Defence chiefs need to get smarter over budget cuts

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In these austere times, the chances of any government allowing one of its departments to work out its future spending needs without a predetermined figure is about as likely as the Royal Navy suddenly being given six new aircraft carriers and squadrons of jets to fly from them.

Yet that is what the Portsmouth-based UK National Defence Association is asking for ahead of next year’s expected Strategic Defence and Security Review.

It says the government should consider what the armed forces need and then work out how to pay for it afterwards.

No matter how you view it, this appears to be a plea for defence to be given special status, almost an open cheque book.

But why should this be the case when so many other sectors have equally-deserving cases?

No-one is arguing that defence budgets, and particularly the Royal Navy’s, have not been repeatedly hit hard by successive public spending reviews.

As retired naval commander and chief executive of UKNDA John Muxworthy says: ‘This country is standing in danger because we do not have the servicemen, women and equipment to cope with anything that might come up.’

In a report, he and his military expert co-authors accuse civil servants, and ultimately the government, of plucking spending goals ‘out of the air’. This, they say, is simply to show that the MoD is doing its bit to slash spending

‘Let it [the strategic review] do its work unconstrained by a predetermined figure for defence expenditure,’ says their report.

Few would disagree that global demands on our armed services have rarely been greater in so-called peacetime (and the freakish weather has seen them needed at home too). Perhaps now is the time for the defence sector to get a littler smarter.

Nothing would please Portsmouth people more than for the government to invest in the navy’s surface fleet. Let’s have two, in-service aircraft carriers. Let’s have all the Type 26 frigates.

But, some might argue, in return why not drop the Trident nuclear submarine fleet, a leftover from Cold War days?