source:Commitments made by the British government in last year’s strategic defense and security review (SDSR) might have to be revisited if predictions of economic growth prove optimistic, one of the country’s top analysts will say in a study due to be released Friday.
Were current economic growth predictions to prove overly optimistic it might trigger a new governmentwide spending review with some of the “more generous 2015 SDSR commitments open to re-examination,” Malcolm Chalmers, the deputy director general of the Royal United Services Institute think tank in London will say in a briefing paper that looks at defense and security budgets across government.
“It has not been easy for the Treasury to afford this settlement [on defense and security spending] while maintaining its commitment to a balanced budget by the end of the decade. The economic assumptions on which the 2015 Spending Review is based — most notably an average rate of productivity growth of 2.0 percent per annum over the next four years, after almost a decade of zero growth — remain questionable,” he said.
Ministry of Defence (MoD) baseline spending is this year set at £34.3 billion (US $49.5 billion) but that is planned to grow to almost £38.1 billion by the 2019/20 financial year.
Core spending by the MoD is expected to see a 3.1 percent real terms increase in the four years up to financial year 2019/20 with much of that increase targeted at equipment programs like the P-8 maritime patrol aircraft, F-35B strike aircraft, Ajax armored vehicles and nuclear submarines.
The MoD is also set to receive some 60 percent of a newly created £3.4 billion joint security fund although most of the money from that will not be available for several years. Some of that increase though will be swallowed up by changes to employment costs over the next few years.
Chalmers' remarks come just days after the Office for National Statistics released new figures showing the economic growth here slowed in the first quarter triggered by declines in manufacturing and construction.
The Office of Budget Responsibility has recently revised down its expected annual productivity growth to 1.8 percent over five years against the government’s assumption of 2 percent.
UK F-35 commander highlights training challenge
The Royal Air Force’s Lockheed Martin F-35 force commander has emphasised the importance of allied partner testing to ensure that operators make the most of the fifth-generation aircraft.
Air Cdre Harvey Smyth's comments come as the RAF has deployed one of its Airbus A330 Voyager tankers to NAS Patuxent River in Maryland to carry out air-to-air refuelling trials with the Lightning II. The Voyager deployed to the US for two months on 15 April, the RAF announced on 18 May. From a total of 20 planned wet and dry contact flights, five have been carried out to date.
Smyth told an F-35 conference in London on 19 May that the first frontline F-35B unit for the UK – 617 Sqn – is in the process of forming ahead of standing up in January 2018. This is driving a need for more training to exploit the capability of the aircraft.
“We’re very much in a transition here. We’re going through various iterations of CONOPS [concept of operations] development. We need to ensure that the training remains fit for purpose,” he says.
All planned F-35 acquisitions will be based at RAF Marham in Norfolk, which will eventually host four frontline squadrons, one operational conversion unit (OCU) and the sustainment fleet. It is planned for the OCU to be established in the coming months, he adds.
The UK's second frontline squadron – 809 NAS – will stand up in April 2023, and full operational capability will then be declared for the UK’s F-35 fleet. This will require two established frontline squadrons, plus the OCU.
The criteria for initial operational capability (IOC) is undisclosed, but it is planned for land-based IOC to be achieved at the end of 2018. Carrier strike IOC will be declared in 2020.
As the UK’s first Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carrier nears completion, Smyth says that sea trials on board the vessel are expected to take place off the US East Coast at the end of 2018.
He says that while land-based operations are the near-term goal, the UK is “doing lots of work on the carrier power projection piece” to re-establish its lost capability in this area. “It will have to be a step-up in our training to get that right,” Smyth adds.
Smyth says there are several teaming opportunities that the UK could make use of, including in Canada, at the Woomera test range in Australia, plus the Pitch Black and Red Flag exercises, which the UK already participates in. He says there is more room to network with partner nations, both on the interaction side and the physical networking, although “we’re not quite there yet” with linking training.
“We are procuring this [the F-35] because of the proliferation of some very high threats, so we have to train to that,” he adds.
The other driver for overseas training is the lack of airspace available in the UK: “From a fighter perspective, there is more intense scrutiny for closing down the airspace,” he says. “Airspace is more and more of a challenge for us. The UK just simply isn’t big enough, hence the need for synthetic and overseas training.”
Additionally, the deployment of a significant number of RAF aircraft to the Middle East to support coalition efforts in Iraq and Syria means that there is currently a shortage of frontline assets to train with in the UK.
“I wouldn’t have a [Boeing RC-135] AirSeeker available to plug into even if I wanted to,” Smyth says. “We need to do the live training in a representative environment somewhere.” The basing of US jets at RAF Lakenheath in Suffolk is “too good an opportunity to miss”, he adds, suggesting that the nations should make their aircraft available for joint training.
The new helmet is an American product Revision's Cobra helmetComparing the British army's new body armour with the old
19 May 2016 Last updated at 00:06 BST
British army soldiers have been equipped with new body armour, Virtus, which replaces Osprey.
The rollout began at the beginning of the year.
Described by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) as "one of the most advanced integrated body armour and load carrying systems in the world", the new armour has attracted some criticism, with soldiers saying its webbing - where ammunition and kit is stored - has been snapping.
The MoD says it is working with the armour's supplier to make improvements.
Footage courtesy Forces TV