In theory, the plan for the U.K.'s two new aircraft carriers is now set and can proceed. The 2010 Strategic Defense and Security Review (SDSR) changed the ships, and the aircraft that are to fly off them, from the B-variant, short-takeoff/vertical landing (Stovl) version of the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF), in favor of the larger, heavier, longer-range F-35C carrier variant. As such, there is now a requirement for catapults and arrester gear.
It has been an interesting 12 months for U.K. defense, and 2012 promises to have as many noteworthy points as 2010-11. The end of 2010 saw publication of the Strategic Defense and Security Review (SDSR), with consequent cuts in the force structures of all three services. Then there was the budget settlement, which promises only minimal funding to 2015. The Libyan campaign appeared out of nowhere, but ended well, while raising serious questions about the outcome of SDSR.
A 17-year journey has come to an end for a collaborative European program with the announcement that a long-awaited U.K. armored fighting vehicle (AFV) upgrade is finally getting the go-ahead. The Warrior Capability Sustainment Program will upgrade the current mechanized infantry combat vehicle with new digital architecture, better integration of some protection systems that were added as a result of combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, and, importantly, a new and radical gun.
Taking the experiences of a single conflict and extrapolating them into “universal truths” can be perilous. Earlier this year, the U.K.'s Strategic Defense and Security Review took the operational template from operations in Afghanistan and made it the generic one for the future. Although lip service was paid to the idea of state-on-state warfare and other conflict options, it was simply that—lip service.
Recent months have seemed to be the best of times and the worst of times for the U.K.'s next-generation aircraft carrier program.
The respected National Audit Office (NAO) published a detailed and damning report on the program's management. But before Parliament went into recess on July 22, Secretary of State for Defense Liam Fox seemed to say that the carriers are at the heart of the U.K.'s future defense capabilities, and will remain so.
Warship design in much of the world may be entering a new era, with requirements driven less by peer-on-peer sea battles and more by lessons of the past decade, combined with economic constraints. Brazil, Canada, Israel and the U.K. are among the nations looking at new surface combatant programs. The first three represent markets for Europe's shipbuilders (and possibly South Korea) while the U.K. is trying to break back into the global warship business.
Defense primes in Europe are broadening their horizons when it comes to deep research and technology (R&T). Rather than relying on their in-house laboratories, they are reaching out to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), as well as universities and other institutions. The drivers are two: First, there is a realization that much technical innovation is fostered inside the SME/academic sector; second, defense ministries are trying to increase the amount of business that goes to SMEs, so teaming makes sense.
The U.K. might have trouble procuring a new generation of armored fighting vehicles (AFVs) now, with the stop-start progress of the Future Rapid Effects System, but this hasn’t stopped the Defense Ministry from looking into the future.
The U.K. political and military arenas have seen serious debate since the announcement that the two-ship aircraft carrier program will proceed despite budget pressures, but that in the interim, the Royal Navy will retire its fleet of Harrier GR9 aircraft.
There were sighs of relief at the level of cuts to the multiyear U.K. defense budget, which runs to 2015; they “only” amounted to 8% across the period. That there were near- cheers was a result of the fact that in the run-up to the Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR), the regular budget process, only the health and overseas development budgets were protected from cuts—every other budget was in play, and some ministries saw reductions of more than 20%.
I’m relieved that we have actually got a government in place, and it looks to be pretty robust,” a senior U.K. military source said in the aftermath of the coalition deal between the Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties, following the inconclusive general election on May 6. There had been considerable fear that days or weeks of deal-making between the various political parties would lead to government gridlock, and that this would have had an impact on procurement, as well as the planned Strategic Defense Review (SDR).
The U.K. took a big step toward its upcoming Strategic Defense Review (SDR) by publishing a Green Paper—a preliminary report of government proposals—in February. The Green Paper offered no conclusions about the SDR, but laid a framework around which the review will be conducted.