The UK Ministry of Defence does not have a particularly good reputation – and, down through history, its predecessors likewise.
It was said that British Army’s approach to strategic and tactical planning at the time of the Crimean War (1853-1856) had barely changed from time of the Battle of Waterloo (1815) chiefly because, given the iconic status of the Duke of Wellington – who ironically during his military career was known for keeping abreast of new and potentially far-reaching developments in armaments and tactics but did not die until 1852 – nobody who might have been of any consequence dared to.
Two human frailties seem to conspire to the chaos and I must declare that, for present purposes – and also in the cause of brevity – here I shall be deploying not a few sweeping generalisations.
Which – one might think – logic and hindsight would tell anyone is not only a suspect approach but borderline madness.
Nevertheless, as a result – as and when the next military crisis and/or war occurs, even if this be twenty or more years on – the best that can usually be said of the UK military is that it is in a state of heightened readiness to re-fight ‘last time out’, this partly on the assumption that (honour and limited foresight amongst thieves and military men being what they are) all potential adversaries will be in a similar position.
Secondly, as night follows day, there is always a fundamental ‘disconnect’ between military leaders and those civil servants and politicians who from time to time are allocated to deal with Defence matters and most particularly the thorny issues of hardware and manpower planning versus ‘spending and budgeting’.
During period of relative peace Governments who want to impress, and/or one day get re-elected, like to splurge cash on pet projects designed to improve the lot of the electorate.
Ergo, military spending is not the first thing on any Government’s mind when taking office. It is often the last thing.
Added to which, few civilians really understand military issues and therefore have an unfortunate tendency to bow to the supposedly superior understanding and knowledge of their military counterparts and not least whichever of the senior officers of each of the services is currently their “Buggin’s turn” as Chief of the Defence Staff.
On top of that comes the inevitable complication of all budgeting and particularly military spending reviews.
In an ideal world, of course – where (as in the military) the time gap between placing and order and actually taking delivery of the hardware concerned can be anywhere between five and fifteen years and any aspect of it can at any time also potentially be subject to delays caused by developmental problems – the military purposes for which any item of equipment has been ordered (and of course the global geo-political/current affairs situation) will have remained fixed and unaltered for the entirety.
Which it never does or will.
Suppose the UK has identified that one of its priorities for the next twenty years is to supply, protect and maintain those elements of its Empire that exist in the Far East. In military planning terms, therefore, it invests heavily in long-range naval vessels, aircraft and lightly-armed soldiers who can be moved swiftly about the globe.
(Let is say) eight years later each of those separate elements are now being delivered. Only by that time the UK doesn’t have any Empire left in the Far East – it’s all been granted independence and/or been annexed by China.
Thus the UK is left with a load of military hardware and soldiers trained in Far Eastern territory protection.
Well (obviously) those in the military and the Ministry of Defence – notionally responsible for the situation – don’t want to admit that they (and, of course, their predecessors who de facto placed the orders) have effectively wasted all that taxpayers’ money so they flaff around, making a lot of diversionary noise about all the things that this ‘new force’ will now be able to do (thus hoping to deflect anyone from pointing out that the one thing it was actually set up to do has disappeared in the meantime).
And then, of course, those self-same dullards in the military and Ministry of Defence will be earnestly turning their minds to the next Strategic Review – which by definition will (1) in time will duly be proved to have been based on false assumptions about the world order (and the UK’s part in it) and therefore also (2) have involved the ordering and paying for a whole new set of military hardware which – by the time it has arrived – will already be ‘out of date’ both in terms of the UK’s strategic place in the world and in arms development.
I’m not going to indulge myself and mention the UK’s latest military pride and joy – the two vast new aircraft carriers which are now undergoing seas trials etc. but which will not have aircraft (American F-35s) capable to go with them for several more years and (because they will not have enough Royal Navy ships to protect and support them) therefore in any event – as the Russians gleefully put it about a year ago – will be little more than “giant bombing practice targets”.
Instead I shall just link Rust readers to the following article by Mark Prigg on the latest, rather worrying, developments with the US F-35 fighter-bomber, a version of which will one day be flying from both our Royal Navy “white elephants’ – see here – DAILY MAIL