Patrick Benham-Crosswell: We will have to scrap the Army if we carry on like this

Last year no British serviceman died on operations. Since 1945 servicemen have been killed on operations every year, except 1968 and now 2016. Hurrah!

Or maybe not. We’re not exactly in a period of “world peace". Neither Iraq nor Afghanistan are the peaceful, happy places that our intervention was supposed to make them. Dropping bombs on Daesh (so called Islamic State) has yet to make Syria peaceful or remove the threat of Islamic terrorism.

Belatedly, politicians have realised that delivering peace at the end of a bayonet is a messy process and, wrongly, they seem to have concluded that getting British servicemen and women killed is politically toxic. What they should have learnt is that waging ill-conceived and under resourced wars is unpopular (and immoral).

We are told that further defence cuts are likely as our armed forces struggle to fund themselves within the 2 per cent of GDP that has become the latest mantra. The stark truth is that we either spend more on defence or forgo one or more military capabilities.

In simplistic terms, spending 2 per cent of GDP on defence means that out of every £1 that you and I pay in taxes, 2p goes to the armed forces. Back in the days of the Cold War, when we won wars in the Falklands, Ulster and Iraq, we used to send 6p from every £1 spent to defence. 6p buys success, 2p gets failure – as in so much of life, the cheap option is seldom the best one. Maybe 3p is enough, maybe it needs 5p. But as this is our money and our security, we should be given the explicit choice.

If we decide that we can only afford 2p, perfectly possible given the dire state of public finances, then we must choose what to lose. We have already committed (probably rightly) to a nuclear deterrent and (more questionably) to two aircraft carriers. Both are naval items, which makes sense for a trading nation. Regrettably, what is left in the naval budget does not provide much in the way of warships, particularly when you include the need for maintenance. As it stands, Britannia is pushed to rule home waters, let alone the waves. This does rather beg the question of why we plan on having a carrier battlegroup – but we have ordered it and can’t get out of it. My gut feel is that we need more ships – possibly many more.

In December 2015, it was announced that the RAF was to be increased by one squadron, bringing the total to 10 fast jet squadrons; the increase was due to the commitment to dropping bombs on Daesh in Syria. There are several other waves of new aircraft coming in, including (at last) a maritime patrol aircraft to cover the gap left by Nimrod. The implication is that the RAF was cut to the bone, and is now (just about) sufficient.

Thus, the only place that cuts can come from is the Army. The problem with that is that, as yet, no coherent view of what is required of the Army has been promulgated. The Russian threat requires (expensive) armour, and yet the Army is to reduce to just two regular tank regiments. Other threats might not require heavy armour, so a new strike brigade has been announced – more a political fiction than a serious reality, as it relies on misusing reconnaissance vehicles for its firepower.

Politicians often claim that the defence of the realm is the first duty of government. I for one would like to hear Defence Secretary Mr Fallon explain why he thinks this country is defended. And we should consider whether we can spare a penny for the troops or whether we would prefer to give up on having an army.

(Image: Resolute Support Media)

Patrick Benham-Crosswell

  • Uusikaupunki

    “Every little helps”…..I think the Government has got a spare 0.7% of GDP that it seems to be squandering elsewhere. Though I suppose it might be a toss-up as to which is more useless, an airport in St Helena that cannot fly aircraft , or carriers that cannot fly aircraft .*

    (Yes, slight exaggeration.)

  • Bik Byro

    Firstly we need to feel the seeming need to get involved with every bit of conflict going on everywhere in the world.

    We should also question the expense of the dubious trouble-riddled F35 when cheaper, more proven fighter jets are available.

    • Can add the SA80 rifle and Challenger 2 tank to needless expenses too.

      • ZX10

        Yep but we already have those so we have to use them and upgrade the F-35 is a utter white elephant

        • Adrian Wakeford

          Bik Byro, ZX10 and President Elect Trump all need to catch up the latest progress on the F35. Unit costs are coming down, few technical issues still need to be solved and the USAF and USMC have achieved initial operating capability. In realistic exercises the F35 regularly executes its missions against targets protected by “cheaper, more proven fighter jets” without being detected. The question is not about cost it is about capability and value. A stealthy F35 returning undamaged after a successful mission is better value than a cheaper, older fighter that is burning wreckage on the ground.
          Having said which, if President Elect Trump can push the cost down a bit then that will improve the value further.

      • Bik Byro

        The Challenger 2 is dreadfully outdated and will cost a fortune to upgrade, will probably over-run cost and timing projections and we’ll still end up with something less than great. As long as we don’t have to fight the Russians with it any time in the next 2 decades …

  • Patrick Selden

    If it was up to me – and it’s almost certainly a good thing that it’s not – I’d leave the EU, declare the UK a neutral country, scrap Trident and plough the money saved into all three branches of the Armed Forces until we had an Army, Navy and Airforce fit for purpose again, which is defending British subjects, territory and interests for patriotic reasons only, instead of haring round the world on all sorts of “liberal” interventionist wars at the behest of others as if we were still a major imperial power; any money left over would be bunged towards the railways, hospitals and schools to get them working properly again, too (having first, of course, cleaned out the cancer of cultural Marxism from the latter), and we could get on with the noble project of being a prosperous, independent small island, happily minding our own business and trading with the world.

    Oh, and every day would be the first day of Spring…

  • ZX10

    Seriously at this rate we will have to dig out some old .303’s for the battle of Britain memorial flight re weld up the U-boat in Liverpool and get some copy’s of ‘Master and commander’ for HMS Warriors new crew [prob best get some Polish lads in the locals won’t do it ‘too lazy’ a BBC source said ] and get up some air softers for infantry as they at least know what end of a gun does what

  • David

    Scrap foreign aid, reduce welfare, leave the EU within six months and stop payments immediately. Then treble defence spending. The “Conservative” party is anything but conservative.
    For a pro-Brit policy suite I shall (continue) to vote Ukip.

  • Kingbingo

    “Daesh (so called Islamic State)”

    I can only tolerate people adding ‘so called’ onto the front of Islamic State if they do it for everything else. In this case the so called Patrick Benham-Crosswell should have called the RAF the so called RAF and called Iraq the so called Iraq.

    IT IS THE Islamic State. Its a state that has been created by western weakness, (especially the ultimate beta male- Obama) by exclusively Islamic people.

    • Bosanova

      I think Obama’s hissy fit in the dying days of his Presidency mean he has been downgraded from Beta. Gamma-male maybe? Although I’m sure he can sink lower still.

      • Mr TaxPayer

        Omega Obama? It has a catchy ring to it?

  • Bernard from Bucks

    I thought the whole secretive idea was to run down the Army and Navy
    and put what we had left into a big EU melting pot with France etc,and
    come up with a nice new EU fighting force to threaten Putin with?
    Or perhaps I have been reading too much ‘fake news’?

    • weirdvisions

      Sounds more like Cameroonian wishful thinking.

  • Bosanova

    Russia is rattling her sabre and has shown in the Ukraine that it can and will take advantage of western timidity; North Korea is a nuclear armed loose cannon; China is flexing her military muscles as the next world power; The Middle East is a big bloody mess; and our ally the US is threatening NATO – understandably fed up with other NATO members freeloading. It seems a fair assumption that the near future carries a medium to high risk of further war and conflict, neither will we always be able to sit out conflicts on the sidelines or predict their nature.

    If at the time of the Falklands we were spending 6p in the pound on
    defence, and we just won that one by the skin of our teeth, then I think
    it is fair to say that spending tuppence on defence leaves us
    militarily naked. Time to rethink that ringfenced overseas aid perhaps?

  • Phil R

    You want to spend more on defence then you need to make that case that there is a real military threat to the UK.

    Even most Conservatives do not see a credible threat to the UK from a nation state. They believe that, if there is a threat, it comes from terrorism not hostlie nation states.

    If you want the 6p the case needs to be made. No-one it seems is making the case because no-one things that there is a threat to the UK tat wold require the skills of the army.

    To be honest I see their point to a degree. We are a trading nation so we need a strong navy. We wish to influence world conflicts, but minimise risk to personel, so we need aircraft. The army is bottom of the shopping list.

    I thinkwe need to look again say into expanding say the TA (with more lucrative funding). We need to think out of the box.

    Personnel and the latest equipment are expensive and there is a tradeoff. However, it seems that it is the quality of the machines rather than the numbers of men that win wars.

    • Adrian Wakeford

      The one thing of which you can be sure is that our potential enemies are watching us with interest. If we choose to sacrifice ground capabilities then that is a weakness that a wise enemy can exploit. Inescapably and expensively, the UK needs a full spectrum of ground, air, naval, intelligence, surveillance and cyber capabilities. Additionally we choose to possess a nuclear capability as the deterrent of last resort.
      Military equipment procured today will be in service for 10, 20 or even 30 years, must be leading edge when procured to give us the battlefield advantage and capable of being upgraded in the future to maintain this advantage. There are no simple answers to providing military capabilities, just hard choices. If we do not get most of those choices mostly right, most of the time then conflict becomes more likely because we do not have credible full spectrum deterrence. When conflict comes, which it will, we will be less likely to prevail. Conflicts are won through clear political direction, good leadership and high quality people provided with fit for purpose military capabilities.

  • John P Hughes

    Sadly a British soldier, LCpl Scott Hetherington of the Duke of Lancaster’s Regt, was killed on 2 January 2017 in an incident in the training base for Iraqi soldiers. He was training Iraqi soldiers under the UK-Iraq military assistance agreement, and not in combat in any way. As his death resulted from use of a weapon, and he was on active service, it seems likely that this will be counted as a death on operations in 2017 – or perhaps not. Fatal accidents on live firing ranges in the UK, training British soldiers, do happen every year. So an accident when training foreign soldiers using live weapons is all the more a risk.