The Government’s decision to launch air strikes against Isil in Iraq has prompted a number of senior officers to vent their frustration that the Coalition is happy to commit our Armed Forces to action while at the same time reducing their ability to do so as a result of its dramatic cuts to the defence budget.
General Sir David Richards, the recently retired head of our Armed Forces, spoke for many officers who are still serving when he demanded that the Government should urgently review its approach to defence spending if it wants to commit our military to undertake new operations.
To get an idea of just how badly the Armed Forces have been affected by the cuts implemented since the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) we thought it might be useful to list some of the more glaring deficiencies that have arisen in our capabilities:
1) Where have all the soldiers gone?
Cutting the Army strength by one fifth to 82,000, with the new 30,000-strong reserve force filling the gaps created by the regulars, was always going to be a tough call and, as things stand, the reserves will not be able to plug the gap by the 2020 deadline. Consequently, as Sir David warned at the weekend, the Army will not be able to carry out a long-term military campaign on the scale recently conducted in Iraq and Afghanistan.
2) RAF down to the bare bones
The only aircraft suitable for the bombing campaign against Isil is the ageing Tornado, and yet the cuts mean the RAF now has only three combat squadrons left. The long-term plan is for the next generation of Eurofighter Typhoons to be fitted with the same capabilities, but the cutbacks mean the programme has been delayed and it will be several years before the Typhoon will be able to match the Tornado.
3) Our unprotected seas
Arguably the most catastrophic decision taken by the last SDSR was to scrap the RAF’s maritime patrol capability, which in effect has given Russia’s nuclear submarines the freedom of the North Sea. At a time when Russian President Vladimir Putin seems intent on flexing Moscow’s military muscle, providing the RAF with new aircraft to replace the Nimrod should be a top priority.
4) Aircraft carriers with no aircraft
When the two Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers were first conceived the idea was that the would carry 72 joint strike fighters. Now that number has been halved, and might fall even further still if the costs of the new aircraft continue to rise. That might explain why officials now refer to them as “multi-purpose delivery platforms” rather than aircraft carriers.
5) Triumph of the cyber warriors
Cyber warfare has now been officially designated as a core military responsibility, but the decision has taken so long to implement that we are now light years behind our main rivals in Russia and China in our ability to wage war in cyberspace.