The UK Ministry of Defence has repeated its past message that tough choices must be made about future equipment acquisition, but again provided few specifics. Its position is published in a Green Paper outlining the issues to be addressed in a future Strategic Defence Review process.
Released on 3 February, the document - entitled Adaptability and Partnership: Issues for the Strategic Defence Review - is intended to prompt discussion as to the future balance and mission of the UK armed forces, says defence secretary Bob Ainsworth. "What we're trying to do is pose the questions, and start a debate."
Declining to provide details on possible Labour party initiatives, Ainsworth points out that the Green Paper was drafted with the input of specialists from across the political spectrum and from academia. "We need to challenge any rigidities that we have in the system to make sure that our methods are adaptable enough to support our armed forces," he says.
Pressed on the likelihood that the SDR will lead to a reduction in spending, he counters: "We need to rebalance our budget to better match our resources. But that doesn't mean cuts."
Ainsworth notes: "Right now Afghanistan is necessarily our main effort." Operations in the country will be supported using £3.5 billion ($5.5 billion) from Treasury funds this year, and this is expected to rise to £5 billion in 2011, he says.
Ainsworth confirms that the Labour party has no intention of reviewing its plans to renew the UK's Trident-based independent nuclear deterrent, or to cancel contracts linked to the construction of the Royal Navy's two Future Aircraft Carriers. "We are already cutting steel [on the carriers] - that to some degree closes our options," he adds.
© Craig Hoyle/Flightglobal
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Asked whether the UK will maintain its commitment to the delayed Airbus Military A400M transport, Ainsworth told Flight International: "Our industrial skills base is important to the future well-being of the armed forces. We have got to get that balance right."
This message reflects a section of the report that acknowledges the importance of international partnerships in developing military equipment. "There are operational, industrial and economic benefits from working with other countries on acquisition," it says. "However, such acquisition involves risks, constraints, and potentially costs."
The UK government and MoD also want to increase co-operation with their international allies. This process could allow its armed forces to increase specialisation in some areas of activity. A new defence review should also be conducted every parliament, the report suggests.
The MoD also published a parallel paper The Defence Strategy for Acquisition Reform, which outlines its intention to further improve the efficiency of its procurement practices.