On a visit to India, the RAF’s Chief of Air Staff Air Marshal Dalton talked of India buying the Harrier jump jets which the strategic defence review has deemed too expensive to continue operating – the decision that leaves the Royal Navy bereft of the vital air protection that allows it to deploy groups of ships into conflict zones, and will finish up with us buying two hugely expensive aircraft carriers but no aircraft.
It seemed as though the Indians might buy our Harriers; after all, they bought our carrier HMS Hermes with which we won the Falklands War, so it was reasonable for the MoD to believe they might buy another slice of British memorabilia.
Sadly, Air Marshal Dalton’s Indian counterpart can’t see the value of all this history, even though the MoD have recently spent £200 million upgrading the Harriers’ avionics – with a view to the Fleet Air Arm continuing to use them for the next fifteen years. The Indians are replacing aging Russian aircraft for their confrontation with Pakistan and China, and dismss the already aged British fleet as obsolete and “iffy”.
It seems in order to achieve savings from cutting the Harrier, UK ministers are banking on getting a decent price from selling them – a gamble in itself, which given the serious strategic risk of the Royal Navy operating for the next decades (possibly permanently) without any ship-borne aircraft, is actually stupid, particularly as in axing Harrier, we also throw away the £200 million upgrade.
But this is what happens when defence is cut to save money, without proper military and strategic review. Capability costs much less than actual operations. It’s far more expensive to lose a war through not having the right forces and equipment. Defence spending is like a whirl-pool, taking your money regardless.
Politicians ought to think about it as I imagine an insurance broker must, when looking across the portfolio of a large company. Paying 2 to 2.5% of GDP isn’t an expensive premium for world-wide, no-exclusions, no-questions-asked cover, in parts of the world where normal insurance cover is invariably withdrawn.
However, unlike an insurance broker, there’s no quibbling from British Servicemen and women when required to “pay-up”. Unlike everyone else involved when the proverbial hits the fan.