From the President
Air Chief Marshal Sir Michael Graydon GCB, CBE
I am delighted with the response to our regular e-briefs which highlight matters of interest on our splendid website and provide a forum for your contribution to issues of the moment.
We will continue to receive the 6 monthly update on RAF activities from ACAS, but in addition we will provide a periodic commentary on defence associated matters to which you may wish to add your own thoughts.
We have a number of well qualified Cranwellians and friends to carry out this task and you will have seen a flavour of what we intend in the thought- provoking article by Tony Edwards, a previous Head of Defence Sales now on the website (see section below this article).
We shall certainly be watching out for the The Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy, which is due to be delivered to Parliament early in 2021. But for now, here is my take on the recent announcement by Prime Minister Boris Johnson on an increase in Defence spending.
The Defence Budget - Recent Announcements
Announcements on Defence Spending usually are associated with a Review conducted over some months which purports to lay out a national strategy for defence and security. Indeed, a so- called Integrated Review has been in process for nearly a year and was to have been revealed this month having been delayed from earlier in the year. It will now we understand see the light of day in January.
In this case, the Prime Minister chose to announce plans to boost defence spending by some £16.5 billion over the next four years. He also announced the creation of new entities to counter new threats such as cyber and space. A new agency for Artificial Intelligence, a national Cyber Force and ‘Space Command’ which will initially be led by an Air Force Officer.
This is on the face of it a very welcome boost and much better than what had been threatened as a one year settlement which would have placed the MOD in a basically treading water situation unable to advance the introduction of new equipment and plans.
But, we have yet to see the detail which should emerge in the Integrated Review. Moreover, the headlines need to be placed alongside the damage done to Defence in the 2010 review which slashed front lines reducing RAF combat Squadrons to just 6 and removing whole capabilities of which the so called ‘Capability Holiday’ for a Maritime Patrol aircraft has still to be fully rectified. All this at a time when by any measurement the international environment is more dangerous than for many years.
The Review of 2015 which had hints of strategic thinking including the concept of Defence Engagement around the world in support of national objectives and the use of soft power, was fairly quickly shown to be toothless. Thus the PM’s words ‘ I have decided that the era of cutting our defence budget must end, and it ends now’ will have resonated with all those who have watched the steady reduction in our capabilities and our resilience to sustain any serious engagement which might incur losses of personnel and equipment.
The budget figures suggest that the uplift for defence spending, which includes pensions and UN peacekeeping contributions, comes to just under £54 billion in 2024, from its 2020 value of £46.2 billion. Before the announcement, and depending on the inflation figures used, a budget of around £50 billion in 2024 was expected. So, as you can see, the increase, while considerable, is not necessarily a watershed moment. It is in line, if more ambitious, with other European countries' decision to support defence spending, despite the financial pressure exercised by the Covid-19 crisis.
It is churlish to be anything other than relieved with this settlement, but as Tom Tugendhat has opined, “it has been 20 years since a British Government comprehensively reviewed its foreign policy objectives and the tools needed to achieve them.” We must therefore hope that the Integrated Review which Dominic Cummings described as to be the ‘ The most profound since world war 2’ does address what has been so plainly lacking in all its predecessors this century; namely what are our foreign policy objectives and how do we intend to achieve them.