Wednesday, July 21, 2004

More Defence Cuts

Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon has announced that Britain's armed forces are to be cut once more. Our already over-stretched service will be reduced in manpower by 10% with the Army losing 1500 men over the next few years.

To start with I think Hoon should have resigned long ago, especially after the death of a soldier who gave his body-armour to an infantryman and was subsequently shot himself- had he still been wearing his armour he would have survived. Our troops were sent into harm's way without the necessary equipment and that is negligence on the part of the government. Now, with Britain involved in what looks like the start of a long war against Islamofascism he has decided to cut our troops further. This would be all well and good if Britain was only to send troops to one war at a time, but what happens when conflict breaks out in more than one spot? Each of the Royal Marines three Commandos comprises only 700 men each. The Parachute Regiment has three battalions but at any one time there are only enough men to field two full battalions. The Army is being reduced by four infantry battalions and will see a reduction of seven Challenger 2 squadrons (aren't tanks fairly essential to an operation like the invasion of Iraq?). The SAS and SBS have apparently seen a flood of troops leaving recently as they seek high-paid private contractor jobs in Iraq and Afghanistan. The RAF is due to lose one whole squadron of Tornadoes and four ground defence regiments (because lately we haven't had much of an air threat- too bad if we go up against an enemy like Argentina again, and who could have predicted that?), with a reduction in manpower of 7,500 by 2008.

Hoon also goes on about network enabled capability as one of the justifications for this reduction, but the mature phase of the programme is not expected until 2020-2030. Given the usual state of military technology programmes, another 5 or ten years on top of that might be optimistic.

I've got to say that I'm fairly alarmed by all this. We're at war and we're having our forces reduced even further? It's madness and it's worse that these decisions are being taken at a time when our national security is being threatened by an enemy with a worldwide capability. It's about time politicians stopped basing their defence plans on the last war fought. Next time it might not be like Iraq- and next time we might be fighting on multiple fronts. Just how is Britain supposed to cope?

"Isn't he taking his most reckless step so far: cutting tanks and ships and aircraft to make immediate savings whilst making vague promises that new weapons will be delivered at some point in the dim and distant future" said Nicholas Soames, Conservative spokesman for the armed forces.

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