Faced with a deficit on a massive scale, where the Blair Brown Regime had merrily placed contracts without bothering to identify where the funding would come from, the Coalition Government had to make some very tough decisions.
Although the scale of the public spending cuts is slightly lower than Labour claimed to be preparing to make, should they remain in office, the Coalition is planning on cutting earlier. This makes the effect much greater on restoring public finances because early cuts mean lower interest being paid. Equally, it is maintaining the British national credit rating and therefore avoiding higher interest charges
Defence has suffered lower cuts than other Government departments, but with troops deployed to Afghanistan, that means continuing war expenditures and it remains to be seen whether the MOD will have to carry this contingency cost or whether the Treasury under the Coalition will accept that these expenses should be paid as contingencies and not paid out of the total MOD budget as under the Blair Brown Regime. Many of the current MOD problems stem from the cheerful carelessness of the Blair Brown Regime in engaging on a number of wars at the same time but without funding the combat expenses from the Treasury contingency fund.
With the scale of fiscal mis-management still emerging, it may be that there is no contingency fund. The defective Blair Brown Regime Minister Byrne was happy to declare in a note to his Coalition successor that the cupboard was bare, that he had spent every penny, and then borrowed to spend more.
The debate has now to centre on whether the MOD spending cuts were directed accurately and it may be years before all the evidence is in.
It is clear from the recent announcements that Government believes the greatest threats currently come from terrorists and cyber criminals. Through history, governments have planned future wars on the basis of the recent experience, only to find that when war does come it takes a very different shape.
At face value, it seems crazy to continue to build to new super carriers and at the same time scrap the only planes that could fly from them as they first enter service. With the RAF equipped with a large number of fighter aircraft of very limited value to the RAF, it would have made sense to modify a percentage or all Typhoon II fighters to enable them to operate from carriers. It would have involved additional costs but of a modest nature. The more difficult task would have been to add steam catapults and arrester gear to the two carriers. It is easy to see the Navy not wishing to promote this approach, fearing that it would then become an excuse to cancel orders for the Lightning II STOVL fighter, particularly as the cost of modifying Typhoons and carriers would have been much lower than the cost of the Lightning II procurement and the Navy would have been able to borrow additional Typhoons when necessary. However, it may be a short sighted approach because the carriers would have been able to operate both the STOVL variant of the Lighting II and the lower cost and higher performing conventional take-off and landing variant of the Lockheed Martin aircraft.
Perhaps the real lost opportunity was in not scrapping the RAF. When the Navy and the Army were forced to hand their aircraft and crews over to the newly formed RAF in 1918, the justification was that strategic bombing, using land-based aircraft would be the primary role for air forces with a secondary role of point defence against incoming strategic bombing attacks. Luckily, the Navy got its aircraft back in 1937 giving time to prepare for a coming war, also one which politicians were convinced could never happen, and that enabled the Navy to win the Battle of the Atlantic. Without that containment and eventual victory against the German Navy, Britain would have become vulnerable to invasion and defeat. Today, the Royal Navy carries the role of nuclear deterrent with submarine launched missiles. Whether the Trident replacement is with another similar ballistic missile system, or with cruise missiles, or with a combination, the submarine is likely to remain the most effective and resilient nuclear launch platform, removing what was the primary reason for forming the RAF. As both the Army and the Navy have their own air arms, disbanding the RAF would remove a major expense without requiring the savings to be used in developing two new air arms.
The loss of the Nimrod capability was unfortunate but the poor handling of the procurement by the Blair Brown Regime left very little choice. Many Nimrod duties can be assumed by vs entering service with British Forces. Although there is short term loss of capability, it may well prove less than many claim and of much shorter duration.
The loss of MOD civilian jobs is long overdue and it can be argued that the Coalition should have made much greater reductions in what is an endemically under performing and over costly manpower resource.
Increasing resources for Special Forces and cyberwarfare is not a short term expediency but offers a long term essential capability. Government has to also make much greater efforts to ensure that its own information and communications systems are adequately designed and implemented to significantly reduce cyberwarfare exposure. At the same time, much more must be done to ensure similar robustness in commercial and domestic information systems.
Taken as a whole, against the appalling legacy of the national socialist years, when the Blair Brown Regime came close to bankrupting Britain, the Defence Review is a reasonable effort. However, it should be viewed as a starting point and not as a destination, with regular future reviews and increased investment as money becomes available in the future.