Monday, 28 February 2011

Defence Cuts and Libya

I have looked around everywhere for a post or article on this topic; the SDSR with regards to Libya. It seems that people are avoiding this topic like the plague, perhaps because it is monumentally obvious that if we are going to play any part in military action against Libya then we simply cannot go ahead with certain parts of the SDSR. It simply is not possible, why I will explain in a few minutes. First consider in full, again, the cuts as envisaged in the SDSR courtesy of Wikipedia.

British Army
  • Challenger 2 tanks will be cut by 40%.
  • The British Army presence in Germany will end by 2020.
  • Overall personnel numbers will drop by 7,000 to 95,500.
  • The number of Challenger 2 tanks will be cut by 40% to an estimated number of just over 200.
  • The number of AS-90 heavy artillery will be cut by 35%to an estimated 87.
Royal Air Force
  • The Harrier will be retired in order to maintain the Tornado as the RAF's main strike aircraft until the Typhoon matures. The latter and the F-35 Lightning II will constitute the RAF's fast jet fleet in the future.
  • Personnel will be reduced by 5,000 to 33,000.
  • Nimrod MRA4 project, after spending £3.2 billion and the first aircraft being completed, to be scrapped. RAF Kinloss, where the aircraft were to be based, will close.
  • Future Strategic Tanker Aircraft procurement will go ahead, as will the Airbus A400M. These aircraft, along with the current C-17s, will form the future air transport fleet. The VC10 and TriStars are approaching the end of their service lives and the C-130 fleet will be retired 10 years earlier than planned.
  • 12 Boeing Chinooks will be added to the current fleet, a cut to the original order for 22.
  • The Harrier GR9 will be withdrawn during 2011.
  • The RAF's future fast jet fleet will be based on the Typhoon and the F-35 Lightning II. The latter, which will also be flown by the Royal Navy, will be the more capable and cheaper F-35C version. The UK has originally planned to buy the F-35B, a Short Take Off and Vertical Landing aircraft. The F-35C has longer range, greater payload capability and the MOD envisages life cycle costs to be 25% cheaper than the F-35B.
  • The Sentinel R1 will be retired once it is no longer required to support forces in Afghanistan.
Royal Navy
  • The Royal Navy flagship aircraft carrier, HMS Ark Royal, will be decommissioned "almost immediately" rather than in 2014. The Joint Force Harrier aircraft will be retired. Both of these measures will save money for the purchase of the Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers.
  • One of the Albion class landing platform dock ships will be placed at extended readiness.
  • Either HMS Ocean or HMS Illustrious to be decommissioned, whichever is least capable as a helicopter carrier.This was decided in December 2010, Liam Fox stated "HMS Ocean should be retained to provide our landing platform helicopter capability for the longer term. HMS Illustrious will be withdrawn from service in 2014".
  • One of the Bay class landing ship dock vessels (later identified as RFA Largs Bay) would be decommissioned.
  • Replacement of the UK's nuclear deterrent, based on the Vanguard class ballistic missile submarines, will be delayed by four years, deferring £500 million in spending. Changes to the size of the missile tubes will save £250 million.
  • 7 Astute class submarines will be built as previously planned.
  • The surface fleet of frigates and destroyers will be reduced to nineteen ships; the current thirteen Type 23 frigates, the three active Type 45 destroyers, and the three Type 45 destroyers currently under construction. The remaining Type 22 frigates and Type 42 destroyers are to be disposed of. "As soon as possible after 2020", the Type 23 frigates will be replaced by new Type 26 frigates.
  • The strength of the RN will be reduced by 5,000 (to a total of about 30,000)
And that is it, few might wonder why we even bother having an armed force when there is no one in it, not our politicians of course they do not wonder any such sensible thoughts.

What is currently being planned to stop Gaddafi going all 15th century on his people, is to impose a no-fly zone. What is this? A no-fly zone is a territory over which aircraft are not permitted to fly. Such zones are usually set up in a military context, somewhat like a demilitarized zone in the sky.

Now the Geography of Libya is somewhat arduous if we are to contemplate using post-SDSR resources to corner Gaddafi. As you will see from the map on the left, Libya is not exactly surrounded by tea-loving cricket monkeys; Tunisia, Algeria, Niger, Chad, Sudan and Egypt are not our best international allies bluntly put. In the north there is water, a lot of water, so much water in fact that you need a ship. A big ship, something on the scale of an aircraft carrier. Why? Well, the americans have a lot of bases dotted around that region which can accommodate fighters jets of our pedigree, and they also have the tech needed to service them. Moreover the closest ally which uses the Typhoon is Italy, though they might not be over-joyed by the prospect of lending their bases to pesky Brits they would probably relent if leaned upon a bit. But that is a big 'if' and the italians have not been known to favour big expeditionary military missions since about two millennia ago - crossing the Rubicon and all of that. They are more embroiled in their Prime Minister's latest shenanigans. Hence were we to take part in the no-fly zone operation it would almost, without question, be with the help of the Americans. But then one must ask, why should we take part at all when they US Marines boast more fighters jets than our Navy and Airforce combined? Wont we just be in the way of a properly equipped fighting force? Chances are that this would be the case since we have no means of fielding any heavy equipment of our own except for choppers.

We still have a lot of craft which can accommodate choppers, and substantial numbers of them as well; that said a chopper is peanuts compared to a fighter jet and it is like comparing apples and oranges if you are to analyse a no-fly zone whilst only keeping choppers as your option. They are useful for close support but certainly not for patrolling an area four times the size of the UK.

The current UK flag-ship is HMS Albion, a grand lady indeed, but she cannot carry aeroplanes only choppers.

We have sold, scrapped or decommissioned the following Invincible class carriers; HMS Ark Royal and HMS Invincible. What remains is HMS Illustrious due for decommissioning in 2014 after HMS Ocean has undergone extensive refits.

Lets make this abundantly clear to those of you who do not yet realise the significance of an aircraft carrier. It is a floating bit of sovereign space. It is a tiny floating UK which can blow stuff up very quickly should circumstances so require it. Circumstances are not requiring it yet in Libya but if every armed conflict to date is anything to go by, they will. There is a difference between being belligerent and pragmatic and knowing your history and ignoring it. We are terribly good at forgetting our history in the UK and as a result tend to repeat an awful lot of mistakes which could have been avoided if people in command where not being so optimistic about the prospects.

They know that they need Illustrious more than ever, they know that they can halt the sale of HMS Invincible to a Turkish scrapyard and re-install the Rolls-Royce engines at the blink of an eye. But they wont for the simple reason that they will look weak and incompetent for having completed botched the SDSR. If any of them are reading this let me make this very clear; you already look like amateurs for thinking that no aircraft carriers would be needed during an entire decade. It took four months -four months- for your defence review to become obsolete. To save some face, or at the very least, listen to the people in the know, you can reverse some of these decisions. There is waste in the MoD, yes no one denies this, but there is also a time when you have admit and consent that you were wrong. Own up to your shortcomings and move on. These assets are gravely needed for a no-fly zone cannot be established without them, it simply is not possible since no one, down there, likes us enough to lend us their airbases and we would just be in the way of the americans as said.

What is more; the Typhoon cannot fly off aircraft carriers, it is not a carrier jet like the French Mirrage 2000. The Harrier GR9 can, but like everything else useful, it is being scrapped to save money. The Harrier and the Carriers are perhaps our most valuable asset right now, one cannot topple Gaddafi with nuclear submarines nor with Cyber Commands no matter how intriguing the prospect of that might sound.

The Government knows what they have to do in order to remain a significant player in the world, but they wont since they will loose face if they do. We have had so many politicians like that who were afraid to do the right thing, and as a result history only remembers them for their failure to do the right thing. Not for all the good they also did. What will the Coalition be? A Chamberlain or a Churchill?


Since the Libyan crisis began, the Coalition has faced repeated criticism over the decision last year to decommission HMS Ark Royal and the Royal Navy’s Harrier jets, leaving Britain without a functioning aircraft carrier. Dr Liam Fox, the Defence Secretary, insisted that such criticism was a “red herring” because the base in Cyprus meant Britain could still operate jets over Libya if required. And would it, pray, still be a "red herring" if this had happened in Zambia instead, where are no conveniently placed RAF stations. I cannot believe that this man is using geography as a defence for scrapping HMS Ark Royal. What an idiot. A five year old could pick holes in that defence.


William said...

Nothing to disagree with except it is Invincible that some Turks have bought not Ark Royal.
The Ark is being lined up by Boris to become a Thames based static operations base for the SAS to guard the Olympics.

What I cannot fathom, other than the fact Libya is awash with oil, is why Libya needs a no fly zone imposed upon it. If Gadaffi is planning to destroy his own country's oil infrastructure then planes are not the only option so a no fly zone will have little impact. Sadam or the CIA simply blew the oil wells up and set off massive persistent fires. I'm sure Gadaffi could easily do the same.

There is more to this than meets the eye but what it does show is IDave either isn't in the club he thinks he is or he and the African American have been caught out by events.

Richard North talks of lamp posts and piano wire and with each passing day he is making more and more sense.

13th Spitfire said...

Ah thanks for that, have fixed that little mistake now.

Yes certainly, there is way more to this than meets the eye. At face value it would appear that they have been genuinely taken by surprise and that their planted strong-men are not so strong anymore. In effect America has lost its grip on northern africa as much is for certain, and they wont be able to shaft the new countries for cheap oil, they will want a long bigger share than now.

WitteringsfromWitney said...

Nice post 13th - again!

Your post about Mercer resonates even more!

DevonChap said...

Note on your map is that little island called Crete. That has a decent airbase and is part of NATO. Also Malta has been hosting the SAS Hercules rescue missions. They could base Typohoon for UK No-Fly ops. Failing that we have our sovereign bases on Cyprus. This all assuming we are doing it on our own without US/NATO/EU support which is pretty unbelievable.

Why would we want subsonic non radar fitted ground attack Harriers for operations against Libya? The main use of carriers here would have been helicopters to get out civillians and we still have them. So just what has unravelled?

James Higham said...

Have another scheduled - takes time.

George said...

I think the main problem with Cyprus and Malta for operations is that it leaves the time over target quite tight for the fighters. Without an aircraft carrier you would need an air to air refueller to have any kind of time over the target area. During the Falklands conflict the Harriers were able to maximise their comabt air patrols and ground bombing runs because the carrier was within easy flying time.
The typhoon could obviously carry fuel drop tanks that could be jettisoned but that can get expensive and requires more stores to be supplied on Cyprus / malta.

Anonymous said...

The simple fact is: what the F****k do we need to get involved for in the first place!

Let them fight it out amongst themselves. We do not have any moral or other authority to intervene in other peoples troubles unless it directly affects us or we have been attacked.

We do not have the military capability, because we are governed by political dimwits and under-educated morons.

Time to stop meddling and let these primitive countries do their own thing. If we take sides, the winners will either criticize us for taking the other side or complain that we did not help enough. We can't win.

We have enough trouble from Middle Eastern fanatic invaders in our won country - bring our military home to defend us here!

I am ashamed of this once great country. We are destroyed by cowardly politicians, academics and media Marxist implants.


Britannia Patriot

13th Spitfire said...

Britannia Patriot,

We have a moral duty as a civilised country to help others who are being persecuted by a deranged dictator. We have that imperative to our fellow human beings. If we can help them we should. It is not for us to decide the future of that country, that is for their own people but as a fellow human beings they have a right to be heard.

Whilst it would be hard for us to mount an invasion with all the ethical and geopolitical entanglements that would entail, we can even out the odds a bit.

It is clear that our politicians still think that Britain should punch above heir weight, but seemingly this is not reflected in our military commitments. This will be evidently made clear to them in the forth coming elections, after which they will start to ask why they got such a pounding and parties with a proper defence policy not so much. Their SDSR is unsustainable for the role they want Britain to play, and they know it.

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