20 Oct 2010 - By
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SDSR: sucker punch or saving grace?

Army Air Corps soldiersYesterday’s Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) announcement has set out the Coalition Government’s plan for the future of UK defence, at home and abroad.

First to go was the £14bn Defence Training Rationalisation project (DTR), which Defence Secretary Liam Fox announced in statement to Parliament. Dr Fox said: “The Metrix Consortium was appointed as preferred bidder in January 2007 subject to it developing an affordable and value for money contract proposal.

“Given the significance of this project and the opportunity to provide a world-class training facility, the MOD has worked tirelessly to deliver this project.

“However, it is now clear that Metrix cannot deliver an affordable, commercially-robust proposal within the prescribed period and it has therefore been necessary to terminate the DTR procurement and Metrix’s appointment as preferred bidder.”

Charles Barrington, Chairman, Metrix UK, then stated: “Metrix, its partners and the MOD have all worked extremely hard and in close partnership to deliver a solution which offers value for money combined with the very best technical approach to training and a rationalised estate. Despite the best efforts of all concerned, the combined effect of an extremely tough economic environment and numerous commercial and technical challenges meant that the project could not be delivered within the framework and timescale originally intended.”

Serious concerns

Following Prime Minister David Cameron’s statement to the House of Commons, in which he set out in detail the rest of the personnel and programme cuts, strong reactions were given by industry and the defence community.

The Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) General Secretary Mark Serwotka said: “If 25,000 job losses in the Ministry of Defence is what is happening in a so-called protected department, the remaining cuts to be announced in the spending review will be truly devastating. We have serious concerns for the damaging effect these cuts will have on the ability of civilian staff in the MOD to support our Armed Forces.”

Those views echoed those of PCS MOD Group Secretary Bob Rollings, who stated the previous day that: “David Cameron is callously using his ‘admiration’ for our armed forces as a spiteful tool to attack public services. The public will not be fooled into believing that cuts have to be made when there are uncollected taxes in excess of £120 billion.”

“Whatever cuts are announced in the MOD and in the wider public sector are cuts too far. In the MOD, we will see short-term financial thinking replace generations of experience and knowledge.”

The key test of success

Elsewhere, a more tempered view was offered by A|D|S, the UK’s AeroSpace, Defence and Security trade organisation. Immediately following the SDSR announcement, Ian Godden, Chairman of A|D|S, said: “Today is a difficult day for everyone involved, from our armed forces to the industry that is proud to supply them and the politicians who are making these tough decisions to deal with issues from the past in order to look to the future.

“The key test of the success of the Review will be the extent to which it ensures that the UK has the industrial capabilities to address long-term future security needs and that our Armed Forces are equipped for the tasks that the nation asks of them.

“Industry welcomes the clarity provided by the Review, which will ensure that plans can be adapted to meet new situations and future investment decisions can be made.

Mr Godden also highlighted the need to support the SME community, saying: “Alongside the multinational firms based in Britain we also have more small and medium sized enterprises in defence than France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Norway combined. They are the bedrock on which our defence success is based and their needs must not be forgotten if the UK is to retain its ability to supply and support our troops to the highest possible standard.”

Equipment cuts

Despite the obvious cuts in numbers, some people in the defence industry have appealed for calm. Jane’s Strategic Advisory Services Director Michael Formosa’s commented: “Some of the cuts might be challenging for UK Armed Forces, but will not be an insurmountable threat to core capability.  The UK will retain ample forces to deploy as part of a coalition operation with UN, NATO or EU allies.

“While decommissioning Ark Royal, retiring the Harriers and purchase of two new carriers will present a capability gap in the short term, the move will enable the MOD to project power far better over the long term.  The primary challenge will be to ‘re-learn’ fast-jet carrier operations once replacement naval aircraft are procured.

“Postponing the decision on the Trident replacement pushes it into the next Comprehensive Spending Review period. This may be seen as passing the buck politically in the hope that an improved economic situation makes a decision easier, but could add cost in the long-run.”

Personnel cuts

However, Mr Formosa was among those who commented on how the personnel cuts offer the strongest impediment to UK operational capability.  He said: “Although the proposed timing of the reduction of the force by some 7000 men should not negatively impact the Afghanistan mission, given the extent to which the Army is currently stretched to meet current commitments this reduction might call into the question the ability of the Army to undertake another Afghanistan.”

“In total, the SDSR should drive greater impetus being placed upon reforming the MOD procurement process and improving efficiency.  Far more consideration could and should, be placed upon procurement of off-the-shelf and ‘good-enough’ solutions that are available on the international market.”

We have set out the views of industry and leading defence commentators, but what is your view? Is this review a saving grace for an organisation that has been pouring money down the drain for years, or is it a necessary process to get where we want to be? Hit ‘comment’ below and let us hear your views.