The Folly of the U.K.'s Defense Cuts

As the Congress debates budgetary issues, some liberals are marketing British defense cuts as a model for America, claiming that if the U.K. can afford to reduce its defense budget, so can America.

A close examination of these defense cuts, however, reveals that they will dramatically weaken the British military, make Britain (and America) less safe, save little money in the short term and zero in the long term, and have been implemented as a result of political pressure.  Therefore, America should not emulate this policy.

First, the context.  The last budget by Gordon Brown's government included the largest budget deficit in British history.  His Cabinet left Britain deep in a debt so large that government spending reductions were necessary (the British people are already taxed too heavily).

But reductions of defense spending are only weakening the British military and making Britain less safe, while saving little money.

The FY2011/12 defense budget is £40 billion.  Under the current government's plans, it will be reduced to just £33 billion in FY2014/15.  That is a 1/6 cut, which is much bigger than what Defense Secretary Liam Fox was originally prepared to tolerate but smaller than what Chancellor George Osborne originally demanded.  This £7-billion cut is too small to significantly reduce, let alone eliminate, the budget deficit.  But it will significantly weaken a military whose budget is already too small.  The U.K.'s GDP is roughly £1.4 trillion (p. 22); the defense budget constitutes only 2.857% of that.

These cuts have been ordered because wishy-washy "Conservatives" like Prime Minister Cameron and the LibDems in the Cabinet, led by Nick Clegg, have demanded them.  They don't care if Britain is safe, and Clegg overtly supports disarmament.  Meanwhile, they have "ring-fenced" (i.e., shielded from budget cuts) the bloated Department of Health, including the dysfunctional NHS (which has an internal quango costing £60 billion per year) and the useless foreign aid budget.  Indeed, the British government plans to increase both.

So, while the MOD is forced to make drastic cuts, the bloated DOH and the Dept. of International Development are not only shielded from cuts, but even receiving more of taxpayers' money to waste.

What specific cuts will the MOD have to make?

The RAF's combat jet fleet will be cut in half, consisting only of Typhoons and a small number of obsolete Tornados.  Harriers of the RAF and the RN were retired in late 2010, thus leaving the RN without any attack jets (let alone fleet defense jets -- these were retired by Blair in 2006) and thus any conventional long-range-strike capability.  The British Army will have to cut their tank and self-propelled howitzer fleets by 40%, even though they're already too small (even weak countries like Poland have bigger tank fleets) and have proven indispensable in Iraq and Afghanistan.  The RN's frigate fleet will be drastically cut, and the carrier Ark Royal has been retired.  In the future, the RN will have only seven Astute class submarines and six DDGs alongside a small number of frigates; back in 2005, the RN had eight attack submarines, eight DDGs, and seventeen frigates.  In 1997, under John Major, it had twelve attack subs and 35 surface combatants.

The RN's future aircraft carriers have been delayed until 2020, and when they are commissioned, possibly only one of them will be fit to operate catapult-launched aircraft such as the F-35C.  The other might not be commissioned at all, and if it is, it might be only a helicopter-carrier.

So the one genuine aircraft carrier will not always be available; it will have to undergo a refit from time to time.  And when it does, there will be no other aircraft carrier available.

Of course, that's better than the current situation, wherein the RN has HMS Illustrious and HMS Ocean, two helicopter carriers capable of operating only choppers and STOVL planes like the decommissioned Harriers.

If Argentina invades the Falklands before the first carrier is commissioned (2020), or when it is unavailable, the Royal Navy will have no air cover and might not even try to retake the islands.  Daring class vessels, by themselves, will be insufficient to protect the RN against hostile aircraft.

Meanwhile, the British government, enamored of nuclear disarmament like the Obama administration, is cutting the already small and inadequate British nuclear deterrent, which has further been undermined by Obama, who has transferred specific information about it to Russia.  The government plans to cut the number of Trident missiles, missile tubes, and nuclear warheads below today's level of fewer than 200 warheads.

But the most ridiculous cut decided by the government and presented in its rigged "Strategic Defense and Security Review" is the plan to replace its Hercules planes with A400M aircraft, on which the MOD has spent billions of pounds.  Instead of purchasing a modern, much more capable variant of the C-130 type -- the C-130J Super Hercules -- the MOD intends to continue to waste money on an aircraft program that has suffered large cost overruns and delays, and which will yield only a single cargoplane in many years, if ever.  France and Germany barely managed to salvage that program in 2009, and the Germans reduced their orders from 73 to 60 aircraft as early as 2003.  Yet instead of buying 25 C-130Js for $66 million each, the U.K. intends to buy 25 A400Ms for 136 million each.

Ironically, the Coalition government is implementing cuts even deeper than those which the Conservatives criticized when they were the opposition -- cuts implemented by the Labour Party.  Consider this, written by Liam Fox MP in 2008:

This Government has conned the Royal Navy into taking cuts that it can barely cope with while still asking it to do more and more.

The path, which has led us to where our Navy is today, has been one of betrayal and contempt by the Government. Time and time again, since the 1998 Strategic Defence Review, our Navy has been blackmailed into accepting cuts to its fleet to ensure the eventual addition of the two new carriers which are so desperately needed.

That same Liam Fox is now implementing even deeper cuts than what he protested against.  But now that Conservatives are running the country, they're singing a different tune.  And because they're in a coalition with the LibDems, they've slavishly agreed to these deeper defense cuts.

Britain's defense cuts are bad news for her and the U.S., because they mean the U.S. will lose its only real large-scale military partner.  America should not emulate this policy.

As the Congress debates budgetary issues, some liberals are marketing British defense cuts as a model for America, claiming that if the U.K. can afford to reduce its defense budget, so can America.

A close examination of these defense cuts, however, reveals that they will dramatically weaken the British military, make Britain (and America) less safe, save little money in the short term and zero in the long term, and have been implemented as a result of political pressure.  Therefore, America should not emulate this policy.

First, the context.  The last budget by Gordon Brown's government included the largest budget deficit in British history.  His Cabinet left Britain deep in a debt so large that government spending reductions were necessary (the British people are already taxed too heavily).

But reductions of defense spending are only weakening the British military and making Britain less safe, while saving little money.

The FY2011/12 defense budget is £40 billion.  Under the current government's plans, it will be reduced to just £33 billion in FY2014/15.  That is a 1/6 cut, which is much bigger than what Defense Secretary Liam Fox was originally prepared to tolerate but smaller than what Chancellor George Osborne originally demanded.  This £7-billion cut is too small to significantly reduce, let alone eliminate, the budget deficit.  But it will significantly weaken a military whose budget is already too small.  The U.K.'s GDP is roughly £1.4 trillion (p. 22); the defense budget constitutes only 2.857% of that.

These cuts have been ordered because wishy-washy "Conservatives" like Prime Minister Cameron and the LibDems in the Cabinet, led by Nick Clegg, have demanded them.  They don't care if Britain is safe, and Clegg overtly supports disarmament.  Meanwhile, they have "ring-fenced" (i.e., shielded from budget cuts) the bloated Department of Health, including the dysfunctional NHS (which has an internal quango costing £60 billion per year) and the useless foreign aid budget.  Indeed, the British government plans to increase both.

So, while the MOD is forced to make drastic cuts, the bloated DOH and the Dept. of International Development are not only shielded from cuts, but even receiving more of taxpayers' money to waste.

What specific cuts will the MOD have to make?

The RAF's combat jet fleet will be cut in half, consisting only of Typhoons and a small number of obsolete Tornados.  Harriers of the RAF and the RN were retired in late 2010, thus leaving the RN without any attack jets (let alone fleet defense jets -- these were retired by Blair in 2006) and thus any conventional long-range-strike capability.  The British Army will have to cut their tank and self-propelled howitzer fleets by 40%, even though they're already too small (even weak countries like Poland have bigger tank fleets) and have proven indispensable in Iraq and Afghanistan.  The RN's frigate fleet will be drastically cut, and the carrier Ark Royal has been retired.  In the future, the RN will have only seven Astute class submarines and six DDGs alongside a small number of frigates; back in 2005, the RN had eight attack submarines, eight DDGs, and seventeen frigates.  In 1997, under John Major, it had twelve attack subs and 35 surface combatants.

The RN's future aircraft carriers have been delayed until 2020, and when they are commissioned, possibly only one of them will be fit to operate catapult-launched aircraft such as the F-35C.  The other might not be commissioned at all, and if it is, it might be only a helicopter-carrier.

So the one genuine aircraft carrier will not always be available; it will have to undergo a refit from time to time.  And when it does, there will be no other aircraft carrier available.

Of course, that's better than the current situation, wherein the RN has HMS Illustrious and HMS Ocean, two helicopter carriers capable of operating only choppers and STOVL planes like the decommissioned Harriers.

If Argentina invades the Falklands before the first carrier is commissioned (2020), or when it is unavailable, the Royal Navy will have no air cover and might not even try to retake the islands.  Daring class vessels, by themselves, will be insufficient to protect the RN against hostile aircraft.

Meanwhile, the British government, enamored of nuclear disarmament like the Obama administration, is cutting the already small and inadequate British nuclear deterrent, which has further been undermined by Obama, who has transferred specific information about it to Russia.  The government plans to cut the number of Trident missiles, missile tubes, and nuclear warheads below today's level of fewer than 200 warheads.

But the most ridiculous cut decided by the government and presented in its rigged "Strategic Defense and Security Review" is the plan to replace its Hercules planes with A400M aircraft, on which the MOD has spent billions of pounds.  Instead of purchasing a modern, much more capable variant of the C-130 type -- the C-130J Super Hercules -- the MOD intends to continue to waste money on an aircraft program that has suffered large cost overruns and delays, and which will yield only a single cargoplane in many years, if ever.  France and Germany barely managed to salvage that program in 2009, and the Germans reduced their orders from 73 to 60 aircraft as early as 2003.  Yet instead of buying 25 C-130Js for $66 million each, the U.K. intends to buy 25 A400Ms for 136 million each.

Ironically, the Coalition government is implementing cuts even deeper than those which the Conservatives criticized when they were the opposition -- cuts implemented by the Labour Party.  Consider this, written by Liam Fox MP in 2008:

This Government has conned the Royal Navy into taking cuts that it can barely cope with while still asking it to do more and more.

The path, which has led us to where our Navy is today, has been one of betrayal and contempt by the Government. Time and time again, since the 1998 Strategic Defence Review, our Navy has been blackmailed into accepting cuts to its fleet to ensure the eventual addition of the two new carriers which are so desperately needed.

That same Liam Fox is now implementing even deeper cuts than what he protested against.  But now that Conservatives are running the country, they're singing a different tune.  And because they're in a coalition with the LibDems, they've slavishly agreed to these deeper defense cuts.

Britain's defense cuts are bad news for her and the U.S., because they mean the U.S. will lose its only real large-scale military partner.  America should not emulate this policy.