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HSC welcomes Defence Committee report on the Modernising Defence Programme

Today (Mon, 18th June) the House of Commons Defence Select Committee published its findings following a review of the Ministry of Defence’s Modernising Defence Programme.

The Human Security Centre share the Committee and the MoD’s view that the United Kingdom must continue being able to field a force capable of defending and maintaining human security at home and abroad. However, the Modernising Defence Programme needs to represent a break with the recent Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR), which failed to properly balance strategic ends and means – with the latter being seen in persistent resource shortfalls. In order to ensure the UK can stand firm against the increasingly broad range of threats it faces, Britain needs to have adequately funded and equipped armed services, without financial black holes which crystallise on the balance sheets some years down the line.

The HSC’s submitted evidence expressed a number of concerns and made a series of recommendations for ameliorating the situation, many of which have been taken on board and reflected in the Committee’s final report, titled ‘Beyond two per cent’ – a philosophy the HSC very much endorses.

The first key point the Committee and HSC shared common ground on was the concerns expressed about the future of the UK’s anti-submarine warfare (ASW) capability. Russia in particular is making use of its submarines to test European powers, often in and around the Atlantic approaches – and frequently in a manner which tests British resolve. It is clear that the Russian Federation is investing in both its submarines and its own ASW capabilities, as demonstrated by the ‘cat and mouse’ pursuit of a British Astute-class submarine by Russian warships in the Eastern Mediterranean in the days leading up to the most recent airstrikes against the Assad regime in Syria. There is a strong need for the UK to keep pace with the developments in ASW, and if the new Type 31e frigates come forward with limited ASW capability, this will be a glaring gap in the UK’s arsenal. Additional P8 Poseidon aircraft should also be purchased to bolster the planned fleet of nine.

A second point is that the UK is falling behind state competitors, most saliently Russia, in armoured vehicles and artillery. Moscow is moving to recapitalise its armoured fleet, and has already fitted many existing vehicles with advanced technology – including active protection systems that can defeat most anti-tank missiles. Equally, much of Russia’s artillery is able to out-range equivalent UK systems.

Thirdly, there is a requirement to enhance and update the UK’s air defences, which are vulnerable to aircraft such as the Russian Su-35 ‘Flanker-E’ fighter, and Ka-52 ‘Alligator’ helicopter, and against short-range ballistic missiles, as well as subsonic and hypersonic cruise missiles, all of which President Vladimir Putin has gone to great lengths to showcase to the world. In particular, there is an urgent need for the MoD to look again at ground-based air defence solutions to protect the Army’s warfighting divisions from air-based threats.

HSC Senior Fellow Dr Rowan Allport, lead author of the HSC’s Alternative SDSR in 2015 said: “Both the Government and the Committee have rightly identified that state-based threats, pre-eminently emanating from Russia, should now be our priority. The Defence Committee can be proud of this report, and the HSC fully endorses its core recommendations. More resources for defence are vital to provide adequate capability. However, they are not sufficient alone. The MDP must learn from the mistakes of SDSR 2015 to ensure that we do not find ourselves having the same conversations about the same issues in 2020.”

A full list of the HSC’s policy recommendations for the Modernising Defence Programme includes:

  1. Procure an additional 30 F-35B fighters by 2028, to add to the 48 that will be in service by 2025: this would allow for the formation of two additional squadrons.
  2. Form two additional Army regiments equipped with the Sky Sabre air defence system.
  3. Move forward with the procurement of Aster 30 Block 1NT missiles to provide the Royal Navy’s Sea Viper system with a limited Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) capability.
  4. Explore the option of developing a NATO joint ABM force – potentially based upon the US Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) system.
  5. Begin an urgent review into the potential wartime air defence requirements of the UK mainland.
  6. Study returning an air defence capability to the RAF Regiment.
  7. Ensure adequate stockpiling of spare parts and munitions.
  8. Procure an additional five P-8 Poseidon aircraft to add to the nine on order.
  9. Ensure that the planned Type 31e frigate has at least a basic hull-mounted sonar.
  10. Fit half of the Navy’s 28 Wildcat helicopters with a dipping sonar for ASW tasking.
  11. End the practice of confining one frigate and one destroyer to harbour due to personnel shortages.
  12. Explore the option of extending the Type 26 programme from eight to ten ships, all fitted with towed sonar.
  13. Study the feasibility of providing each of the two armoured infantry brigades with two Challenger 2-based armoured regiments, as opposed to one.
  14. Speed the fielding of an active protection system suitable for British armoured vehicles.
  15. Partner with Norway in the procurement of an APS-resistant anti-tank missile, with a view to mounting it on an armoured vehicle.
  16. Consider working with the US Army in a joint programme to expand the availability of long-range precision fire systems.
  17. Increase defence spending to 2.5 per cent of GDP by the end of the current parliament.

The Human Security Centre will be publishing a briefing on the Modernising Defence Programme in early July, and will be offering commentary and analysis as the outcome becomes know. For further information, please email: rowan.allport@hscentre.org

Image: A British Army Challenger 2 tank (MoD/Crown Copyright) (OGL)

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