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SDSR: What to expect today

This afternoon, David Cameron will set out Her Majesty’s Government’s second Strategic Defence and Security Review since he came to power in 2010. The report is set to confirm defence spending at 2 percent, but will also paradoxically mean widespread cuts across the board.  Defence for Dummies is listing here (in order of branch seniority) what we think is likely to come up at 3:30 p.m.

The Royal Navy

  • As noted by this site, F-35 orders are to be ramped up to 138, shared between RAF and Royal Navy.
  • Both Queen Elizabeth-class carriers will be placed into commission, with previous mothballing plans for HMS Prince of Wales scrapped.
  • The Type 26 (Global Combat Ship) frigate programme will be cut into two phases. The first will order eight, with a further five to possibly be ordered in a second phase. This will likely result in no like for like replacement of current frigates.
  • To make up for the crew shortfall in the Royal Navy, due to missing manpower targets, redundancies and the requirements of two new aircraft carriers, two surface warships will be placed into mothballs. This is to ensure both HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales are manned to capacity.
  • The programme to replace the current Vanguard-class nuclear boats will go ahead, once approved by the House of Commons. Extremely unlikely for numbers to be reduced from four Trident submarines.

The Army

  • Bases to face significant cuts and closures. Current bases probably will be merged into ‘mega bases’ with multiple regiments or battalions. Germany withdrawal also to be fully confirmed. Other real estate likely to be ditched, fate of the MoD golf courses is unclear.
  • Creation of two new rapid deployment ‘Strike Brigades,’ that appear to be made of spin. Made up of current forces and a few new Ajax Scout vehicles. These will take 10 years to form (2 SDSRs away).
  • Helicopter replacements, mainly of the older Apache gunships (as predicted by Howard Wheeldon)
  • Personnel numbers likely to be left alone, however there are some battalions that feel under threat, more mergers probably not to be seen today but could come up during this government.

The Royal Air Force

  • Planned retirement of early Typhoons put on hold, to make up numbers in promised two new squadrons. Supposedly a third squadron will be added by 2020 of F-35s, pending their ability to be certified operational.
  • Poseidon P-8s, bought from the US will be acquired to return maritime patrol capability to UK shores. Was originally thought to be a lease from the US Navy, but now looks like nine are being permanently acquired.
  • New phase of Typhoon upgrades in abilities and systems, likely to allow the early builds to keep up.
  • Despite the 2010 SDSR promising withdrawal of the Sentinel R1, it will be retained for the next decade. This is due to its heavy use against Daesh and by NATO. The Sentinel is a surveillance aircraft.
  • Similar extensions will also be given to the E3-D Sentry AWACS, again for use against Daesh. The Sentry is an airborne early warning aircraft.
  • As with the army, RAF base closures can be expected. Squadrons likely to move in with neighbours.
  • With increased special forces activity in the Middle East, several C-130 transport aircraft are to be retained for their use, despite introduction of the newer A400M transports (also as predicted by Howard Wheeldon).
  • The RAF Regiment could face cuts, given its lower profile and a government promise of no permanent service manpower reductions to the Army.
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UK SDSR hedges bets on F-35 and SAS

The F-35, not content with being the unloved accident of the defence industry is now set to be the grim reaper for large portions of the British Armed Forces.

Under plans revealed in the Sunday Times today (paywall), Chancellor George Osborne unveiled the government’s intention to buy more than 138 F-35Bs for the Royal Air Force and Navy. This figure had been recently mooted as nowhere near conceivable, with final numbers expected to be in double digits.

The cost of further billions being spent on the cursed aircraft will have repercussions across the defence budget, the details of which will be revealed on Monday in the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR).

It is understood the Armed Forces will say goodbye to even more regiments, battalions and even bases. In return the military will see larger amounts of the management outsourced and training regimes cut back to save costs. Base closure locations are not yet confirmed, but will likely be home to British army regiments set to be amalgamated or disbanded.

One of the biggest losers predicted on Monday will be the Type 26 Global Combat Ship programme. Originally intended to replace the ageing Type 23 frigates on a like-for-like basis, the priority given to projects like the F-35 will mean that final Type 26 numbers will come nowhere near original promised targets. Currently active warships are also expected to be mothballed long ahead of schedule.

Besides the F-35, another segment of the Forces looking at a budget increase will be corps like the Special Air Service (SAS) and other parts of the special forces. Capitalising on post-Paris shock and a love of the special forces in Britain, the government is attempting to use the small budget boost to spin the substantive job and capability losses faced elsewhere across the board.

Despite the widespread scythe set to be cut through the military establishment on Monday, Osborne and the government will still be able to claim a 2 percent overall spend of GDP on defence, due to the inclusion of figures such as war pensions, civilian pensions, and UN peacekeeping contributions.

 

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Operational F-35s to be Counted on One Hand

Her Majesty’s Minister for Defence Procurement, Mr Philip Dunne, made a quiet announcement in an answer to a parliamentary question today.

Asked by Labour MP Andrew Gwynne how many F-35 Joint Strike Fighters would be needed to meet initial operating capability, Dunne informed the house that the Ministry of Defence will consider the jet to be operational on the delivery of the fifth aircraft, of eight ordered.

“Of the eight F-35B aircraft that the UK has so far ordered, three will undertake operational test and evaluation flying. The remaining five will contribute to the Initial Operating Capability.”

The F-35’s custom built carrier, the HMS Queen Elizabeth is said to be able to launch aircraft every 30 seconds, which will, by our calculations, allow the £3bn ship to get the nation’s entire maritime fast jet presence in the air in under three minutes. Talk about service.

Of course when HMS Prince of Wales comes into service, that will be an impressive 2.5 planes per carrier.