One of the fundamental difficulties faced by any strategic defence review is trying to understand what the future holds.
As we know, the future is a very unpredictable place.
At the end of every major deployment, the clarion call of more spending on (insert service here) is heard.
The British Army will not be deploying in any form for the foreseeable future and so we should favour investment in Air forces because they are the ones being used now, or so you will hear.
Does the MoD try and maintain balance as a means of meeting defence tasks and provision of a hedge against strategic shock, or, does it make an informed decision about future threats and adjust accordingly.
If we think the next twenty years are going to be characterised by chasing Islamic terrorism across the Middle East and Africa then one could make an argument that a tank heavy Division, loads of F-35’s and the latest frigates are costly luxuries, instead, we should cancel these and invest in persistent ISTAR, air transport and Special Forces whilst re-organising the Army for short duration raiding coupled with ‘upstream engagement’
If on the other hand we think that some high-end state on state conflict in Eastern Europe is likely then full steam ahead on Challenger 3 and artillery, lots of it.
The problem with these two opposing positions is what happens if the prediction is wrong?
In adopting a position at the extremes, we will potentially be able to deliver decisive effects at scale.
If we don’t, and try to cover all the bases, the logical end state is a compromise, a compromise that sees many expensive capabilities, more or less sitting on the sidelines with a note from mum and a general inability to do anything at scale. We make the assumption that high-end capabilities can flex down, unlike low end at bulk capabilities that can’t scale up. It is an entirely logical position to take, why for example, there are now armed Tucano’s or Black Swan corvettes in service.
Quality can compensate for a lack of quantity but there are limits, Type 45 for example, as fantastic as they are, are only six in number.
Should we maintain the current, balanced, high-end but limited in quantity set of capabilities, or, is it time to adjust to the most likely conflicts in the future?