Post-election changes? Article from DefenseNews

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    Old Problems Await New U.K. Government

    By the time Britain wakes up on the morning of May 6, it will have elected a new government to take the country through the second half of the decade.

    The new government will face many familiar and acute defense problems, particularly the affordability of the equipment procurement plan. But there will be new and potentially controversial issues to solve over the next five years. One notable question: Should the country retain a nuclear deterrent after the Trident missile and its Vanguard submarines are pensioned off around the end of the next decade?

    Defense is unlikely to play much of a part in the battle for votes that has followed Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair’s decision to call a general election for May 5. That might change if British forces in Iraq or elsewhere suffer some calamity before polling day. Blair, who is going for his third term in office, remains tainted by his decision to go to war against Saddam Hussein.

    Nevertheless, the Labour administration is favored to win with a reduced majority, with the Conservative Party coming in second.

    Nicholas Soames, the Conservative shadow minister for defense, unveiled the party’s defense plans at a Royal United Services Institute meeting April 4. Soames promised to partially restore equipment and personnel cuts pushed through by Labour.

    The Conservatives’ defense spokesman also said the party would spend 2.7 billion pounds ($5 billion) more on frontline defense then the Labour Party government, instigate a Quadrennial Defence Review and merge parts of the Defence Procurement Agency and the Defence Logistics Organisation.

    Leadership Changes

    But no matter who wins, the leadership of the Ministry of Defense seems destined for change. Should the Conservatives take power, Soames is likely to lead their new MoD political team.

    Even a Labour victory could mean wholesale changes. Geoff Hoon, who was appointed in 1999, is weeks away from becoming Britain’s longest-serving secretary of state for defense. “Just because it would be unprecedented for him to stay on doesn’t mean it won’t happen,” one defense analyst said.

    But Hoon, who has seen the MoD through some choppy waters, has wanted to depart for some time and he is likely to get his wish, say analysts and ministry insiders.

    As for the other three defense ministers, only the future of Ivor Caplin, the undersecretary for defense and minister for veterans, is certain: He is not standing for re-election.

    Political analysts reckon that if Labour wins, Adam Ingram, the minister of state for the armed forces, is in line for a government promotion. Procurement minister Lord Bach is the most likely to stay on, they say.

    But most worrisome to some here is a possible mid-term switch of Labour’s prime minister. Blair is on record as saying he will stand down at some point in his third term. That would leave Gordon Brown, a man renowned for his dislike of defense, as his most likely replacement. Brown is chancellor of the exchequer, or finance minister.

    “Brown has already caused considerable problems for the MoD in his role as chancellor; as the prime minister, he would be a nightmare for defense,” said one analyst.

    Whoever gets the secretary of state job will quickly face the challenge of setting out the defense forces’ equipment budget for 2005, known here as EP05.

    “Affordability of equipment and the availability of cash in the near term to support high-profile procurement programs, like the aircraft carrier, the Joint Strike Fighter and the third tranche of Eurofighter Typhoons, are the most pressing problems,” said Paul Beaver, the head of defense consultants Beaver Westminster.

    For several months, industry sources have been saying the budget doesn’t match the equipment program. Many think the government, having bitten deeply into Royal Navy and Royal Air Force operational capabilities in last year’s budget, will delay programs due for approval this year in an attempt to push off crisis.

    The non-appearance of EP05 before the elections is ominous, said retired Maj. Gen. Alan Sharman, the director general of the Defence Manufacturers Association.

    “We were promised sight of EPO5 in early March and we haven’t seen it yet; that’s presumably because there is something painful in it. If it was good news, they would have made sure it was published before now,” he said.

    Nuke Replacement?

    Among the more controversial issues for the new government are the replacement of the nuclear deterrent and the possible positioning of ballistic-missile interceptors in the United Kingdom. A decision on whether to replace the Trident missile and its submarine platform is likely in 2007.

    “It’s the most important geostrategic decision of the next Parliament, and the government has already said that it was a subject likely to be decided upon in the next Parliament,” said one defense analyst.

    But the controversy may yet be put off by delaying the retirement of the subs and their missiles, said retired Rear Adm. Richard Cobbold, director of the Royal United Services Institute here.

    “It would not be a strategic issue if the government spent money extending the life of the weapons system by a decade,” Cobbold said.

    The next Parliament may also debate ballistic missile defense. Few believe the British need a defensive shield at present, but “there may be pressure from the U.S. government, who believe it is in their interest to encourage international cooperation in their Global Ballistic Missile System,” said Mike Rance, a leading U.K. consultant on ballistic missile defense and a former senior MoD director responsible for work in this area. “One way to do that is to draw allies and partners into the program by locating interceptors and radars on their territory.”

    The United Kingdom already has approved upgrades to the Fylingdales early warning radar site. •