"Defence UK welcomes Prime Minister Rishi Sunak's announcement today (13 March 2023) of a £5bn boost to defence funding. We have been calling for a significant increase in the defence budget for some time in view of the constantly growing threats to international security from both Russia and China, and the latest funding announcement by the Prime Minister is a step in the right direction. However, the precise timescale for this new funding, and the delivery of equipment, will be crucial. We hope that this initial £5bn will be the first in a series of increases to repair our hollowed-out Armed Forces. There is great urgency to ramping up defence spending, and we urge the Government to ensure that the new funds are properly allocated, in a timely manner, so that we can begin swiftly to rebuild our depleted military capabilities."
- Andrew Smith, CEO, Defence UK
Will Defence Get what it Needs?
The Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, is on record as saying that Defence will get what it needs. The Chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, has, in the past, been reported as claiming that Defence spending should be increased to 4% of the country’s GDP. The Integrated Review (IR) was published on 16th March 2021 but as a result of the Ukraine War it is already being reviewed and its Refresh (the IRR) should be published very soon. Lessons from that war have led the army to signal what their most immediate needs are, which they have termed 4+1.
The membership of Defence UK's reaction to the present critical situation
The membership of Defence UK includes some experienced and senior people, both military and civilian, a dozen of whom sit in the House of Lords. The members were asked earlier this year: “What should the UK do (a) immediately and urgently, (b) within the next 12 months and (c) assuming Mr. Putin gives us that long – within the next 5 years?”
The main message is that Britain’s armed forces are in no fit state to fight a war with Russia. It is not simply that our Armed Forces are not big enough but they also have some critical weaknesses, driven by the desire to economise and ‘justified’ by the assumption we won’t need to fight anyone in the near future. In the case of the Army, for over a decade the main weakness has been a failure even to define what the Army is for. That the army is now being re-organised to face developing threats is recognised, but aspirations must be matched with the money to realise them. An immediate requirement is the Army's need for a plentiful supply of ammunition, an obvious conclusion to draw from the present conflict. Some orders have at least now been placed to replace the ammunition donated to the Ukraine, but this needs to be continued and stocks increased. However good an Army, Navy or Air Force might otherwise be, without adequate ammunition it is lost.
Other weaknesses? We must recognise the nation’s vulnerability to long-range conventional missile strikes and do something about it! Despite having far more surface-to-air missiles than Britain, and despite shooting down a large proportion of the cruise missiles fired at them, the people of Ukraine are still suffering from the effects of the Russian assault upon their energy grids and other vital infrastructure. Britain’s defences against such a missile attack would be totally inadequate.
The RAF is now down to little more than a hundred Typhoon fighters plus a handful of F-35B fighters (grudgingly) shared with the Navy. Fifty, or so, Typhoons are being prematurely scrapped, not even put into storage! Those that remain are all concentrated on three undefended airbases and there is a serious need to disperse these few assets and defend them properly.
The supply ships to support the Royal Navy’s two aircraft carriers have only just been ordered and won’t all be in service for another decade. This is an example of ‘gapping’ – leaving a deficiency to be filled at a later date (in the hope that nothing bad happens in the meantime. It is by no means the only such example.
In the longer term we must (among other things):
¨ Create military and civil resilience necessary for a prolonged conventional conflict.
¨ Weapons stocks and spares must be adequate.
¨ Army & RAF units should be positioned on the continent long-term.
¨ Build up reserves of equipment (don’t just dispose of assets)
¨ Build up domestic defence industries.
Above all, the political class in Britain need to take defence seriously in a way they have not hitherto.
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“Defence UK is an independent pressure group that campaigns for a strong and well-resourced Royal Navy, Army and Royal Air Force, to ensure the security of the United Kingdom, her Sovereign Territories, trade and commerce, and to protect her citizens wherever they may be. We also call for a greater commitment by the UK Government to the nation's defence industries, and to non-military services such as the Merchant Navy, Coastguard, Border Control and Homeland Security that are essential to the Defence of the Realm.”