Who will defend the defenders?

A new story this morning tells us that, once again, squaddies’ livelihoods are threatened with the top brasses’ plan to cut the number of Royal Marines by 1000. What the story doesn’t say is that generations of incompetence in the Ministry of Defence have bought us to this dire state of affairs.

The 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review laid out an ambitious £178 billion shopping list for the armed forces, with assurances given that following reforms during the coalition “including improving our procurement process”, the MOD will “ensure that the Armed Forces remain flexible and agile over the next 10 years”.

We should be sceptical about these assurances, since taxpayers are repeatedly duped and myopic decision-making goes unpunished. The Queen Elizabeth aircraft carriers went ahead after the head of BAE Systems forced David Cameron’s hand (in spite of Chinese missiles demonstrating carriers’ diminishing returns). The company who made the engines for the new destroyers (£1 billion each) went unpunished, in spite of them breaking down in hot weather.

UK ministers have also been accused of ‘cooking the books’ to ensure the UK reached the two per cent target for defence spending. Former senior officers enjoy largesse from the very defence contractors they had been buttering up only months earlier. The verbal vomiting which ministers, mandarins and officers spew when hamming up the benefits of large projects is a Potemkin village to hide their manifest shortcomings.

Buying off-the-shelf American products would save taxpayers billions. It would have been cheaper to fire all workers at the AgustaWestland site in Yeovil, give them £500,000, purchase US manufactured Black Hawk helicopters (rather than Merlins) and still spend less money.

Soldiers lose their jobs because of managers’ inability to negotiate contracts, and taxpayers are repeatedly short-changed as a result. Procurement projects can last decades, but ministers and senior civil servants have authority in their department for only years or months. The limited accountability and perpetuation of the revolving door in defence procurement means the periodic calls to fire troops will not abate any time soon.

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