Shrinking UK Defence Budget and expanding demands Feb 20th showdown - Des Browne (wearing MOD hat not the tartan tammy) and the Top Brass
HMS Illustrious, the UK Navy's 25-year-old aircraft carrier, is a "ready response" part of the dwindling UK fleet. She often sets sail without her complement of Falklands War winning Harrier jump-jets .
Probably (if airworthy) they are busy frightening the Taliban in Afghanistan.
Now HM Illustrious has trouble even going to sea. - crews said goodbye to their loved ones on January 21st as they set out to head a multinational flotilla in the Indian Ocean for 16 week long Operation Orion 08. This is to visit 20 ports in the Mediterranean, Africa, Middle East, South Asia and the Far East and is part of the Royal Navy’s regular operating pattern, repeating a similar deployment to the Indian Ocean in 2006.
Commander United Kingdom Carrier Strike Group, Commodore Tom Cunningham, said at the time:
"Orion 08 is a great opportunity for the RN to demonstrate one of its core capabilities. The ships' companies and support networks have been working tremendously hard to get the ships to sea on time and we are now all looking forward to this deployment which will allow us to further develop Joint Force Harrier operations and UK relationships in this important region.”
2 days later she was back in Portsmouth for repairs to a failure of meat freezers on board - essential in warmer climes. Apparently cheaper to return to port than fly out a plumber.
On February 8th Illustrious was to be found 70miles west along the English Channel at Portland fixing a problem in separating oil from bilge water.
Then on February 13th a faulty propellor-shaft had to be mended.
Her escort ships - the one's providing defense cover had troubles, with ...er... an unresponsive air-defence system.
Now HM Illustrious is going to miss an exercise in Oman - shortage of Harriers. Again.
Whilst the Navy, naturally, puts on a brave face and part time Ministers of Defence boast of two new “super-carriers” which may be built to carry the stealthy new allied Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) - which is hitting snags and breaking budgets. HM Illustrious is designed to be taken out of service in 2014 and be replaced by one of the 2 new Queen Elizabeth class carriers.
These spanking new carriers are making a hole in an already overstretched dfence budget ... facing at least a £500 Mn hole this year building up to a £2 Bn shortfall at the end of the decade.
On February 20th service chiefs and civil servants will try to agree on a savings plan for approval by Des Browne, when he isn't held up on running Scotland by proxy .
The bottom line is £2 billion must be taken out of the £12 billion annual equipment budget over the next two years in order to balance the books . At the same time paying for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan , improving soldiers' pay and conditions to boost necessary recruitment and retention and probably another fast developing black hole in Kosovo / Serbia.
The navy is paying the price for the carriers: its eight existing destroyers will probably be replaced by just six of the new Type 45 ships (The first, HMS Daring, launched February '07 and HM Dauntless Jan 27th) .
The attack submarine fleet is likely to shrink from the current nine to six new Astute-class vessels. Nobody knows what will replace the 17 frigates. Britain could one day find itself with two new carriers, but too few escorts to protect them and not enough planes. They may sail, but will they be able to fight?