The Strategic Defence and Security Review and the National Security Strategy - Defence Committee Contents

Examination of Witnesses (Question Numbers 452-516)

Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham KCB, Wing Commander (rtd) Andrew Brookes and Professor Julian Lindley-French

8 June 2011

  Chair: May I welcome you all to the Defence Committee. As you know, we are doing an inquiry into the Strategic Defence and Security Review and the National Security Strategy. Perhaps we could begin, please, by asking you to introduce yourselves. Shall we start with you, Sir Jeremy?

  Vice Admiral Blackham: Thank you, Chairman. I am Sir Jeremy Blackham, an ex-naval Vice Admiral. I was 41 years in the Navy, and the latter part of my time was mostly spent on budgeting and planning. My last job at MoD was as the first equipment capability customer, responsible for setting up the first single equipment programme—but I am not, I am happy to say, still there to explain why it is not delivering.

  After leaving the Navy, I worked for a while in industry, predominantly with EADS, for about three years. I then became an independent consultant. I am editor of The Naval Review, an independent professional naval journal. I teach defence management on a master's course at King's College, London and do a fair amount of writing and speaking, and a bit of defence and other consultancy.

  Professor Lindley-French: I am Julian Lindley-French, a professor at the Netherlands Defence Academy at the University of Leiden. I am a member of the Strategic Advisory Group in Washington, and am on the board of the NATO Defence College in Rome.

  Wing Commander Brookes: I am Andrew Brookes, a former RAF pilot. I was director of Air Power Studies at the RAF Staff College and an aerospace specialist at the International Institute for Strategic Studies for 10 years. I am now director of the Air League, which was formed in 1909 to encourage the nation to appreciate the vital necessity of air superiority. The Air League thanks you for letting me come along to put its views, because it has been very instrumental in pushing aviation, not least in helping found the Air Training Corps back in the late '30s.

Q452 Chair: Thank you. We have heard that you are from the Navy, the Army and the Air Force—well, Professor Lindley-French, you might not look very military, but you have concentrated mainly on the Army. We ask for a reasonably equitable range of views; we don't want to concentrate on any one service during this evidence session although, inevitably, there will be some skew one way or another, because of the events of the SDSR.

  May I begin by asking what you think of the National Security Council, please? We will get on to other issues, such as what you think of the SDSR, in due course, but let us begin by saying what you think of the NSC and whether it is working. Would you like to begin, Sir Jeremy?

  Vice Admiral Blackham: What I think is that, in principle, the NSC is an extremely sound idea. I have always felt that defence is much too important to be left to the Ministry of Defence and, quite clearly, security is a much more wide-ranging business than purely a military one. In principle, it seems to me an extremely good idea. It is quite difficult to make a judgment at the moment on whether it is turning out to be a good idea, because it hasn't been running for more than a year or so. Since one of the NSC's first deliveries was, indeed, the NSS and the SDSR, we might find that we have more to say about it. I think its formulation is correct; the Prime Minister chairs it fairly regularly and, in his absence, the Foreign Secretary does, which is at the right level.

  I have some doubt as to whether the National Security Adviser is chosen from the right group of people—I do not mean this in any way personally, but I am not sure that an official is the right person to act as National Security Adviser. I doubt he has the political clout and he will, inevitably, be very much formed by his own experience. That is something that needs to be reviewed. In principle, however, the NSC seems to be the right way to approach questions of national security.

  Professor Lindley-French: I would echo those views. I would contrast our National Security Council with that of the United States, and the National Security Adviser with his colleague in the US. With due respect to the current incumbent, for whom I have huge respect, it strikes me as inappropriate to have a civil servant as the National Security Adviser, in the sense that you need a very heavy political heavyweight, as it were, which tends to be the case in the US—not now, but it has been in the past. So, someone of very high stature indeed.

  I would see the Civil Service playing a strong deputy role, which is very important to link across Government. Ultimately, strategy in this country has to be the whole of Government—if you are talking of influence in the world, with all our national means, given the nature of the world, then the NSC must have both the stature and the weight to carry across Government and to ensure that there are synergies and efficiencies in achieving our national objectives. I am not sure, as yet, that the NSC has that weight. Until it does, I find it hard to believe that it can perform the integrating, co-ordinating role that, surely, it must play in support of national strategy.

Q453 Chair: So, someone like the Deputy Prime Minister or a senior Cabinet Minister?

  Professor Lindley-French: Indeed, of that weight—to have that voice consistently at Cabinet level. Even though it is chaired once a week by the Prime Minister, that is insufficient in terms of maintaining momentum on whole-of-Government approaches and structures.

  Wing Commander Brookes: I have nothing to add to Julian's comments, other than to say that if we cannot find somebody of sufficient calibre in the Lords or some figure of sufficient clout to do that—I cannot think of such a figure—it will not get much further, because it will just be another layer of bureaucracy that will not get very far.

  Chair: Moving on to a different area—Vice-Chairman, Dai Havard.

Q454 Mr Havard: I would like you to address the question of where the reductions currently leave us and what the strategy suggests about our position in the world. The strategy says that there will be no shrinkage of our influence. However, the Chiefs of Staff gave evidence to us and told us that they will not have full spectrum capability until 2015. Lord Stirrup gave evidence to us and he said that, given the drastic action that is being taken with the deficit—on which we can have differences—there will a period of shrinkage as a consequence. What is your view? Should we be making greater efforts to maintain our influence? Is there really a shrinkage of influence and are we trying to pretend that there isn't?

  Professor Lindley-French: I live in the Netherlands; I have lived abroad now for 25 years. I am in Washington an awful lot, and believe me our influence is shrinking rapidly. I am seeing that and hearing that. I am working closely with the French, who are very frustrated by this almost pretence that is going on in London.

  What strikes me, ladies and gentleman, about the National Security Strategy is that it paints a very big picture of a big world and then promptly cuts all the tools available to influence it. That strikes me as the essential paradox of the two documents. There is a certain brand, internationally, that is the United Kingdom, and that brand is primarily diplomatic and military. Both are tired, and both are being overstretched, because they are being asked to do too much on too little. I strongly suggest that that has to be gripped here.

  On the issue of recapitalisation of the Armed Forces post-2015, one of the things that I find bizarre about the relationship between the two documents is that building a new military, which is what we will effectively have to do, takes 15 to 20 years, and yet the suggestion is that there will be a review every five years. I cannot see the planning traction of the National Security Strategy and I cannot see the planning delivery logic of the SDSR. Until these kind of inconsistencies are resolved, believe me Britain's influence will continue rapidly to diminish at a time when we need to be influential to keep vibrant the institutions essential to our security. It is a very serious point indeed.

  Vice Admiral Blackham: I do not disagree with what the Professor has said, although it is quite difficult to answer the question fully without going into some of the detail of the two documents, which I dare say you may wish to do later. It seems to me that the National Security Strategy makes a fair attempt at painting a picture of the world. It is pretty selective about the bits that it sees as generally threatening to us or directly threatening to us, which somewhat distorts its view. But it is pretty poor at offering guidance to the Chiefs of Staff about what kinds of capabilities they should maintain or retain. I am not accustomed to feeling sorry for the Chiefs of Staff, but in this case I certainly do, because without clear directions about what things they are to do and what things they are not to do, it is almost impossible to plan a markedly shrunk defence force.

Q455 Mr Havard: Is that because the selection of things was wrong in the first place? You seem to imply that that selection was wrong.

  Vice Admiral Blackham: I would go further; I would say that what neither document recognises is that, at the level of finance which is currently available, we cannot do the range of things about what the National Security Strategy demonstrates as potential threats and which the SDSR says we should do. Consequently, choices have to be made, if you are not prepared to afford certain things.

  I might at this point just divert a moment and say that it isn't clear to me that it is sensible to start a defence review by limiting the budget. You clearly have to limit it at some point, but the right thing to do is to describe the range of threats. It is important to understand that the range of threats is in no way dependent on the amount of money that we choose to use to confront them. It is dependent on a whole range of other things, almost none of which are under our own control.

  What we can control is which of those threats we decide to face. We must then understand what the consequences of that are, and what the consequences are of the things that we decide not to face. That piece of work is not done. Consequently, the Chiefs of Staff have an almost impossible job in trying to decide which capabilities they are going to maintain and which they are not, a problem made much worse—I expect that we will go into this—by the fact that the SDSR only, in the event, saved half the amount of money that was required to be saved anyway, so now they are having to go further.

Q456 Mr Havard: Are you saying that the question is not that it does not really protect against the shrinkage of influence, but that it does not meet the needs, as we identify them, of our national interest?  

  Vice Admiral Blackham: Yes. Exactly.

  Mr Havard: Is that what you are saying?

  Vice Admiral Blackham: Yes. It is.

  Mr Havard: That is a dramatic thing to say.

  Professor Lindley-French: It is recognising only as much threat as we can afford.

  Wing Commander Brookes: I just think that Brits don't do strategy. This is our fundamental problem. We have never done strategy. The Germans do strategy. Strategy is almost a dirty word. This is not strategy; this is almost a budget-driven laundry list, at the end of the day. We can put "strategy" all over it, and we can stamp it, but I do not detect a long-term strategy for, dare I say, solving the economic crisis—it underpins the way we do it—or a role in the world that fits our requirements, aspirations and where we should be. I was looking for all that in there. Sometimes people say, "If you do this, you will end up like a new Netherlands." Well, I don't see anything wrong with being a new Netherlands. I look in vain for a strategy. All I see here is a long list of budget-driven devices, followed by a period of haggling, and at the end of the day, we call this a strategy.

Q457 Mr Havard: What about national influence then, our influence in the world? Do you think that it is just axiomatic that it is severely, significantly or temporarily damaged? Which is it?

  Wing Commander Brookes: Go anywhere now, and you see the sign. As the Americans say, when the rubber hits the road, you see that we do not have the influence that we used to have. We either pitch up with dodgy kit or with a lack of something, saying, "Please, can the Americans provide that? Please, can somebody do something else? Please, can we wait a bit longer?" If our strategy is to go out there to impress people with what we are delivering, I do not think we are doing it.

Q458 Mr Havard: Within that, is the NSS itself, the delivery of which all these other reforms are meant to support, coherent?

  Wing Commander Brookes: I do not see any coherence in the NSS and the Strategic Defence and Security Review, which we will come on to later. There is a long list of Tier 1, Tier 2, Tier 3 and so on. But where you go after that in the Strategic Defence and Security Review, I see a mismatch. In my humble opinion, the one should lead to the other, and I do not see that happening in this case.

  Professor Lindley-French: If I may add to that, Vice-Chair, as I have said, the message that one receives is that it is a way of managing decline more systematically. The inference in the document is an acceptance of British decline and the suggestion that we will recognise only as much threat as we can afford. The real issue with the strategy is the haggle over which is to be afforded. It is not even clear in the document which are the threats to be afforded.

  Mr Havard: Sir Jeremy, did you want to say something?

  Vice Admiral Blackham: Thank you, Vice-Chair. I was only going to add that it seems to me that the National Security Strategy, as I think I have said just now, has been slightly selective in those things that it regards as threats. This leads me back a little bit to the National Security Council. We have, this spring, been confronted with the Arab Spring. The National Security Strategy talks about a world of change and uncertainty as if this is some magical new world that we have entered. Of course it isn't; it is a world to which we have returned following the end of the Cold War. Much of what goes on today would have been recognised in the back end of the 19th century or even earlier. That becomes a kind of cover for not having to address the questions.

  I have done some comparison between our NSS and that of the United States. Interestingly, the United States NSS does not have a single use of the words "uncertain", "unexpected" or "unprepared", but it is informed by what I think was a key statement in 2005 by Condi Rice, who said, "For 60 years, my country, the United States, pursued stability at the expense of democracy…in the Middle East...Now, we are taking a different course. We are supporting the democratic aspirations of all people." That is a major strategic shift, which has considerable implications for what might have been going to happen in the Middle East, for the collapse of regimes and for the sorts of things that are going on. None the less, this appeared to take the NSC completely by surprise. Well, there is something wrong if that is what we are getting out of this apparatus and out of our review of national security.

Q459 John Glen: Julian, you made some very bold statements about your impressions of the diminished influence that Britain has, certainly in Washington. Could you try to give the Committee some clarity over what that actually means in terms of the practical view taken and what the implications of it are? It is one thing to say that Britain is not as big a player in general terms, but what does it mean? Can you give some more definition to that, please?

  Professor Lindley-French: Absolutely. The new enduring relationship—I will avoid the "special relationship" phrase—is ultimately, in Washington's mind, with both Republicans and Democrats, built on our ability to leverage other partners, primarily Europeans but also Commonwealth members. If we lose that ability because of a profound perception of our decision not to be a major second-rank power, our influence in Washington will decline further. There will be very clear strategic, practical implications.

  The specific impact will be on NATO, because what is generating and becoming very clear in Washington is that the Americans are increasingly becoming an Asia-Pacific power. What they will look for—in a sense, Libya is increasingly the test case—is Europeans under Anglo-French leadership to look after our bit of the world, which is a pretty rough neighbourhood, while an overstretched America deals with the epicentre of change in south and east Asia. If we cannot step up to that leadership role, and we are choosing not to adopt it, the fundamental assumption in the NSS that the Americans will always ultimately be there for our security and our defence is being undermined.

  The question then becomes: what level of capability does Britain require to ensure that the Americans feel that they can invest in our future security and defence because it is part of the overall whole? I was at a meeting in Tallinn a couple of weeks ago, and a senior German seriously said that Germany would not modernise its deployable Armed Forces, and that it would not even conceive of modernising nuclear forces, but that it might allow the Americans to pay for and put in place a missile defence system that protects Germany in Europe. The inference is that if we are moving inadvertently into that camp—the Dutch are certainly going into that camp—our loss of influence in Washington and, I would suggest, elsewhere, will be profound. The French, frankly, have a lot more traction than we do these days because they talk a better show than we do.

  The tragedy, for me, for London is that after all the sacrifices of the past 10 years of our Armed Forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, we are almost snatching contempt from the jaws of respect, on the Hill in particular. I am not overstating this; that is the consequence of these two documents on the American political mind that considers these issues.

Q460 Mr Hancock: I would say, "So what?" I think you are a bit degrading to our services. The difference about when we turn up is that we do so with men and women who put their lives on the line without question, unlike many other countries. I thought that you were very degrading of the military commitment that we have shown over the past 10 years, and I thought that your comments about the way we are envisaged were rather insulting to those who have put their lives on the line and those who have died. Read the record, and you will see what you said, and you may not be so proud of what you said when you have read it. What I find questionable is that if we are not at the top of the second rank, who the hell is? I do not see anybody else rushing to take up that role, and we are all in the same boat, aren't we?

  Professor Lindley-French: My immediate right of reply to your comments, which I reject utterly, is that I have worked closely for many years with the UK Armed Forces and have seen the sacrifices that they have made. I suggest to you that these documents are in danger of showing a lack of respect to our Armed Forces. At the end of the day, they transfer risk away from this place on to our people in the field. That is the real lack of respect. The danger is that they suggest a role which is unfunded, and therefore they transfer the risk implied in that role down the command chain. That is a very serious matter indeed.

Q461 Chair: The second question that Mike Hancock asked was building on what you said about our rejecting of the notion of being an important second-tier power. Who would you describe as such an important second-tier power?

  Professor Lindley-French: The French certainly have the ambition to maintain that position, and they would hope that we would be alongside them. There are emerging powers that could well occupy that position in future. China is the obvious choice; India is emerging. My central point is that if we are not occupying that position, the entire system of institutionalised security, which we constructed as major architects, will be damaged. There are profound international implications if we choose to retreat from the position that we have traditionally held.

Q462 Mrs Moon: Professor, I did not hear what you had to say in the same way as Mike Hancock did. I heard it perhaps from what I see in the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, of which I am member, where there is a diminished role for Britain and a diminished voice, at a time when the message clearly is that America expects the NATO alliance to be largely managed from this side of the Atlantic, and not from their side. They are currently funding 80% of it and there is a requirement for us to stand up to our own defence. Is this stepping back something that is happening across Europe? Is it something that our defence review has allowed others also to step back from? That is what worries me—that we have almost given permission for others to step back, whereas in the past we were always pushing people forward to step up to do more.

  Professor Lindley-French: That is a fair point; the Dutch are a case in point. They were the one small to medium-sized continental European country willing to give a balanced force a go. However, they have been in retreat for some time now. Last month the Minister, in announcing a further swingeing cut, used our SDSR as basically the permission to do so. There clearly are implications there.

  I fully recognise that there are a lot of European countries—mainly because of the German position, I have to say—that have been in retreat for a long time, aided and abetted by poor American leadership. I have made that point in the US several times—that the Americans have a responsibility to lead well, not just lead. Our interest is to renovate a strategic concept in Europe that ensures that there is a genuine European pillar of the alliance stabilising this turbulent world. That is our mission; and we are not stepping up to that plate. Any chance of bringing Europe back on strategic line, if you like, is, I fear, in danger of being lost.

Q463 Chair: Sir Jeremy, did you want to add something to that?

  Vice Admiral Blackham: If I might, Chairman. One of the consequences of what we have just been discussing is that, where we have decided to remove a capability or to take a capability gap, there is no one else in Europe about to fill it. They were not filling it before we removed it, and they are certainly not going to fill it after we have removed it.

  I say, en passant, with respect to our retention or otherwise of influence, that the Chief of the French Naval Staff made a speech last weekend in which he described himself as astonished at what had happened in the United Kingdom. He announced—rather to my surprise, I must admit—that the French had always regarded the British Navy as a model. He followed that comment with a Gallic shrug. There is no question but that what we have done has been noticed in a major way by important allies.

Q464 Mrs Moon: I think he described himself as being shocked when he saw the depth of the cuts.

  Vice Admiral Blackham: Indeed. I think "étonné" was one of the words used. I have seen several translations of it, some of which I could not possibly use here.

Q465 Sandra Osborne: I take your point. You are making very serious points; you use the word "retreat". Surely every country has to review its needs in terms of national security and defence. You seem to be saying more of the same: we should just occupy the same position that we always have. Surely in the 21st century you have to look at today's needs rather than yesterday's. If you don't like what is being done, what is your suggestion?

  Professor Lindley-French: This is the critical question. It always comes back to what role Britain seeks to play in the world and what level of ambition we have. Again I have a point of departure here with the National Security Strategy. Its focus on counter-terrorism has an element of fighting a war that is increasingly passé. It misses a fundamental reality of what I call hyper-competition in the world. There are many states out there, including China; I am not vilifying China, but these states are legitimised by growth, not by democracy. As that growth becomes more central to the survivability of regimes, they will compete, as we are seeing, in a way that is very classical.

  I almost read a 10-year rule into the SDSR and the NSS à la 1920s and I see change happening much more quickly. Is the world likely to be safer during this very profound period of change if Britain seeks to exploit its brand reputation as a stabilising power that can influence stability? I am absolutely convinced that that is the case. But if we choose to walk away from that for whatever reasons, we are contributing to change that is more risky than should otherwise be the case. Ultimately, it is a political judgment, but it is a judgment that I do not see being made in these two documents and nor do I hear it at the heart of Government.

Q466 Mr Havard: You painted a view of how the USA sees the world and how it perceives its interests in the world and its influence and what it might desire that the UK should or should not do and what it might not be achieving. That could be one discussion about whether we have influence in the world, dependent on whether the Americans decide we have or have not.

  The strategy and the establishment of the NSS, as I understood it, was both Foreign Office-led and meant to be the comprehensive approach. It had DFID in it. Our influence in the world, they tell us now, is much to be looked at in terms of trade. You just made the point about that. So how much of this is defence only? We are looking at the start that the SDSR is only part of a picture that the NSC should do. Do we really have shrinkage in influence or change of form in the way in which we achieve that influence, and to what extent is the structure that has been put in place aiding and assisting that, if that is the aspiration? Is defence effectively the thing that will either make it work, kill it or whatever?

  Wing Commander Brookes: Forgive me if I just step back. I think that the whole underpinning of this is economic. This is where the strategic document does not really give enough credibility to economics. Last night, and in Singapore at the weekend, the Secretary of State's number one point was that we have to get the economy right to do everything else, yet I do not see the economic debate coming out through this in any way to underpin everything that flows thereafter. I always tend to quote Adam Smith on this. As he said in Edinburgh 200 years ago, "Little else is required to carry a state to the highest degree of opulence… but peace, easy taxes and a reasonably tolerable administration of justice."

  It's the peace we don't get any more. It should be saying here that our number one requirement is peace. When Smith said that in that century, we had been at war one year in two throughout the whole century. In this century, we have been at war one year in one. For 11 years this century, we have been at war. I look in vain for something that says, "Is that a fundamental requirement for the underpinning of everything we do?" Because at the end of the day, peace is what we need to build on and unless somebody says that emphatically, we are going to continue to go to war and spend money and not have enough of this, that and the other. That is my problem with this document and the whole strategy: unless we get the economics right, we are not going to do any of this and we are not going to get the economics right while we seem to go into conflicts almost at the drop of a hat.

  Professor Lindley-French: I would reinforce that. It is the ends and means argument, which, if as you describe this document and its methodology had been the case, I would say was absolutely fair. But my concern about the way it has worked is that a profound structural change is implied in the NSS, which is that it is a way from engagement to a very defensive defence posture. In a sense, security is not working with defence, but security is consuming defence. Security now is defined in terms of security resiliency, prevent, contest, counter-cyber and that kind of stuff, and that cannot be measured. The question then becomes, to what extent is the balance to be struck between protection and projection of influence? Again, that is not systematically addressed in the document as it should be.

Q467 Chair: Sir Jeremy, you are nodding.

  Vice Admiral Blackham: I am nodding, Chairman, because I agree. It seems that the NSS does not, in fact, specify the ways and means. It specifies ends, but there is very little about ways and means. Indeed, as I said in my opening remarks, there is a range of instruments that are necessary to preserve a nation's security, but I find missing from the NSS any assessment of what these ways and means actually are and what the potential penalties of not doing certain things are. Of course, I accept the right of any Government—and, more particularly, any Parliament—to decide what the national stance should be and what we are prepared to do and what we are not, but I am concerned that the NSS makes a claim that we will do something, which it then fails to support with the ways and means that it proposes, and, of course, with the finance that it has available to it.

  Chair: I am going to call Mike Hancock, but before I do, I give the Committee due warning that we shall be stopping at 4.15 because there will be a vote. We shall not be resuming, so we will try to fit everything in before 4.15. Brief answers and brief questions would be helpful.

Q468 Mr Hancock: Can I pursue one thing, if I may? The strategy was a three-way split: the Foreign Office, DFID and Defence. The one thing that the Government have done is support DFID. They had given guarantees on that. If the three of you had to choose, would you say that that was a mistake and that we should not have given more money to DFID, but should have actually spent more money on the Armed Forces of this country? We cannot have both, so a choice had to be made. That is the problem the Government faced—not only this Government, but the previous Government.

  Vice Admiral Blackham: I do not entirely accept that premise; perhaps you would not expect me to. There is a limit to the amount of money that the Government will spend. What they choose to spend it on, and in what proportion, is entirely a matter of choice. There is no economic law that says defence or anything else should have a particular proportion of national income. In fact, following the SDSR, defence has the lowest proportion of national income devoted to it that it has had in modern times, so there has been a deliberate choice to reduce.

Q469 Chair: What do you mean by modern times? Can you put a date on that?

  Vice Admiral Blackham: I am going back to the 19th century.

  Chair: The 19th century?

Q470 Mr Hancock: So for the past 150 years?

  Vice Admiral Blackham: Yes. There has been a deliberate choice to do this. As I said at the outset, one of the difficulties with defence is that it does not really matter what we decide to do; that has no impact whatever on the threat. Indeed, it is perfectly possible to argue historically that the less you do, the greater the threat gets. We have to understand that if we decide to spend less to do less, there will be consequences. That is what I see no sign of. If we make judgments about things, which any Government are entitled to do as to what we will and will not do, there will be potential consequences to those judgments. No one has explained to me—a taxpayer and member of the public—what the consequences might be.

Q471 Mr Hancock: Surely you cannot have it both ways. The problem we have is that we do not have peace. We have no peace. Going back to quoting from Adam Smith, the situation is that the DFID money was, in fact, part of the process of building peace, was it not?

  Vice Admiral Blackham: Yes. There does not seem to be much evidence, if I may say so, that it succeeded in that case.

Q472 Mr Hancock: So we should cut it, in your opinion?

  Vice Admiral Blackham: We should certainly not regard it as a fixed item, which is what we are doing.

  Professor Lindley-French: There needs to be a much better strategic communications effort to explain why the development budget is increasing by 34% and diplomacy and defence are being cut significantly. If all three are part of an influence campaign, we want to see a balance in investment between the three. But, on the other hand, if aid and development, which increasingly seem separate from diplomacy and defence, are largesse, I would ask why we are giving the famous India all this money when it is going to launch 12 guided missile destroyers this year and it has a nuclear programme and a space programme. If Indian poverty is so important to India, given the levels of corruption in the Indian Government, frankly, and where their money is going, it seems to me to be a very poor influence campaign. If, on the other hand, they are truly largesse, there are other countries and societies in much greater need than rapidly growing India. Even on the assumptions of strategy and influence, the imbalance between the three pillars is very much open to question.

Q473 Mr Hancock: I think that that is important for the report we are writing.

  Wing Commander Brookes: Another thing missing in this is the voice of the British people. Nobody seems to canvass their views as to whether they want to be part of an interventionist strategy. If I go and canvass them, they are very happy to have the forces ready to go to tsunami relief, famine relief and all the things that you are talking about with DFID aid. In my day, we had a quick reaction alert to take on the Soviet Union. Why don't we have a quick reaction alert for famine relief or disaster relief—to go to areas with helicopters, doctors and air transport—as part of a joint DFID-Foreign Office-Defence response, rather than just the old-fashioned stovepipe against whoever is the mythical great beast who is coming out?

  If we ask the general public, they are happy to pay their taxes for that sort of modern approach. Are they wanting us to punch—that is the term—above our weight? We always say that, but to me if you punch too much above your weight you end up brain damaged. Therefore, we really need to revisit our terminology and our thinking. Get the people on side, and they will pay the taxes for everything that you and I agree with. I don't think that just paying for more and more fast weapons is necessarily the answer.

Q474 Mr Hancock: Okay. Can I develop that? To what extent is the National Security Strategy just that—a strategy—or is it a method of getting to one?

  Professor Lindley-French: Strategy implies that choices are, indeed, being made—that there are capabilities that come out of it and changes that are really driven by analysis. That is where this document is more of a shopping list or a wish list than a document for changing our position, our structures and our approaches—I recognise that the NSC comes out of it—which might in time change. I welcome this new culture. Frankly, these things take time to develop momentum where—let's face it—there is a lot of resistance to them within the stovepipes of bureaucracy. One really wonders how far a vision can trickle down and across Government given the nature of Government in governance. Certainly, my strong view is that this document does not go far enough as an agent of change to make Britain credibly efficient in the level of influence that we should aspire to, given the world that we are in.

Q475 Mr Hancock: If all three of you agree with that—to shorten this bit—that leads to the point that choices now have to be made by the NSC, and some of those choices are not going to be very easy to make. What would you suggest it has to start to do? Taking what you have just said, that ultimately leads to difficult choices, doesn't it?

  Vice Admiral Blackham: Obviously, I have an opinion, but it is only my opinion and, happily, I am not accountable for it. There are, however, some clear tasks. Do we see our prime function as being to defend our homeland against whatever it is that has been identified? Do we see our primary role as getting out and influencing the world? Do we see ourselves as doing that militarily? Clearly, we do, because we are doing it all the time, and we are doing it voluntarily all the time, most recently in Libya. So it seems to me that choices are being made. I, personally, might make a different choice from the Professor, and I am not sure that my choice is particularly relevant.

Q476 Mr Hancock: Tell us what your first choice would be for it to have to make a decision on.

  Vice Admiral Blackham: My first choice, personally, would be to secure the United Kingdom, but I would be perfectly ready to accept that other people might have perfectly valid different choices. Indeed, on the face of it, the Government have done so.

Q477 Mr Hancock: Would you not think, Admiral, that that is what the strategy starts off by saying—that this strategy will secure the United Kingdom? You are just asking the same question that it has already answered by saying that it has produced the strategy to secure the United Kingdom.

  Vice Admiral Blackham: Indeed, but then the first thing it has done is remove from it the prime defence of our deterrent—namely, the Nimrod aircraft. That does not make sense to me.

Q478 Mr Hancock: But that follows on. That is one of the things I was looking for. What do you feel was the consequence? What were the mistakes? What can they do?

  Vice Admiral Blackham: My argument is that if they indeed have made that choice, what they have not done is support it with the appropriate resources and force structures and then see what is left for the next thing. That's my problem.

  Professor Lindley-French: I would reinforce that. The first thing I would do is resolve the essential paradox at the heart of the process between a strategic analysis, which suggests quite radical solutions, and an incremental set of solutions that thereafter comes out of it. We would have to put everything back in the pot—aid, diplomacy and defence—and make a much more reasoned and methodical judgment about what balance of effort we would need across the piece. At the moment, it is a Treasury-driven cuts agenda, where cuts pretend to be reform.

Q479 Mr Hancock: But do we have the time to do that?

  Professor Lindley-French: If we started now and did it properly, I think we would, with the proviso that the 2015 review of the military would be a proper 2015 security review—properly analysed, structured and considered. If we wait longer, my analysis of the nature of change is that the level of risk grows exponentially, and possibly becomes unacceptable.

Q480 Mr Hancock: So what leads you to believe that that will not be the case in 2015?

  Professor Lindley-French: Because the assumptions about growth and recapitalisation, and the inability of both the FCO and the MoD to know how much they really are in hock, make it hard for me to believe that there is a stable platform upon which to establish sound strategic and financial planning for the next defence planning cycle.

  Chair: We will come on to that in just a moment.

Q481 Mrs Moon: I want to put a stop to the nonsense where we are told about choice and that the choice is between funding DFID and funding defence and diplomacy. I think that that is such a red herring, and it is an old game that I used to see played in local government. If you took the entire DFID budget and put it into defence, it would not even make a splash, so let's not talk about that nonsense.

  Can we look at whether our concern is about the choice between providing defence and security and providing the cuts that Government are seeking? What we have in fact ended up with is less equipment, less capacity, less flexibility and less personnel, and greater risk, when it is the risk that should have been at the heart of our security policy. What concerns me is that we are pretending that we can have the cuts and not the risks. Would you agree that that is the game that we have been playing?

  Wing Commander Brookes: Yes, indeed. I am sure, Chair, that we will come on to some examples where we have hollowed out and all these things.

  Chair: We are just about to.

  Wing Commander Brookes: So I won't steal sandwiches. On the question of security, I am just simple ex-air crew; I look in vain for guidance as to why we went into Libya and not into Syria. I pick up the national priority risk, looking for guidance as to why we helped out an ex-Italian colony but not an ex-French colony. I can't find it in here, and that is within less than a year of it coming out. Whatever the problems, it is a flawed document.

  Professor Lindley-French: Briefly to build on that, Libya is a case in point. We are saying that we are deciding to be something different from what we have been in the past; then Libya comes along and we behave exactly as we have always had. My sense is that that will happen in future: we will go ahead cutting the Armed Forces and then find that we will deploy them anyway; and the military being the military, with its can-do attitude, will try to close a gap that frankly becomes uncloseable. That is what I mean by transferring risk down the command chain on to the squaddie, and that is unfair.

Q482 John Glen: Can we look at what will happen, looking ahead to 2015-2020? In terms of the implications for security policy if there is no real-terms increase in the defence budget after 2015, what do you see are the risks, if that does not happen as the Prime Minister says he expects and wants it to happen?

  Vice Admiral Blackham: In brief, the risk seems to me, in a word, to be incoherence. Where we are now is that we are trying to deliver a range of cuts that the SDSR produced. Many of these cuts are not, you will not be surprised to hear this, or perhaps you already know, producing the levels of savings that were claimed for them, partly because of the MoD's inability to understand the cost of what it does, and partly because people's eyes are always bigger than their stomachs. There is a problem.

  We also know that the MoD is having to conduct what may not be called a second phase of SDSR, but certainly is, possibly without the first "S", in that it is having to find sums of money that are about the same as were found in the SDSR in the first place. In addition to that, the new Chief of Defence Matériel, perhaps sensibly, has decided to reassess the risk premium of all his programmes based on past performance. We are going to discover that the cost of the equipment programme has risen further. So there is no question that the MoD still has a massive financial mountain to climb, and it will have to take the cuts where they can be found.

Q483 Chair: Can you expand on what you have just said about reassessment of risk?

  Vice Admiral Blackham: My understanding is that the Chief of Defence Matériel has concluded that, as well as the well known conspiracy of optimism that informs the MoD's launch of projects, the MoD has been over-optimistic with the levels of technical and other performance risk in those programmes.

Q484 Chair: Can you give us an example of that?

  Vice Admiral Blackham: The aircraft carrier is a fine example. We initially put it in a programme at a cost of £2.9 billion—a figure that no industry and no student of the cost trends of aircraft carriers over the years would recognise—and we then discovered that it could not be done for that. I suspect that we did not put in the right levels of technical risk, because they made the programme even more expensive and anyway the Ministry was under financial pressure at the time. The programme now turns out to cost substantially more, partly of course because it was deferred as well.

  There are other programmes in which the same sort of thing has happened, deferral perhaps being the most common. Mr Gray has decided, probably very sensibly, that the levels of risk in the assumed costings are insufficient and should therefore be increased.

Q485 John Glen: Are you saying that the SDSR and the financial package associated with it, as projected over the period of the CSR, is already highly questionable and that if we do not achieve the real-terms increases subsequent to the end of that period, it will be considerably worse?

  Vice Admiral Blackham: It is already unsustainable. The Secretary of State himself has said publicly that without an increase in the defence budget he cannot deliver Force 2020. I am saying that the mistake would be to assume that the gap is only that between the SDSR and Force 2020. It will be much greater.

  Professor Lindley-French: What we have, in effect, is a hire purchase military that for 10 years has tried to follow American strategy on British resources. It has taken 10 years to break it; my estimation, on the current recapitalisation, is that it will take 10 years to fix it. Remember that high-end equipment has defence inflation of between 5% and 7% per annum. Many of our solutions will have to be high-end because we will always have a small, high-tech force. None of the figures actually add up in terms of achieving Force 2020 as outlined in the SDSR.

  Wing Commander Brookes: I thought that the whole aim of the exercise was not only to close the financial gap but to make headroom for the sunlit uplands when we get across the bridge of austerity, but we all now find that we have to save another £4.4 billion over four years. We are now looking at further things to cut such as the Rivet Joint that we are currently flying. That means there is no coherence, if we want our own eyes and ears. Cutting our own eyes and ears means that we will get less and less global efficiency and will be of less and less use to our American friends who might say, "You are bringing nothing to the party. Get thee hence." It is worrying that not only are we not solving the current problem, but we are making no headway on producing money for the things that are supposed to come—the carriers, the aeroplanes that go on them and the Trident replacement, whatever we think of it. They have not been funded, and that has to come from somewhere.

Q486 Chair: May I break in for just a moment? Professor Lindley-French, you said just now that there is 5% to 7% defence inflation on the top-end equipment, which is a controversial statement. Rather than hijack this evidence inquiry to ask you to go into that further, could you provide us with a paper—a couple of sides of A4—to justify what you said? Several people say that defence inflation does not exist, and if it does, it shouldn't. If you could, we would be most grateful.

  Professor Lindley-French: Of course.[1]

Q487 Mr Havard: Our research in the past has shown and we have been told that it is 1.6% as a generality and an average across defence expenditure, but if you could grade—

  Professor Lindley-French: Put the higher end.

  Mr Havard: That would be helpful.

  Chair: We would be most grateful, since you may be in a better position than many people to give us that sort of paper.

Q488 John Glen: Last summer and in early autumn we examined the process of the SDSR and we were repeatedly told in our sessions that there were 48, I think, groups looking in detail into all the different capabilities that would be required, yet four, five, six months later we discover this apparent shortfall. Given the amount of resources that were intensively applied within the MoD to come up with a funded outcome to the SDSR, how do you account for the fact that, in such a short space of time, new information has come into our understanding showing that those assumptions were flawed? It goes to the heart of probably flaws within the MoD, but given that they were looking into themselves so intensely over the summer it is still quite confusing why we have got this outcome.

  Vice Admiral Blackham: It is a very complicated problem, which I would be happy to harangue you about for a long time, but I will try to be brief. The first thing to say—I am not giving these in order of priority or importance—is that not all the decisions with which those groups came forward were, in the event, taken. That is, if you like, a responsibility that lies beyond those groups—possibly even beyond the Ministry of Defence. There was a proposal, for example, to cut the Army substantially. That proposal was not taken up. That is costing £1 billion or £2 billion a year, I understand, so there is one example.

  Secondly, as I said a little while ago, the Ministry of Defence has an imperfect understanding of the cost of things that it does and most particularly of the cost of avoiding them. There are regularly cancellation charges. If you are the only customer to a shipyard or some other kind of factory, as we frequently are, when you cancel a project the overhead has to go somewhere else, but it still finishes up on your bill, so the savings are less than we think they might be. Where you defer things, extra costs are incurred both in the Ministry of Defence and in the industry that has to keep things together and so forth. A number of things make it difficult to realise savings that you think you might make—in other words, the savings from something are not the same as what it costs to buy it, and I think that is something the Ministry of Defence has a great deal of difficulty with, because it does things by subtraction. It has a programme; it takes things out, and says, "This is what they cost, so it'll cost this much less," but it is not true.

  Then there is what happens when you start with a programme that is excessive—and now I think I must be kinder to my colleagues in the Ministry of Defence. If you are running a long-term programme—programmes are very long; even if equipment procurement was done much more efficiently than it is today, programmes would be very long—and you order items against a budget that you have at the time, and that budget changes, you immediately have a set of problems, which you tend to deal with by deferrals, descoping and so forth, all of which tend to add cost.

  Finally, there are costs of disposal. It is well known that the disposal of the Nimrods has cost sums in the hundreds of millions—just to get rid of them. There is a whole range of things that mean that the savings are not as clear as they should be.

  Wing Commander Brookes: It is also a question of the methodology. I have done a bit of research into this and asked people who are involved in little groups how they came up with the figures. In one particular case there is a headquarters; it has a dedicated group. On a Friday, they get a figure from the MoD or whomsoever—the Treasury, say—"You have to find this saving by Monday." This small cadre of people are not allowed to talk to anyone else in the headquarters; they are not allowed to talk to industry; they are not allowed to talk to the forces they are affecting, and they come up on Monday with a figure, having consulted really with nobody with knowledge. I said once, "Well, how did you get that figure?" The answer came, "Wet finger in the air." The answer is, if you haven't already started smoking you might as well take it up; at least you will have a fag packet to write it on the back of. That seemed to come across as the way a lot of this was.

  With another major project—a real major project we have touched on several times today—the lead officer in charge of it was told on the Friday it was safe; he came in on Monday and was told it had gone, because of the £X billion that had to be found. The figures in themselves must be suspect, and no wonder. If they are produced with that degree of haggling and guesswork, they are not likely to be correct.

  Professor Lindley-French: I agree with both my colleagues. There is also what I call the pocket superpower problem. We try to hang so many systems on platforms that we make the platforms so complicated, and the number of platforms is so few, that the unit costs grow exponentially. There are no economies of scale and we simply become over-ambitious in what we try to hang off any one platform. Although I lament the cutting of MRA4, you end up with that kind of situation, whether with FRES or a whole range of other programmes, which are only too well known.

Q489 John Glen: Collectively, you paint a depressing picture of an inadequate process that is not rigorous enough, that is contrary to the Secretary of State's aspirations to avoid pushing things to the right. Sir Jeremy, you said there was perhaps a political dimension to the decision making that overrode what might have been the natural conclusion of the outcomes. Is there anything positive you can say about the SDSR process or outcome?

  Chair: Oh, come on!

  John Glen: To get some balance into the proceedings.

  Vice Admiral Blackham: It showed an ability to make decisions, which had not always been evident in the past. It is just a pity that some of them were not necessarily the right ones.

  The idea of cancelling programmes that are performing badly is in principle a good one. If I had had my way in 2000 or so when I was still in post, I would have cancelled Nimrod myself, but that would not run with No. 10 at the time. There are things that one could do. It was done; it was just a pity that it was done on a programme with a capability that we shall have to replace sooner or later anyway. There were some positive things in the way that the culture was changed, yes, but I don't think that removes the depression which you feel and I share.

  Professor Lindley-French: I would say that it is the beginning of a process that will lead the country back to independent strategy making. For the past 50 or 60 years we have basically tried to find the middle ground between American grand strategy and a French European strategy in our diplomatic and defence postures. As we develop this way of conceiving of our role in the world, we will start to make more intelligent judgments about how best to achieve our national interests in a world in which we cannot always rely on the Americans to be there, or we cannot always rely on alliances to work. There will be coalitions as well. It will force us to build new partnerships with partners we have perhaps ignored for the past generation or two. The process of strategy-fying, if you like, is extremely important and should be encouraged. I just do not think this was done very well.

  Wing Commander Brookes: The SDSR is very good in so far as it has made us all realise that we have to do better. Throughout my service career I have watched study after study: defence cuts first, Denis Healey, front line first. They have just gone. At least with this we are sitting down and seriously revisiting, in the wider sense, as you say, how to do it better. If it is a wake-up call that we have to do better, it is long overdue.

Q490 Bob Stewart: I have listened carefully to what you have all said. May I make a statement and ask for your comment on it? The NSS is mad, unrelated to reality and impossible to achieve. The SDSR is equally impossible to achieve, is unrealistic, and to achieve it will cost us a lot more. Am I wrong?

  Wing Commander Brookes: I do not think you are wrong. We could all argue about the words and the emphasis. I think we all agree that the NSS in itself has not provided the guidance we hoped it would. I do not see Syria, Libya or anything else sitting there. I do not think the SDSR, which came out literally a day after it was published, was anything other than an economically driven document, which has seriously affected the military, a lot of people and our position in the world. I do not think that that is what it set out to do, but that is what it achieved, so it is unintended consequences.

Q491 Bob Stewart: So you would say that I am right. What about you, Professor?

  Professor Lindley-French: I would say that you are right in principle, but wrong in language.

  Bob Stewart: That is normal.

  Mrs Moon: That is not unusual.

  Bob Stewart: Thanks, Madeleine.

  Professor Lindley-French: I would suggest that conceptually it is sound, but it is very poorly executed, warped by factors that are really not strategic at all and driven towards a conclusion that was established before any analysis was undertaken. As a concept in its own right, as a way of turning this country to thinking about its interests at what cost in this world and future worlds, I applaud it.

Q492 Bob Stewart: I was not talking about concept; I was talking about effect.

  Professor Lindley-French: Well, then I think we are very close to agreement.

Q493 Bob Stewart: So, in effect, you agree with me?

  Professor Lindley-French: I accept that.

  Vice Admiral Blackham: I agree both with Bob Stewart and Julian Lindley-French in the sense that I think it is the right way to set about things. I have already made some remarks about the NSS. It fails to do the things that it ought to do, but that is not a reason why we should not continue to do it and why the NSC should not go on getting better. I would use slightly different language, but I think that the outcome was unsatisfactory. It failed in its main objective and it failed to give the right guidance to the SDSR, which consequently failed as well.

Q494 Chair: Can we get into some of the equipment programmes that were affected by the SDSR, such as the decision to stop the Harrier and to pursue the Tornado, and the decision to continue with the Joint Strike Fighter, but the carrier variant rather than the STOVL variant? Do any of you have any comments about that?

  Wing Commander Brookes: The JSF decision was exactly the right one. The carrier variant goes further and carries more; it is far more potent and has much more utility. Once you have decided to go for the 65,000-tonne carrier, you don't even need the jumping bean up-and-down capability that the other carrier had, so I think that is a very good decision.

Q495 Chair: Even with the delay that it might cause?

  Wing Commander Brookes: I don't think it will, Mr Chairman. We are still looking at 24 by 24—24 aeroplanes by 2024—and I don't quite know what the carrier alignment is, but we need to make sure that we don't get one before the other. I suspect that that is the sort of framework you can work on before the carrier is up and running. Sir Jeremy might correct me, but I think to be up and running by 2024 with all the people re-trained—learning how to do steam catapults again or whatever—it will take until 2024 to get a decent air wing on that carrier, so I don't have a problem with it.

  Professor Lindley-French: This is where I become positive, which will surprise you. There is a very great danger that by default, if we hold our nerve, we could end up with quite a sound defence strategy. There will be two carriers, strategic mobility, Astutes—not enough, but in time you could build more over 20, 30 or 40 years—Type 45s and Type 26s. It is a concept whereby there is projectability, not globally but regionally-plus.

  Almost 75% of the world's population lives less than 100 kilometres from the sea. It is a defence strategy in which, given the capabilities envisaged, no one owns land, sea or air—no single service—so a genuine jointery comes out of this. We could actually have a defence strategy worth talking about, by muddling through and from the bottom up, which has nothing to do with the NSS or the SDSR. The issue is, can we hold our nerve over that longer investment period?

Q496 Mr Havard: A good old British tradition.

  Professor Lindley-French: There you go. As a good Yorkshireman, I would say that is very sound. But I would rather talk about Future Force 2030. If the carriers—which I believe are important not only because of what they can do but because of what they say about our strategic seriousness—are built, if we have the other assets around them, we have a deployable military. Why is that important? Because I don't think we will do more Afghanistans. I see no political appetite for engaging all our forces in one place over long periods and losing them.

Q497 Bob Stewart: You don't think we'd do another Libya?

  Professor Lindley-French: We could do Libyas, but even then, if you had a carrier off Libya, serious people have told me that air sorties would double the time over target and halve the cost. We are moving back, for want of a better phrase, to a punish, strike and support short-term defence strategic concept. I would definitely not want to build our future defence strategy on Afghanistan or indeed Iraq.

  Vice Admiral Blackham: I will try to answer your question. First, with respect to the Joint Strike Fighter, perhaps I should declare an interest. I was one of the down-select panel. There were two Brits on the down-select panel for the Joint Strike Fighter so I have had a long involvement with it. I have always believed that the provision of a conventionally catapult-launched aircraft added vastly to the capability of any aircraft carrier. The payload is greater, the range is greater, you can recover them more easily and so on and so forth. So I think that decision is extremely sensible in principle, although it does, to my mind, open the question as to which aircraft we should buy, because the Joint Strike Fighter would not be the only possible contender for such a role. But it is certainly the most expensive.

Q498 Chair: The other would be the Hornet, or what?

  Vice Admiral Blackham: The F-18—I suppose, conceivably, Rafael. They would both be cheaper and are proven, which the Joint Strike Fighter most certainly is not as yet.

  On the matter of the Harrier, I think it is much more complicated. It is important to understand—I fear that some of my naval colleagues have slightly confused this issue—that we are talking about an RAF aeroplane, not a naval one. This is the aircraft procured by the RAF for close air support, now the GR9. Interestingly, the Americans off Libya have used the AV-8B, which is the equivalent aircraft, as the aircraft of choice in preference for the work that they are doing in Libya. They have a ship—the Kearsarge—between 50 and 100 miles off Libya and are able, therefore, to generate a sortie rate, as the Professor has said, which is vastly in excess of anything that can be generated either from the UK or, indeed, from the airbases ashore in Europe, which are rather further away than that.

  By removing that capability, we have removed our ability to get up close and dirty and do things at a high sortie rate, which is a pity. I understand—it is common ground in the Ministry of Defence—that the decision to get rid of the Harrier and retain the Tornado, which was a reversal of a previous position in the early days of the SDSR, costs about £5 billion across 10 years. That by itself is not the only argument for reversing the decision, but it certainly makes your eyes water. I cannot compare the capability of the two aircraft; I am sure that Andrew Brookes can do that much better than I. All I would say is that we need to remember that the Harrier was procured for precisely the purpose of giving close air support to troops on the ground, as the aircraft of choice for that purpose.

  More importantly, the loss of the Harrier means that there is now no fixed-wing aviation going off aircraft carriers in the United Kingdom. There will not now be until the Joint Strike Fighter arrives, unless we buy another aircraft. So there is going to be a gap of between 12 and 14 years, when there will be no aviation off decks at sea.

  We also need to understand that the CVF—the future carrier—is on a wholly different scale of operation from that conducted by the Invincible class. The last time we did this sort of thing was in 1978, with the previous Ark Royal. Rather than be retained, the range of skills would have to be generated from scratch. The use of steam catapults and all that implies would have to be generated from scratch and all this is with a 10 or 14-year gap, when everybody who knows anything about it will have left the Navy. Indeed, they are leaving now.

  If we wish to maintain carrier aviation—there are strong arguments either way and you will not be surprised to hear that, on the whole, I agree with the Professor about its value—we are setting about it in a very curious way and making it extremely difficult. It certainly means that it will take longer to do than we currently envisage. I do not follow the logic of that.

  If we think that an aircraft carrier is a strategic requirement for the United Kingdom—which is what the SDSR says on page 23 and it then explains what it can do in the world in 2023, which the NSS tells us we cannot possibly predict—how on earth do we not need to maintain the skills now, first to deploy the same sort of capability at a lower level, and secondly to maintain the ability to generate it when the time comes? I think we have given ourselves an enormous problem for a Navy that may well have only 20,000 or 21,000 people by then. Remember that 7,000 or 8,000 of the numbers given are Royal Marines. This is a terrific burden to put on top of a small force at a time when it will have lost the skills. So I think if we really intend to maintain carrier aviation, we are setting about it in a very curious way.

Q499 Mr Havard: Do you think that it was perhaps unwise to get rid of all the Harriers all at once—maybe retain some of them that operate off the amphibious ships to help plug this capability gap in between? Do you think that that is a recoverable thing?

  Vice Admiral Blackham: We have Illustrious, which has just come out of refit this week, I think, and will be able to be in service for quite a long time yet, if we wanted to do that. So it would have been possible to keep a ship that was prepared, ready and able. Temporary detachments to other ships work, but they are not the real thing. It would be very difficult to maintain the skills that way. What I am saying is that we have allowed short-term considerations—because the SDSR is dominated by short-term considerations—to undermine our long-term vision. That seems to me to be anything but strategic.

  Wing Commander Brookes: Although I hear everything that everyone is saying, we have probably gone past the point of no return. I think you will find that the crews who flew the Harriers are now going through Typhoon training. Much as I agree with him entirely—it is a bit silly to have an aircraft carrier with no aircraft on it—I think that that is past.

  I just want to flag up for the record, if I may, that the F-35 is a winner—not just militarily, but for the UK Government and taxpayer. We have put so much into it that we get something like 15% of every one sold. If they sell in the numbers that the F-16 did, we will get them for nothing, effectively, because the amount that the British taxpayer gets back will cover the cost that we put in. I have to flag that up only because a lot of people think, "Oh, this is very expensive. This is a thing we don't need." If you bin that, not only do we lose what we have put in, but we lose the jobs and, dare I say it, all the income that will come from its success, and a success it will be. It is 15 years beyond the F-22 in terms of technology, and if I have one message to try to get across to everyone, it is that this is a world beater, not only for the military, but for the UK economy.

Q500 Mrs Moon: I wonder whether we could return to your comment, Professor, about the future being much more one of punish, strike and support. That is not something that is detailed or seen as a future option within the Strategic Defence and Security Review. Do you think that that is a major gap? If we are going to look at punish, strike and support, is the decision to cut, specifically, numbers in both the RAF and the Navy quite savagely a major mistake that we are making now, which we will have a long time to regret?

  Professor Lindley-French: Two excellent questions. My first point would be that it is never a good idea to cut defence budgets when you are fighting one war, let alone two. We are still in Afghanistan right now, and we have the Libyan operations. Afghanistan is land-centric for the moment; that is very clear for the rubric of the SDSR. Part of the problem with the SDSR and the NSS is that they do not confront those realities, because those realities are uncomfortable. The idea that the United Kingdom would adopt a strike, punish and support strategy—you might have to find a different wording—is the reality of it.

  All the evidence from my own analysis as a strategist is that we are indeed moving into a world of hyper-competition of unstable states, naive states, and state competition again over the next 50 or 60 years. That will be a reality in parallel with fragile states and everything else. Stabilising will take on as much of a classical form as a novel form, and that will include flying the flag, riverine operations and putting big, grey stuff a bit away from the littoral, but still being there and supporting land operations for a time ashore. All those elements require projectable capabilities.

  May I tell a quick anecdote? I headed up a big project for the head of the Royal Dutch Navy on riverine operations. The idea was that although part of the problem with those operations—it was looking at Africa, primarily—would be that there was no infrastructure, air support or even land support, there are significant numbers of commercial assets that we could use to offset the cost per platform per operation. A lot of work went into it. The Americans were interested; they are now taking it up. The Dutch were interested. There were creative solutions involved. The UK representatives—I will not say who—were very sniffy indeed.

  One of the things that frustrates me about our country on these kinds of issue is that we do not explore creative solutions. One issue was that Smit International and Mammoet were represented in the conference, and the Brits said, "We can't have civilians involved, because they don't take risk." The chairman of Mammoet said, "Hold on a minute—we're in Iraq," and his quote was, "We don't shoot, but we get shot at all the time."

  I am not suggesting that we are trying to rebuild the Grand Fleet; I am suggesting that we need a Navy that, rather like Fisher said, can launch the Army at times, with air power supporting, and which can do so in support of the United States, so that we can have influence in Washington, and lead European coalitions when we need to do so. We also need to look at the whole set of creative civil-military solutions to offset costs that are relevant to this century. We are simply not thinking creatively about how to solve these gaps.

Q501 Mr Havard: Two things. The first thing you came out with was, you referred to strike, punish and—I think you said—short-term support. That is a really important point, because we get into things very quickly and we spend a hell of long time getting out of them. There is the question of who would do this stuff. Do you see the Reserves, and the whole debate about what the composition of various forces should be and about Reserve elements as opposed to standing forces, as hugely important or not?

  Professor Lindley-French: There are two elements to this. Are we tough enough to be tough? In other words, sometimes we confuse our values with interests. I am treading on very dangerous ground, but I am going to do so anyway. There are occasions when our interests are marginal to a crisis, but we get involved anyway—often not on our own, but with one or two allies.

  Secondly, leadership is surely working with allies, particularly with UN allies and partners—those who provide peacekeeping forces—to improve their quality, so that there are more countries able to work with us and we are not reinventing the wheel every time. So, if we are doing the forced entry bit—to get in there and set things up—there is a much more natural synergy with potential partners, who can follow on, stay in places longer and in some ways have regional legitimacy, and perhaps more so than we do.

  We have a strong leadership role that our Armed Forces can play in a kind of strategic defence diplomacy, where we are improving the quality of UN peacekeepers of EU colleagues, so it is not always us taking the body-bags.

  Vice Admiral Blackham: May I make one comment on the remark about Reserves? Reserves are of considerable importance. One of the difficulties, though, with the Reserves is—if I may put it this way—the intensity with which you are going to use them. It is important to remember that the Reserve has another job and another career, and another set of career expectations, and as and when the economy improves those expectations will probably grow. The difficulty with Reserves is to know not whether you can use them in a crisis, but how much you can rely on them in the longer term to do routine things over a long period. I am not saying that you cannot do that, but I am saying it needs quite a lot of thought and quite a lot of protection of the people concerned in terms of their careers, promotion prospects and so forth, so there are difficulties.

  The task of riverine warfare, which Julian mentioned, is an ideal one for Reservists, but if you give it to them, you want to be sure that they can do it for, in the case of Iraq, eight or nine years—in other words, a long period. It needs to be thought about with some care.

Q502 Mrs Moon: You talked a lot about the importance of allies and partners. One of the things that has not been factored in is what are the implications, having made the cuts that we have made, if America decides that it does not want to pay 80% of the cost of NATO, and wants to come back to 75% or 70%? What are the implications for us, and are we going to be at far greater risk in terms of our defence and security if that happens?

  Professor Lindley-French: My answer is that the alliance would be in very grave danger indeed, and the United Kingdom would be in grave danger of losing influence within it. A very, very senior person told me on Friday that the trajectory of these two documents could mean that the United Kingdom loses DSACEUR—to the French, on current trajectory—because we are perceived as an unreliable ally, which is unfair but that is how it is.

  The Americans will not go on funding this bill, and there is going to be a row over missile defence. Congress has not woken up to the fact yet that the missile defence system currently proposed is one that the Americans will pay for that can protect Europe but cannot protect the United States. Already, a high-level congressional delegation last week at NATO asked the specific question, "Are there any US enablers being used for operations over Libya?" The US MilRep jumped in and said, "No." That is not the correct answer, and Congress will soon learn that. There are all sorts of implications. Whereas for the US, alliances are extremely useful but not critical, for the UK our influence in functioning alliances and international organisations is absolutely critical.

Q503 Mr Hancock: There is a serious problem, isn't there? If you talk to French politicians in the Assemblée Nationale, they believe that French defence policy will change dramatically if there is an incoming Socialist president. Their priorities will change dramatically. The Americans must be factoring that into the situation. If they abandon us, they cannot readily accept that the French are going to be there to take our place, can they?

  Professor Lindley-French: No, I think they would abandon Europe. They would say, reasonably, "Look, Europe, you're a strategic backwater right now. If you are not prepared to work with us to stabilise the world and our grand strategic mission, you can look after your own neighbourhood." The logical consequence of that is that this neighbourhood is rough. We would end up spending more, or we would take a much higher level of risk—probably the highest level of risk we have taken since the 1930s. That is the choice that we face.

Q504 Penny Mordaunt: Leaving aside the Secretary of State's point that to reopen the SDSR you would have to reopen the CSR, and the points you have made about the strategic vacuum, if there were one area of the SDSR that you would like the Government to revisit, what would it be and why?

  Wing Commander Brookes: If I can start, it is to provide the money that they promised initially. I don't think we are going to get anything coming back that has been lost. Already we are seeing it in the SDSR. If I can remind you, there are three tasks that are laid down: an enduring stabilisation operation, a non-enduring complex and a non-enduring civil intervention—that is, an Afghanistan, a Libya and rescuing everybody out of Zimbabwe. We can no longer do the third; the third is beyond us. We already do not have the funding to do what is in there. If I had a magic wand, I would just ask, "Please can we have the money to do the SDSR?" Not to bring back Harriers or anything like that, because I know that is a dream too far. It saddens me that if we have a major crisis in Africa there is not a military aircraft that can go and help. Basically, the Air Force is so hollowed out—so Potemkin village—that there isn't anything there to go and do what is required, which is a great shame.

Q505 Chair: I have the impression from what has been said so far that it is not a question of the Treasury failing to provide the money that was promised by the SDSR; it is a question of subsequent analysis of the Ministry of Defence budget discovering that there was a huge amount of money not there already. Is that right?

  Wing Commander Brookes: All I know is that there is a gap that was not identified before. Who did not identify it, I don't know. You are right, Chairman, it is still a £4 billion gap after the SDSR that still has to be filled. It is being filled as we speak by hollowing out personnel and overstretch. All those good issues are having to take the slack.

  Professor Lindley-French: My response would be the "I would say this anyway" response. The SDSR is not going to be revisited before 2015. I would invest in defence education. We have a world-beating asset in Shrivenham. If we can't afford new kit over the interim, we should improve our ability to improve the quality of our people. The 30% cut proposed for the UK Defence Academy strikes me as extremely short-sighted. There are new concepts of lifelong learning and distance learning, reach back to knowledge and strategic communications—all areas that are cost-effective but have an impact on influence in the field in the short term. That is what we have to discuss now: how to mitigate the more extreme impacts of NSS and SDSR on our own people. Defence education strikes me as an area where we could do that. Under current planning we are moving away from education to training; that shunt strikes me as very short-sighted.

  Vice Admiral Blackham: I agree that it is not going to be reopened, but I would like to think that we could re-examine the scene from a rather less short-term perspective than we have been doing. The whole exercise has been seriously skewed by the Afghanistan operation, and the skewing has probably been reinforced by the Libyan operation. That has prevented us from looking more long-term.

  Why does that matter? It matters because it is important to understand that the wars we are now fighting are being fought with equipment and with training that was provided 15 or 20 years ago, which is the gestation period. We owe it to the perspicacity of our predecessors that we have things with which to do these operations.

  If we are going to stop providing the levels of training and the equipment that we need, our children are going to be in a pretty poor pass. For the most part, the equipment we are talking about is not going to enter service until 2020 or later. We are creating a gap for our children that they will be unable to fill. Not only that, we are creating an industry that will be unable to fill it, because the industry cannot survive on the current level of activity. I would like to see a different take, a longer-term vision, in which the short-term has much less skewing effect on the process.

Q506 Penny Mordaunt: If I understand you correctly, although you might wish things were different for Harrier and so on in the SDSR, those concerns about immediate capability gaps are much less than your worries about the future and about being able to deliver what is in the document.

  Professor Lindley-French: Hobson's choice.

  Vice Admiral Blackham: They are serious concerns, but I am much more worried about the longer-term and the legacy we are leaving.

  Professor Lindley-French: One plea if I may. We so often present defence acquisition as a burden. The carriers, we have them. If you look at the way those carriers are being built, they are innovative and world-beating. Tell that story to the public. Strategic communication at the highest level of Government is appalling. There is a great story to tell.

  I was in my pub in Yorkshire a couple of weeks ago, and there is a desperation. People want to be proud, and the Armed Forces are still at the centre of what makes us proud as a people in this country. I see so many missed opportunities for telling a great story. Turn it around. There are good stories to be told about certain programmes, and we should be telling them.

Q507 Chair: But doesn't that innovative way of buying an aircraft carrier go against what you were saying about the failure of the Ministry of Defence to adopt creative solutions?

  Professor Lindley-French: The actual construction programme—the way the carriers are being built with the sections being brought together in a very innovative way—is a good story about British industry, and I think that story needs much more telling. For me, it is almost the rebirth of a Navy. Living abroad and travelling around as I do, the one thing I find is that the British Armed Forces, not least the Royal Navy, are a brand that still has a lot of traction internationally. One of the things that a French admiral told me in Paris recently is that the carriers will announce that Britain is back.

Q508 Chair: You are sounding more optimistic minute by minute.

  Professor Lindley-French: If you last long enough, I might get even more optimistic, but I cannot promise that.

Q509 Mrs Moon: One of the things that has worried me considerably since the demise of the Nimrods is our capacity to look forward, gather information, and make intelligent choices and intelligent decisions before we deploy anything anywhere. With the Nimrods gone—at Northwood we were told that one Nimrod is the equivalent of 12 ships in terms of our capacity—have we lost our ability to project forward, look forward and make intelligent decisions for the future of our forces? As you have described, they are already using outdated equipment and will be doing so for some time.

  Professor Lindley-French: I was at RAF Kinloss the day that the Assistant Commander in Chief, Air Ops, came up and announced the closure. As he was speaking, an American P-3, which happened to be there, took off looking for two Russian hunter-killers that were messing around on the edge of our water space. For me, the tragedy of the Nimrod was, first, the name—it was a tainted brand. Secondly, the system on board the MRA4 was extremely capable and the corporate knowledge of those three squadrons was genuinely world-beating. They were finding things very early on in the competitions in which they took part.

Q510 Chair: Should we have just shoved that equipment on to an Airbus?

  Professor Lindley-French: A representative of a certain American company asked me whether its platform could take that equipment, and the answer would appear to be yes. Again, what saddened me was that I approached the Dutch and spoke to the French about offsetting operating costs with potential multinational forces. The initial response was very interested; the French told me that they would even offer the Breguet Atlantics that they had in store if we upgraded their electronics suites. I don't know whether that is possible, but the point is that of the seven military tasks in the SDSR, the MRA4 could have played a very important role in all of them. It was the loss of the enablers, because the single services were forced back to defend their own core competencies by the process, which for me was the biggest failing of the SDSR process. Forget all the strategic stuff: there was a haggle at that last weekend, which was utterly unacceptable in terms of the national strategic requirements.

  Wing Commander Brookes: There are 15 security priority risks. I have gone through and listed the ones that require the maritime reconnaissance, and eight out of 15 require that. Here we have over half the tasks, and they are not being met because the MPA aren't used. I remember the Falklands; we only retook the Falklands, arguably, because we had the Nimrod and we had the Victor with its radar in the front that could sweep everywhere around the Falklands and South Georgia to make sure there were no naval vessels in the area. That capability is gone. We're a maritime nation, and we do not have that capability. That seems the biggest sin of all.

  Professor Lindley-French: Protection of the deterrent.

Q511 Chair: I should allow an admiral to answer this question, but I'm afraid I'm not going to, because there are still some other questions that we have to get to before 4.15.

  Vice Admiral Blackham: I was only going to say that it is worth coming to this just to hear Andrew Brookes say that we are now a maritime nation.

Q512 Chair: The question I want to ask is about the three-month review that the Secretary of State has announced. What is that about, what is it going to come up with and what do you have to say about it?

  Vice Admiral Blackham: My understanding is that it is like a wire brush scrubbing of the various capability areas to see how we can best deliver them, but I do not think that we should be under any illusion: the aim of it is to find a substantial sum of money ahead of the next spending round—to clear the decks, so to speak. These reviews are looking for ways in which capabilities can be delivered either more cheaply or possibly not at all. In other words, they will be attacking the SDSR, inevitably, because they will be bound to water down, dilute or remove capabilities that the SDSR has put in print. The reason for this we have already been over—namely, the need to save a great deal more money. These exercises are trying to do at high speed what the SDSR didn't do.

  My guess is that there would be decisions to remove further aircraft. For example, I would not be surprised, although I would be shocked, to learn that the Tornado was going to follow the Harrier into oblivion. Maybe I am wrong, but I think there will be one or two things on that sort of scale. I hasten to add that I don't have any information that tells me that last thing will happen. There will be, I think, large-scale recommendations to remove or dilute capabilities ahead of the next spending round to make that planning round more palatable.

Q513 Chair: What do you consider to be the risks of such an exercise, and how do you think it is going to pan out?

  Vice Admiral Blackham: The operational risk is self-evident: the further erosion of the capability of the Armed Forces generally. There will be substantial financial risks, too, because it will not be possible to calculate in the period involved what the savings actually are, what the implications are for industry, what the implications are for the sharing of overheads—something I mentioned earlier—and what the implications are for manpower in that time. Typically, a three-month exercise has to end after about five weeks in order for it to be processed through the system, written up and approved. It will be a very rapid dirty dash at some pretty drastic things. They will all have to be low-hanging fruit; they will all have to be things that can be taken and really will lead to savings. Consequently, there will be no strategy informing it—that would be my assumption—and savings will be taken where they can be found, almost irrespective of whether they meet or do not meet the philosophy of the SDSR.

Q514 Chair: So the issue of coherence will be sacrificed.

  Vice Admiral Blackham: The issue of coherence will inevitably be sacrificed, and we will have growing incoherence and a greater mismatch than we have at the moment. That would be my assumption.

  Professor Lindley-French: If it once and for all establishes the true level of unfunded commitments, and therefore produces a baseline upon which proper planning can be established, it will have some merit. But from what I am hearing, it is a kind of SDSR 2 with even less strategic input.

  Wing Commander Brookes: As you said, the only low-hanging fruit are things like the Rivet Joint—the Air Seeker, as it is called. We are currently converting crews on to that. One option would be that we do not take the aeroplanes any more and just have joint manning with the Americans. But the strategic impact of that would be, again, that we get rid of our independent eyes and ears and become even more dependent on America, which would be the upshot of trying to scrabble around to save a billion here and a billion there.

  Chair: We will now spend two minutes on the issue of the French alliance.

Q515 Mr Havard: There was a more general question about other bilateral arrangements. This is a bilateral arrangement, but what does it do? Does it help us with immediate capability problems? Under the treaty, there is also the letter of intent and the programmes that go with it, which are meant to be much longer term—unmanned vehicles and a whole series of things. What is your take on the bilateral relationship we have with the French and how it helps us in the immediate and longer terms? Are there other bilateral or trilateral arrangements?

  Professor Lindley-French: I have close links in Paris and the feedback I am getting is very clear. The French are becoming frustrated with London. They are very serious about the relationship. They are concerned about the briefing by Downing Street not to expect too much from the treaty. They are concerned that, by the first anniversary of the treaty in November, there will be nothing to show for it, other than the Libyan operation. The French are serious about this, because of the reasons we have discussed. They face similar assessments and believe the partnership vital not only for their own security, but for bringing Europe to strategic seriousness. Their sense is that London is not taking this relationship seriously, which we should be so doing.

  Wing Commander Brookes: On the air side, the French are way behind in many respects. People talk about maritime patrol, for example. We got rid of the Nimrods. The Breguet Atlantics are different. We had two air shipping disasters recently and I think that the French pitched up for a couple of hours and went away. That is because, out of 26 aeroplanes, they have, I think, seven serviceable. They are also hollowed out, like we are, so, on the idea that, somehow, they are going to come, they are—certainly on ground attack capabilities—way behind the RAF. So yes, they are up for it and are very keen to do it, but again, I think we are leading in a lot of areas. Of course, when you are leading, it is very difficult for the French to follow. Quite often, they are quite happy to get on board as long as they are allowed to lead. In many areas, they are not the ones who are equipped to do it.

  Vice Admiral Blackham: I am rather more upbeat than that. We have long experience of operating with the French at sea. I am leaving aside the question as to whether we can find political agreement about what we should be doing and so forth, because obviously there are areas where the two countries have very different sets of interests. Operating together in naval terms presents no problems. It has been going on since World War Two without much difficulty. Trying, for example, jointly to man equipment or something like that is a completely different story—cultures are different, training is different, equipment is different, command systems are different—and that would be several steps too far.

  On the other hand, the French could undoubtedly give us great assistance in bringing the aircraft carrier into service, because they are operating one and will be able to help us train not so much the air crew, but the deck crews and the command crews and so forth. So I am a bit more upbeat about it. I think that one of the important things is to keep expectations at a realistic level. Operating together is fine, but—

Q516 Chair: That was four minutes. You now have one minute in which all of you can tell us what you have failed to get across during the rest of the afternoon. [Interruption.] You do not even have that.

  Vice Admiral Blackham: I have already aired my major concern, which is what we are doing—or, more particularly, not doing—for the next generation.

  Chair: That point has come across clearly, so thank you.

  Wing Commander Brookes: The pressure on waiting for decisions on RAF base closures and thrashing the trade groups is corrosive of morale. That is the point that I want to get across. We talk about kit and strategy, but we must not forget about the people.

  Chair: Let me say to all three of you that this has been an absolutely fascinating afternoon. It has been extremely helpful to us and has given us a lot of things to put to the Ministry of Defence to say, "Answer this if you can," so we are most grateful.

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