procurement had shed its gold plate over platinum must haves, the equipment programmes might come in at rational cost and reasonable timescales, permitting enough materiel to be bought on the undoubtedly further constrained budget. Time perhaps to do some grown-up risk assessments to remove the expensive largely unnecessary features that would only be helpful in a tiny percentage of situations.

January 7, 2014 12:22 am

@ Simon

“There’s certainly little point in the amphibs without protection from a carrier, but it doesn’t have to be ours.”

So where do we keep the helicopters? No Ocean No CVF and none of our Amphib’s have hangers.

January 7, 2014 12:53 am

@Dave Haine

I agree that MPA is likely to only get discussed or vaguely penciled in for further ahead during the 2015 review, probably something along the lines of ‘we want P8 but probably only about half a dozen and only when we can afford it’, but I think that if anything does actually get decided on then it will mean paying for it at an earlier date which in turn points everything towards a cheaper, less capable platform.

Haven’t heard much on Tucano, perhaps someone else has more information for us? All I do remember is something about the support contract being extended a few years ago to run to the end of the decade, 2018 is the date that’s sticking in my head. So it sounds like the RAF will then have to either extend the contract or decide on a replacement, either of which costs money, although i’m guessing either way the budget won’t need to be astronomical.

I’m aware that the Hawk T2 is still entering service. Any idea on how many have been ordered? Are they going to be in service alongside some of the T1’s or are they going to get binned altogether?

I actually agree that the Puma will wither on the vine, I just thought looking ahead that their is a small chance of the RAF deciding to spend money on keeping them around even longer instead of acquiring a new fleet. I can’t see them forking out for 20+ medium sized helo’s in time to replace them and any refit and upgrade work could still be pushed AugustaWestland’s way. Sadly though I think the Puma could well retire without replacement, especially if the equipment budget gets squeezed again.

Lord Jim
Lord Jim
January 7, 2014 12:54 am

SDSR 2015 will be mainly an exercise in PR and Spin Doctoring with little real substance as there will simply not be any real money to do anything new. The CVFs should start to be see more a the big sisters to the USS America being the replacement for HMS Ocean with the added bonus of a contingent of F-35Bs on board. Resources will simply not be available to use either QE or PoW as true carriers. They will however still be potent tools for power projects in the majority of possible future operations especially when supported by a T-45 and one or two T-26s.
The “Grunts” will mainly be carried on other assets like Albion and or Bulwark, but there should be sufficient hanger spance for quite a few aboard the CVFs.

As for the Army, well the Heavy stuff is going to be very vulnerable especially if money needs to be found for “Medium” platforms as is FRES SV. I can see the ArmyNavy retaing the two rapid intervention brigades possibly beefed up as full regular strength but any additional brigades being upto and even exceeding 50% made up of reservists and Territiorials.

The RAF is going to be stuck at 5 squadrons of Typhoons plus 2 of F-35Bs it will share with the navy. Other assets will probably remain constant though I see the Puma being replaced by a smaller contractor provided force for training purposes, in a similar arrangement to that which the Bell hellicopters in Cyprus and Beleize are operated under. This would reduce the operating costs of the Chinook fleet and allow a larger number to be placed in storage.

The most interesting part of the 2015 SDSR will be to see if the Governemnt will admit to having to reduce its aspirations in the use of our Armed Forces. This is going to be where the hired “Spin Doctors” will earn their paychecks if you ask me.

Gloomy Northern Boy
Gloomy Northern Boy
January 7, 2014 1:02 am

@ Chris – Started with them – went on to a series of political, scientific and financial revolutions which allowed us to organise ourselves to make up for our comparative lack of resources by trading with much richer places than us (first India, then China) and seeking new opportunities where none were thought to exist (like Hudson’s Bay) to such good effect that by 1750 we had started to make the modern world and by 1850 we were running quite a lot of it…

I’m hoping it’s 1658, and we can expect a Merry but unexpectedly effective Monarch along soon…he personally created the Royal Society, put Samuel Pepys in place to start creating a professional Navy, and chartered the Hudson’s Bay Company…as well as giving great encouragement to the existing East India Company…and setting the scene (inadvertently) for the Glorious Revolution which finished the work of the Civil Wars…the rest is History as they say…


January 7, 2014 2:53 am

I have a cold, so I’ll be quick.

“I’d say the RN and RAF both bore the brunt of the 2010 cuts in order to largely preserve the Army…”
— The army took a 20% cut in regular manpower. That’s not exactly what i’d call preservation.

” If the government can print £300 billion and not produce a high degree of inflation then why should it not do this?”
— Because it will cause high inflation. Inflating your way out of debt is acceptable and normal to a certain degree. Up to a point. If you start printing money like there’s no tomorrow in order to get out jail with your debts, then investors will respond by treating it as a de facto default. That means your interest rates will go shooting up, until eventually your bonds are downgraded to junk. The sort of people that invest in bonds are the sort of people who are too smart to just sit back and let you constantly degrade the value of their investments by printing money.

That said, running a small debt each year is no real problem. If you think about it in terms of a private individual who earns £50,000 a year and perhaps borrows around £2,000 a year on a low interest, long term loan, given that in all likelyhood his wage will rise year on year you can see how a small bit of borrowing is really not a big deal. As long as it remains relatively low and when things pick up he pays off the loan and starts saving again, or at least tries to.

Finally, I’m interested to know why some people think that if we don’t get the Carriers then that’s the end of the Royal Navy? Why would the lack of carriers suddenly make a Type 45 less capable, or a Type 23? This is not about arguing the merits of the CVF, just wondering why some people think that without them we might as well downgrade the RN to being a coastguard? That seems like just a tad of an over reaction to me, what with many of our naval vessels being top of the line in their class and crewed by what is internationally recognised as some of the best trained officers and men that any Navy in the world possesses.

Swimming Trunks
Swimming Trunks
January 7, 2014 7:49 am

” Britain’s policy on defence has been overwhelmingly driven by the need to cut cost, lacks vision and leads to concerns about how plans were being made to combat the real threats and challenges being faced by the country, an influential parliamentary committee has claimed.

The Coalition government’s blueprint, the Strategic Defence and Security Review and the National Security Strategy, are both flawed, according to the report by the Commons’ Defence Committee. “We have” say the MPs, “found it difficult to divine any genuine strategic vision in either document. There is a need for an agreed definition of strategy, our inquiry has suggested that there is not a clear definition of strategy adhered to within Government.”

The Committee warned that there is “a danger of defence becoming a matter of discretionary spending…. Discretionary decisions about the expeditionary capability that the UK retains must be based on proper strategic decision making about the UK’s place in the world and not simply flow from the “horse-trading” that surrounds the CSR (Comprehensive Spending Review) process.”

However, the MPs say the Government is failing to explain the UK’s ‘place in the world’ and the justification for military action to the electorate and this should be done with as much transparency as possible.

“One of the greatest strategic threats to defence is the disconnect between the Armed Forces and the public caused by a lack of understanding of the utility of military force in the strategic contemporary environment. The Government cannot hope to bridge this divide without looking to explain what it believes to the UK’s position in the world would be or should be” the inquiry holds.

Lessons learned from the Afghan and Iraq wars need to be spread across all government departments, especially as modern counter-insurgency requires that ‘soft power’ such as training, education and reconstruction accompanies the ‘hard power’ of combat. The Ministry of Defence, in conjunction with the Cabinet Office should commission candid official histories to be written of both the missions to help this process, the report holds.

“ This work could usefully call on input and expertise from other Departments including the Department for International Development and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office since the comprehensive approach became a hallmark of the operations in both Iraq and Afghanistan.”

The MPs welcomed the establishment of the National Security Council for giving greater operational focus and coordination across Departments”. However, the organisation is still “ failing to take on the higher strategic role it might have done in Government.” The next Strategic Defence and Security Review, due in 2015, should be preceded by a the Government producing a comprehensive strategy on how “ the UK’s national interests and obligations will be upheld in the face of shifting threats and profound geo-political and geo-economic changes.”

There should be far wider consultation for the next review, the MPs declare. Their next suggestion, however, may raise a few military hackles. “ We consider there are lessons for the MoD to learn from the practices of the French Government into the reformulation of its Livre Blanc”. ”

January 7, 2014 8:15 am

WiseApe; I’d be interested in knowing what bits of NATO commitment might be cut. From where I sit our commitment looks already paper thin…

The Securocrat
January 7, 2014 8:27 am

The HCDC report is published here:

Part One is the report and conclusions itself, plus orla evidence, with Part 2 (written evidence) also published. It will be interesting to see the Government response, because in some areas they can quibble, but there would be no good reason to avoid, for example, writing official histories of Iraq, Afghanistan and other operations; providing an assessment of the fighting power of the Armed Forces; providing an update of strategy skilss and education; learning lessons from the French Livre Blanc and establishing external challenge.

January 7, 2014 8:32 am

I think both CVFs will make it into service – this way the government can boast of a global capability at very little incremental cost. Everything else that is not focused on “rapid reaction” will be quietly pushed towards a lower readiness and reserve forces, or ordered in reduced numbers. The only exception is an MPA replacement which I think will happen as the lack of it is a stick used to beat the government most often.

For the navy outside of the SSNs and units to cover the ability to generate 2 RFTGs the rest is basically a EEZ protection force.

January 7, 2014 10:02 am

@ Chris B

My point on the navy being useless with out the carriers is that the Amphibious fleet is unable to operate without them as we don’t have any hangers for helicopters. A T23 will still be a fantastic ASW platform and a T45 will be great for AAW defence but neither on its own has the ability to influence events on land. Short of a major naval threat presenting itself I see little use in spending billions on these platforms on their own.

January 7, 2014 10:07 am

@ Repulse

Not sure if both CVF will make it but I agree we will retain them. Their marginal cost of operation is minimal and we have no choice but to buy F35 so may as well buy the B version and stick a few on the carriers. Politicians will love to have such a capability to measure their trouser length on the world stage and having the second biggest worship’s in the world in your fleet is likely a good way for them to do this. But having one available and one in port probably gives the same political benefit for GBP 70 million a year less than having both in service.

January 7, 2014 11:04 am


“I’d say the RN and RAF both bore the brunt of the 2010 cuts in order to largely preserve the Army…”
– The army took a 20% cut in regular manpower. That’s not exactly what i’d call preservation.

Yes they did but it’s over a long period leading up-to 2020, whilst the RAF and RN had aircraft and vessels taken out of service practically overnight.

My point was that the Army got protected (to some extent) until Herrick is over, in the long-run I’m sure they will see as painful cuts, if not more so, as the other services.

January 7, 2014 11:39 am

@ Martin,
There are some hangars available. But primarily the amphibious ships are about landing craft. Even if you argue that the amphibs wont be used for some reason, the other platforms are still capable of providing strength to coalition operations, amongst other tasks.

@ Challenger,
“Yes they did but it’s over a long period leading up-to 2020, whilst the RAF and RN had aircraft and vessels taken out of service practically overnight.”
— Most of the army redundancies have been processed by now from what I’ve heard. And as I understand it, just because ships were scrapped and aircraft grounded doesn’t mean all the manpower just disappeared from the other services in one day.

And it still doesn’t change the fact that the army has just lost one fifth of its manpower.

One. fifth.

January 7, 2014 1:13 pm


I’m not sure how usefully we could employ the amphib fleet with out helicopters. Infact I can’t really envisage a modern operation without them.

January 7, 2014 2:11 pm

Put that 20% in to context. The RAF lost 5 of 12 fast jet squadrons, the Nimrod fleet was completely removed, C-130J retired by 2022 and Sentinel’s neck placed on the chopping block. The only thing that escaped unscathed was the rotary-lift fleet.

20% may sound severe but it was the RAF that really got hammered.

January 7, 2014 3:38 pm

Re Training fleet;

I completely forgot that that is done as well:

January 7, 2014 8:00 pm

– Agreed, but I think we’ll see more of this (ignore the Scottish nonsense):

“Our” commitment – i.e. the UK – will become “our” i.e. the alliance. We’ll take turns rather like the Baltic states’ QRA tasking.

Must go now – Gibraltar’s on again!

Gloomy Northern Boy
Gloomy Northern Boy
January 7, 2014 9:03 pm

Perhaps we ought to put the cat amongst the pigeons by beating the increasingly isolationist Cousins to the punch and pulling out of NATO? They are most unlikely to invade us…nobody can get to us without first going through them…and many of our concerns are outwith the NATO area and likely to attract only limited support from the Alliance; wouldn’t stop us from working with the Cousins or indeed the French bilaterally when it suited us….

Retreats to foxhole and awaits incoming fire…

Both mischievous and Gloomy…

January 7, 2014 9:06 pm


I think the article you reference indicates exactly my point: we can’t do much less than we are now. I think SDSR 2015 will make v little difference in this respect..

January 7, 2014 9:58 pm

Our drift out of NATO commitments may lead to further cuts in numbers of platforms. It will be dressed up as European co-operation, of course.

Enjoyed Gibraltar programme – Health and Safety bloke forgot to apply handbrake and his car rolled into the sea – priceless.

January 7, 2014 10:08 pm

GNB I have few issues if we make a policy decision and leave NATO (apart from the likely loss of my job !!!) What I dislike is the failure to match our policy commitments to the alliance with actions, whilst we continue to fill our full quota of flag appointments as if it was some kind of birthright.

Wiseape: I think it will be hard to further cut platform numbers on the basis of fewer NATO commitments based on the fact that we don’t fulfil the ones we say we should as at now.

January 7, 2014 10:30 pm

The withdrawl of the Harrier fleet and the loss of Nimrod is probably only on a par with the armys loss of manpower, and I think that’s pushing it given the advancement of the Typhoon ground attack abilities. And it certainly doesn’t convince me that the army was “spared”. If spared is losing one fifth of your manpower, which for the army is its key weapon, then I hate to think what you imagine the army playing its “fair share” would have looked like.

January 7, 2014 10:58 pm


My curiosity was piqued by your comments regarding manpower reductions so I did some delving and discovered this House of Commons document:

2 Future service personnel levels

In October 2010 the Strategic Defence and Security Review recommended that by 2015 the full-time trained strength of the Navy should decrease by 5,000 to 30,000, the Army by 7,000 to 95,000 and the RAF by 5,000 to 33,000. The RAF figure is on top of the 2,000 reduction decided in Planning Round 10.

Although not explicitly mentioned it would appear that these are reductions in the full time trained strength of UK Armed Forces personnel.

On 18 July 2011 the Secretary of State for Defence indicated in a statement in the House of Commons that Army strength would reduce to 84,000 by 2020.

By 2020, if the Territorial Army develops in the way we intend, we envisage a total force of around 120,000, with a regular to reserve ratio of around 70:30.

It appears from that the available statistics that such reductions would result in the trained strength of the Army standing at levels not seen for around 150-200 years, although historical strength data is not available for each individual year.

The Library has published a note briefly setting out the information that has been publicly released regarding the Armed Forces redundancy schemes that were announced in March/April 2011

By extrapolation from the linked document and its tabulated manpower statistics:

Regulars & Full Time Reserves

1 April 2007: Naval Service (RN & RM) 39,440. Army 110,530. RAF: 45,710

1 Jul 2013: Naval Service 34,110 (16% reduction). Army 102,950 (7% reduction). RAF 36,920 (19% reduction)

SDSR 2010 Recommendations (Regulars & Full Time Reserves)

By 2015: Naval Service cut by 5,000 from 35,000 to 30,000 (17% reduction). Army cut by 7,000 from 102,000 to 95,000 (7% reduction). RAF cut by 5,000 from 38,000 to 33,000 (13% reduction).

SecDef announcement 18 Jul 2011

By 2020: Regular Army reduced to 84,000 compensated by Army Reserves increase to 36,000 (Total 120,000) not reflected in the other services.

Overall expected change (Regulars & Full Time Reserves) between 1 Apr 2007 and 2020

Naval Service down from 39,440 to 30,000 (24% reduction). Army down from 110,530 to 84,000 (24% reduction). RAF down from 45,710 to 33,000 (28% reduction).

So far!

Gloomy Northern Boy
Gloomy Northern Boy
January 7, 2014 11:16 pm

– no desire to see that at all, and my unthinking response is that NATO is indeed the cornerstone of our defence…but on the other hand I can see no existential threat to Western Europe…and I think our national interest is more likely to be served by the expeditionary posture that we have previously adopted than by meeting NATO tasks which look largely symbolic. Furthermore, working to the NATO agenda allows those who actually have no intention of expending blood and treasure anywhere or for any reason to appear strong on Defence…which they are not…whilst at the same time having a pop at us for not pulling our weight; often because we are fighting a real war that is actually happening which we believe to be in the interests of the West…instead of pretending to prepare for a war that nobody believes will ever happen…in the end is maintaining that pretence actually useful? Or does it just give our European “friends” something else to berate us for?

Furthermore, losing all those NATO related posts would take the wind of the sails of those who bang on about the Admirals and Ships business…and we would presumably keep the command structure we needed to do those things we feel we need to do either alone or bilaterally mostly with the Cousins and the the French…do we really need NATO any more, or is it just smoke and mirrors now?

A genuinely perplexed Gloomy

January 7, 2014 11:21 pm

@ Dunservin,

Thank you, that proves my point. People up thread were saying that the SDSR had sacrificed the navy and air force to preserve the army, which clearly isn’t the case.

The Securocrat
January 7, 2014 11:51 pm


I think it’s really just the question of the timing in terms of ‘preserving’ the Army: the RAF and Navy had to make most of their cuts by 2015. Afghanistan commitments meant that the Army cuts were weighted towards the end of the decade (and then added to by the 2011 statement). But as those figures show, by 2020, the cuts are very similar.

Jeremy M H
January 8, 2014 3:35 am


From across the Atlantic I share many of your concerns about NATO. It has certainly lost its clarity of focus since the end of the Cold War. I, like you, get a kick out of the many European powers that would cloak themselves in meeting NATO commitments while they slash their defense budgets to a very minimal amount. I would change your statement that they are preparing for a war that won’t happen to many nations are not preparing for anything at all beyond possibly being engaged in UN peacekeeping.

But I am not sure what most of the West would do if NATO were not around. I don’t think it would make things any better if it were removed. I do think it needs some major reform though. Expectations for all partners needs to be clear and much more explicit. The problem of course with all that is that if the powers that are doing the majority of the heavy lifting (UK, US, France (at times) and a few others (very occasionally)) turned around and said something like “Germany, we take most of the risk here and provide you with nuclear protection by default while handling major conventional crisis almost wholly without your help. Either you need to give us all X billion Euros or you need to field forces of X size for the conventional defense of Europe”. I would imagine Germany, and most of Europe, would take a hike if anyone really pushed them hard on NATO issues.

I do agree with you that NATO is to a fairly large degree smoke and mirrors. It serves a ton of useful functions still but in terms of the actual security challenges facing many of these states it seems in need of a major overhaul.

January 8, 2014 6:58 am

JM-H I would not disagree that NATO has lost focus. Enlargement to 28 nations or so doesn’t help; a bit like EU expansion having all sorts of unintended conseqiuences (immigration) NATO’s governance structures are unwieldy both for capability development and for crisis response.

A few points though. One is how much the NATO commitment actually ‘costs’ UK.. ie how much capability is acquired or retained to meet NATO obligations which would not be the case if UK was outside the alliance. Not much I’d venture. HMG has not chosen to role specialise for NATO but that is a political choice.

The second is whether there are benefits (training, interoperability – if any – , doctrine) which mean that a formal alliance (even an ungainly one such as NATO) is preferable to less formal coalitions.

The third thing is that we (brits) should be a little careful about criticising other European NATO countries commitments to NATO given how difficult Afghanistan has been for them politically – Germany, Denmark, Netherlands to name but 3 have all had to commit significant domestic political capital to maintain an involvement.

The UK attitude to alliances and coalitiions will/could/may be an interesting area for SDSR 2015

Gloomy Northern Boy
Gloomy Northern Boy
January 8, 2014 10:52 am

@Jeremy M H – cheers – wondered if that might be the feeling on your side of the Pond, but it’s interesting to get the thought confirmed. – all good points, but I remain concerned that the divergence of attitudes between ourselves and our neighbours about what matters in Defence terms contributes to the rising tension between us…and on this argument I think we are more right than wrong…I should add that on balance I would prefer us to be engaged with Europe than not (certainly NATO, perhaps less so the EU)…but I am very concerned about how inward looking and self obsessed it often seems to be.

I am far from sure that an ageing and increasingly uncompetitive “Festung Europa” obsessed with “ever-closer union” and the “european social model” is anything other than a cul de sac in the face of BRICs, MINTs and a changing balance of economic and military power; leaving aside our increasingly dangerous neighbourhood to both the south and east…


Brian Black
Brian Black
January 8, 2014 11:05 am

NATO has sought to retain relevance by conducting out of area operations, and ops that are not specifically concerned with territorial defence of the NATO area.

NATO’s command and control functions remain very useful for quickly knocking together coalitions with our most regular allies. If NATO were dissolved tomorrow, we’d likely feel the need to replace those functions with an almost identical structure.

Without NATO we would realistically need to keep NATO standardization; interoperability of equipments, and sensible procurement would be impossible otherwise.

NATO also brings its smaller members into coalitions. The organization gives small nations the safety and confidence to invest in specific key capabilities that are useful to a coalition, where otherwise they would have to expensively try and maintain a more diverse force that was only useful for their own local defence.

Perhaps NATO should be less geographically restricted though. NATO has a partnership for peace status for nearby countries that either don’t want to join or aren’t yet ready to join; this better facilitates cooperation as in the Libyan operation where Malta, a NATO partner but not member, allows the use of its airspace during the campaign. But does NATO have formal links with nations well out of its area? A country like Australia for example. Australia might not be interested with the core mutual defence agreement of NATO, but some kind of formal tie-up between the two, with Australian staff permanently within NATO HQ could be beneficial. Perhaps something like this already happens; I don’t know.

January 8, 2014 11:26 am

@ Brian Black

These may be of interest:

NATO’s relations with partners across the globe (
NATO cooperation with Australia (
NATO cooperation with New Zealand (

Many of our Commonwealth partners are already familiar with NATO procedures because of cross-training and exchange postings. UK operations, tactics, communications and procedures are very much based on NATO publications (at least where the RN is concerned) or vice-versa because we drafted so many of them. Funnily enough, one of our biggest problems concerning incompatibility with another NATO nation: the USA. When some of their Pacific units arrived in the Gulf, we discovered they were almost a different navy compared to their NATO-oriented Atlantic counterparts.

January 8, 2014 11:27 am

@ Brian Black,
“NATO also brings its smaller members into coalitions”
— Something we should probably exploit in the future.

I’d be interested to know how much time and effort we put into working with some of those smaller allies, like Denmark, Norway, Holland etc. And how much we do with the Germany/France/Italy tri-fecta. And how much we do with Canada/Australia/New Zealand?

January 8, 2014 12:37 pm

@ Chris B.

“I’d be interested to know how much time and effort we put into working with some of those smaller allies, like Denmark, Norway, Holland etc. And how much we do with the Germany/France/Italy tri-fecta. And how much we do with Canada/Australia/New Zealand?”

From a maritime perspective, the UK puts lots of time and effort into working with all the nations you cite in NATO, PfP, EU and other multi-lateral and bi-lateral settings including the ABCANZ and FPDA agreements. This includes but is not limited to:

a. Specialist collaborative working groups for scientific studies, R&D, operational analysis, tactical development, producing common publications, etc.

b. Shared training (e.g. use of FORACS ranges and warfare and NBCD schools in other NATO countries including Belgium, Germany and Denmark)

c. Specialist professional career courses, FOST weekly wars and Ex JOINT WARRIOR)

d. Live operations (e.g. Operation ATALANTA in the Gulf of Aden and Operation KIPION in the Arabian Gulf)

e. Wordwide multi-national exercises such as STEADFAST JAZZ in the Baltic, CORSICAN LION, ALBANIAN LION and UK/US/Italian ASW CASEXs in the Med, OMANI COUGAR in the Gulf of Oman, BERSAMA LIMA in the Far East, etc.

f. Participation in Standing NATO MCM Groups 1 & 2 although we have been unable to spare larger units for Standing NATO Maritime Groups 1 or 2 for some time.

This morning, I spotted a link on ARRSE to the following series of informative and (I think) entertaining videos featuring Rear Admiral Chris Parry, one of my old bosses at the Maritime Warfare Centre who retired as the Director of DCDC (Development, Concepts and Doctrine Centre). The clips are a bit dated but the post-Cold War principles are still valid and they give you some idea of maritime warfare and the range of international assets still participating in the UK’s twice-annual JW:

January 8, 2014 1:03 pm

@ Dunservin,

Aye, Joint Warrior is a prime example of what I’m thinking. But in my cold induced madness I’m thinking we could go even bigger. Like, massive exercise bigger. So grabbing one or two escorts plus auxillaries from Dutch, Danish and Norwegian forces, plus a French carrier battle group, plus an Italian carrier group, plus the RFTG (or future UK carrier battle group), plus a bunch of German ships and testing a mahoosive “fleet” exercise. Perhaps supplemented by a mahoosive air exercise involving all of said countries. And a mahoosive land exercise by the same.

Perhaps all done “on paper” (or computer) in fairness, as that’s the only way I could see us practically (and affordably) bringing together say UK, French, German and Italian armoured divisions to do a huge exercise together, with other European nations throwing in supplementary units to augment the divisions. All part of my hair brained schemes to make the UK a sort of core/organising power that forms alliances in the manner of the 18th/19th Century Britain.

And while I think of it, I’m trying to remember the last time I heard about us sending UK troops to exercise alongside the Aussies? Not sure if that’s happened in recent years.

January 8, 2014 1:23 pm


Something like this but bigger? Several of my UK expatriate friends were involved.

ABOARD USS BATAAN, NAVAL STATION NORFOLK, Va. – The international amphibious exercise, Bold Alligator 2013, concluded May 2.

Bold Alligator 13 was a Navy and Marine Corps-led synthetic exercise involving more than 3,500 personnel from 16 countries and Strike force NATO. The exercise simulated a force of 16,000 Marines and Sailors embarked aboard 17 naval vessels.

The 11-day exercise was designed to improve the Navy and Marine Corps’ fundamental ability to integrate and execute large-scale operations from the sea.

The Bold Alligator exercise series is an annual event, which began in 2011, that alternates between live and synthetic exercises. In 2012 the exercise was live, with ships and embarked Marines and Sailors operating off the coast of North Carolina and Virginia.

This year’s exercise focused on integrating and streamlining staff planning, and command and control procedures of the Navy and Marine Corps teams from Expeditionary Strike Group 2, 2d Marine Expeditionary Brigade, and Carrier Strike Group 12…

Military units at Marine Corps Bases Camp Lejeune and Camp Pendleton, Naval Air Station Oceana, and Naval Support Activity Hampton Roads all participated in different simulation centers. Working closely with their Marine and Sailor counterparts aboard USS Bataan was an international team consisting of personnel from Australia, New Zealand, Canada, France, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, Brazil, Mexico, and Portugal and other countries…

We already participate in multi-national synthetic exercises but we’ve a long way to go to catch up with the Americans.

P.S. Have you watched the linked video in my previous post? You (and others) might find it educational.

January 8, 2014 1:33 pm

@ Dunservin,

Aye. But bigger!! (We’ll have to dig down the side of the sofa for some spare pennies I reckon).

As for the video I don’t have the time to watch it now. That’ll be for later with a nice lemsip.

Not a Boffin
Not a Boffin
January 8, 2014 1:46 pm

Ocean Safari and Reforger again – excellent. Now all we need is a credible threat. How about faking a gay porn vid of that nice Mr Putin, releasing it on YouTube across Russia and sending the Kremlin a nice note calling his pint a puff, signed by NATO and offering to meet him outside to discuss the matter……..

January 8, 2014 11:35 pm

@ NaB,

“Ocean Safari and Reforger again – excellent. Now all we need is a credible threat”
— Presumably then you think we don’t need all this stuff? Lets sell it off in that case, save some money?

Or, maybe we can keep it and exercise it, because we don’t know what’s round the corner and the next dust up the Americans might choose to play a Libya-type role on the backseat, waiting for Europe to step up and handle its own business, at which point we might be quite glad that we’ve done large scale exercises with all our major European partners, even if it’s just a paper/computer command exercise.

Not a Boffin
Not a Boffin
January 9, 2014 8:01 am

Far from it. OS & Reforger are exactly the sorts of things we used to do and should still be doing, albeit at reduced frequency. The credible threat is required to secure the pennies from the non-believers in HMT and elsewhere. Unless you fancy suggesting we recolonize Hong Kong to the Chinese, I think calling Vlad a shiftlifter in public is probably the quickest way to actually reconstitute that sort of threat…….

January 9, 2014 8:46 am

@ NaB,

Well, politicians like nothing more than grand-standing. Find the right way of selling it and it’s a cert. Emphasis on the scale. Commanding a European “fleet”, not a task force, “the most ships under UK command since Nelson at Trafalgar”. Commanding a (or even two if you’re feeling cheeky) European “Corps”, “similar to Wellington on the Pennisular or Marlborough at Blenheim, like nothing we’ve seen since the days of El Alamein”. Commanding a European air “Group”, “composed of multiple wings, the like of which hasn’t been seen since Keith Park and 11 Group during our finest hour”.

Show them the numbers, the headlines. The chance to claim we’re stronger now than we’ve ever been because of our clever government and its efficiency and organisation. And statesmanship. My god they’ll love that. Link it to their ridiculous plans to reform the EU, showing how Britain is stronger as a part of the EU and can still play a leading role. Feed them enough bullshit and they’re arrogant enough to make the rest up themselves.

dave haine
dave haine
January 9, 2014 11:20 am

Can’t do ‘Reforger’ anymore- It was always dependant on the UK civil air transport fleet, which has somewhat reduced since the last exercise.

At a last count, there were 4 UK airlines (with airliners) that undertake charter operations (total of 169 aircraft of all sizes). You can’t include Virgin and BA because they are reserved as part of the UK Civil Air Communications Fleet. Easyjet don’t do charter.

At the time of the last reforger, there were 10 Charter Airlines, three really big, e.g. Britannia , British Airtours and Air Europe with 40+ aircraft each, and the rest with between 10-30 each- roughly 300 aircraft. This didn’t include all the 1-5 aircraft operators, who would pick up single charters, and subs from the bigger carriers. There were loads of them.

The aircraaft are larger now but that still translates to a 30-40% drop in seat availability.

January 9, 2014 11:38 am

DH – an interesting factoid there. If the budget charter capacity has collapsed to 65%ish of its earlier volume, and the scheduled flight volume has not swept up the business, why does UK need much more runway capacity? If on the other hand the scheduled flight capacity has dramatically increased to accommodate the earlier charter business and more, why no change in Gov’t rules ref the UK Civil Air Communications Fleet mularky?

January 9, 2014 12:02 pm

: perhaps the “additional runway capacity” is for a certain British airline so they can have a big hub where passengers can seamlessly move to their own spoke services?

January 9, 2014 12:49 pm

I think a lot of it is to do with becoming a world hub. Many people arriving in the UK are here only a few hours as they move on to another part of the world.

January 9, 2014 4:08 pm

@ Chris,
“why does UK need much more runway capacity?”
— Topmans right, people want a UK global hub airport. And by “people” I mean the airport operators and their best airline customers. Funnily enough though Heathrows operators don’t fancy the idea of letting Stanstead and Gatwick each take on a second runway (Gatwick is restricted till 2019 anyway) so that three could compete for slots. The dark horse is Manchester, which needs money and planning permission for new buildings and parking. Wouldn’t mind seeing Luton given permission for another runway either.

@ Dave H,
Boats. Lots of boats.

dave haine
dave haine
January 9, 2014 5:58 pm

. B (A.K.A- X ng)

Pah! Your boats smell of elderberries….seriously though, I understand that ferry capacity across the channel and north sea has halved over the last few years, too. Not unconnected with the channel tunnel, and the reduction in military traffic, I would guess.

You’re quite right- it’s the rise of the low-cost carrier, they’ve chipped away at the traditional charter market which was short-haul, european leisure travel. (Couple of wonderful ironys in that; the airline that proved it was possible to operate low-cost scheduled services in the UK was Britannia, a charter operator- Luton-Belfast £29, one-way £44 return…and Stelios forecasting the demise of BA). However, the smart charter boys had already moved into long-haul by then, anyway.

All of you, apart from Topman, have your thinking wrong on Heathrow- you’re all looking at LHR as a national airport. If you look at it as a European interchange, or indeed a world hub, as Topman alluded to, it starts to become clear. A major part of the passengers never leave the airport- they just switch from one terminal to another. An awful lot of European and American airlines operate a hub and spoke operation, out of LHR. So LHR is unusual because it has a wide variety of traffic operating through it, from Short-haul, city- hopping to very long range flights, passenger to cargo, and rotary craft as well. Very busy….

And of course the problem with runway capacity in the south-east isn’t actually the runways, its the connections between the six London airports. London City is right in the middle (so brilliant for intra-european traffic) and is linked in to London’s public transport network, but there is no direct link to any of the others. Heathrow is at one end of a tube line, but is only directly linked by road to Luton, Stansted and Gatwick. The only direct public transport link is between Luton and Gatwick, which is a rail service leaving every 15mins- takes just over an hour. Southend only has a link into central London. All of this means it is difficult and complicated to transit from one airport to another. Hence the reason, why it’s concentrated at LHR.

Which in my opinion is the problem, rather than spend god knows how much on another airport, why not spend the money on a high-speed rail-link connecting the six airports. All of them have railway stations, on site or built specially nearby. Luton, Stansted and Southend all have capacity.

Luton I know, would love this- considering some of the astonishing ideas that the council had, to increase the capacity at the airport!

January 9, 2014 7:07 pm

@ Dave H,

Did you ever think you’d see the day where – in the absence of X – I become the advocate for shipping!

Personally I see Heathrow as a major retail, housing and office district just waiting to be built once they can get rid of those bloody planes. I’m just not convinced by the idea of having one three runway hub. I’d rather see Gatwick, Luton and Stanstead with second runways, + expanded terminals and parking at Manchester, then let the four of them fight to the death trying to attract international traffic.

The figures I’ve seen for the potential economic benefits of a large hub also have that faint whiff of the Channel Tunnel/HS2 about them. Lots of people seem to think the economy will receive a massive boost, they just don’t seem to have any idea how that would actually happen.

It reminds me a lot of this;

January 9, 2014 7:42 pm

The uk is really competing with Dutch French and German airports to be the main European hub connecting the United States with the Mid East and beyond. Much like dubai is doing with the Europe to Far East. Personnelly I think Heathrow should probably close with the Thames airport going ahead a purpose built facility able to meet the demands of the modern large long range aircraft and passengers (let’s face it getting on a plane now takes that long its ridiculous). Most people I know would prefer not to transit Heathrow if they can help it. As for the shorter haul travel I would actually like to see that reduce in the uk I’m very much of the opinion much more travel should be moved to rail in the uk not that I think that hs2 is the answer but much more upgrading of existing lines new stations, trains and restoring disused lines to better connect the country and the main rail,road air and shipping centres.

John Hartley
John Hartley
January 9, 2014 7:51 pm

Playing fantasy airports. The last labour government wanted a new short 7200 ft 3rd runway at Heathrow. Cue huge protest. Now the interim report wants either a double length extension (a recipe for an accident) or a third full runway. I would go back to labours plan, but shorten it to 6500 ft (the same as Bristol airport). That should need little or no demolition. 6500 ft is long enough for turboprops, regional jets & exec jets. So the feeder aircraft for the long haul jumbos on the existing two long runways.
Put the 7200 ft at Gatwick, again for the small stuff, thus freeing the existing main runway.
Yes ground transport is a problem. A direct Heathrow-Gatwick rail link is needed. Most of the track is there, but new connecting curves are needed at Dorking and Leatherhead. Plus the missing link between Effingham & Byfleet.
Then road links. Extend the A303 to Gatwick. Build a dual carriageway to link Luton with Stansted.

January 9, 2014 8:15 pm

DH, ChrisB – I sort of get the hub theory. I sort of get the four hungry airports theory. But ony sort of.

Theory 1) – incoming flights bring UK tourists and outgoing flights take UK nationals to be tourists elsewhere. For this, given a clean sheet to work with, it would seem perfect to ramp up all the UK airports on the level so that people are deposited near where they want to be or collected from close to home. The big airports (LHR, Prestwick, possibly Manchester & Birmingham) act predominantly to parcel people from/to other transport networks as fast as possible for connection with A380 sized intercontinental transport – local international flights would fly direct from the provincial fields to avoid clogging the big hubby airports.

Theory 2) – Vast majority of traffic is passing through; no interest in UK’s fine history and cultural attractions. The hub is everything; high levels of air traffic hammering in & out with very limited residual movement of passenger traffic through arrivals or departures lounges. So why the need for the air hub to sit on top of London? The location of the airport is immaterial by this theory; indeed the more remote the better as the air traffic could be increased without the hassle of being nice to the millions living under the approach/departure lanes. Dogger Air Hub, anyone? Built by the EU to get all the passing through air traffic away from the tourist centres of Europe?

Sadly I fear the real reason for the constant demands for more airport capacity is neither to help the tourist nor to speed the through traffic:

Theory 3) – my Dad’s bigger than your Dad. Across the continent there are many big airports all vying to be The Premier European Hub. Schiphol, CDG & Orly, Frankfurt, Madrid, Rome – all trying to be bigger or better than all the others. The competition becomes more important than the customer; it matters not whether a change makes the nause of transferring from one Gate to another a more pleasant and slick experience; it matters not that the luggage carousels are so inefficient it can take 90 minutes of boredom and 2 minutes of panic to get your hands on your own luggage. It really really matters that you can land 3% more aircraft per hour than any of your competitors, that you have more gates than your competitors (even if they are impossible to get to from other gates), that you have more runways than your competitors. Passengers? What do they matter? Its Hobson’s choice anyway – if they want to fly they have to use the airport no matter how horrid the experience might be.

At no point has any country said ‘You know what? It would be much more slick if our neighbouring country took all the big international connections and we helped them out by fielding the local traffic.’ Almost like giving up the crown jewels in politicians’ eyes. So i’m afraid I see no Strategy here, no grand Plan for slick air connectivity. Just a hyper-scaled version of playground powerplays, spiced up by big profits for the winners.

dave haine
dave haine
January 9, 2014 10:56 pm

@ John Hartley
You’ve missed the point of what I was saying- there is no need for any more runways in the south-east. What’s needed is a fast and efficient link between them all.
Luton has a terminal capacity for 20m passengers a year, can take 30 movements an hour. It is currently, roughly at 10m and 15ph. Also planning a 2500′ extension to the runway.
Stansted has a terminal capacity for 30m pax a year, can take 30 movements an hour, at 20m and 20ph
Southend has a capacity of 10m, can take 30 movements an hour, currently at 2m and 5ph.

Luton council are planning for a major bypass to link the A5, M1, A6 and A505 to the airport, which will then form part of the midlands east-west route.

Years ago it was put forward that LHR would become just long-haul with a transit network for the other airports to handle short-haul and whole plane charter. Guess who stepped on that idea, yep, the government…too expensive, LHR capacity was sufficient for the forseable future etc, etc.

By the way LGW already has a 10000′ runway, and a 8000′ parallel taxiway/runway . Why build another, in a difficult operational area?

Just to be pedantic, they are trying to compete with LHR- currently the third busiest airport in the world- 77m passengers last year.

You’re forgetting the vast shopping experience that is LHR- all cunningly designed to relieve all those bored passengers of their money in a legal way. A vast profit……

John Hartley
John Hartley
January 9, 2014 11:22 pm

DH. You probably know that the two runways at Gatwick are too close together to be used at the same time. The 2nd runway is a taxi way most of the time. It only gets used as a runway when the main runway is out of action. Considering the delays when things go wrong, I stand by the need for Heathrow & Gatwick to get a new extra, short runway each.
No argument from me that ground transport needs to be improved.