We must boost defence spending to meet dangerous new threats
We have entered a dangerous new era of aggression. The threats we face are broader and less predictable than ever seen before.
Russia is waging war on our doorstep, and China is flexing its muscles in a stark warning to Taiwan. Our government must refocus on the big picture and reassure the public that security is a priority. To do this, we need to invest in defence.
Throughout this parliamentary term, the Defence Committee has undertaken inquiries on a breadth of issues, from foreign involvement in the defence supply chain to the experience of women in the armed forces. One message has come through loud and clear: we need to spend more and spend it wisely.
Our defence capabilities cannot be allowed to wither
Since the publication of the government’s defence strategies in 2021, international security and stability have suffered hit after hit: the withdrawal from Afghanistan; the invasion of Ukraine; and one of the most profound economic crises in living memory.
When facts change on the ground, strategy must change with them. Of particular concern is mounting inflation, meaning our armed forces face a real terms fall in funding.
At a time when vulnerability can be so easily exploited, our defence capabilities cannot be allowed to wither. For this reason, we need confidence our forces have the equipment they need, when they need it.
And with the pounds in our pocket worth less, we must be wise with our money, not wasteful. Over the last couple of years, the Defence Committee has conducted a series of inquiries into each of the services, concluding that the government must provide sustained and strategic investment.
The committee’s report, Obsolescent and outgunned, found that our Armoured Fighting Vehicle (AFV) programme has been plagued with financial mismanagement and military indecision, leaving our forces potentially outmatched by adversaries.
Our report We’re going to need a bigger Navy concluded that successive governments’ “failure to fund the ha’porth of tar the Royal Navy needs has literally spoiled the ships”. We have now turned our attention to a two-part inquiry on aviation, investigating planned reductions to the fleet and concerns around the early retirement of aircraft and subsequent capability gaps.
Sending arms to Ukraine is not only the right thing to do but helps keep the West safe from Russian aggression. However, this comes at a cost to both our wallet and our capabilities. Accelerating the pace at which we replace weaponry is essential.
We are continuing to examine the impact of Afghanistan and Ukraine on Nato, considering the role of artillery and heavy armour on the battlefield and exploring concerns around defence industry supply chain delays through the prism of our “US, UK and Nato” inquiry.
Cash injections must not be limited to procurement programmes for traditional warfare across land, air and sea. To ensure we remain a formidable fighting force, we must also invest in personnel and be willing to innovate.
Grappling with the newest frontiers of defence and funding innovation in the most up-to-date technologies is key to future-proofing our forces.
Investing in those who serve and protect us is also vital. Last summer the Sub-Committee on Women in the Armed Forces published its report calling for the government to address the additional barriers and challenges women in the forces face. The Ministry of Defence response has been positive and swift, but more must be done.
Our troops are our greatest asset. We cannot afford for our services to become poorer and weaker. At a time of heightened threat, cuts to our troop numbers fly in the face of common sense. Instead, investing in talent will pay dividends for years. Increased and targeted funding is how we maintain peace and protect the international rules-based order.
Aggressive powers, who readily use force against neighbours and pursue their own agendas, no matter the cost or bloodshed, cannot be allowed to prevail.
We can be sure our adversaries are sparing no expense to achieve their own goals.
Tobias Ellwood, Independent MP for Bournemouth East and chair of the Defence Select Committee.
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