Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Those Defence Cuts: Jacko's Message

Well, perhaps the longest and most tiresome defence policy spin war in memory is over and the full details are out. In some ways it wasn't as bad as the tireless briefers kept suggesting to susceptible papers like the Telegraph - the maximum horror versions included, for example, the scrapping of both the RAF's Jaguar and Harrier aircraft, the scrapping of many of the RAF support helicopters and the Army's Gazelles, plus swingeing cuttage for the Navy and the disbandment of the entire Royal Irish Regiment and more.

Well, either the Torygraph was as credulous as usual on such matters or the spinners were successful. The Irish stay, and the Scottish Division is to lose one battalion instead of the positive massacre some suggested. Where the pressure goes is the RAF - the Jaguar fleet is to be retired early, and its base at Coltishall will close. I suppose there is a degree of sense to that, as many people have pointed out the oddness of having three bomber types (Jag, Harrier and Tornado GR4). The Jaguars in a sense fell between two stools - neither having the "first night of the war" status of the Tornados (or the shared maintenance) nor the VTOL capability of the Harriers. Unexpectedly, though, a Tornado F3 air defence squadron is to be disbanded. The Navy's planned new carriers are upheld, though it's anybody's guess if they will appear or when. However, the Navy will have to see six ships go - the three oldest Type 42 destroyers and three Type 23 frigates. (Note - this is on top of a reduction in the order for the Type 45 ships, and the retirement of the Sea Harrier. Not that the 42's were much use, but the navy's air defence looks less assured still.)

The big change was in the army. Aside from the cut of 4 battalions - one in Scotland and 3 from England - the arms plotting system, established in 1882, is to go. This means that infantry units will no longer be rotated through different roles and bases but will have a fixed base and a speciality. Soldiers will be posted between the battalions, which implies some sort of merger between regiments. What looks likely will be the formation of regionally based regiments with several battalions each (possibly allowing symbols to be preserved). The point is to avoid the problem that units stop being available every so often when they retrain for a new role under arms plotting - this is meant to more than make up for the cut. ("a. Operational Availability. An order of battle comprising 36 battalions which are always available will be more capable than one of 40 drawn down by a significant number of battalions moving, re-roling and re-training") I think they'll be lucky.

So, it seems, does General Jackson if this quote from his message to the army today, a copy of which I obtained, is anything to go by:
"But I am conscious that some of the changes may appear counter-intuitive to an Army which is under sustained operational pressure, and which may – at least in part - see these changes as a threat as much as an opportunity."
You're not kidding, Jacko. But I can't imagine anyone believing this snippet:
"It would be quite wrong to think that the re-balancing in FAS is driven by money"

The message is here for those who like that sort of thing.

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