‘Tough choices’ for UK defence capability

The UK’s armed forces must co-operate more closely on programmes with international allies to improve their defence capabilities, according to defence secretary Bob Ainsworth. 

In a green paper outlining a framework for a future defence strategy, Ainsworth said that ‘tough choices’ would have to be made if the UK is to combat the changing threats of terrorism, climate change and cyber security.

While the paper does not refer to specific programmes, it does confirm that the UK’s Trident nuclear deterrent would go ahead – a claim that has been supported by both the government and the Conservatives.

It also identifies the strategic importance of forging partnerships with not only the US, but also countries such as France to improve defence capability.

But despite these assertions, the document concludes that current investment is insufficient to go ahead with new programmes when it stated: ‘We cannot proceed with all the activities and programmes we currently aspire to, while simultaneously supporting our current operations and investing in the new capabilities we need.’

The UK’s potential inability to invest in new capabilities has led some industry commentators to suggest that it may have to take a back seat on the world stage. However, concerns remain that this will not only damage the country’s diplomatic status, but also the future of the country’s research base.

Responding to the report, A|D|S, the UK’s AeroSpace, Defence and Security trade organisation, said: ‘Technological development and investment in future capability goes to the heart of future military capability and therefore our international relations and much of the content of the report. A|D|S is therefore disappointed not to see a question posed by the green paper on whether investment in research and technology is at the right level.’

In September 2009, the Defence Industries Council (DIC) published two reports putting the case for the vital nature of the defence industry for the UK in terms of securing jobs and engineering capability. While the latest green paper appears to have raised more questions than it answers, it has also been welcomed as a move in the right direction.

Rees Ward, chief executive of A|D|S, said: ‘The absence of a refreshed strategy since 1998 has been to the nation’s detriment and has forced industry to take short-term decisions. Industry is glad to see that strategic decision-making will receive greater priority with strategic defence reviews becoming a regular occurrence in the political calendar.’