Ive been travelling back to HERRICK from R&R over the past few days, so managed to miss the SDSR announcements and initial reactions. However, one comment from a mate of mine at KAF seemed to perhaps sum up a point of view not widely appreciated when asked how it had gone, his reaction was dig beneath the surface reactions, and its not as bad as it seemed, or could have been. I think this is an interesting take, so wanted to try and put into words my thinking about how despite the desperate hyperbole out there (yes, Im looking at you pro CVF brigade!), the actual result isnt actually as bad as its made out to be. From my perspective the SDSR seems to be tackling the problem of a huge overspend, dire economic position and much needed update on the UKS strategic direction in one go. This is never a good starting point for a review, as its never clear how much of the end result is actually strategic and not budget driven. That said, the National Security Strategy (NSS) makes a pretty good stab at setting out the threats that we face, and putting the UKs key weakness areas on display. Any discussion of the end result of SDSR force levels has to be set against the realities of the NSS issues decrying the UK for losing its sovereign ability to kick the door in, is pointless if the NSS quite rightly recognises that were not really doing that anymore. My assessment then is that if you look at the force levels and the decisions taken to remove elements from service in 2 contexts, some of it isnt actually that bad. Firstly, lets consider force structures against NSS mandated threats to the UK. Secondly, lets consider the force structure of 2020 as being the point at which the UK is able to operate again were clear that HERRICK ends in 2014/15, and its equally clear that the recuperation, force regeneration and retraining to peacetime capability is going to take 4-5 years. In other words, when we talk of a 10 year plan, it makes a lot of sense HM Forces will not have the physical ability to do much beyond HERRICK anyway until 2015, and then we will be so broken, and the political appetite for intervention will be so weak, that its unlikely that well see any significant imperial adventures until this point at the earliest. So in those circumstances, the big 4 threats (namely Terrorism, Disasters, Cyber, Alliance Warfare) make a compelling argument for future priorities. One thing that I was most struck by was the lack of emphasis on our wider multi-lateral commitments outside of ISAF. I didnt spot a single reference to the FPDA for instance. It is clear that the East of Suez Mentality which has permeated thinking for years is being de-emphasised in favour of a more hands off approach. It will be interesting to see how this sits with our allies in the far east. Labour would have done the same - This is a key point we need to get about the SDSR. None of the options on display seemed new or innovative. I have no doubt at all that had a labour government done this SDSR, then wed have seen almost identical results for all the talk of it being a strategic review, it doesnt seem to have generated any new or exciting options for the MOD. CVS & The Escort Fleet The most significant arguments seem to revolve around the RN and its decision to go to 19 escorts and lose a carrier. To my mind, this hyperbole is somewhat overblown - the RN has always been clear that we would lose the 3 Invincibles in 10,12,15 respectively, and the GR9 OSD was always aligned to coincide with that. Even if the decision not to lose GR9 had been taken, wed have faced a carrier gap in 2014 anyway as the Royal approached OSD. This decision is merely bringing forward the same gap as before. What impact does losing GR9 actually have on the RN well its hard to tell. On the one hand there is the natural loss of pride that comes from losing fixed wing aviation. However, as a hard headed realist would note, the RN has been out of the fixed wing carrier business since FA2 went OSD. Since that point weve only seen occasional deployments by CVS with a GR9 airwing embarked, usually a maximum of 6 aircraft. In other words, since 2004, the RN has been unable to deploy more than 6 planes to sea anyway, and to all intents and purposes was a non fixed wing deploying nation anyway from 2006 2009 when the GR9 was in HERRICK. In other words, weve not actually really had a carrier fixed wing capability now for nearly half a decade weve done the odd short deployment, but to all intents and purposes, the RN has been out of the fixed wing game for some time now. So, while some of the posters here bemoan the loss of CVS as some kind of mortal death blow to the RN, Im far more sanguine about it. Ultimately GR9 provided us with the ability to put a tiny number of airframes to sea, which when set against the context that the UK isnt planning on using carrier borne airpower for strike purposes anyway for the next 10 years, makes little sense to retain the GR9 capability beyond seedcorn capability for the CVF. Now when we talk about regeneration of skills, this is where I do worry its going to be several years before the RN gets to do fixed wing flying again, and in this time many pilots will leave. I really hope that a clever plan is in place to ensure that we get retain the skills required for CVF, otherwise were going to look pretty bloody stupid having a carrier with no planes. This is my big worry I cant think of a single navy that has ever successfully regenerated carrier capability after such a long gap, so Id like to know how the RN is going to manage it. As for the escort fleet, well to be honest Im fairly relaxed about the cut to 19 hulls. To all intents and purposes the RN has been operating with 19 hulls for years dig beneath the fleet stats and youll see that the residual 42s are barely floating and not deployable. To all intents, the RN has managed to meet its commitments with a lot less than 23 hulls for some time now. The SDSR seems to make clear that well continue doing the 3 traditional tasks (UK home waters, West Indies and South Atlantic) and then do East of Suez and Piracy as available. To my reckoning a fleet of 19 escorts will give us about 15 available and in the programming cycle at any one time so 4 deployed, 1 in home waters as FRE, and then 10 spare for work up / work down / surge capacity. Its tight, but not much more so than recent years.