Navy experts call defence re-organisation 'ludicrous'
The Government's "grandiose ideas" of reshaping the Armed Forces for the long-term future while slashing manpower and equipment has proved "ludicrous" given recent world events, a Westcountry military expert has warned.
Steve Bush, who edits Liskeard-based Warship World magazine, said the Arab Spring caught the Government "off-guard" and required military expertise and hardware which had "already been withdrawn, gapped and scrapped".
Writing in the latest edition of the fleet guide British Warships and Auxiliaries, Mr Bush said: "The Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) set out by the Conservative-led coalition in 2010 was ill thought out and aimed to reshape the forces to counter the perceived threats from 2020.
"The vision of Future Force 2020 may indeed turn out to be adequate for the job in hand in seven years' time but unfortunately the SDSR was accompanied by the savage slashing of current equipment, creating massive capability gaps, in the misguided belief that nothing untoward would happen during the transition from the Armed Forces of 2010 to those slimmed down capabilities required in 2020."
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Events in the Middle East, he added, "proved how quickly world events can change and how ludicrous it is to try and shape Armed Forces for a perceivable threat so far in the future while at the same time gambling with capability gaps in the hope that nothing would crop up in the interim".
Mr Bush argued: "There will be another review in 2015 under the new guidelines set out by the Government but already, only halfway down that road, the whole process has shown to be flawed.
"Although it is seeded with grandiose ideas of shaping a modern, efficient fighting force capable of projecting power around the globe and flexible enough to deploy rapidly and in strength, the facts have shown themselves to be nothing more than another ploy to save millions of pounds by cutting much-needed capability today with the promise that by 2020, miraculously, the UK Armed Forces will be properly trained, equipped and supported to carry out the will of the Government."
He also aired concerns that plans to replace the ageing Type 23 frigates, some of which are based at Devonport in Plymouth, could see another reduction in the overall strength of the fleet.
He pointed to the Type 42 replacement programme which had delivered just half of the 12 ships that had previously been planned.
"The Royal Navy destroyer/frigate force is operating at maximum tempo with just 19 ships, rather than the 32 deemed a minimum just a few years ago," he said.
"If the Type 23 programme goes along the same lines as the earlier Type 45 programme we can stand by for a reduction in numbers with the Government rolling out its oft-used argument that 'improved capability means we can do the same tasking with fewer hulls'. I hope that I am proved wrong."
He said the Ministry of Defence needed to "seriously address how the Royal Navy is to operate in Future Force 2020" before the next review.
Based on current progress and with current budgets, Mr Bush argued, it was "not going to be able to deliver the capability the Government is advocating".
He said: "Although the Royal Navy will never admit it, they are going to continue to be stretched and as a result be less able to commit the correct type of ship, in sufficient numbers to meet the ever increasing demands and tasking placed on them."