Defence review: Tim Ripley : We'll play a very different role on world stage
David Cameron's announcement of a new direction for Britain's armed forces yesterday will leave many of our men and women in uniform feeling left in limbo.
Although the Prime Minister promised "real-term growth" in defence spending by 2015, the next five years look like being a lean time. At the heart of the review was a concentration of scarce defence resources on the war in Afghanistan. Capabilities not involved there seem to be put on hold or scrapped.
It is clear that the strategic decision of the coalition government is to switch resources from conventional forces to countering so-called asymmetric threats from terrorist groups or criminal gangs. This continues the policies of the last Labour government, which chopped more than a billion pounds from conventional forces last year to support the Afghan war.
Conventional forces have taken a massive hit, with fighter aircraft, warships, tanks and artillery all heading to the scrapheap. The most high-profile capability gap is early retirement of the Harrier jump jets and the delay in the introduction of new aircraft to fly off HMS Queen Elizabeth.
Even with these cutbacks, Britain will still be able to play a role on the world stage, but it will be very different from our role in the past.
Within a few years, the ability of the British armed forces to play a "first day of war" role will be lost. Gone will be the army's heavily armoured assault units equipped with Challenger tanks, backed by AS-90 heavy guns to blast through enemy ground defences. In the air, the RAF will focus on flying support for counter-insurgency, rather than taking on enemy fighters. At sea, the Royal Navy's strike carrier force will be placed on hold for at least a decade as it waits for the Joint Strike Fighter to arrive.
While this means British troops will still be in the front-line in Afghanistan for the next four years, in any major conventional conflict they will take a secondary role to heavily armoured American troops.
The decision effectively puts an end to Britain military being a fighting force of the first order. In future, Britain's armed forces will be a global gendarmerie, participating in peacekeeping and humanitarian missions, as well as carrying out highly focused, special forces missions against al-Qaeda-style terrorist groups.
While Hillary Clinton expressed some concern about the proposed defence budget cuts last week, once the full implications of the defence review sink in, Britain's influence and position will undergo a profound change.
No longer will London be the first capital Washington calls when it wants to embark upon serious military operation against a major military opponent.Cameron's defence review moved Britain closer to being "just another European country".
Once the dust settles on Cameron's defence review - he announced it so it will for ever be associated with him - the question will remain as to whether the Britain's armed forces and defence industry can survive the next five years of austerity and still have the people with the expertise and skills to expand, should the nation give them the call again.
Cameron has put Britain's war-fighting capability on ice for at least a decade.
• Tim Ripley is a defence analyst for Jane's Defence Weekly.
Search for a job
Search for a car
Search for a house
Weather for Edinburgh
Wednesday 19 June 2013
Temperature: 9 C to 18 C
Wind Speed: 16 mph
Wind direction: West
Temperature: 12 C to 20 C
Wind Speed: 8 mph
Wind direction: East