With Military Cutbacks, Even Britain’s Shows Of Strength Reveal Weakness

RAF Russian Bomber Operation Rising Panther

 

The Express reports today that the Royal Air Force has recently conducted its largest air defence exercise in over thirty years, in response to the increasing frequency of Russian incursions into British air space and spheres of influence:

Operation Rising Panther, the first of six proposed air defence operations due to take place every year, will “show Vladimir Putin in no uncertain terms” that Britain is ready, willing and able counter increasing Russian aggression should the need arise, say military sources.

More than 30 aircraft, including 20 Typhoons and Tornado fighter jets as well as a range of ED-3, AWACS, Sentinal and Shadow surveillance aircraft took part in the mock attack-and-defence wargames over the North east of England, as well as ground-based command teams.

At first glance, this sounds like a positive development – like maybe the British government has finally woken up to the fact that history did in fact not end at the fall of the Berlin Wall, and that future threats to our national interest and national security will remain, and be unpredictable, for many years to come. Given the circumstances, a show of force by the British military might be no bad thing.

And so it is, until you read the small print:

The Ministry of Defence played down Rising Panther’s significance, maintaining that it was merely the first opportunity since the end of hostilities in Afghanistan to hold an air exercise of this scale.

“Due to our continuing commitment to operations overseas, this is the first time we have had the full spectrum of our capability operating together at the same time in a realistic, opposed, environment,” said Wing Commander Andy Coe in the Ministry of Defence-run RAF News.

He added that this was the first time that the RAF had used AWACS and Sentinel together because they have been “in such high demand” in theatres abroad.

It is the facts that are implied, rather than those which are stated, which are most significant here.

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On Armed Forces Day

 

Saturday 28 June is Armed Forces Day in the United Kingdom.

Of course we should all take a moment to express our gratitude to the men and women who serve on the cutting edge of our nation’s defence and foreign policy projection capability – they toil and risk their lives for far less material reward or public recognition than many of us receive for doing far less.

But one day of public praise is not enough. Our armed forces are suffering significant cuts and capability reductions because of the coalition government’s refusal to protect the defence budget from spending cuts. These cuts include the compulsory redundancy of many long-serving, experienced veterans who deserve better from their government.

Britain is not like the United States – aside from our nuclear deterrent and pared-back blue water navy, we do not enjoy an advantage of many multiples over most of our current and potential future enemies, in terms of manpower or total defence spending. What advantage we have comes from our high-tech skills base, strong defence sector and the extraordinary professionalism of the people who serve our country in uniform.

All too often, people (particularly those on the left) suggest that defence spending should be pared back even further (“Shame on us for not investing more in schools while we build two new aircraft carriers”, etc.) It’s easy to say such things while quietly and ignorantly enjoying the fruits of Britain’s peace, prosperity and place in the world, which is underwritten by the very things that they want to see cut back or abolished. But in reality the opposite is true – having a powerful, effective and deployable military is crucial if Britain is to defend her interests, hedge against the unknown and be taken seriously on the world stage.

The introduction of Armed Forces Day has done a lot to promote greater knowledge, awareness and respect for the role that the armed forces play in our national life. But Britain still has a long way to go until serving soldiers and veterans are accorded the daily respect and acknowledgement that they deserve. Here, we can look to the United States as an example of giving the military a more prominent, respected role in society: from simple acknowledgement at places like airports, through discounts at stores and restaurants, up to incorporating more patriotic rituals – and yes, British Values – into the fabric of our national life.

And most importantly of all, we can put our money where our mouth is. In that spirit, Semi-Partisan Sam has made a small donation to veterans charity Help for Heroes, in support of the great work that they do supporting our wounded veterans.

Whatever our party allegiance or political differences may be, on this Armed Forces Day we should all be able to show our appreciation for those who fight our fights and wear the uniform.