Priorities and Options for SDSR 2015 – Introduction


This paper seeks to amend and update a series I wrote for Think Defence way back in July 2014.

Since then I have incorporated the results of more research, many of the comments received on this website and correspondence with serving members of the Armed Forces.

Considering that according to the Secretary of State the MoD is only half way through the process of SDSR 2015 it is amazing just how much has already been decided.

I originally thought that the biggest decision to be taken was going to be about Carrier Capability but that decision has already been made.  We’ve also had a whole stream of contracts announced – Ajax specialist reconnaissance vehicles, the first order of F-35Bs, a whole series of enhancements to the Typhoon, Crowsnest radar, three Offshore Patrol Vessels, an upgrade for ASRAAM and Spearfish plus Sea Venom and Martlet missiles.  Any uncertainty over the Trident Successor Programme has also been removed.

But, some big questions still remain.  Has the Army been ‘hollowed out’ while keeping too many Infantry Battalions?  Does the RAF really have enough fast jets to meet its commitments around the globe?  Can a maritime nation survive without a Maritime Patrol capability?  Can we afford enough F-35Bs to equip both carriers?

After the criticism of SDSR 2010 there is a clear need to develop thorough and transparent strategic thinking to define the UK’s military forces, disposition and capabilities.  This needs to include a realistic assessment of medium and long-term threats to the security of the UK, take into account current capabilities and the financial constraints that future Governments will have to operate under.

To ensure long-term planning, stability and value for money every attempt should be made to achieve a political consensus to influence the priorities and options for SDSR 2015.  This is especially important in a world where procurement projects are increasingly taking 20 years to move from conception to deployment and where threats can evolve over much shorter time periods.

We should start by defining our key defence priorities and the minimum necessary force levels that can achieve these goals through a series of scenario plans.  We should then analyse the strengths and weaknesses of both our current defence forces and those of our European allies to see where there might be gaps in capability that need to be addressed.

So what should be the United Kingdom’s key defence priorities?

  1. The security of the United Kingdom itself, our airspace and territorial waters and our ability to remain a free democratic country.
  2. The defence of our remaining sovereign territories throughout the world.
  3. Our defence and security obligations to treaty partners and regional neighbours in NATO.  This should include any potential threat from the Middle East or Africa and increased Russian assertiveness from the east and north.  The analysis here only considers the position of European NATO members as the strength of US forces available is highly uncertain in a period of significant budget reductions and a marked change of focus towards Asia
  4. A capability to operate in defence of our national interests and other international obligations on a global basis either (a) in co-operation with our allies or (b) on our own, including the ability to sustain long-term operations.

After examining each of these scenarios and what forces and equipment would be needed for the UK to be secure we should then use this information to inform the proposed structure of our armed forces.

For each service we need to examine the minimum requirements needed to meet planning objectives, decide whether current plans are adequate, whether new equipment or additional forces are required and if there is adequate support to deploy forces on a large scale or for long periods of time.

In total four Options are outlined starting with Option 1, which is based on the minimum requirements needed for each Command, to those where the defence budget is increased slightly in real terms.

Finally, all of this information will be brought together to outline the Options for Change available in the 2015 SDSR.

The rest of the series

1 – Introduction

2 – Defence of the UK

3 – Other Sovereign Territories

4 – NATO

5 – A Southern or Middle Eastern Threat

6 – An Eastern and Northern Threat

7 – Global Intervention

8 – Land Command 2025; Appendix 1 – Army 2025

9 – Naval Command 2025; Appendix 2 – Royal Navy 2025

10 – Air Command 2025; Appendix 3 – RAF 2025

11 – Conclusion – The Options for Change; Appendix 4 – An Abundance of Riches: MoD Procurement 2015-25

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