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

Written evidence from the Chamber of Shipping


1.  Defence Reviews have generally been conducted as a corrective measure to reduce defence spending as a proportion of GDP and to re-align defence forces to meet changing threats about once in every 10 years. Between Mason Review 1974-75, Nott review 1981, Options for Change 1990 and SDR 1998 defence spending was reduced 5% down to 2.8%. In naval terms FF/DD unit numbers over the same period reduced 48 down to 32, which were further reduced to 25 (eventually 23) at the outset of SDSR 2010. The outcome of SDSR leaves defence spending at 2% (still the fourth largest in the world) and with RN FF/DD numbers at 19.

2.  Set against this background the review which both political parties agreed, in late 2010, to undertake was preceded by a MOD Green Paper in February 2010, was accelerated by the Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR) but nevertheless emerged, preceded by a context setting Cabinet Office led National Security Strategy (NSS) and was followed by the budgetary provisions of CSR a day later. While the outcomes of the review will be debated the effort of the Government to produce a cross-government review in the context of a clear and intellectually sound National Security Strategy, approved by the National Security Committee (NSC) together with funding and a commitment to regular future five yearly reviews, that is once in each parliament, represents a serious attempt to stabilise policy, the resources of the three armed forces and spending in a determined and co-ordinated manner. This has arguably produced a better structured review than recently seen, although the SDSR is heavily influenced by CSR, and the ability of the force levels described in SDSR to fulfil the NSS; of units to deliver the policy, is not at all certain.

3.  For the maritime sector the policy and the preparatory work inherited by this Government in the Cabinet Office led national Maritime Security Project 2009, which is still ongoing, has enabled a quality dialogue with policy makers to be developed and the results of this, although not yet in detail, have been incorporated in the final SDSR. The result is a very substantial improvement in the profile of trade and energy security in the final document, a clear recognition of globalisation, and the naval case has undoubtedly been convincingly argued, acknowledged and given some weight.


4.  The missing ingredient in the SDSR process has been industry input, a point that has been consistently argued with officials and although the review defines eight national security tasks and provides planning guidelines, including a welcome restatement to "protect UK interests at home and internationally" and mention of gas and energy as a Tier 3 priority risk, it is vital that dialogue with industry is now established to ensure effective implementation. The speed at which the review has been conducted appeared to have precluded any structured industry contribution.

5.  Although not a shipping industry issue, but one for the defence sector, the review promises to tackle the legacy of over-commitment in the defence programme. Drastic improvements to procurement processes are urgently required and it is possible that some benchmarking with other major industrial sectors would assist in this process.

6.  There is an indication that the review fails to describe a sufficiently ambitious role for reserve forces through to 2020 and given the need to make savings in the major area of manpower costs this would appear to require further detailed attention.


7.  The language of NSS and SDSR contains a much needed correction to the UK's national external policy or international policy approach and a restatement of UK as a net contributor to the global order, it better recognises the role of the commercial sector, of business and of national trading—and other commercial overseas—interests.

8.  The profile of shipping and the inclusion of shipping (by implication even if not explicitly mentioned) and energy related security tasks corrects a very serious deficiency in relation to SDR 1998. We will want to see how this translates into effective doctrine, operational policy and contingency plans to meet specific shipping and energy vulnerabilities. The absence of ministerial responsibility for the transport sector particularly shipping within the NSC and in the SDSR is odd if not worrying.

9.  Cross-government responses to maritime security and defence threats have been improved by the national Maritime Security Project and the creation of new governmental structures for handling maritime security and other defence issues including the Cabinet level NSC. Although, as previously mentioned, we note that the Transport Secretary is not on the Council. Governance and information sharing are key issues for the implementation phase.

10.  The important subject of "Information Sharing" will be further improved by the new National Maritime Information Centre (NMIC) which is introduced in both the NSS and SDSR. This new centre builds on a joint MOD/Chamber of Shipping project (Project Camelot) and can be strongly supported. Again it is important that this centre delivers value to shipping by enhancing security and the exchange of information between military and civil users. The international or global scope of NMIC is vital for British shipping, UK seafarers and UK citizens when travelling overseas and when embarked on cruise ships. The new centre is not just an extension of domestic security apparatus and must not be used to impose new reporting requirements or delays on international trade flows or the movement of passengers by sea.

11.  The review includes a satisfactory policy restatement regarding the provision of sealift support and the existing arrangements for the six strategic ro/ros are thought by industry and government to work well. But the reduction in the future amphibious capacity of RN is of some concern, as it may be required to be augmented by sealift support from the commercial sector and suitable specialist vessels may prove difficult to resource in an emergency. Amphibious capability also has a vital humanitarian role to perform in response to international crises.

12.  The forecast loss of three RFA vessels is regretted. The RFA provides a certain guaranteed critical mass to the valuable resource of national seafarers, and any reduction in the training and employment opportunities at sea by RFA must be carefully managed. In general we have noted with concern the reduction in uniformed armed force personnel numbers, the loss of civil service positions is seen as being less contentious.


13.  The capability and effectiveness of the new Future Force 2020 for Royal Navy are largely an issue for the RN itself but we recognise that the global footprint seen by the industry as being vital for energy and trade security and the maintenance of maritime good order is constrained by the reduced number of FF/DD units.

14.  The carrier strike capability has dominated much of the recent debate on SDSR. The Chamber does not have a view on either the strategic or financial commitment or operational challenge this represents but the industry can generally welcome the addition to "naval critical mass" that carrier strike will deliver in terms of global and political influence well into the future.

15.  We will watch very carefully how these units are stretched in achieving the SDSR tasks but the difficulty the RN has had at times in committing a single FF to EUNAVFOR Operation Atalanta does not augur well, and the "tipping point" (a balance of global naval tasks versus available units) we articulated to Ministers during the review process may now have been passed. Again we will watch for adverse impacts and with the development of Type 26 frigates we will want to see these cheaper vessels delivered in sufficient numbers to meet all future constabulary duties for UK shipping, counter-piracy and designated maritime CT security tasks on a global and continuous basis. The shipping industry would like to see the Type 26 programme accelerated to preserve maritime skills and provide employment and additional hulls for global security duties earlier than 2020.

16.  The issue of SAR coverage is another specific area which appears to have been disproportionately targeted in the review. UK resources and expertise in this activity are second to none and we will want to develop a clear appreciation and seek assurances that safety at sea will not be compromised by the decision regarding Nimrod.


17.  The conduct of a complementary NSS and SDSR in 2010 represents a sound attempt to produce an effective and co-ordinated reassessment of national risks and defence policy. The force levels, however, described within SDSR appear insufficient to implement the policy in NSS but despite some attention grabbing items, cuts across the three services appear evenly distributed and applied in a time-sensitive manner. However, we have specific concerns that SDSR cannot deliver the maritime element of the NSS in terms of capabilities and hull numbers and it is unclear whether or not the "tipping point" in terms of fleet numbers available to protect UK interests, has been passed.

18.  The industry will watch very carefully to see that the resultant smaller force levels are capable of delivering both the secure maritime trading environment the industry requires and the persuasive view of UK in the future global order which the Government has articulated in this review.

19.  The speed at which the review was completed appears to have produced hurried conclusions and has excluded formal industry input, and we do not know what compromises and deals may have been reached internally. It is therefore all the more important that industry is fully engaged in the implementation phase and that the many shipping, trade and civil related assumptions made during the review are further explored and validated with industry.

11 February 2011

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Prepared 3 August 2011