The UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) published its equipment spending plan for the next 10 years for the first time. Defence Secretary Philip Hammond–known in political circles as “spreadsheet Phil”–has made a virtue of cutting unrealistic ambition in UK defense spending plans, following a painful review in 2010 that made substantial force cuts that are still being implemented. But although Hammond described the new equipment plan as “affordable,” it became clear this week that the UK defense budget will not be spared a further round of spending cuts for 2015-16 across all government departments that is now deemed necessary, because of the country’s poor economic performance.
Hammond plans to spend approximately $247 billion between now and 2021-22, including $33 billion set aside for risks and contingencies, and real-terms growth of 1 percent per year beginning in 2015-16. Procurement and the support of equipment account for some 40 percent of the MoD’s overall budget, which is $53 billion for 2012-13. The government makes additional funds available to meet and support urgent operational requirements (UORs), but only for use in specific theaters. For instance, the Royal Air Force (RAF) GA-ASI MQ-9 Reaper UAVs were acquired as a UOR for the war in Afghanistan. Because the RAF wants to keep them after 2015, their funding must come from the “core” defense budget.
The MoD said it had “decided not to proceed for now with a number of programs,” but did not specify which ones. Neither did it publish its new “Single Integrated Capability Priority List.” This is essentially a “wish list” of unfunded requirements. Approximately $13 billion is available to convert some of those priorities into firm contracts, “as soon as we can be sure they are affordable,” the MoD said. “No project will be committed without a 10-year budget line to cover not only its procurement, but also its support costs,” the MoD added.
The plan contained few surprises concerning current programs. It noted that the RAF would acquire an eighth Boeing C-17 airlifter this year. The UK’s fleet of Boeing Apache attack helicopters would enjoy a “capability sustainment program.” But upgrades to the Merlin helicopter fleet will not be funded until “later in the decade.” This includes conversions to provide amphibious airlift and AEW capability to replace the UK’s Sea King helicopters that are being retired in 2016. Unfortunately for the export prospects of the Eurofighter Typhoon, the addition of “multirole and ISTAR capabilities” remains unfunded for the time being. AIN believes that this includes the long-awaited AESA radar.