The Government published the 2015 National Security Strategy and Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) back in November – so I have had plenty of time to think about it and its impact on the UK defence industry. For those of you who are not involved in the defence sector and therefore unfamiliar with the SDSR, it’s a review that sets out the UK Government’s approach to national security - and as such I thought it might be useful to share some background and observations on its content.
The UK’s investment in defence capability is rising year-on-year in order to tackle the increasingly complex and diverse threats faced worldwide. In line with the NATO target of 2% of GDP spend on defence until 2020, the 10-year equipment plan has now grown to £178bn, making the UK the fifth largest defence spender globally. Future plans include the establishment of a new Joint Force 2025 which will enable the deployment of a force of approximately 50,000 personnel drawn from Maritime, Army, Air and Joint Forces. The Joint Force will also include the provision of equipment, featuring new Aircraft Carriers, Hunter Killer submarines, armoured vehicles, frigates and fighter jets, multi-mission aircraft capable of maritime patrol and unmanned aerial vehicles.
So, what is this Joint Force equipment? How much do we already have and how will it support the ever increasing international demands for our defence capabilities?
Aircraft Carrier. This is a large warship with a deck from which aircraft can take off and land. There are several variants of a carrier, which can be classified due to the aircraft they can carry. You may have heard all about the QEC and Prince of Wales – the future flagships of the UK; both currently under construction for the Royal Navy. Initially, these ships will carry any helicopter from Britain’s military inventory, and then from 2020 they will also accommodate the F35 Lightning II stealth fighter-bombers.
A new Strike Brigade will be made up of 5,000 soldiers who will be ready to be deployed at short notice in response to unconventional threats such as terrorism.
The Hunter Killer Sub’s name says it all - they are submarines specifically designed to attack and sink other submarines and vessels. There are currently 10 hunter-killer submarines in the Royal Navy, including the Trafalgar, Vanguard & Astute class, commissioned between 1987 and 2013.
Armoured Vehicles are combat vehicles protected with strong armour and generally armed with weapons. These vehicles can be wheeled or tracked – current vehicles in the British Army include the Foxhound & Husky; both used in Afghanistan, they protect the troops from IEDs and other threats.
Frigates are small destroyer ships used to protect other warships; they are the smallest and least well-armed, in comparison to a Cruiser being the heaviest and best-armed. There are 13 Type 23, or Duke-class, frigates in the Royal Navy. HMS Argyll is the longest-serving Type 23 Frigate, built in the late 1980s and commissioned in 1991; HMS Kent is one of the newest frigates, launched in 1998. HMS Iron Duke and HMS St Albans are currently on deployment.
Fighter Jets are aircraft designed primarily for air-to-air combat – their hallmarks are speed and manoeuvrability. Incidentally, one of my all-time favourite films, Top Gun, used a fictional MiG-21 fighter played by a US F-5 Tiger II fighter. The RAF currently operates the Eurofighter Typhoon.
Multi-Mission Aircraft are capable of air defence, ground attack and reconnaissance missions. The UK intends to order nine P-8 aircraft as part of the SDSR 2015, to be based at RAF Lossiemouth in Scotland. This is despite some of the world’s biggest defence companies calling for an open, competition for a contract that could be worth something in the region of £2bn, offering variant aircraft against the P-8 and current RAF in-service aircraft.
Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, commonly known as ‘drones’ are aircraft without a human pilot aboard - flight is controlled by on-board computers or remote control. They are common within the military but are increasingly useful for investigative work such as firefighting, surveillance and policing. These UAVs are ideal for tasks that could be too dangerous or expensive for manned aircraft to undertake. On a non-military note and speaking from a personal perspective, the use of drones for services such as Google Maps has been invaluable to me in finding locations and seeing street views to familiarise myself with my destination ahead of travelling.
At present we have 254 Battle Tanks, the Challenger 2, 287 Artillery, 1121 Armoured Combat Vehicles with a further 559 look-alikes such as the Warrior RA, Samson and Wolfhound; 23 Armoured Vehicle Launched Bridges, 11 Submarines, 65 Navy Ships, 13 Royal Fleet Auxiliary, 233 Combat Aircraft, 290 Training Aircraft, 49 Air Support including 24 Hercules, 62 reconnaissance, surveillance and drones, 129 attack helicopters and 93 combat support helicopters including 53 Chinooks.
The SDSR shows a marked increase to our defence capability, and our military is well equipped to fight the battles of tomorrow. Alongside this, it would be great to see an increased emphasis on support for our service personnel; with a focus on recruitment, retention and improving morale.