British Prime Minister David Cameron has just revealed the Strategic Defence and Security Review and he wants people to think that the armed forces are going to be better equipped to fight ISIS. Unfortunately, nothing in the review will be of much help if the Military is ever asked to intervene in Syria.
The Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) is a big reassessment of the armed forces that the government holds every five years. Lots of the announcements in today’s review make sense, but they won’t make the military more effective against ISIS.
Take the headline announcement that Britain is going to form two “rapid reaction strike brigades” of 5,000 military personnel that will be ready to deploy anywhere in the world at a moments notice. Cameron and his defence secretary, Michael Fallon, want us to think that these new brigades could be quickly put on the ground to stamp out an advance by a terrorist group like ISIS.
Fallon told the BBC that configuring the armed forces in this way is being done to combat the new threat posed by ISIS, while Cameron wrote this morning that the review will keep the UK safe from the “direct threat” of ISIS. The review is “a comprehensive plan to back our Armed Forces, counter-terrorism police and intelligence agencies with the resources they need to defeat this terrorism and to tackle the many other threats we face in a world that is ever more dangerous and uncertain,” he wrote.
It all sounds great, but there’s one big problem: these new strike brigades won’t be ready till 2025.
It only took around two years for ISIS to emerge from nowhere and become a threat to the security of Europe. In 10 years time the UK might well be glad to have rapid reaction strike forces, but they will do nothing to tackle immediate threats. Also, there will be two more SDSRs before these brigades will be ready. The chances are pretty low that after 10 years, two more reviews, and a possible change of government that the brigades will look anything like what was promised today.
Cameron also announced that there will be a 10-year extension given to the operational lifespan of the RAF’s Eurofighter Typhoon jets, meaning they will keep flying until 2040. The Eurofighters will take over bombing duties from the ageing fleet of Tornadoes the RAF currently rely on. They are still using Tornadoes — an aircraft that was conceived in the 1960s — because the Eurofighter doesn’t really work.
The Eurofighter has what the military calls a “maturing air-to-ground capabilities.” That means that it is only just starting to be able to strike ground targets, and it will be years before it is able to carry the Brimstone surface-to-air missiles necessary for counter-insurgency operations.
There are plenty of proven close ground-support aircraft that the government could purchase or lease quite cheaply such as the A-10 Warthog or the Super Tucano. Instead, they are ploughing ahead with plans to purchase 138 F-35B aircraft. These planes are still being tested, are a long way from being operational, and very long way from dropping bombs on ISIS-driven pickup tricks in Syria. They also have a lifetime operational cost of around $US161 million per plane.
Not everything in the SDSR was bad, such as the announcement that the Royal Navy will be getting nine Boeing P8 maritime patrol aircraft. The Navy needs these because the planned replacement to their Nimrod patrol planes was scrapped after £4 billion had been spent on it. The P8’s are essential to protect ships from submarine and aerial attack, but it’s unlikely they will be used in operations against ISIS.
The report says that we need the “capabilities which enable us to tackle immediate challenges, such as the threat from ISIL.” There wasn’t much in what Cameron said today that suggests anything “immediate” might actually happen.
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