Defence Secretary Dr Liam Fox and Chief of the Defence Staff General Sir David Richards have responded to today's publication of the House of Commons Defence Committee's report into the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) and the National Security Strategy (NSS).
Since January, the House of Commons Defence Committee (HCDC) has been reviewing the SDSR and the NSS. It has taken oral evidence from sources including the Defence Secretary, the Armed Forces Minister, the Single Service Chiefs, the Vice Chief of the Defence Staff, the Chief of Defence Materiel, the Deputy Chief of Defence Staff (Personnel), and Lord Stirrup (Chief of the Defence Staff when the SDSR was published). The Department has also provided extensive written evidence.
The HCDC says the report seeks to establish whether the new National Security Council has led to a more coherent and well-defined security policy in terms of the NSS and the SDSR.
In its report, the HCDC agrees with the logic underpinning the SDSR, including the prioritisation of operational requirements for Afghanistan, the adaptable posture, the validity of Future Force 2020, and the strategic priority and national security imperative of dealing with the budget deficit.
However, the HCDC also says that it is not convinced that, given the current financial climate and the drawdown of capabilities arising from the SDSR, UK Armed Forces will be able do what is asked of them after 2015.
Chair of the Committee, the Right Honourable James Arbuthnot MP, said:
The Government appears to believe that the UK can maintain its influence while reducing spending in Defence and at the Foreign Office. We do not agree.
The report also expresses concerns over the realisation of what is called ‘Future Force 2020’ - the Government’s intended shape of the Armed Forces from 2020.
Mr Arbuthnot said:
Decisions for post-2015 funding will have to be made in the very near future to ensure progress towards Future Force 2020. If the ambition of a real-terms funding increase is not realised, we will have failed our Armed Forces.
In response, Defence Secretary Dr Liam Fox said:
A Defence Review had not been conducted for 12 years, resulting in an equipment programme that was woefully unaffordable. A multi-billion pound deficit was plaguing Defence, and tough, but necessary, decisions had to be taken. As the Committee rightly acknowledges, dealing with the deficit was a national security imperative.
The Committee is also right to say that Future Force 2020 is only achievable with extra funding. That is why I announced two weeks ago that the military equipment budget will rise in real terms by over £3bn between 2015 and 2020, with new helicopters being ordered, new money for our armoured vehicles, the carrier programme, and guaranteed spending on the Joint Strike Fighter. Our future equipment programme is no longer an unfunded aspiration, but one that provides real money for real equipment.
We continue to have the fourth largest military budget in the world and the SDSR has put Defence back on a stable footing with highly capable Armed Forces and certainty for our personnel and their families.
I am pushing through radical reforms to ensure that the mistakes of the past are not repeated.
As we have seen in the US, no country is immune to the global financial problems, and even the world’s biggest military power is now grappling with how to make defence cuts and reform for the future.
General Sir David Richards, Chief of the Defence Staff, said:
The SDSR was based on an assessment of the threats we face now and in the future. We have had to take some tough decisions, but as we move towards Future Force 2020 we will remain a formidable fighting force on the world stage.
We will remain capable of sustaining our operations in Afghanistan and Libya before rebalancing will give us the flexibility to maintain our ability to project power across our spheres of interest.
We are continually working with our international allies to share operational requirements, including utilising basing and overflight rights for Libya - measures we rightly assessed in the SDSR could be relied upon to mitigate capability gaps.
The MOD will respond formally to the Defence Committee regarding today’s report in the autumn.