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Overstretched and Underfunded British Armed Forces Can’t Afford Modernisation Program - Public Accounts Committee

May 16th - 2018

Image Credit : Cpl Tim Hammond

A recent report by Britain’s Public Accounts Committee has shown that country’s military modernisation program faces a tremendous funding deficit of up to £20.8 billion ($28.25 billion), leaving the country’s ability to upgrade its already failing military infrastructure in serious doubt. The British Ministry of Defence (MoD) had planned to continue with the Modernising Defence Programme to keep its forces up to speed with the ‘fast-changing defence landscape’, set to provide the armed forces with the ability to meet conventional as well as cyber, chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and electromagnetic threats for the coming years. With Britain’s armed forces today in poor shape after deep budget cuts, leaving large proportions of the Royal Navy out of service while the Army is forced to rely on underage recruits to fill its ranks. Britain’s elite Royal Marines have even been forced to rely on French landing craft in as they cannot afford modern replacements for their own ageing vessels.  

The Public Accounts Committee report noted regarding the Britain’s inability afford its planned military modernisation: “The Department (of defence) faces a significant affordability gap in its Equipment Plan for the next 10 years… financial risk has increased since last year, and while the Department acknowledges that the affordability gap is in the billions of pounds, it is unable to quantify the size of the gap with any degree of precision. We are concerned by the Department’s vagueness and reluctance to acknowledge its full exposure, and by the Department seeming to question the accuracy of its own numbers when giving evidence.” Committee chairman Meg Hiller stated regarding the government’s lack of transparency: “The MoD’s national security responsibilities give it a unique and critical place in the public sector but that is no excuse for a lack of rigour in its financial affairs. The MoD’s inability to better quantify that affordability gap has consequences not just for its confirmed spending plans, but also its ability to prepare for serious challenges in national defence. The department must be more rigorous and realistic in its approach to costing its equipment plan. It also needs to be more open with parliament and the public about its finances, commitments and their costs to taxpayers.”

With the British Armed Forces continuing to expand their defence commitments worldwide, pledging to deploy contingents from the South China Sea to the Korean Peninsula, the Persian Gulf and Africa, despite cuts to the defence budget, the military is increasingly overstretched and unable to meet its goals. According to an anonymous Royal Navy source reporting to the British paper the Telegraph, the majority of the Navy's vessels are out of service and unable to go out to sea. A combination of budget cuts, a lack of staff and fuel shortages was named as the cause, leaving the service a “laughing stock” according to the source - struggling to carry out even relatively basic hurricane relief operations. Another report in 2017 found that the Navy's entire attack submarine fleet was out of service due to poor maintenance. Former head of the Royal Navy, First Sea Lord Admiral Sir George Zambellas, warned that Britain's military capabilities are set to degenerate into those of a "Third World" country. Several prolific programs such as the Queen Elizabeth Class carriers are unlikely to see completion - with the fixed wing aircraft for the carriers' decks alone costing well over $10 billion to acquire and orders for these fighters likely to be cut to half the original number due to budgetary constraints. Other programs including fourth generation battle tanks to replace the Challenger 2 and new destroyers and laser weapons are among several which are likely to suffer from severe budget cuts. Unless significant increases are made to Britain's defence budget, unlikely considering the continuing national austerity budget and continued economic difficulties, the country is unlikely to be able to effectively modernise its armed forces or retain its status as a major power in the coming decades.

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