Inside the SDSR

A look at the key announcements from this week’s SDSR

This week’s Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) announcement by David Cameron has received mixed responses from across the defence community, with some welcoming the increased spending commitment, while others have queried whether we could have gone further.

The PM has committed to spending £178bn on equipment and equipment support over the next decade, a £12bn increase on the original commitment and an announcement which immediately boosted shares in several struggling defence companies. This represents a 0.5% increase above inflation in the defence budget for every year of this Parliament, compared to an 8% cut following the 2010 SDSR. After the wide reaching impact of the last SDSR, this reinvestment in equipment is particularly welcome, even if this will be largely plugging capability gaps created by the last cuts.

Most of the commitments made in the SDSR can be viewed as a reflection of the UK’s desire to project power on the world stage and of our current strategic priorities in fighting global conflict. This can be seen in the decision to increase investment by only a couple of billion in our cyber capabilities over the next five years, despite cyber being identified as a key threat. Concerns have also been raised over staffing levels, which are still falling short in some areas leading to a risk that we will be investing millions in new equipment without qualified personnel to operate them.

However, commentators have welcomed the bolstering of Britain’s capabilities that have been left vulnerable. Starting with air combat, Cameron committed to extending the life of our Typhoon fleets, creating two Typhoon squadrons and doubling the number of drones from 10 to 20. In an era when we are facing increasing engagement in conflicts via air strikes, ensuring we have sufficient combat aircraft and drones is vital, although it is arguable that we could have invested further in our drone capability, as they are significantly cheaper than other aircraft and well suited to enemies without air capability such as those we are targeting in the Middle East.

Our air squadrons will be supported by additional joint strike fighters for our new aircraft carriers, which many believe are vital for projecting military power on the world stage and will restore capability where it was lost when our Harrier fleet was retired in 2011 and then sold off to the US. However, critics have pointed out that our joint strike fighters are not as good as the US and French, and will cost us more in a well versed criticism of Britain’s approach to defence procurement and ability to achieve value for money. Meanwhile, the number of Type 26 frigates has been downgraded from an earlier commitment of 13 to 8, although these 8 will be ‘top-of-the-range’.

The announcement of nine Boeing maritime patrol aircraft based off Scotland will go some way to restoring the capability lost when the Nimrod program was controversially scrapped at the last SDSR and provide much needed protection for our nuclear deterrent, which the Government has committed to renew, in the face of spiralling costs of up to £41bn.

Overall, this SDSR has been seen as a step in the right direction, which significantly addresses some of the gaps created by the last SDSR and will ensure Britain is able to respond to the immediate threats facing us. Delivering this will not be without its challenges, with tight budgets, reduced military personnel, and a growing number of threats facing the UK but as Lewis Page, writing in the Telegraph said, “It is often said that Britain’s military is set up to fight the battles of yesterday, tomorrow. Now we will fight the battle of today, tomorrow”.

Key Announcements:

  • Investment of £178bn on equipment and equipment support
  • Doubling of investment planned for Special Forces equipment to £2bn
  • Extending life of Typhoon jets by 10 years to 2040 and creation of two new Typhoon squadrons
  • Speed up purchase of F35s and creation of accompanying F35 Lightning Squadrons
  • Maintain Trident and replace 4 submarines
  • Purchase of 9 new maritime patrol aircraft based in Scotland
  • Doubling of number of RAF Protector drones
  • Increasing size of deployable forces from 30,000 to 50,000
  • Creation of 2 rapidly deployable strike brigades of 5,000, created from existing troop numbers
  • Up to 10,000 troops to be made available for deployment in the event of a Paris-style terror attack in the UK
  • An extra £1.9bn to be spent on cyber security