Let's get rid of the RAF and have just the Army and Navy
NICK Lester reported (November 16) on the Chief of the Defence Staff's speech. CDS said what many of us have known for some time – the size and shape of the Royal Navy today is not right.
The Senior Service, in terms of ships and people, is less than half the size it was in 1980 yet not one of its objectives has changed.
Still well over 90 per cent of our international trade goes by sea and still the UK has fourteen overseas territories, all but one an island and many in distant oceans, for which we have a defence responsibility. Even the seas cover much the same 71 per cent of the globe!
The defence review (SDSR) two years ago was certainly flawed, particularly the naval and maritime element, and I understand that Whitehall now privately admits so.
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Air Chief Marshal Lord Stirrup, then the outgoing Chief of Defence Staff, has much to answer for; one might argue that he put the size and shape of the £7bn a year RAF ahead of the wider defence needs of our island trading nation, when he advised the Prime Minister to reverse the agreed MoD policy of keeping HMS Ark Royal and the Harrier force.
He wanted to avoid the emasculation of the RAF, which the loss of one hundred old Tornado aircraft, two of which have been lost in accidents every year since it first entered service in 1979, would have meant.
The RAF often speaks of air power but fails to identify any air threat to our islands. It rarely acknowledges the cost efficiency of carrier-borne air power compared to the much-restricted land-based air force's offer, one that is often severely constrained by over-flying rights and/or sheer distance, such as was the case in the Falklands War.
Shadow Defence Minister Alison Seabeck's comments made me smile, though. She is critical of the rushed SDSR in 2010, as are many, and she warns of care being needed by government with the running and management of our armed forces. Through history, fundamental to the right armed forces for any country is a sound economy.
Without adequate funding, and in bad economic times, history shows that armed forces are cut back, investment reduced and the result is invariably an unpreparedness for the next big event.
The Coalition had no alternative to reducing drastically the defence budget and attacking waste in procurement, for the last Labour government had left, as a Labour treasury minister noted, no money in the exchequer. Gordon Brown has a lot to answer for as well as Stirrup.
Some say that the Conservatives always do worse at defence than Labour, the latter showing a willingness to spend on the armed forces. My answer is that Labour spends all right, spends money we don't have, leaves us in a shocking state of debt and the Conservatives are then elected to sort out the mess that our socialist friends have engineered.
Nevertheless, there is an imbalance in our armed forces with an over-emphasis on land-based air when what this country needs are flexible air forces and expeditionary land forces, and that is exactly what the Royal Navy can offer, with the right tools. Our economy rolls on in a poor state and it is time for the government to look at placing all maritime air assets with the Royal Navy and all land air assets with the Army. Neither the Army nor Navy treat air assets as independent, for aircraft are just another weapon available to commanders on operations, yet to the RAF that one weapons system – aircraft – requires a whole separate armed service.
It's nonsense of course, now based on myth and tradition, but there is a saving of £3.5bn a year to be made, a reduction of some 20,000 RAF people too, and the flipside is no loss of operational capability whatsoever; indeed, with two armed services, inter-service co-operation would be improved enormously and a whole layer of bureaucracy removed. Such an organisational change will inevitably be made one day – it's best done now for we certainly need the money now.
LESTER MAY (Lieutenant-Commander RN – retired)
Camden Town, London