The rapid growth of operational deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan saw a parallel growth in the training systems procured by U.K. armed forces. The nature of both theaters, including tight rules of engagement and novel challenges, required training avenues to be created and exploited. But as involvement in Iraq is over, and the end of deployment in Afghanistan is in sight, the U.K. is considering which systems and capabilities are to be retained.
The issue of a 37-point agreement on security and defense on Feb. 17 confirmed that, despite public spats between French President Nicolas Sarkozy and British Prime Minister David Cameron, the U.K. and France have been quietly but surely moving to ever-closer defense and industrial ties. The two countries are more serious about cooperation in defense matters than they arguably have ever been before.
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.