Life experience tells us that after making a mistake, it takes guts, humility – or both even – to recognise it and put things right.

Of course, that’s not how UK Prime Minister David Cameron’s government would view the results of the long-awaited Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR), released on 23 November.

Five years after it faced stinging criticism for ­scrapping the Royal Air Force’s incoming Nimrod MRA4 maritime patrol aircraft (MPA), sending the ­versatile Harrier GR9A into early retirement and ­trimming the overall number of combat squadrons, Downing Street pre-empted the ­SDSR’s fiercely-guarded publication.

P-8 - US Navy

After long speculation, Number 10 confirmed that the MPA gap will be filled by nine Boeing 737-based P-8 ­Poseidons, the first of which will report for duty later this decade. The UK’s carrier strike capability will be accelerated, with a second squadron of short take-off and vertical landing F-35Bs to be ready for deployment with Queen Elizabeth-class carriers by 2023. Also, threatened cuts to the Eurofighter Typhoon force have been reversed. By 2025, the RAF will have seven f­rontline units equipped with the model, which also is to remain in use until at least 2040.

Fears of a repeat of the savage, to-the-bone cuts made during the 2010 SDSR were in the end groundless, and errant past decisions to retire C-130J tactical transports and Sentinel R1 surveillance aircraft were reversed.

There was no hint of a mea culpa from Cameron – after all, who could have foreseen the rise of the Islamic State militant group and Russia’s adversarial stance, which emerged only after the dust had settled from 2010’s axe-wielding? Critics though, would counter that no military that prides itself on being at the top table of capability would ever have opted to throw away battle-proven strike aircraft and maritime patrol assets.

Budget considerations unquestionably won out in the SDSR of 2010, but this time the operational lessons of the ensuing half-decade have helped the UK’s armed ­forces to win arguments about what the genuinely critical capabilities really are.

At first glance, nothing in the newly-published ­defence review would seem to raise the alarms of the government’s first attempt. But in another five years, will the investments being made today in deep-ocean surveillance jets, aircraft carriers and replacement nuclear-attack submarines look at odds with the threats facing the nation’s interests?

Source: Flight International