Do we still punch above our weight?

UK Defence Spending


A report out from RUSI indicates that the UK may well fall below NATO’s spending target of 2% of GDP by as early as next year. The article also further highlights that with current defence assumptions spending could fall to as low as 1.5% of GDP by the end of the next Parliament.

Cameron ever the hypocrite is banging on at European NATO members to increase defence spending to the 2% figure of GDP while at the same time allowing the UK’s defence budget to fall below the same target. He has refused to make any commitment on the UK’s part to meet such a target instead preferring to spin an Armoured Vehicle purchase for a mere £3.5 billion as somehow showing the UK’s commitment to NATO.

I am not necessarily against the UK cutting its defence budget. However I am loathe to see any British Government acting in such a  hypocritical way. All this of course comes from the man who insisted we would not be having another war and is about to embark us on yet another military campaign. It is time for the government to either put up or shut up and stop talking about the UK punching above its weight. Quite clearly with defence spending of 1.5% of GDP we will not be punching above our weight but rather much below it.

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September 5, 2014 5:45 am

Sadly Cameron is following in the foot-steps of “Blair”, using the military for political gain and points scoring, whilst starving it of funds. Sadly the Conservative Party (well its leadership), are no longer the friend and protector of the military.

Rocket Banana
September 5, 2014 6:54 am

…the Conservative Party (well its leadership), are no longer the friend and protector of the military

So, the question is… who is?

September 5, 2014 7:04 am

this is why i was so keen on pushing the 2.0% target as a political football, how easy it is to slide into the groove of euro-style irrelevance.

September 5, 2014 7:07 am

Does our current >2% spend include CASD? If so what does it look like excluding CASD?

@Mark, I do agree with you. There is a huge business case building for enhanced defence spending on SDSR 2015. I don’t mean on loads of shiny fantasy fleet stuff but at least removing any hollow force issues and giving a degree of strength in depth

September 5, 2014 7:30 am

Damning report by Commons committee.

“Ministers have put Britain’s military capabilities at risk by cutting 20,000 soldiers without properly consulting the army, according to a damning report by MPs.”

September 5, 2014 7:40 am

Actually the punching above our weight point is not really true is it? Our politicians like to believe we do as in recent years we’ve been right by the US’s side but in terms of actual relative impact our punch is fairly lightweight, eg number of TLAMs we launch v the US. I would like us to offer a really heavy punch in our weight class. The question is what is our weight class. If US is super heavy, should we be heavy or cruiserweight? I think we should be above middleweight.

September 5, 2014 7:44 am

“…it loathes me to see…” : what sort of English is that??

The Other Chris
September 5, 2014 8:41 am

I think we need to give SDSR 2015 a chance to spell out spending levels before we start accusing anyone of hypocrisy in this matter.

There are plenty of programs in the works that can receive commitment in order to maintain that 2%. Pick your pet program(s) and champion them (TD: SDSR Special Pleading page).

RUSI are right to flag the potential dip though.

As I read it, the situation is:

– We’re spending just above 2% now;
– We have an SDSR in 2015 where the equipment program will likely be changed;
– If SDSR is not careful and newer programs are not funded as existing programs deliver, spending will dip to 1.88%

So we need SDSR 2015 and the elected Government next year to be careful.

Or am I missing something?

September 5, 2014 8:56 am

There is no point talking about spend until one has a rationale and a strategy to meet it, at the moment we have not got anything of the sort and the end result is a tiny Army thinly spread over every imaginable mission type- an RAF with a tiny strike capability that it can deploy oversees rapidly but with no great depth and ca substantial but expensive ISR fleet and a Navy that is just a very shrunken version of the one from 1990 but which now has no MPA support and is down to operating one large LHA.

If you think European border integrity is the threat structure the forces to that
If you think that world policeman (inc humanitarian aid nonsense) then structure to that
If you want to withdraw to the channel structure to that

But the current approach is farcical

The Other Chris
September 5, 2014 9:03 am

I appreciate that, it’s a no-brainer, however the RUSI report states that the dip will occur in the year of an SDSR.

There’s two assumptions here: That SDSR will do naff-all in terms of budgets; and that remaining cuts remain across the full MOD budget spectrum.

The Other Chris
September 5, 2014 9:54 am

That doesn’t tally with your concern about the increase in GDP. Especially as the Deficit per GDP rate is falling.

Maintaining 2% spending is deficit neutral.

Also note the massively increased rhetoric over the economic benefits of defence spending.

It’s a sector ripe for the capital injection being called for from business, analysts, tabloids and the Opposition. (Especially when jobs can be created in voting constituencies during a simultaneous GE year.)

Increased spending, neutral spending or reduced spending are all likely outcomes at this juncture.

September 5, 2014 10:22 am

– modern English, innit; wha’ever. But from an “author”? OK – I don’t want to be Crusty of the Year, but grammatical solecisms can undermine the credibility of good work. Would have got a tsunami of red ink at ASC in 1970s.

September 5, 2014 10:27 am

the current approach is indeed farcical; 2% is a logo not a meaningful measure.
But defence policy is far less rationally formed than most TD contributors appear to believe. For example the so-called business case for increased spending in SDSR 2015 is only building due to the eternal political imperative to be seen to be doing something….

September 5, 2014 10:46 am

If a fixed percentage of GDP is (in the government’s eyes) justified for international development to ‘set an example’, then it must be for defence to honour a previous agreement as well – even if the former is ridiculous.

September 5, 2014 10:47 am


Exactly, UK defence posture has become entirely reactive and is consequently focussed on nothing and increasingly weakened in core areas. It is highly unclear what the purpose of the ground forces actually is other than being an intellectual repository for every type of land warfare the UK has fought or planned to fight in the last 50 years whilst the air strike capability has been weakened to the point of being Belgium despite seemingly being the one thing the country is prepared to use. The only thing that looks mildly rational is what is being done with the flat-top force and joint force F-35.

Dangerous Dave
Dangerous Dave
September 5, 2014 10:48 am

@Mark: Was the Conservative Party *ever* the party to befriend and protect the military? Sandys was conservative, Nott was conservative (Author of the 1981 Defence White Paper and he cancelled P.1214 and forced European cooperation onto EFA to make it into Eurofighter). In fact, iirc Conservative governments have always cut military spending so as to be “tough on the economy”.

At the moment, no-one appears to be a friend to the military.
The Liberal-Democrats want a joint European military controlled by the EU.
The Conservatives see the MoD budget as an easy target to make the point that they are “getting something done about the deficit”.
Labour just see military procurement as a job-creation process, with no thought to strategy.
The Green Party want a Gendarmarie and Coast Guard and nothing else.
UKIP have said that the 40% increase in Def spending is under review, that they will “streamline” the MoD and oppose foreign military intervention and military aid.
The Liberal Party seem much similar to the Lib-Dems, except they want our military to be at the disposal of the UN, not EU.

As to the rest . . . . your guess is as good as mine! :-(

September 5, 2014 10:58 am

Attributed to Cicero: “Politicians are not born, they are excreted.” Plus ça change?

September 5, 2014 11:00 am

Dangerous Dave,

What are you banging on about? At the time of the Sandys review defence was consuming 10% of GDP and yet the forces still had an oncoming procurement bow wave that makes the 2010 one look like mid-summer on lake Windermere. His one mistake was to not go gurther and get rid of the carriers as he had initially wanted to do before Mountbatten worked his magic. It is worth noticing that the cuts Sandy’s suggested and put in motion produced forces of very approximately the size (Navy aside) they would still be in 1990.

Nobody “cancelled” the P.1214- it never existed beyond a design study. I presume you are referring to the EAP which certainly was not cancelled and along with some other major government funded R&D programmes lead directly to Typhoon.

September 5, 2014 11:01 am

: lets see if he puts his money where his mouth is next year before we declare him mentally ill :-)

September 5, 2014 11:03 am


You are going to have to explain, the UK currently meets both those targets and it will only be through previously unforeseen GDP shifts that the GDP figure will not be met. Nothing Cameron is saying is hypocritical unless you rely on unsubstantiated speculation on possible future scenarios.

September 5, 2014 11:14 am

With defence spending now being added to GDP, UKIP being a genuine threat in the GE even though they can’t win and the ongoing crisis in; well, almost everywhere. Defence spending is a lot more politically tenable and valuable this time around. I’m not expecting a miracle, but I think a repeat of 2010 is a very remote possibility.

I think it will get bumped just enough that with just a little massaging they can claim the 2% target is met and they’re tough on terrorists/vlad/ISIS. It’s a great stick to beat labour with after their military record last time.

He also needs talking points to cover up the failure of ARMY2020(the reserves have actually shrunk over the last 2 years). Although I’m not holding my breath that in particular will get fixed. They’re terrified of the term ‘U-turn’ after the carrier shambles.

I’ve noticed there’s still lots of talk about cutting other areas but defence is getting bigged up. Peter might get robbed to pay Paul.

On the original question; we could easily but we’re agonising about how to tape up our gloves rather than just getting them on and getting on with it.

The Other Chris
September 5, 2014 11:36 am

It would be hypocritical if the UK bashed other NATO members for not spending 2% and then didn’t spend 2% ourselves.

We are currently spending 2%.

Other than a RUSI warning to the effect that alterations need to be made to the spending plan or we’ll dip below 2%, there’s no evidence that we won’t continue spending 2% through 2015 and beyond.

The UK historically meets internationally agreed obligations.

Why does “a pledge” change that? No other PM has made “the pledge”.

September 5, 2014 11:49 am

“Exactly, UK defence posture has become entirely reactive and is consequently focussed on nothing and increasingly weakened in core areas. It is highly unclear what the purpose of the ground forces actually is ”

That is true.. As evidenced by the argument whether “use it, or lose it” ever happened.

Now, the other services have been better with their PR. The carriers are coming, but what CEPP is, other than it involves the carriers, at least one, is still unclear.

RAF renamed their formations expeditionary airwings, and that was it. Worked well for them.

September 5, 2014 11:56 am

‘Do we still punch above our weight?’

What does that phrase actually mean? and has it ever been relevant? from what I can gather we have been trying to have an American capbility with a £40 billion budget, which has delivered us token forces (in some repects) with no depth, and all because of statements such as this and the other favourite “can do attitude”.

It’s not the percentage of GDP that really matters it’s deciding what we want to do about current and foreseen threats and then funding it properly. Wether thats being capable og going it alone for a medium intensity op or as a coalition, just decide and then get on with it, and maybe sometimes the answer from the MOD now and again should be we can’t do that and if we do, something has to give elsewhere.

September 5, 2014 12:00 pm

Aww.. did the army finally run out of research projects? :P

*Runs for cover*

In a snide way, it sort of supports what Hohum is saying. Dollar (or pound in this case) value spent does not really reflect military might directly. If a large fraction of the money spent is wasted in research projects, it is even possible that the spending never really gets to the men on the ground. A classic case of this is the US, where billions are spent in research projects that get cancelled for no gain at all.

Inversely, if you simply set a monetary value to meet, there might come a time when all your men are equipped, all your tanks are shiny, and all your ships are…er…shipshape… then what are you going to do with the excess money that politics mandates spending? Throw parties every day? (might not be a bad idea, recruitment will go up for sure!)

What the issues are here is basically

1) That 2% was an international promise, and though other countries have broken it, it is a fact that it is the UK’s decision to step past that line or not to, and if you can live with yourselves morally for breaking an agreement that you think is important, despite others not really giving a damn.


2) Spending money isn’t really a good indicator of effectiveness, and that the money spent must somehow generate a benefit for the man on the ground/at sea/in the air and not be pissed off into black holes. So far, the UK is mostly free from that, odd hiccups like FRES being the exception rather than the norm.

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same
September 5, 2014 12:24 pm

A little bit of reality. Look at how many times the growth of GDP has been revised this year alone. Then consider that we are talking about a small percentage of about 2% of the total budget. that is less than the difference in the various projections this year alone. So with a set equipment plan it could easily see defence spending vary by 0.5-0.7% dependent on growth or should they have a flexible sliding plan to keep the hysterical masses happy?

September 5, 2014 12:43 pm

Is this the same RUSI that actually produced the only” going” projection of what the Successor programme will mean to the rest of equipment budget?

“Other than a RUSI warning to the effect that alterations need to be made to the spending plan or we’ll dip below 2%”

Masterful stroke by the Chancellor:
– 2015; oh we would need more expenditure… But this thingy (noting to do with me) gets in the way, or…
– we follow the straight 2% line, and I am not deciding about anything (in detail)

Or, ohh! I have become the party leader, and by coincidence the PM. Yes, surely the deterrent is a matter of state affairs (mine, ehmm) and the defence budget can be run by the minions. Did I ever say anything about the defence budget as a Chancellor? No…at least I can’t remember the occasion!

September 5, 2014 1:13 pm

Of Course you do. You have nuclear weapons. Contrast to countries without nuclear weapons. That’s your might.

September 5, 2014 1:32 pm

@Dangerous Dave
Spot on!

In reality no party is a friend of the military, they’re all littered either with promises of jam tomorrow or irrational and dangerous policies, the last UKIP outline on defence came in spring 2013, a promise to return to “2010 spending levels”; fine, an etch-a-sketch solution to the MoD (it’s beyond reform, time to abolish it and start again); great! But the most worrying part of it was that policy on the deterrent changed from a continuation of the current CASD solution based on Trident to of a “deterrent” based on nuclear tipped supersonic cruise missiles delivered from a myriad of platforms (Submarines, surface vessels and aircraft), something that’s not infallible ergo not a deterrent (something Will Gilpin [then defence spokesman] described to me as “less of a deterrent”, a contradiction in terms if ever there was one”)

Lord Jim
Lord Jim
September 5, 2014 1:45 pm

The way I see how they should be, the Core Budget should be 2% of GDP with a separate budget for CASD as it is a political programme and any military aid programmes should be covered by the developement budget. Simply stating that the UK’s defence spending will be equal to 2% of GDP leaves politicians with far too much wiggle room to spin things. AS someone has alraedy stated the Government needs to either put up or shut up. To put it simply if we are to retain a meaningful gobal role defence spending HAS to rise. If we are to limit ourselves to the odd airstrike guided by SF then we can carry on as we are.

Paul R
Paul R
September 5, 2014 3:01 pm

I expect nothing less from Cameron and his government, policies and what comes out of their mouth is pretty much all over the place.

I’m not looking forward to the election, the current political class doesn’t fill me with confidence, they say one thing, think something else and do something completely different.

September 5, 2014 3:06 pm

This thread reminds me of the endless BBC articles droning on about the “UK’s place in the world”, the UK’s strength is it’s force projection capability eg a division sized force, an Expeditionary Air Wing of 30-40 fast jets plus AEW/refuelling/ISTAR aircraft, a RN amphibious task group, and highly capable SFs.
The US is of course in a league all of it’s own, but even France (the yardstick by which the UKAF always seem to be judged) cannot equal the UK’s ability to project force at distance. The French maximum effort is down to just 15,000 personnel, the MN does not have the same sealift or replenishment capacity as the RN/RFA, and the French military currently lacks the strategic airlift, refuelling, UAV & ISTAR capabilities.
The one advantage that the MN has is carrier strike, however CdG will be in refit for 3-4 years and by the time she returns to service QE will be off the East Coast of the USA for
F-35B flight trials. Assuming QE & PoW alternate in service as Lusty & Ocean have done since the SDSR, the UK will in the future have a carrier “on call” all the time, while the French navy will have one aging carrier available half the time, with not much prospect of replacement.

September 5, 2014 3:09 pm

I wonder if these percentages include the new increased GDP figures (new accounting methods) that were just published earlier this month. Where GDP between 1997 and 2012 was on average about 4% higher than previously reported. In 2012 the new figures are just over £90 billion higher than previous figures.

So if RUSI aren’t using these revised accounting methods than the percentage will be even lower

September 5, 2014 3:17 pm

A comparative table from the world back on other countries spending

September 5, 2014 3:26 pm

Whilst you have all been Cameron bashing it is reported he has announced that both QE class ships will be brought into service to “This will ensure that we will always have one carrier available, 100% of the time”

Not really news as its been clear since the switch back the F-35B that the RN would carry on as it has been with one vessel always available but certainly good to have it conformed.

The Other Chris
September 5, 2014 3:33 pm

Even if she’s going to be rotated for now, she’ll still be around should we ever want to start operating her full time alongside QE.

EDIT: When did a PM last announce a doubling of carrier hulls? ;p

September 5, 2014 3:56 pm

When did a PM last announce the halving of carrier hulls?
– bonus points for getting the name right for both questioins

And is there a cash back scheme for the 2% rule
“Where GDP between 1997 and 2012 was on average about 4% higher than previously reported. ”

Hopeless media circus; the real world marches on, around us

The Other Chris
September 5, 2014 3:59 pm

Hey! You dropped my winky-faced sticky-outy-tongue emoticon! No fair!

El Sid
El Sid
September 5, 2014 4:02 pm

It’s worth getting a bit of historical perspective. If you use the GDP deflator to convert to 2012/13 prices, then in 1982 we were spending the equivalent of £36bn/year; Cold War spending peaked at about £38bn in the mid 80s before declining to ~£30bn in the mid 90s and then rising to an all-time high of £40bn in 2008/09 : (section 1.50)

OK, that probably tells you more about the GDP deflator versus defence inflation, but it’s pause for thought that in real terms we’re spending as much on defence as ever – it’s just that GDP has risen more than inflation, and we’ve chosen to spend that difference on other things. I’m sure there’s a PhD to be done on hedonic pricing adjustments to defence inflation….

I’m not sure about the whole “weight-punching” thing. We’re still the biggest defence budget in Europe, we’re <1% of the world's population but have what, about 7% of the SSBNs and a similar proportion of the helicopter carriers, let alone fixed-wing carriers in a few years time. In terms of "interventions in countries not adjacent to our borders" we are way above our fair share. European average defence expenditure is something like 1.4% of GDP these days. But it all sounds like so much willy-waving, I can't really be doing with it myself.

In other news, here's the final declaration :

Taking current commitments into account, we are guided by the following considerations:

Allies currently meeting the NATO guideline to spend a minimum of 2% of their Gross Domestic Product (GDP) on defence will aim to continue to do so. Likewise, Allies spending more than 20% of their defence budgets on major equipment, including related Research & Development, will continue to do so.

Allies whose current proportion of GDP spent on defence is below this level will:
§halt any decline in defence expenditure;
§aim to increase defence expenditure in real terms as GDP grows;
§aim to move towards the 2% guideline within a decade with a view to meeting their NATO Capability Targets and filling NATO’s capability shortfalls.

Allies who currently spend less than 20% of their annual defence spending on major new equipment, including related Research & Development, will aim, within a decade, to increase their annual investments to 20% or more of total defence expenditures.

All Allies will:
§ensure that their land, air and maritime forces meet NATO agreed guidelines for deployability and sustainability and other agreed output metrics;
§ensure that their armed forces can operate together effectively, including through the implementation of agreed NATO standards and doctrines.

September 5, 2014 4:16 pm

from the telegraph:

16.55 All 28 Nato nations have pledged to increase their contributions to defence spending, up to 2pc of GDP, Obama says.

This commitment makes clear that Nato will not be complacent.

September 5, 2014 4:25 pm

““This will ensure that we will always have one carrier available, 100% of the time””

^ Also brilliant news ^

El Sid
El Sid
September 5, 2014 5:03 pm

Suggestion that US still has eyes $200-300bn bigger than their stomach :
Original report :

To execute programs and plans laid out in budget and strategy documents, DOD will need $200 billion to $300 billion more than allowed by automatic spending limits known as sequestration…

The United States now must decide whether to provide more defense funding or trim military missions — and potentially tell some partners overseas they’re on their own…

even the current strategy is too expensive if Congress and the president leave sequestration the law of the land…

The Army plans to cut its active-duty end strength to 450,000 by 2019 while the Marines plan to level off at 182,000, but critics say the current budget limits won’t even support those reduced levels.

”Assuming these force levels are needed to execute the strategy at an ‘acceptable’ level of risk, the budget appears to be roughly $20 billion short” over the coming five years

September 5, 2014 5:13 pm

Sequestration: What happens when politicians don’t want their pork barrels broken into. Pass the bill to the one who can’t shuffle it off, the military.

Sid, I suspect the problem is with the civil side, not the military one.

September 5, 2014 5:58 pm

Hang on Dave has been reading TD….he has just announced POW will be brought into service! Let’s hope F35 works!!

September 5, 2014 6:14 pm

This is how the BBC are reporting it:

Note: “Mr Cameron said bringing the Prince of Wales into active service …” – ACTIVE SERVICE. But sadly, that last bit was not a direct quote, just the beeb’s interpretation.

September 5, 2014 6:28 pm


I really don’t know, I’m sick of two-faced governments… but where is our other option. Even the Public Accounts Committee has criticised our defense cuts for failing to consult with the forces properly before going ahead (


Seems about right.

Red Trousers
Red Trousers
September 5, 2014 6:31 pm


First define the power of our punch. Then define our weight. Then measure us against likely people we will be punching. Then measure their weight, and the power of their punch. Result. Some numbers, and a ratio.

Warfare is about obtaining Overmatch. The actual numbers don’t mean anything.

An example: IS is trying to act as a nation state (fat chance, but hear me out). It has measurable revenues. It spends an extremely high proportion of those revenues on military stuff, mostly pay to its’ fighters, but still a lot of revenue. As measured by military expenditure over GDP, IS probably has the highest punch/weight ratio in the world. But it’s all bollocks as, if the gloves were off, we could kill them off in ten days.

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same
September 5, 2014 6:44 pm

I agree with RT, capability cannot be measured by expenditure and ratios. So much more comes into than that.

September 5, 2014 6:46 pm

On Call me Dave’s request for all delinquent NATO countries to up the ante to 2% of GDP by a quick calculation that would imply an additional $112bn BEING SPENT EACH YEAR.
Call me Dave will not have the time to sit on all the boards of defence contractors he will be invited to join on his retirement . Smoooooth move Dave.
Also oddly for a Politian we also benefit by not all ways having to punch above our weight.
Link to who spends what now.
My fear is the US Congress will see this as a way to pare the US contribution by $112bn :-(

Rocket Banana
September 5, 2014 6:50 pm

We achieve significantly less that our 2% implies because we’re so inefficient and expensive.

I’d like to see us build a Mistrale type ship for £500m.

September 5, 2014 7:10 pm

@ APATS – “I agree with RT, capability cannot be measured by expenditure and ratios. So much more comes into than that.”

No, of course it cannot.

But what you granite-jawed sons on Mars seem to forget that this capability lies on the back of a public that tolerates our ‘missionary foreign policy’.

And that sits firmly in the realm of politics where expenditure and ratios do matter.

It boils down to a government telling the people that power projection matters, that they should be willing to fund military expenditure and saction its use, over and above the myriad of other worthy things society demands we pay for.

It matters. Greatly. Far more than many here appreciate.

September 5, 2014 7:22 pm

The US share of the NATO contribution looks huge but includes spending on many other commitments else where, they are also members of:-
US is also part of the Mutual Defense Treaty with the Philippines.
US is also part of the Organization of American States.
As well the US has individual agreements of mutual help and support with individual Nations in the Major non-NATO ally or MNNA agreements.
In 1989 George H. W. Bush signed up Australia, Egypt, Israel ,Japan(home of the US 7th Fleet) ,South Korea.
Bill Clinton signed up Jordan ,New Zealand, Argentina.
George W. Bush Bahrain(home of the US 5th Fleet), Philippines, Thailand, Kuwait, Morocco, Pakistan.
Barack Obama signed up Afghanistan.
In 2014, a bill was introduced to the United States Congress to grant major non-NATO ally status to Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine.

Rocket Banana
September 5, 2014 7:37 pm

Awesome link Jedi. I’d love to see a national version!

Red Trousers
Red Trousers
September 5, 2014 7:48 pm

“….you granite-jawed sons of Mars…”

Awesome, I’ll tell both Mrs RT and my mother, who will both be pleased, then tell me to get on with some trivial domestic task or write to a cousin or something. And if you mean it sarcastically, I can quite happily ignore that and assume the compliment. ;)

Am slightly troubled by the disturbing thought that APATS and I might be related, as no doubt is he.

Nevertheless, sensibly, you are right. There is a wider context, but there’s also a time factor as military potency takes a decade or so to generate, whereas threats pop up and down much more quickly. But the punch/weight phrase is, I have always felt essentially meaningless.

September 5, 2014 7:55 pm

I do find this debate odd. Wee have a pretty capable military that is deployed globally taking on a number of different task right across the spectrum of operation now I don’t know if that if punching above are weight or not but I’m struggling to see that many other nations doing similar.

Ps the mark that posted the first comment on this thread is not me.

September 5, 2014 8:32 pm

Re opinion polls

I wouldn’t worry to much about them. People have short memories.

September 5, 2014 8:42 pm





Dangerous Dave
Dangerous Dave
September 5, 2014 9:37 pm


Thanks for completely missing my point. I was *trying* to make the point that Defence issues are way down the list of most political parties. Even those who claim to “Honour the Covenant” and “Protect our Armed Forces”.

The P.1214 project was all the way to beginning to wind CFC onto rear boom and fuselage jigs, when it was finally dropped. What did for it was a refusal of HMG at the time (Conservative) to produce any aircraft outside of a multinational coalition. Thus, even though BAe had spent considerable amounts of it’s own money on the project, built wind tunnel models, demonstrated a full-size mockup to Margaret Thatcher, had completed all the aerodynamic testing and produced numerous test examples – it was the lack of an international partner (realistically the USA) that caused the plug to be pulled. Hardly a “Design Study”.

As for EFA/EAP this was a project on-going at BAC since the mid-70’s. EAP was an industry funded “kick up the arse” – a statement of untent to get the West Germans to free up the funds they had promised to the Eurofighter project. Again, the government of the day had decreed that no national project would be completed, only a multinational one.

And as for Duncan Sandys, well if he, and the Conservative government he served in, really was interested in protecting the Armed Forces he would have introduced the cuts to projects and Force numbers in a planned and manageable way, not the industry bloodbath that ensued! In fact, some progress to this end had already taken place in the 1950’s – for instance, only allowing a single project bid from conglomerate manufacturers (such as Vickers-Supermarine and the Hawker Aircraft group). But all the “Sandys Storm” did was kill-off most of the British aircraft industry!

Sorry about late reply, had to get home and check some facts. Also, while work are quite easy on rec. browsing, just so long as I get the jobs done, when I’m bows under . . .

Anyway – me? Bitter????

September 5, 2014 9:46 pm

@ Ixion – lol.

@ RT – of course it was a complement, but in the name of brevity i was a little general, and truly i did not mean to imply a relationship.

@ Topman – “I wouldn’t worry to much about them. People have short memories.”

In the words of any good pollster:
“Its the trend that matters” – I worry about the trend.

@ Simon – from the doc:

“The aim was to test
the views both of the general public and ‘elite’ opinion-formers concerning the key themes addressed by the output of the project, including the UK’s overall place in the world, the importance of the country’s relations with its principal allies and other significant countries, and how the government should prioritize particular international
risks. The results of the survey will serve as a baseline for what is intended to be an annual Chatham House review of UK popular and elite attitudes towards the UK’s foreign policy and its place in the world.
We decided to conduct parallel surveys of popular and elite views in order to explore the convergences and divergences in perspective between those who make or help inform UK foreign policies and the public upon whose support these policies
sometimes depend. As Peter Kellner, President of YouGov, notes in his summary of the survey, there are indeed some important divergences between these two groups, and the government will need to be aware of these as it pursues what Foreign
Secretary William Hague has described as a ‘distinctive’ UK foreign policy.”

El Sid
El Sid
September 5, 2014 10:12 pm

It’s easy to put ourselves down, but every country moans about its warship builders. Don’t forget we produced four Bays for just under £600m 10-15 years ago.

Alternatively, look at the Horizons – €1.08bn each in FY09 ( That’s around £950m FY09 excluding missile inventory and some post-trials fettling. Six Type 45 cost £5788m (forecast cost of AP and D&M in MPR13, ) so £965m each including missiles. Even with their massive economies of scale, the US turns out Burkes for about £1200m.

You say “we’re so inefficient and expensive” – I say “compared to who”?

Red Trousers
Red Trousers
September 5, 2014 10:23 pm


I once did some psychometric tests, selected by our HR Director.

Apparently, I was nearly off the scale for Competitiveness, and this was not a good thing. So I complained that the tests measured civvies. That was also judged not a good thing. So I changed companies, as I cannot change myself.

And now I relish grinding my former company’s face into the dirt on every competitive procurement that we come up against each other, and I normally win because I know their internal cost drivers, and their HR Director has been retired.

September 5, 2014 10:51 pm


‘I worry about the trend.’

I wouldn’t, in a couple of years most of the public will have forgotten we were even in Iraq.

September 6, 2014 3:57 am

“You say “we’re so inefficient and expensive” – I say “compared to who”?”


Sorry Sid, couldn’t help it. :)

“as I cannot change myself.”

That’s what Mrs RT is for, to help you change yourself, tie your shoelaces etc.

Rocket Banana
September 6, 2014 9:08 am

Compared to nations that don’t somehow manage to spend £6.2b on a fixed price contract worth £3.9b.

Plus we’re one of the most expensive places to live in the World, second only (I think) to Ireland, which pushes the need for higher wages up.

So I’ll wave my “told you so” flag when we get round to building two LHDs at way, way, way more than £500m each ;-)

Rocket Banana
September 6, 2014 9:11 am

Even with their massive economies of scale, the US turns out Burkes for about £1200m.

1.2 times the cost of a T45 but they are bigger, carry more missiles, can carry two Seahawk, actually have a strike capability against land targets and surface targets, and also have the ability to take out satellites and enemy AWACS with SM3.

I’d pay 20% more for an uplift of orders of magnitude more.

When T45 can deliver a similar capability come back to me and we’ll compare the total cost of T45 then.

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same
September 6, 2014 9:58 am

@ Simon

If you think the UK is the second most expensive place in the world to live you need to travel more.

The Arleigh Burke price quote was for 3 vessels which benefited from the entire class before them and a new ordering system. They do require 300 plus personnel to man them as well. Making through life costs even higher.

September 6, 2014 10:19 am

I was in Geneva last May during their National elections , one thing up for a vote was the introduction of a minimum wage of 22Swiss Francs or £15 per hour , not a cheap place to live

September 6, 2014 10:35 am

Where not even in the top 10 most expensive places to live

And having been to Switzerland I can see why there first it was something like 10 francs for 1/2 a litre of beer

September 6, 2014 10:57 am

@ Martin


Well that’s Singapore off the bucket list for a start!

How much of the Foreign Aid Budget, accounts for Closet defence spending?

September 6, 2014 11:02 am

I have been a few places on that list, not Switzerland though. Norway stood out as being crazy prices I think it was £11 a pint! Good job we were on decent rates.

September 6, 2014 11:16 am

My future in-laws came over last month from the PRC , her mother loved it as she could get so many ‘bargains’ from the likes of Fenwick’s, John Lewis , M & S

September 6, 2014 12:33 pm

2% commitment of GDP spending on defence should be increased 2.5% and Ring Fenced
Service Man and Women died in World Wars so we can be free, honouring their memory is not all about poppy day. But should be all about maintaining a military that can and will fight as hard as they did for us
The word here is DEFENCE without it there will be no social justice, no NHS, no transport service, no freedom,
Defence should be a Right and not a Cost.
If our Government are serious about being Europe strongest defence Country they should not only triple the SAS, SBS, Airborne and Commando units, but they should demand that the US sell to the UK (their closest partner) F22

September 6, 2014 12:52 pm

Although the Government is committed in spending 1% of GDP for new equipment like Carriers F35, type 25 global combat Ships, Submarines. APC and 2% of GDP for Defence
They should increase the equipment spend by a further 1% of GDP for 3 more years for the purchase of 200 F22 the US will sell to us if pushed by the UK to allow the Planes in Europe. As well as an additional 100 Euro typhoon, a further 6 Type 45 destroyers
Triple the size of the SAS, SBS, Air-Borne and Commando Units.
Defence should be a Right Not a Cost

September 6, 2014 1:16 pm

Service Man and Women died in World Wars so that our sorry asses can be free for what so we can blite on about social justice. Honouring their memory is not all about poppy day. But should be all about maintaining a military capability that can and will fight as hard as they did for us
The word here is DEFENCE without it there may not have been any social justice, NHS, transport service, Freedom to go on about
Defence should be a Right and not a Cost.

September 6, 2014 1:26 pm

Those of you that choose to go on and on about money can be better spent on social justice really need to take a long hard look at some country who only wished they had an Army
Until you can get your head around the fact millions of people died in World Wars to enable us to be were we are today they will never understand why spending on defence is so important.
Lets make no mistake if Europe disbanded all there army and spent not £1 on defence we will have been specking Russian a long time ago.
And let see if you would have been able to complain about social justice then.

September 6, 2014 1:39 pm

Allowing yourself to have no concept of damage or threats is allowing yourself to be ravaged when ever by who ever, just as long as money is not spent on Military everything will be fine !! eat well, live better, Right ??? I don’t think so.

September 6, 2014 1:54 pm

Allowing yourself to have no concept of danger or threats is allowing yourself to be ravaged by anyone at anytime. those of you who think spending no money on Military will some how make their lives better eat better care for people better are dreamers.
What do you think would happen if say we disbanded the Military had no defence but instead ploughed all the money in social justice better homes to live in more food to eat better NHS
How long do you think before Mr DICTATOR bomb the hell out of your happy lovely cushy lives.
Ho ! we have police ,,, self servers corrupt dishonest that will probably lose their bottle if someone was shooting back. Put a ex solider in a police uniform any day. At lease then you have someone who is disciplined tested and deserves its

Rocket Banana
September 6, 2014 1:59 pm

Have traveled. Have lived in various places.

I accept however that I may well be somewhat wrong.

Most expensive cities to live in the world 2014

I suppose it could well depend on what you call “living”. Alcohol for example is a luxury and is not a base requirement for subsistence. You need rent + food + water + energy and possibly transport + fuel + insurance way before cost of a TV, computer, internet link, phone contract, wine and caviar!

September 6, 2014 2:02 pm

DKA…that statement has so much wrong that I really don’t know where to begin, though the sentiment is in the right place.

1) F-22s are no longer produced. The production lines have been dismantled for close to 5 years now.
2) All the “big name” units you named are force multiplier units, they aid the main body of troops, they are NOT the main body of troops, they are not used to hold ground. The RM commandos and airborne are raiders, hit and GTFO or get reinforced. Go solo and things like Market Garden is going to be the result.

Simon, Martin likes to live it up :P

I wonder how hard is it to brew your own.

Rocket Banana
September 6, 2014 2:53 pm

Observer, Martin,

I’ve spent time in Singapore and as far as I remember most of the money is spent on air-conditioning energy :-)

I remember walking one of the back-streets and wondering why it was do overly hot (although it’s usually overly hot in Singapore anyway… even at night), turns out all the air-con vents were pumped out onto that “back street”!

I had to have a word with my guide (nice chap called Frankie) to say I struggled to deal with 40C so the extra 20 didn’t help much ;-)

Rocket Banana
September 6, 2014 2:57 pm


“They do require 300 plus personnel to man them as well”.

So all that extra capability at 20% extra cost over T45 and 50-70% of additional available manpower accommodated and hosted. They really are good value – nearly a cruise liner for the additional chaps ;-)

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same
September 6, 2014 3:14 pm

@ simon
Most of the “extra capability” is simply down to what is in the silos and with each SM3 costing $15 million and the new SM6 just a smidgeon under $5 million it is anything but cheap. Not to mention that the T45 has a superior Radar and systems but costs went up as numbers went down and the R&D was divided amongst 6 hulls. We never get economies of scale, USS John Finn DD113 and the restart Flight 2 A cost in excess of £1.5 Billion for which you could get a T45 and a T26 and man them :)

Red Trousers
Red Trousers
September 6, 2014 3:36 pm

Simon, you must misunderstand the purpose of manpower in a military context.

It is only the Army/RM which value manpower intrinsically, as many of their tasks can only be done with manpower. The Navy and RAF do not, instead concentrating on delivering military effect through platforms.

If a ship manned by 100 sailors can deliver the same effect as one manned by 200 sailors, there is little point in having the more manpower intensive ship. It’s much more expensive, as APATS points out.

September 6, 2014 3:41 pm

The US Congress is at present considering re-opening the F22 program has it was curtailed to soon with only 187 being made.
The US Congress also did a report into the possible export of the F22 of which they considered the UK, Canada, and Australia being Country that could be trusted with the technology.
As a ex paratrooper that also did the All arms Commando coarse, and worked with the SAS and Pathfinders. I truly believe Increasing in Special force like the SAS, SBS, Airborne and Commando are the by far the troops needed for a quick reaction that can pack a punch, hence the government ear marking additional funds for special forces, but I think it is only for SAS
Air-borne and Commando troops once on the ground are Infantry men, Sea and Air is the means of getting there.
SAS, SBS, Pathfinders prepare the ground for these forces.

September 6, 2014 3:42 pm

Fisher said: ” HIT HARD. HIT FIRST. KEEP ON HITTING.” I reckon we’re still good for the first two of the three, but we lack depth.

As for the cost of living – I’m currently getting Old Speckled Hen for £1.74 a bottle. Crisis, what crisis?

September 6, 2014 3:55 pm

Have to admit, I still hold an extreme fondness for the arsenal ship concept.

Nothing stopping you from cramming 200+ silos into a ship, you just get interesting performance characteristics that’s all. :)

Sail most of the silos empty if you’re on a peacetime footing, load them all up if things get hot.

September 6, 2014 3:58 pm

I would like the very Best POSSIBLE to defend this Country, the Armed forces has been reduced by over 100,000 since 1990 to a total now of 178,000 if any investment is needed to be made it is in this area of the Army. The Navy and the Air Force have got some good kit coming but the Army has been and is being squeezed

Peter Elliott
September 6, 2014 4:35 pm

The thing about the Arsenal Ship is you still need to know what to aim at. For that you need eyes on: by satallite, by spyplane, or by Fast Jet. Each of these has different degrees of timeliness. The more ambiguous the situation and the tighter the ROE the more Fast Air will win out becuase the eyes on from the pilot come seconds before the munition hits.

But I agree the Arsenal Ship is attractive in a hot war scenario when we have multiple hard targets to be hit with minimum risk to pilots. Which is why I suspect our next design of SSN will come with bigger magazines and maybe a VLS, and why our Combat Ships will all get Strike Length VLS within the next replacement / upgrade cycle.

Angus McLellan
Angus McLellan
September 6, 2014 5:01 pm

WiseApe: Jackie Fisher? Some might say that scrapping all those “too weak to fight, too slow to run away” ships didn’t look quite so clever when the greatest threat turned out not to be the High Seas Fleet.

Think Defence
September 6, 2014 5:06 pm
Reply to  DKA

DKA, can you use DKA as your username and not your email address?


September 6, 2014 5:18 pm

I understand PE, I’m not expecting them to sail solo into a war. In fact, I see their very existence as a “fleet in being”, even if their silos were empty most of the time. Their roles as I see it would be either a strategic bombardment unit or an airspace denial unit.

Anyone planning anything against you would have to live with the possibility of a rain of missiles heading his way and plan accordingly. Hell, if you were really mean, you’d slap in 2-4 CMCs and give your enemy fits guessing if it was part of the deterrent or not though that may not be a good idea if it causes him to overreact. Not that TLAMs and ballistic missiles have flight profiles that are in any way similar, but then it’s not what I think, it’s what he may thing.

The US scrapped the plans because their carriers are more flexible and already built, but what about the countries with no or few carriers? Maybe the concept might just work for them.

DKA, the production lines have been “dismantled”, not “closed”, big difference.

September 6, 2014 5:40 pm

The AB Class DDG’s now pack almost 100 VSL’s each and at over 10000t are bigger than cruisers of WW11 or even the smaller battleships of pre war WW1. The US has over 7000 VSL’s afloat more than all the next twenty Navies added together , Awesome.
The Arsenal Ship I too think is an awesome concept as well with the strange aspect of it being the ship is far cheaper than the full Missile high end load out it can carry. This gives you the option of building more hulls than you need and positioning them near a potential adversary at the time when you need to speak softly and carry a VERY BIG stick. Four or Five of these, even if actually mostly empty VSL’s (the enemy is not to know) , would be a great negotiating tool ! A thousand tubes plus floating a couple of hundred kilometres from their doorstep might just make them blink.

Rocket Banana
September 6, 2014 5:58 pm


You said “we never get economies of scale”… which nicely backs up my original “we’re so inefficient and expensive” statement. Thanks.

However, I’ll admit I’m joking about the manning. Sorry RT I was just having a jab at the price of the T45 and trying to play down the lower manning by picking the only “value” I could for more people ;-)

I like T45 but by the time it’s actually a “destroyer” and can actually “destroy” things other than missiles and dumb-ass planes that fly too close, then I think it will be significantly more expensive (and no better) than an AB.

How many Mk41 can be set into the vehicle hold and flight deck of a Bay? 1500?

El Sid
El Sid
September 6, 2014 6:00 pm

Compared to nations that don’t somehow manage to spend £6.2b on a fixed price contract worth £3.9b.
£6.2bn is what it’s cost. So that’s what it’s worth.

When T45 can deliver a similar capability come back to me and we’ll compare the total cost of T45 then.

If you’re wanting to compare like for like – as APATS says, £1200m is the serial production cost (so not including R&D and eg missile inventory), if you’re looking to compare shipyard efficiency the equivalent for T45 would be around £650m. If you want to add in a few strike length tubes (around $1m for Mk41, $3m for SYLVER), do some integration, and add a £50m towed array – you still come a long way short of £1200m. Seriously, in the US they bitch about their expensive, unionised shipyards even more than we do, a lot of their faults are hidden to some extent by their economies of scale. But get into UK-sized production runs and they don’t compare well. Compare the MLP/AFSB – £300m for a glorified civvy tanker, or >£1bn for LPDs that are about 20% bigger than the Albions and were practically unusable when first delivered. They’re pretty good at SSNs though, to be fair.

@Observer – yep, Korea’s a bit of a special case though isn’t it – massive economies of scale in its shipbuilding industry. But they’re not manufacturing SPY-1 or SM-6’s themselves, are they? If you look at manufacturing costs more generally, UK looks pretty good in Europe, see eg this survey :

If the US is 100, then China is 96, Korea 102, UK and Spain 109, Japan & NL 111, Germany 121, France 124. You can see why people are starting to reverse the offshoring trend.

The reason noone ended up building arsenal ships (other than putting them underwater as SSGNs) is that they are really vulnerable and really important for the enemy to neutralise, so in wargames they ended up getting sunk really, really quickly. Plus the target ID problem that’s been mentioned.

September 6, 2014 6:20 pm

Actually, the original arsenal ship concept was designed to be semi-submersible to avoid surface fire, I sort of remembered that from the initial proposed design. Which, yes, would make them SSGNs that spend most of their time on the surface…

I suspect that a properly designed ship would not be a simple matter to take out, it has some serious firepower above the surface, both in anti-ship missiles and anti-air defensive missiles. It would all depend on your electronics and their ability to control large number of missiles.

Rocket Banana
September 6, 2014 7:40 pm

El Sid,

“£6.2bn is what it’s cost. So that’s what it’s worth.”. So you’re saying it was good economics to U turn twice and delay production and flush over £2b of tax-payers money down the toilet? The same could also be said for T45. If was the delay and the lower production run that lead to abysmal economies of scale. Again, backing up my “we’re so inefficient and expensive” statement.

“…around $1m for Mk41, $3m for SYLVER…” – which nicely backs up my original “we’re so inefficient and expensive” statement. Thanks.

“…or >£1bn for LPDs that are about 20% bigger than the Albions and were practically unusable when first delivered” – err, the San Antonio class carry 64 x ESSM so are practically a T26 and an Albion combined, oh plus a hangar for a V22, something Albion only dreams of. Also, the Invincible class had problems with the prop shaft too.

The Other Chris
September 6, 2014 8:21 pm

That’s a very common viewpoint shared by observers of any bespoke industry from shipbuilding to software development.

Unless you’re stamping out or copy/pasting the same product run after run the amount of money required to develop a complex (as opposed to complicated) product cannot be easily predicted.

The fault is in the estimating, not the construction (the U-turns didn’t cause £2b worth of delays). Although there’s frameworks, approaches and experience, figuring out how much something that’s never been built before costs is not a science.

Had the estimation at project initiation been accurate, a decision could have been made whether to budget for £6.2b or not.

The Other Chris
September 6, 2014 9:00 pm

Does anyone see Successor being used as an SSGN? Use of an All Up Rounds Canister style implementation in the Common Missile Compartment?

Do you also see a combined vessel design for SSN work, or still see those roles remaining separate enough for the UK to manage to maintain two separate, if related, designs??

Rocket Banana
September 6, 2014 9:57 pm


In the rest of the world a fixed price contract is fixed price, not one that can be renegotiated.

The Other Chris
September 6, 2014 10:18 pm

When was it a fixed price contract?

Tim UK
Tim UK
September 7, 2014 3:15 am

10 astute class rammed with Tlam and 10 Daring again with TLAM and some BMD capability and yep we would punch above our weight and be a threat to anyone bar the US.

Add another 5 squadrons of Tranche 3b Typhoons, investment in a long range version of storm shadow, a few more satellites, tankers,maritime patrol and double up on cyber warfare and we would be fit as a butchers dog under Aunt Mabels Mangle.

Instead the dumb ass Armed Forces Chiefs, Mod and Government have lumbered us with the white elephant carriers and the appalling JSF.


Red Trousers
Red Trousers
September 7, 2014 10:49 am

The answer is not really expensive.

Proper sea-going logistics (including forward-basing/dumping), a bit more ISTAR, dumping the married man’s worry about being away from home too much***, and a political will to make hard decisions.

*** that is tricky, but I have always felt that military service should be mainly for singlies.

September 7, 2014 11:02 am

@Tim UK: Sounds great for a “No boots on the ground” capability.

September 7, 2014 12:19 pm

@Simon @The Other Chris @El Sid

Before you can actually know whether the carriers over-spent due to poor project management and specific decisions taken during the project, you first need to know what the assumptions relating to the original “fixed price” contract. For example,

Was the amount priced in 2014 pounds or 2006 pounds ?
What proportion of the spend was denominated in pounds verses Euro’s dollars. There will have been some element of forex risk in project pricing.
What was the price inflation assumption built into the financial model ?
What were the assumptions regarding project duration.
What costs were included in the “Budgeted Cost” and what was excluded.

The biggest problem with assessing Defence (or any major public project spending) is that there usually isn’t enough publically available data (and certainly nothing picked up in the media outside specialist journals) to actually understand what the “cost” is in the first place.

The fact that the carriers cost 2 billion more than it was originally stated doesn’t mean that is actually the cost overrun. I also don’t actually think that the UK is worse than anyone else here. Remember there is a political narrative that play up public project problems and ignores private company problems, that has nothing to do with reality.

September 7, 2014 12:46 pm

Reminds me of India and their artillery guns, delaying the buy shot the price up by a quoted 68% till it was not feasible. It really does look like in the world of arms procurement, the early bird really gets the worm. Or at least the big guns.

September 7, 2014 1:22 pm

Here is a link to historic and ‘promised’ future spending
Think is set at last years but you can you forward a bit and backward a lot.

September 7, 2014 2:17 pm

In regards to restarting the f22 production line. I did read they mothballed all the critical parts for restarting the line. But why would you want to ?

Gosh had to get my calculator out to post this comment.

September 7, 2014 2:37 pm

“I also don’t actually think that the UK is worse than anyone else here.”

Look at Sweden for aircraft development & procurement.
Look at Denmark, Norway or Spain for ship development & procurement.

The best are the Israelis, of course. They let others pay for their toys.

September 7, 2014 2:47 pm

Jonathan, storing parts take up space that they have to rent and pay for, heard they stored it all in e-form instead and if they really need it again, they have the plans to rebuild the production line.

SO, a lot has been made about American aid to the Israelis, but think it’s a bit overblown, especially by their enemies, IIRC, the amounts given to Israel used to match the amounts given to the Palestinian Authorities before it all went to hell. I hardly see Palestine running around with MBTs and F-16s. Most of Israel’s funding is still internally generated.

September 7, 2014 2:51 pm
September 7, 2014 3:00 pm

I think forward basing at strategic secure ports/land bases around the world is they way forward to respond rapidly with sufficient heavy enough kit to make a difference. You send the skilled manpower from their UK home bases by air to where they are to jump off from who then draw the needed suite of kit for the job in hand and get to where they are needed in just a day or so rather than weeks when it might be to late to use a small aggressive force to counter a developing situation.
On sea basing small general cargo ships are available for a song these days as the big shipping companies go for ever larger ships offloading (pun intended) the smaller commercially uneconomic vessels:-
Built: 2004
Type: General Cargo
Class: Classification: GL + 100A5 EG, Strengthened for heavy cargo, Mixed or 167 TEU
Length BP: 81,00 m
Breadth: 12,80 m
Draft: 5,56 m
Deadweight: 3.500 metric tonnes
360 normal miles per day
2 x 35t electrohydraulic cranes for self loading/unloading or a full fat FRES SV
A bargain a £3,000,000 or 43% of a FRES SV
A small cargo ship like this can dock in any small port in the world and unload itself easily.

Rocket Banana
September 7, 2014 3:02 pm


I don’t want to harp on but I know everyone wants to believe that the UK “punches above their weight” but the simple fact is that it doesn’t. The reasons are complex but are largely due to the lack of the economies of scale (EoS) that the USA, China, Russia and ultimately India can achieve. We have a crack with European procurement and probably managed it with Tornado, but I can’t think of much else.

If the measure of “punching above your weight” is the military might that you can bring to bear per unit of population, per total weight of population, or per unit of GDP, then we do not come close to the USA. Do we punch above the average? I’d guess no. I’d suggest that with our lack of EoS we’d need to be spending close to 3% to achieve half the effect the USA’s 4% delivers.

We can compare ourselves with our European neighbours if we like but that doesn’t help when up against the giants.

IMO China is the only nation that is “punching above their weight” at the moment and that is due to a massive class divide and essentially slave labour. Perhaps India can do the same and to a limited extent maybe Brazil, but unless we start recruiting tens of thousands of Polish to build our ships or aircraft we’ll be left having to pay for some of the most expensive people to “run” in the world.

September 7, 2014 3:03 pm


I guess it’s hard to know how much is gained from outside. But I think it’s fair to say a lot of funding comes from outside. The size of the economy, the standards of living and the costs of defence forces they have don’t add up.

September 7, 2014 4:43 pm

@Mark, I stand corrected, the toolings dismantled and stored, not scrapped.

@Topman, conscription cuts down costs a lot. :) My pay when I first entered was a meager 500 dollars, or 250 pounds a month. They improved a lot since then, I hear the pay is up to 700 (350 pounds) a month. :P

The term “punch above your weight” is very nebulous, for example, Singapore is usually seen as “punching above their weight”, but that is because the neighbouring countries have weak armed forces, compared to anything in Europe, it would be seen as fairly weak. So before you say XYZ is not “punching their weight or above”, you must first clarify what is the “weight” that you are talking about. Percentage of population under arms? Manpower per unit area? Comparison with neighbours? Against potential aggressors (and who are these aggressors)? % armed forces deployable beyond home ground? Total number of forces in a defensive war? etc. Lots of factors.

September 7, 2014 4:52 pm


If their defences just had conscription inf, possibly. They have well beyond that though, all that kit on that size of economy? No.

Rocket Banana
September 7, 2014 5:16 pm

Silly metrics but if you go for total naval tonnage per $billion spent each year it is Russia at the top, followed by Japan and India, with the general USA, and European powers about 1/2 as efficient as Russia at the top.

Happy for someone else to do the airforce and army equivalents :-)

September 7, 2014 5:24 pm

Observer, the Palestinians don’t get any military aid, so they’re off-topic.
Israel does get free American weapons, but I wasn’t even hinting at that alone.

Look up the origin of the Israeli Dolphin class submarines.

September 7, 2014 6:57 pm

The PRC has fought a few times.
Korean War – Chinese soldiers fought for North Korea ,my other half’s Grandfather for one. Ended in a draw.
Sino-Indian War 1962 – China invaded disputed territories took them , (mostly at 4000m high!) occupied them then withdrew.
Ended in a draw.(India got the arse and expelled.anyone with Chinese heritage or being married to one was imprisoned and deported.Some stayed but had travel restrictions until the mid 90’s.
Sino-Soviet border conflict 1969 – skirmishes only.
Ended in a draw.
Battle of the Paracel Islands(Naval) 1974 China fought South Vietnam for control of Island group.
China won.
Sino-Vietnamese War in 1979 – China invaded north Vietnam in support of the Khmer Rouge.
Ended with China withdrawing ie. tactical loss.

September 7, 2014 8:04 pm

Punching above one’s weight is one of those annoying terms which are completely meaningless and useless as anything other than a sound bite. We have, and will, thankfully, punch well below our weight for the vast majority of time. Our weight is 5 million men at arms fighting at the same time across the entire planet against several of the countries the Monarch finds more displeasing above the others at that particular time. Our weight, is also 200 nuclear detonations against the most vexing and upsetting countries. We nearly constantly punch well, well below our weight. It is completely obvious that we, as someone was concerned about, lack depth in the force as it exists. We lacked depth in the force that existed in 1918 and 1944. Even our full weight is not enough to give us alone victory.

To those looking for some sort of tight strategy. There is such a thing but I think one can’t see the wood for the trees.

Current threats are diffuse, and at the moment the existential ones are well into the future as to be nothing much more than a vague fog. The byword for our current interesting times is uncertainty.

The strategy is to balance the force between the needs of today and the possible existential defence needs of tomorrow. It means providing for force structures and capabilities which are useful for threats we know about now, trying to set the conditions incase we need to engage those current threatsm and to try and stop things “upstream” as it were whilst keeping firmly on the radar an emphasis on regeneration and not losing capabilities that will take a decade to rebuild. Our armed forces are useless if they cannot conceivably generate a force to defend us in the time it would take a potential generic state enemy.

There are no current realistic existential threats to us. But there could be in 5 years time. Thus it makes no sense to give up peer fighting capability to deal with threats that do not directly or urgently threaten our way of life at the moment. So we keep CSAD, we keep Typhoon, we keep an armoured division, we keep SSNs, we keep CVF and we keep the Firm Base. And we share burdens with alliances and thereby spread risk even in the good peace dividend times. That is the direction. That is the military strategy as it were. A conscious decision to NOT become over-focused on the present and turn our armed forces into the Belgian one and therefore accept the risk to non-existential defence missions that come with using kit that isn’t perfect for COIN or fighting some barbarians in the desert.

Dangerous Dave
Dangerous Dave
September 7, 2014 8:24 pm

@Simon 07/07-3:04pm

I’ll tell my 75-year old Mum that you want her to try her hand at riveting or welding, then! :-D

September 8, 2014 2:26 am

Martin, that’s true in a sense. However, you missed the big con. He’s paying for his own conscription in taxes. :) It just cycles around. He pays the government, the government turns it around and pays him for time in proportion. His pay rises, his tax rises to match.

September 8, 2014 7:19 am

Just like ythe UK then? If you wnat a proper education for your children, first you pay thru taxes for the education of other people’s children, then in cash (for the second time) for your own.

The same for the health care, excepting acute wards. And people who haven’t lived elsewhere don’t even seem to notice.

September 8, 2014 7:29 am


I would disagree with the need for power projection to be far away, to be effective. China is now trying the same trick with S China Sea and within the Inner Islands chain as they have done with Tibet and Sinkiang. The difference being that those two other places actually had populations much against anything to do with the Han Chinese. Just that they had no military power nor external support.
– try to draw a map of China in your mind without those two annexed regions
– no depth; eastern seaboard easily blockaded

September 8, 2014 7:33 am

ACC, not to that extent though, the income tax is the one that cons you into working for free for a month. The “social tax” on the other hand is actually credited into your own individual account, so others can’t grab what you paid for, but in return, they only allow you to use it for specific expenses like housing and medical and retirement. The last one is a sore point as life expectancy is getting longer, the pension release date seems to be getting further and further away.

September 8, 2014 8:09 am

That would be true ACC if we were all islands. But as it happens the rich wouldn’t be half as rich if they couldn’t recruit from an educated work force or had to pay for basic education themselves from their own company profits.

September 8, 2014 9:09 am

Phil, don’t companies already pay for basic education through things like corporate tax? It’s roundabout, but doesn’t the profit tax go to the government first then into education?

September 8, 2014 9:41 am
September 8, 2014 10:22 am

@Observer and Phil
June 2nd 2014 was Tax Freedom Day in the UK , we spent 153 days out of 365 days paying for services. Adam Smith Institute director Dr Eamonn Butler said next year’s Tax Freedom Day will fall on June 7th.

True the PRC have only as of now fought along their huge border(longest in the world) , perhaps it is time for us to ask them to lend a hand on UN duties as a member of the Permanent Inner Council perhaps they should step up. They already task ships off Somalia on anti-piracy duties so maybe just a little more from the very soon to be worlds largest economy.

Give him his old job back and a promotion and set him to work.

September 8, 2014 11:44 am

I’m embarrassed to say I had to wiki up “Tax Freedom Day”.

ACC, I suspect Lt Gen Deptula has a bit of a job scope locked focus. He may say that others have an inadequate plan to stop ISIS (I’ll call it a state when the UN does), but his isn’t too bright either. Look at it all, most of it is simply “use big flying hammer”. It has weaknesses. For example, Vietnam showed that if someone is stubborn, which is the dictionary definition of “fanatic”, they’ll simply bunker down and wait out the storm, in this case, probably in civilian areas. He did cover some parts of “cannon flodder” with the Northern Alliance, but frankly, his article is as “means” centered as the others he criticised.

September 8, 2014 12:13 pm

Hi Phil I did not understand,but in case you were waxing anthropological … That is about the comprehensive study of humankind across time and space. ( anthro – man ology- study) it is literally the study of mankind in its massive entirety. It seeks to answer what is it to be human.Because it is the interesting subject of mixing many different types of knowledge at all levels it also becomes an underestimated subject. But I agree:no man is an island.

However, I will respond equally “profoundly”:
Peace in our life time. Why?
Russia is just a troublesome regional power.
China will be the next superpower… Not saying the only one.
One child policy is being relaxed, but going into a major war in the next twenty five years would extinguish many family lines in a nation of 3000 years of written and 6000 years of accurately dated archeological history.
– by the way, you can have up to 4 kids now but you pay for tge education etc. Over the first one. So thatis the elite’s children. They don’t want to see them killed, eiuther. Quite different from the early Norman days here, when the eldest son got all theland, and the next 7 brothers rode on, to establish various kingdoms on their way to….

September 8, 2014 12:31 pm

Sorry Observer,he,like too many others, takes for granted that the means are there, or at least in place (= exist, rather than “gapped”) which (the latter) is the favourite over here.

Between this motly collection, not just those of theUS, or ours, there are the ways to get to the ends:
– to degrade,and
– eliminate (i would prefer annihilate,but then again, I am not writing the stuff I am reading… Many have observed that at times the play with words makes me sick). Anyway, I managed to put the end goal into plural.

The article is purely about how to evaluate the infinite number of ways that are there, between the means and the ends… Factoring in the likes, dislikes and hates that prevail in that region – I am referring to TD’s phrase of useful idiots (the ‘West’) as opposed to the locysl actors who will live (or die?) According to how this will play out.

September 8, 2014 12:46 pm
September 8, 2014 1:03 pm


you’re wrong about the NHS. I certainly would be dead by now without it (and I’m not talking about acute treatment but 14 years of ongoing treatment) and I have private insurance through my employer that wouldn’t pay $1 cent of this cost.

I would suggest China (like India) will more probably turnout to be a regional power as well. You have to assume very rapid sustained economic growth bring the 700+ million very poor population up to a reasonable (eg Russian $12,000 GDP per had) level to give China sufficient spending power to attain something along the lines of US levels. China is already highly debt leveraged just getting this far as well as having broken the global economic system along the way (not that this is their fault).

September 8, 2014 1:10 pm


Always a problem with a simple rule like 2 %. Perhaps a topic about Germany punching below its weight would be more true than the concern about the UK ? Mind you, if we adopted the same approach (defence = self defence at home) we’d be spending a similar proportion surely ?

September 8, 2014 2:00 pm

China isn’t going to go into debt any time soon. Their reserves are too deep for that. For better or worse.

September 8, 2014 2:08 pm

@Observer: China has astronomical levels of private and banking debt, due to decades of soft bailouts of banks and state run industries. There’s a massive housing bubble too with the potential to wreck half their middle class. Plenty of ammunition for the forthcoming revolution :-)