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Thursday, 5 July 2012

The danger of cutting defence too deeply ...

It seems the New Zealand government has a major problem on its hands. In order to 'save money' they took the axe to that favourite target of western socialists, Defence. They slashed away happily and triggered a flood of resignations from their armed forces personell, particularly the navy. Now they have a problem, they need patrol ships (they've just bought a squadron of new ocean going ones) to enforce their maritime borders and stop the flood of illegal immigrants ...

Only they haven't got enough sailors to man them. Even if they 'lay-up' some of their other ships, they still face the problem of trying to find enough replacement crews in the longer term.

This is a major problem faced by the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force in the UK. Successive governments have slashed Defence Budgets, and the last one actually imposed vast numbers of expensive Civil Servants on the Ministry of Defence, while cutting the numbers of fighting service personnel. This was supposed to be a 'cost saving' exercise. The idea Whitehall has of 'cutting' cost is to sack the service men and women who are generally earning below the national average, and replace them with pen pushers who are generally earning well over the national average wages (with other benefits such as expensive pensions and so on as well). So, on the one hand the Whitehall W*nk*rs are able to claim they have 'focussed on the core delivery' by relieving uniformed personnel from clerical duties, but they fail to notice that the wage bill actually increases because they've replaced those 'uniformed chappies' with higher paid paper shufflers.

You can't send a paper shuffler out to man a Type 45 Destroyer, or let them drive a tank, nor refuel, service or perhaps rearm a strike fighter. But you could do that if the 'jobs' now occupied by civil servants were still filled by uniformed staff.

The real problem which our political classes don't seem to be able to get their heads round is this. Defence now requires a great deal more than being able to march and fire a rifle or throw a hand grenade. At sea the ships have become so sophisticated it needs several years of training just to get a man or woman competent to fill the role they are assigned to. The WW2 days of being able to take a draft off the streets, give them six months at a Training 'Ship' and send them off to fight are long gone. That is as true for the Army as it is for the Navy and the Air Force. And the Training issue is actually the shortest and least problematic part of it.

Where a destroyer or escort frigate could be built, launched and commissioned in a year or less, the modern ships take at least that long to build, fit out and get all the bugs out of the systems before you can start training a crew for it. OK, in an emergency, you could probably have a crew 'in training' on simulators and so on while the ship is built, but even then you would need a minimum of three to six months before it was fully operational.

I read somewhere that in WW2 a fighter pilot would come into the service, do around two months flying on trainers, then move up to a more sophisticated bit of solo flying and training and, after about three months and a brief "type rating" run in a Spitfire, Hurricane or similar, be turned loose to a squadron. Even then many didn't survive their first real combat. To do a similar system now, with the complex and sophisticated aircraft now in use would be to guarantee failure.

Alongside this is the fact that Spitfires were being churned out in weeks, the main holdup being the supply of engines for them, whereas today's new Typhoon requires several months to assemble just one. Even the Army has a replacement material pronlem. Yes, they have some very good tanks and armoured vehicles, but they are very few in number in real terms and we simply don't have the manufacturing capacity any longer to produce masses of them on demand. Nor can you simply 'shop around' and buy in what you need.

I suspect the New Zealand government is only the first of many western governments to discover, embarrassingly, that they have finally managed to cut their National Defences below the point of recovery. It will be interesting to see what they do now.

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