back to article MoD budget train crash behind Brown v forces rumpus

A complicated battle is going on behind closed doors in Whitehall at the moment regarding the British armed forces' budget. Some of those involved are making public statements; others are briefing the media off the record; others still are saying nothing at all. The players include the upper echelons of the Ministry of Defence …


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  1. Alan Paice

    Well written

    Very good article. There so many people getting fat from defence spending that I doubt there will be any noticible change.

  2. Mark

    Cancel the aircraft/jets

    What are the suppliers going to do?

    Cancel the nuke sub upgrade until it can be afforded. The US can't FORCE us to buy it.

    Use our forces for defense, not aggression.

    We don't then have a problem.

    Then again, if they don't spend the money "friends of the government" will be annoyed because they didn't get the dosh, and won't be friends with their MP colleagues. Maybe even refuse to give them a job in industry after leaving parliament...

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The Song Remains The Same..

    Pick any century since the middle ages and the story is the same. The UK has never been properly prepared for its military activities.

    The story is now changing however as unlike all those other centuries the UK is now no longer a significant trading nation.

    A country's armed forces are funded from trade and industry this is why ours is in decline and China's is on the rise.

    The painful truth is that the UK is no longer relevant on the world stage as a manufacturing or military player. There is no merchant fleet or overseas asset to protect.

    The UK has had an oversize military compared to the size of the country. It's time to realise that it can no longer be afforded along with many of the other benefits that industrial countries have.

    A cheaper and more modern military is required that is a tiny fraction of the size. The foolish political wars must be forgotten too.

  4. Matt

    A bit biased

    US kit often doesn't work either. Why should the UK prop up the US arms industry? The more we become dependent on them the more leverage they've got on us.

    It also seems to me that the only reason UK based projects are late is because the MoD can't manage them.

    Although I agree with one of the previous posters: Get out of Iraq and stop being aggressors, after all that's what the majority of voters want. That'd cut the budget overnight and also help recruitment as at the moment people feel they are being used as political pawns rather than fighting for their country.

  5. Chris Morrison

    Anyone fancy a few tens of billion £'s

    Why not just cancel the replacement for Trident. Suddenly there would be tons of money floating around (could even give some to Northern Rock if you want to protect banking as well as defence) and the people of Scotland would be much happier.

    Or they could spend the money on the new trident and Scotland could turn round and say Tough titties, we're going our seperate way, where will you keep your big, highly dangerous, subs now!


  6. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    This is similar to the last rant

    The economic reality is:

    Spend the money in the UK and it just goes around in the economy, funding equipment rather than unemployment. Its essentially free.

    Spend the money with an overseas supplier, its gone for good - as is your industry.

    The UK is more than capable of delivering good kit quickly. The problem is political faffing and three letters ... B ... A ... E

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    fat fighters

    Although I believe that money is better spent in our economy even if it is more expensive, afterall it is still in our circulation and our wages and our taxes, rather than US wages & US taxes, I have to say I think the only way to forcibly remove the fat from the UK arms trade is a starvation diet. Lean, mean etc...

  8. Marc Savage

    How stupid can people be ?

    Doing the work in the Uk plows money back into the UK economy. Improves home grown skills etc.

  9. Bruce

    Where do i sign up?

    Having been a keen follower of things MOD for many years (if you like farce this is the hobby for you) i feel i can finally put my hat in the ring, There is a gravy train here like no other that rewards incompetence with hard cash. I want to be a part of it, where do i sign up, when can i get my peerage and who do i have to sleep with/give a bung in order for my hand made crap napkin based body armour to be approved and purchased? I will even let the napkins be glued together in Scotland if it helps.

    Keep up the good work Lewis, come the glorious revolution you get the MOD as your private bitch.

  10. Saucerhead Tharpe

    The ex-defence chiefs are guilty as well

    They didn't object to years of cuts during their rounds, and this tech vs troops argument has been going on long enough to have made it into "Yes, Prime Minister"

    Where were they during their years?

    Bottom line, the politicals need to spend cash, but are scared of being SEEN to tax for it. The electorate should become mature and honest with itself.

    But it won't

  11. Anonymous Coward

    EU Army

    I think increasing infantry numbers isn't a good idea. When we pull most people out of the Middle East (which won't take so long given the gradual bleeding of votes the longer we stay out there) - then all these extra army folks are going to be paid to play sports and doss around all year round.

    This '10% understaffed' includes having a big group of guys sitting back in UK just incase France decides to invade us.

  12. REMF

    Wrong Mr Page

    A few years back we asked ourselves what we wanted the Armed Forces to do, it was called the Strategic Defence Review and all told it was a pretty thorough and well thought out document.

    The next logical step was to direct the Treasury to provide the money necessary to achieve the vision................... and this is where things fell down.

    Yes, Defence inflation is much higher than the standard variety, yes there has traditionally been a lot of waste and mismanagement from the MOD, and yes there is an element of pork barrel politics in an attempt to preserve UK defence industrial capacity.

    However, the simple fact is that all of this was known and yet we still neglected to provide the funds to reach the desired goal, i.e. the Strategic Defence Review.

    We spend a miserable 2.2% of GDP of Defence, far lower than the high-point of the Cold War (around 4.0%) so we can easily match Defence inflation.

    The MOD is getting better at Defence procurement; yes slowly, and no it will never be as good as the private sector, but it is getting better and has gone through 10 years of Treasury enforced asset stripping.

    There are areas of strategic Defence Industrial capacity which the UK has decided to maintain for strategic reasons, this will cost more. I agree that where this is not the case we should buy cheap American kit.

    But you are fundamentally wrong on several of your assertions, notably:

    > Eurofighter - we cannot just cut the order, the contractual penalties are allegedly nearly as onerous as buying the kit in the first place. It is a shame that we are committed to buying so many Eurofighters, best we learn for next time rather than make silly assertions about solving current problems.

    > Royal Navy - we have a competance in blue-water power projection that will always be useful, which will disappear for a generation if we slash it now.

    We need those two Aircraft Carriers and the thirty-two escort Warships, as well as a minimum fleet of 12 nuclear submarines, slash-n-burn is not the answer.

    Yes, we need more soldiers, and yes they must be paid more, but the answer is to follow the advice of the UKNDA and increase the Defence budget to 3.0% of GDP.


  13. Adam Richardson

    "But all these projects bring jobs to Blighty"

    "But all these projects bring jobs to Blighty"

    That's not really true. Spending the money on the UK arms industry just *diverts* jobs from other bits of the economy. It doesn't *create* them. Some people probably argue that military jobs are "better" than insurance jobs (or whatever) but I don't know why really.

    Anon wrote:

    "The economic reality is: Spend the money in the UK and it just goes around in the economy, funding equipment rather than unemployment. Its essentially free."

    No, this isn't reality at all. It's a complete fallacy. Under no circumstances is buying inferior, expensive equipment "good for the economy"... and you can't "fund unemployment"... and claiming it's free is frankly bizaare. Presumably you think we can purchase an infinite number of Eurofighters, Destroyers, tanks etc. That's what "free" means.

  14. Anonymous Coward

    UK Manufacturing and Industry needs support

    It's idiots in government and penny pinching morons who are entirely responsible for the massive loss of British heavy engineering and manufacturing capability - and that includes many of the moronic penny pinching ideas put forth by the author if this article.

    By saving a little money and sending contracts overseas, British engineering and manufacturing companies lose out, causing them to close, with a loss of jobs and skill, leading to higher prices and yet more overseas outsourcing. It's a never ending spiral which absolutely needs to stop.

    If this country keeps going the way it is, then we will end up as a country with only two industries - tourism and finance (and perhaps a third - idiot journalists) - we must support what's left of our heavy industry, and we must help it to regenerate, before it's too late and we have no option but to rely on the French or Americans for all our needs.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Gates Horns

    Who says the only idiots are in government?

    I love seeing Ebil Amerikkkans such as I being blamed for your defense woes. After all, the EU is such a crack military force that it is single-handedly taking care of Afghanistan, just as it did with Bosnia. Right?

    Go on, beat those swords into ploughshares; I hear that Argentina wants another crack at the Falklands.

    P.S. if you'd make your own 'kit' a bit higher quality, you wouldn't <need> to buy from us (Bowman, Watchkeeper, Typhoon), and good for you.

  16. Andy Moore

    Same as always

    I served in REME from 80-86. I still remember the beauty of the Nimrod trials and how much that cost the taxpayer for utter rubbish. Even better was the joy of the 1 tonne landrover each costing more than a Rolls Royce and 6 times the price of the Willys Jeep (same capability). (And boy of boy was the 1 Tonne Rover a classic piece of British Leyland rubbish)

    The problem with this so called British developed kit is the cost if so high that the army get much smaller amounts, the Politicians love talking about home grown defence industry but the only thing that should matter is giving the guys on the ground the best kit and plenty of it.

  17. laird cummings

    What happend to the mighty empire of old?

    It seems to me that Brit soldiers have long, long done with second best equipment, but that the 'second best' was good enough, because it was only *just* second best, and it was backed up by tough-minded, determined, skilled soldiers and sailors. Moral is to the material as ten is to one, and all that.

    Given solid, serviceable, reliable kit, and well-paid, well-treated service men and women, I see no particular need to "keep up with the Jones" on bleeding-edge equipment. The UK arms industry turns out some very good equipment, and occasionally some astonishingly superior kit, but it doesn't need to be kept in high gear - just turing over on 'idle,' so some key skills can be retain at some minimum level should be sufficient. Really - How often will the UK need a new Challenger? Buy a few tanks every year to keep the firms open, and to replace worn and lost equipment, and call that good. How much does the UK *really* need a new fighter? Buy a few, to keep up with current art, and then make the best use of the rest of the somewhat older fleet.

    So on, and so forth - Buying 'shiny best' when 'long in the tooth but still serviceable' is good enough is silly, it seems to me. Hell, the 44-year old A-6 still flies combat, in the form of the EA-6 Prowler, as well as other old aircraft. We only just recently scrapped the F-14, the venerable F-4 still had roles as late as 1996, and the B-52 is *52* years old and still a front-line bomber. On land, we drove M-60 tanks into Kuwait in the first war there not so long ago, and they killed Iraqi tanks with every bit as much finality as the M-1 did, despite being a design more than twice as old as that of some of the tanks they were killing. The venerable M-113 aluminum box is still showing up for duty in various roles too, though it's no longer front-line assault gear and has been tarted up with fancy new gadgets and new designations. The list goes on and on... Old kit doesn't mean *ineffective* kit, and old kit can be retorfitted to keep it competitive (which should keep local firms in jobs and contracts just as well as new building would).

    Place your trust in the men and women behind the equipment, and pay them well - that's the path forwards.

  18. Peter W

    and how many billions

    will it cost us if we have to support the out-of-work people in the uk arms industry if we send all the work overseas?

    By no means should we be overpaying, and some of the kit seems pretty pointless considering our likely commitments, but thats a completely different matter from where the work should go which should (IMO) stay as British as possible.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters

    Please, sir, can I have some more ammunition?

    I've been "on the inside" and can say with some certainty that blaming British industry is not the answer - you have the government trying to get something for nothing and the suppliers trying to keep their shareholders sweet, with the workers and the fightin'men (and women) stuck in the middle getting shafted from both sides.

    Most British (sorry, UK) projects suffer from having people with little or no idea (normally, but not exclusively, Politicians) making demands and producing specifications, then changing their minds halfway through and chucking their toys out their prams when the designers point out it will cost more to add/change whats already been done; the Nimrod AEW.3 was a perfect example of this.

    The biggest danger in scrapping all our own homebuilt stuff is that we then need to buy it elsewhere - Belgium refused to hand over ammunition during Gulf War 1 because they didn't think we should be there. The Americans have already threatened not to let the RAF maintain their own JSF (the Harrier's replacement) as it would mean the UK having technical knowledge of 'top-secret American systems' (many of which, coincidentally, are actually being designed and/or made by UK companies!).

    How many people who say we should stop "wasting" money on British kit and buy it all overseas, also say we should stop being America's poodle or think it a bad idea if, say, the French or some other European nation was allowed to dictate who we could and could not fight for/against? Because that is effectively what would happen - if we tried to fight a war our as-yet-unknown Arms Supplier did not like, it would not be long before our troops had to crawl home with their tails between their legs because we weren't allowed to buy spares and ammunition.

    Just ask the Iranians how easy it was to keep all the American-built F14s flying after the arms embargo started (maybe a bad choice because Iran doesn't have the best reputation but it's not exactly a secret, unlike [CENSORED]).

    Oh, and Mark? It doesn't matter if you want us to keep our forces for defence only. There will always, [i]always[/i] be someone who wants to take what someone else has. It is as true today as it was when Sun Tzu wrote 'The Art of War' - if you are not prepared to go and fight the Aggressor in his own territory, it won't be long until he's rampaging happily through your own back yard.

    That doesn't mean I believe we have carte blanche to run roughshod over every other nation - but don't forget the Americans didn't invade Iraq until Iraq invaded Kuwait.

    "You don't win a war by dying for your country. You win by making the other [EXPLETIVE DELETED] die for his."

  20. Mark

    Broken window fallacy

    Spending more money here in the UK being seen as good is an example of the broken window fallacy. If the only idea was to get people with money in these areas, it would be more efficient to just give the people a wage. Handouts go equally to everyone and you don't see "senior handout executives" getting 150x the handout "because we wish to hand out to the best people available". So it is more efficient.

    However, people would complain if that happened so openly, so we hide the handouts in contract bids (with the skim for the senior executives "because they have the risky jobs".

  21. Will


    In brief..

    "Hundreds of exorbitantly expensive Eurofighter jets will arrive, and a dozen airliner-sized MRA4 Nimrod subhunter planes which - horrifyingly - are to be even worse value"

    MRA4 is not just a subhunter, it will join the MR2 over Iraq and Afghanistan providing high value ISTAR assets for the Army.. just about everyone wants to add some system or other to them. But then it doesn't say this on the Wikipedia page so feel free to spout crap.

    "and the MoD seriously needs to make up its mind about replacing large parts of the Army's antiquated combat vehicle fleet."

    So we're ignoring the Mastiffs that are already in service in Iraq then? Or the other vehicles that have been bought in in spite of FRES not being complete?

    "Quite apart from all that, there are two large wars going on overseas, which mostly call for entirely different things: most notably infantrymen, but also unmanned surveillance and weapons drones, satellite bandwidth, close air support and - above all - transport aircraft, both helicopters and fixed-wing. Of all the new multibillion pound projects currently in the pipeline, only the carrier jump-jets and the new Army vehicles have much relevance to Iraq and Afghanistan. Hard-pressed fighting commanders right now would probably swap even these for more troops and more aircraft to move them around in."

    Yes we know the army are working hard, but try for some balance man! The biggest mistake made in defence over the years has been to buy kit for the wars you fight today and neglect other assets. The simple fact is that if the UK is to maintain it's independent ability to create a taskforce to do what it pleases this assets are vital.

    Actually you know what, I give up carry on, i'll just ignore the articles...

  22. Chris Braisby

    Don't make the Servicemen suffer

    Servicemen do the bidding of the government of the day. They go where they are told and try to do the best they can for their country, unit and mates.

    Now after a decade of new and continued operations with a decreasing budget, wages and benefits and other sides of service life people are leaving.

    Voters have allowed this overworking of the forces by not being ready to increase their taxes or voting out the present Govt so as voters you need to consider I am willing to pay for what my government wants to do or should I tell my government to scale back what the forces do.

    We are now a much smaller and insignificant country on the world stage, we no longer have an empire, just a collection of disparate islands here and there, let us reduce what we do and try to do that as well as our resources allow us.

    You don't have to support the war to support the troops.

  23. Nigee


    The reality is that over the past 50 years there has been good, bad and indifferent kit from suppliers of all nations. Uk defence has a pretty good track record of producing some rather good stuff. The traditional failing was reliability (a hang over of WW2 attitudes where an AFV was expected to do more than a couple of thousand miles in its life). However, circa 1980 the Army at last got serious about reliability and UK designed and developed systems such as Cha2, AS90 and warrior are on a par with if not better than anying coming out of the US. Anybody who has the delusion about wondrous US kit should pay attention to the Cold War artillery, mostly equipped with US kit, the best that can be said is 'very ordinary', but it was cheap and in all cases the only option available.

    The issue is that UK has often demanded higher capability than what was available off the shelf, this means either significant modification or a new design. The 1 tonne LR is an example, suggesting a Willies jeep could tow Rapier or a light gun and its ammo is a joke. The need was for a compact and light vehicle to fit inside small aircraft (eg Andover and the NASR for Chinook (that one failed that time around)) with the power to pull the required loads. Fleet management and logistic considerations then meant that this vehicle was then more widely used in a general purpose role.

    It useful to note that many nations demand a significant level of local content when they buy foreign equipment. There are several reasons: guarantee of supply, ability to make modifications during the equipment life, fitting classified gear that you don't want getting into the hands of the foreign supplier, jobs, and in the past foreign currency. There are probably others.

    I'm amused that most of the procurement failures shouted about are ancient history, although some are intersting (eg Nimrod AEW was basically a failure to recornise Moore's law and in consequence a daft policy for chips). The change to 'Smart procurement' and CADMID in the late '90s is having a good effect. The capability managers in MoD have to establish the required capbility in consultation with their constituency and overall defence policy (one of the reasons some current kit has problems is that it was designed for NW Europe, the policy at the time). They do not write specification, the relevant IPT then gets on with the acquisition including a heap of risk reduction. Obviously other issues can get in the way, like a political commitment to some arbitrary deadline. If anyone knows a better approach then they are wasted on this list, or better still tell someone starting with your local MP.

  24. martin
    Thumb Up

    Please sign up

    A brilliant article if i do say so.

    Can i ask The Reg to help please? Can you ask your readers to sign up to the following petition on the PM's website:

    It's vital if the British public are to be able to help our men and women they need help:


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