The Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson yesterday outlined spending plans for defence post Brexit, despite his department’s £7bn budget shortfall.
The Public Accounts Committee recently accused the Ministry of Defence of “poor financial planning”. MPs said in a report that the MoD “lacks the capability to accurately cost programmes within its equipment plan”, and the actual shortfall in funding could rise to £14.8bn or more by 2028.
Williamson announced a new type of ship, the littoral combat ship, that will likely be used by special forces. Whilst details weren’t given, these are anticipated to cost around £400m.
They’ll take an assault force anywhere in the world (helicopters, fast boats, underwater automated vehicles, hundreds of troops etc).
They’re designed to be able to get VERY close to the shore – 'littoral' literally means the part of the sea which is closest to the shore. pic.twitter.com/vRQrMBOseZ
— Henry Jones (@hthjones) February 11, 2019
Money will also be spent on a new Royal Air Force squadron of “network-enabled swarm drones”, designed to confuse and overwhelm enemy air defences. Williamson said he expects these to be ready by the end of 2019. The MoD have since said however that the drones “will be developed over a 3-year programme”.
In a blunder for Williamson, experts cast doubt on whether the technology for such a program actually exists yet.
The Shadow Defence Secretary Nia Griffiths dismissed Williamson’s announcement, accusing the Tories of defence cuts.
“The UK’s ability to play our role on the international stage has been completely undermined by eight years of Tory defence cuts.
“The Conservatives have slashed the defence budget by over £9bn in real terms since 2010 and they are cutting Armed Forces numbers year after year. Instead of simply engaging in yet more sabre-rattling, Gavin Williamson should get to grips with the crisis in defence funding that is happening on his watch.”
Gavin Williamson likes to talk tough but look at the Tories’ record:
— Nia Griffith MP (@NiaGriffithMP) February 11, 2019
Williamson also announced that the Royal Navy’s new aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth would be sent to the South China Sea when operational in 2021. The £3bn warship will be accompanied by a squadron of British and American F-35 fighter jets.
Liberal Democrat defence spokesman Jamie Stone questioned the announcement, saying “Gavin Williamson is heating up UK defence rhetoric, something which may well be seen as provocation by Beijing. This comes following years of hollowing-out of Britain’s military capabilities, with the British Army now at the smallest it has been in decades
“Do we really have the capacity at the moment to send this ship over to showboat? Rather than flaunting the HMS Queen Elizabeth in the Pacific, the Conservatives should instead be focusing on the pressing issues facing the British armed forces at the moment, including the £15bn shortfall in the MoD’s equipment plan over the next decade”.
It news comes after a different British warship sailed close to the Paracel Islands claimed by China in the South China Sea in August, prompting fury from Beijing.