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UK defence secretary wants to end ‘hollow force’

03 October 2019
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The UK’s newest aircraft carrier, Prince of Wales, sailed from Rosyth Dockyard for the very first time on 22 September 2019 to begin initial sea trials. Some observers in the UK defence establishment worry that the UK has often funded high-profile prestige projects at the expense of less-glamourous enabling or support capabilities. Source: Crown Copyright

Key Points

  • The UK defence secretary has made a bid to put the UK defence budget on a realistic footing
  • Defence spending is set to get an uplift, at least in the short term, but these plans remain to be enacted

UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said he wants to end the “hollowing out” of the country’s armed forces that have led to recruitment shortfalls, equipment that does not work, and low stockpiles of supplies.

Speaking to a fringe meeting at the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester on 30 September, Wallace said he had secured acceptance earlier this summer from the UK Treasury (finance ministry) that the 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review – which set in train several major equipment procurement projects – was “not properly funded”. He added that Ministry of Defence (MoD) cost-saving projections that have underpinned many of the review’s spending plans “were not realistic”.

Wallace, who was appointed by the new UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson in July, decried 20 to 30 years of “hollowing out” of the UK military, in particular of the army. “It is an iceberg,” he said. “Beneath it is poor recruiting, a shortage of pilots, kit not working, and low stocks.”

“Ambitions of prime ministers, secretaries of defence, chancellors of the exchequer [finance ministers], and generals have not been matched with funding,” he told the event.

This, he said, led to overstretch that was unfair on the UK armed forces, he said, adding that he blamed the current situation on a series of short-term decisions or the failure to make decisions. “We need to be honest to the rest of government that we need more money or [be] honest to the public about our ambitions,” he said. “The music is about to stop and it will not be funny. It’s about political leadership; we have to cut our cloth.

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