In 1940 we lost an entire army’s worth of weapons at Dunkirk. In 1940 we had the industrial capacity to replace them. That is no longer the case. The production lines and the capacity aren’t there anymore. If we have to fight a major war, as opposed to the low intensity operations we’ve been fighting more or less continuously since the end of the Cold War, then we will have to fight it with the small amount of kit we have available. If we lose that kit, the current British armed forces will make the Walmington-on-Sea Homeguard look well equipped.
Grave questions have been raised in the USA about the capabilities of the F35 Joint Strike Fighter that the government has ordered for the RAF and the RN, but Astute submarines and D class destroyers are unquestionably state of the art. The problem is that there are far too few of them and the army is far too small. The shift to larger reserve forces isn’t working because the Territorial Army is failing to recruit the numbers it needs.
The answer Cameroons would give is that we can rely on the French and Americans. Perhaps we can, but there is a strong isolationist tendency in US foreign policy, which is increasing after the abortive interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan. As even supporters of the savage cuts in the British military argue, the French cannot deploy much of their military strength because of logistic failings, see for example http://t.co/S8DNjqbDw9 .
At the very least that suggests that the French and USA are likely to be very unreliable allies and we should maintain an adequate capacity to defend ourselves and our dependencies like Gibraltar and the Falklands. As I said earlier D class destroyers are state of the art. But there are only 5 of them. We lost 5 ships in the last Falklands campaign. We have only 13 frigates. This is completely inadequate if we were, God forbid, to be involved in anything other than low intensity operations. It is questionable whether we could even sustain a small war like the Falklands.
Of course, policy makers believe that there would be long term warning of potential for a major conflict. That may be so, but the lead time for the production of modern weapons systems is also incredibly long. The inadequate F35 has been more than 10 years in development. Astute submarines have taken more than 15 years to develop and only 2 have so far been commissioned. And the granddaddy of them all the RAF Typhoon, which was more than 20 years in development. Political evolution can be much quicker, Hitler came to power in 1933, remilitarised the Rhineland in 1936 and 2 years later we had to sell out Czechoslovakia because we still weren’t ready. Of course we may have more decisive and farsighted politicians in the future than Baldwin and Chamberlain, but looking at the current crop from all sides I doubt that very much. Thatcher and Churchill are merely the exceptions that prove the rule.
The likelihood has to be that if there is a major conflict we will have to fight it with our existing armed forces. They are effective and well equipped, but far too small for anything other than police actions in Third World hell holes. If we don’t want to risk our security and liberty we need to start rearming seriously right now. We could begin by using the equivalent of one third of our Defence budget that we are currently calling overseas aid and throwing down Third World toilets.