In the end there was little in the defence review that the numerous leaks didn’t prepare us for : the two carriers are saved (although one will not enter service) Trident will be replaced, Harrier will be retired, and the Nimrod spy plane will be cancelled. Plus, of course, thousands of military and civil personnel will soon find themselves out of work.
It’s too early to judge precisely what impact the review will have on the ability of the armed forces and, critically for the UK economy, the industrial capabilities that address these needs. But at the very least, industry now has a clearer understanding of the climate in which it must operate.
Of the headline points, a few raised eyebrows in The Engineer’s office. The commitment to renew Trident, for instance, was somewhat undermined by the news that Nimrod will be cancelled.
Nimrod is one of the only UK aircraft able to detect submarines. Earlier this year the Daily Telegraph reported that a Russian hunter-killer submarine had managed to track and follow a Vanguard sub from its Faslane base shortly after the Nimrod MR2’s were retired. This incident has helped to fuel fears that cuts to the Nimrod fleet could have major implications for Britain’s nuclear deterrent. Of course, this apparent oversight could be explained by a decision to heed The Engineer’s advice and cancel Trident without telling anyone. We’ll probably never know.
Elsewhere in the review, David Cameron’s claim that ‘as we cut back on tanks and heavy artillery we will retain the ability to regenerate those capabilities’ also left us wondering. While it may be possible to mothball hardware, the same cannot be said of the skills required to support and maintain that capability – how the MoD and industry hang onto these skills will surely represent a major challenge over the coming months and years.
Finally, the rumours that a new electromagnetic launch system will enable the Prince of Wales aircraft carrier to launch the cheaper variant of the JSF – read our report here – are perhaps cause for a more refreshing reflection. If true, this development could see advanced technology, rather than brutal cuts, helping the MOD reduce its costs: an important reminder to the government that investment in research and technology can pay dividends further down the line.