Britain's newly-retired top military leader blames politicians for military budget blunders

09:23, November 01, 2010      

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The professional head of the armed forces blamed politicians on Sunday for the budget overspend of 38 billion pounds for buying military equipment over the next 10 years.

Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup, who stepped down from his role as leader of Britain's three armed forces on Friday, told the BBC in a TV interview: "Cost growth needed to be attended to which the Defense Board had plans to manage -- but those plans were vetoed by the ministers of the day because they were I suppose, politically too difficult."

The Defense Board is the highest committee inside the Ministry of Defense (MOD), and makes recommendations to government ministers. For the 13 years from 1997 to May, 2010, the government was run by the Labor party, for the first 10 years under prime minister Tony Blair and for the last three under Gordon Brown.

Stirrup was critical of Labor decision-making during this period, "There were some pretty unfortunate cases during the Labor years".

Military spending was over-committed by 38 billion pounds over the next 10 years. Stirrup said. "This is not a surprise, this is something the Defense Board saw coming years ago, and for which it prepared, and for which it put in place proposals to bring the program into place."

"When the cost of the program clearly outstrips the money available under any given scenario, then you have to reduce the total program, which means you have to cut some things," he added.

Stirrup said this applied to projects over all three armed services -- navy, army, and air force - and covered new ships, fast jet aircraft and army equipment.

Prime Minister David Cameron revealed a Strategic Defense and Security Review (SDSR) less than a fortnight ago, which reduced the annual 37.5 billion pound military budget by 7.8 percent over the next five years.

The SDSR came against a background of the most drastic cuts in public spending since the Second World War announced only a day afterwards which will see total government spending reduced by 81 billion pounds in a bid to tackle the public spending deficit of 156 billion pounds a year.

With no spare money, the new coalition government, which formed on May 11 in the wake of the inconclusive May 6 general election, wanted to make big cuts in military spending, and these attracted a large amount of media coverage and strong criticism from media, military, and experts.

The program to build two new aircraft carriers, at 65,000 tonnes the largest yet built for the navy, was a tempting target, as either one or both carriers could be surplus.

However construction had started on the first, for delivery in 2016, and planning was advanced on the second, to be delivered in 2019, and contracts entered into by the former Labor government meant it was cheaper to build both carriers than to cancel one of them.

The SDSR did announce that the entire fleet of Harrier jump jets, the only ones capable of flying from the current fleet of three carriers and the two new ones, would be axed, leaving the navy with no fixed-wing aircraft capability until new American- built jets are delivered some time after the construction of the first carrier.

Stirrup explained the business agreements behind the carrier program.

There was a business agreement to reduce dockyard capacity, Stirrup said, because Britain had "too large a shipbuilding industry and we had to come down to one dockyard" which required investment in rationalization, and the shipbuilding industry would only do that if it had a commitment for future work.

The French and British governments are holding bilateral talks at the highest level this week, with defense and foreign affairs as main topics.

Media expectations in Britain are for a formal defense treaty which will herald French jets flying from British aircraft carriers, French and British naval vessels escorting each others aircraft carriers, both nations sharing airborne refueling jets, and the French carrying out airborne maritime reconnaissance in the Atlantic in the wake of Britain curtailing its capability in that area in the SDSR.

Source: Xinhua


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