Speaking this morning, 8 December 2011, Mr Hammond began by saying that the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) was ‘long overdue, and undeniably necessary’.
He said it has been a year of transition in Defence, as the difficult process of making the SDSR a reality begins:
Meanwhile, in the midst of all this change, we must never forget that, since the publication of the SDSR, around 30,000 members of our Armed Forces, including many from the Reserves, have risked their lives for this country on operations in Afghanistan and in Libya.
And today, I want to focus on the success our Armed Forces have achieved this year - protecting our national security by projecting military power far beyond our shores.
On Afghanistan, the Defence Secretary said that the process of the transition of lead security responsibility to the Afghan Government is on track, and set to complete by the end of 2014:
President Karzai recently announced the second tranche of transition so the Afghans are now formally taking on responsibility for provision of security to over half the Afghan population.
This includes Nad ‘Ali in Helmand - a place which, as the Chief of the Defence Staff reflected recently, was effectively a no-go area when he was Commander of ISAF [the International Security Assistance Force]. This represents very significant progress.
He added that we should, however, be clear that Afghanistan will need continued support, albeit not combat support, for many years after 2014 and that the successful conclusion of the combat mission in Afghanistan was his first priority, and the first priority for the Ministry of Defence.
On operations over Libya, Mr Hammond said that much scepticism had been expressed about our ability to do anything else simultaneously, but that Libya had proved this wrong:
This year, our Armed Forces have shown that - even with the enduring campaign in Afghanistan - they have the capability and the capacity to respond when the national interest requires,” he said.
Significantly, he announced that the final estimate of the net additional cost of operations in Libya is £212m - made up of £145m of operating costs, plus a further £67m on replenishing munitions:
This is almost a third lower than the estimate my predecessor provided to Parliament in October - this is due to the speed with which operations were concluded and a reassessment of the cost of replenishing munitions used; a successful outcome in every respect.
Moving on from Libya to the need for reform in Defence, Mr Hammond said that the adaptable posture set in place by the SDSR is an effective answer to the volatile nature of the current international security environment:
It may not have mentioned Libya by name, but the National Security Strategy placed an international crisis, drawing in the UK and its allies, in the top tier of risks over the next five years,” the Defence Secretary said.
The force structure set down in the SDSR provides the capability for us to continue to play our part in an international response to events during this period of transition.
He said that the vision for Future Force 2020 is a strategy-led, resource-informed blueprint for powerful, formidable and adaptable military forces configured for a new era, but that implementing that vision requires bringing the Defence Budget into balance in order that Future Force 2020 is sustainable:
It requires reform of the way the MOD does business - and indeed the way that the political leadership engages in the process - so that the same problems do not build up again. That means taking the tough decisions now to build for the future.
Mr Hammond said that he was a budget-balancer by instinct, but the purpose of the MOD is not simply to balance the books; it exists to ensure the defence of the country:
The situation we face now - after the years of political failure to grip the problem - is that eliminating the black hole in the Defence Budget is the only way to sustain military capability over the long-term.
If we don’t reshape now we won’t be in a position to order new equipment in the future. Our challenge is to move from the fantasy budgets of the past to a firm foundation for the future.
This is a transition that is essential to the future of Defence - but no-one should be under any illusion that it will be easy or pain-free.
He said he was determined that the MOD neither compromises current operations nor constrains future defence capability:
That means we will not remove critical skills and capabilities that are irrecoverable - so that we retain the ability to scale up in the future if the threat demands it and the means permit it.
My first rule is that whatever our current constraints we must not preclude our successors from doing more.
And my second is that our future strength lies in partnership and we must guard those assets, capabilities and competences that allow us to add value to our most important alliances.
He said that Defence will change and adapt with the evidence and the circumstances. As an example of this, Mr Hammond announced a change in the manning rules for submarines:
I can announce today that I have accepted the recommendation of the First Sea Lord that women should be allowed to serve in submarines in the future,” he said.
Female officers will serve on the Vanguard Class submarines from late in 2013, followed by ratings in 2015. Women - officers and ratings - will also be able to serve on the Astute Class submarines from about 2016.
Mr Hammond concluded by saying that he came into the Ministry of Defence with a reputation as a numbers man but he has quickly come to understand that Defence is a very human endeavour:
Whatever the future brings, whatever the challenges they are faced with, I do know that the men and women of our Armed Forces will rise to them magnificently,” he said.
To read the full transcript of Mr Hammond’s speech see Related Links.