With less than a year to go to the next General Election and thereafter the Strategic Defence and Security Review 2015 it’s time to start considering the background, priorities and options for the future of the UK’s defence.
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 must not only include a realistic assessment of medium and long-term threats to the security of the UK but take into account current capabilities and the likely financial constraints that any future Government 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 in this assessment and that is why discussion should begin now, giving at least a year for informed comment 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 need to begin 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 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?
- The security of the United Kingdom itself, our airspace and territorial waters and our ability to remain a free democratic country.
- The defence of our remaining sovereign territories throughout the world.
- Our defence and security obligations to treaty partners and regional neighbours in NATO. Scenarios that need to be planned for include any potential threat from the south or Middle East 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 as they enter a period of significant budget reductions and a marked change of focus towards Asia.
- 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.
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 the British Army, Royal Navy and RAF respectively.
For each service we need to examine whether current plans are adequate and whether new equipment or additional forces are required. However, we also need to address where any additional cuts, that may be unavoidable, could fall with minimal damage to the UK’s overall military effectiveness.
In total six Options are outlined going from an aspirational option where the defence budget is increased in real terms to options where there are further reductions in funding.
Finally, all of this information will be brought together to outline the options for change available in the 2015 SDSR.