As discussed last week, the security of the nation and its people is a core responsibility of any government.
External security is handled by the Armed Forces, and the Secret Intelligence Service, better known as MI6. As much as MI6 are getting more open over time, what exactly they do with their money isn't the clearest, so beyond making MI6 more accountable to Parliament directly, I don't have a clear sense of what changes might need to be there.
The Armed Forces are a bit more open - it's hard to hide tank regiments or frigates, after all. Current state of play has a budget of about £40 billion (Wiki claims £36, but I don't think this includes all defence research etc) for all three services and procurement/defence research; this is generally considered to be the 4th biggest defence budget in the world, after the US, China and Russia.
Given our longstanding and active alliance structures, a substantial increase in the defence budget seems somewhat unnecessary; essentially we are closely aligned with the biggest military power in the world, and closely linked through NATO and/or the EU with five more of the top 15 (France, Germany, Italy, Canada, Australia).
It seems easy to say, then, that we face no existential threats as a nation, and that the primary roles for the Armed Forces will be expeditionary wars, peace-keeping and peace support, and aid to the civil power. However, given that some Armed Forces capabilities would take a generation to re-build if lost entirely (e.g. operating carrier aircraft is not an easy skill to regain once lost; nor is armoured warfare), there may be some capabilities which it is wise to retain in case they are required in future.
Taking the three Armed Forces in order:
Royal NavyThe Navy currently has 6 destroyers and 13 frigates; two helicopter carriers; two assault landing ships; three more large landing ships; seven hunter-killer submarines; four nuclear missile submarines; and assorted minehunters, patrol vessels and other smaller warships.
The Navy also controls the Fleet Air Arm (currently consisting of assorted helicopters and training aircraft) and the Royal Marines - who account for roughly a combat brigade. There is a contract under way to provide two aircraft carriers.
With an aim for defence of peace-keeping and expeditionary wars, what capabilities does the Navy need?
Troop transport and assault landing capabilities are a must - with five capable landing ships that seems to be fairly well covered. Maritime patrol and anti-piracy options require a few frigates and destroyers, though I don't know exactly how many. The hunter-killer submarines provide a serious maritime warfare capability, as well as shore bombardment with cruise missiles.
That's all good - while there may be a shortfall in number of ships to be everywhere and do everything required, the actual capabilities look fairly well matched to what I'm aiming for. The really big gap is the carriers, of which only two are being constructed, and which won't be ready until 2020 or so. That's pretty shoddy - we have no carrier until at least 2020, and then (given about 1/3 of the time a carrier will be in refit, working up to effectiveness or in training) with only one carrier most of the time, which could easily be thousands of miles from where it was needed. Not great, that. I would ideally want to order another carrier. That's going to have a knock-on effect in terms of escorts (frigates and destroyers) to keep the carrier safe in combat, so we might need some more frigates and destroyers as well.
The trouble is, carriers aren't cheap - so without raising the budget much, where is the money going to come from? There's an easy start - scrap Trident and don't replace it. The UK doesn't need an independent nuclear deterrent; I cannot think of a single situation where it would be used where French or American missiles would not be following pretty shortly, if they hadn't arrived first. If you're worried about the UK's "seat at the top table" of world relations, I think that having the second largest and most capable carrier fleet in the world should be enough to ensure that. And budget-wise it saves on the nuclear missiles, the submarines which carry them, and the cost of designing and building a new generation of submarines and missiles.
The Fleet Air Arm is going to have to grow to give three carrier air wings; however, at least some of that growth could be shared with the RAF (train RAF pilots to land on a carrier and you're away...). As for the Marines, I think that their size is appropriate at present, as long as the Army is big enough to fill in behind them if necessary.
British ArmySpeaking of the Army, they currently have:
2 Armoured Brigades making up 1st Armoured Division; 3 Mechanised Brigades making up 3rd Mechanised Division, and 16 Air Assault Brigade.
Armoured Brigades are the heavy fist of conventional war-fighting. A mixture of tanks and personnel carriers with supporting artillery and engineers; additional support units come in at the Divisional level. Armoured forces last really saw use in Iraq War part two - before that, Iraq War part one, and before that....probably Korea. They're logistically intensive, expensive beasts.
Mechanised Brigades are still fairly heavy - they're infantry operating from lightly armoured vehicles, still have some tanks attached in support, and also have artillery and engineers attached. Mechanised battalions, at least, can operate in contexts like Afghanistan, though Brigades with their supporting units are still a heavy logistical load.
Light Brigades - currently only one exists, comprising 5 battalions of light infantry, supported by light artillery (equipped with L118 guns which are helicopter-portable) and helicopters.
In terms of capabilities, 3 Commando Brigade (the Royal Marines plus some support units from the Army) are effectively another Light Brigade.
It seems important to retain an Armoured capability, though at present it isn't much used, and keeping any less than a Brigade is probably not worth the bother; that's at least one of the current Armoured Brigades required. As for the other, while I would consider converting an Armoured Brigade into a Mechanised Brigade, that's a fairly similar force structure with lighter vehicles. So it might well be worth retaining the two Armoured Brigades, at least in the medium term. My inclination would be to convert an Armoured Brigade to Mechanised next time their vehicles need replacing.
Call it two Mechanised Brigades (enough for a small Mechanised Division, or combined with the Armoured Brigades, one big heavy Armoured Division); the third current Mechanised Brigade can convert to a Light Brigade.
That would leave two Army Light Brigades and one Royal Marine Light Brigade, and the capability to deploy up to about one Mech/Armoured and one Light Brigade for extended periods - deploying formed units for more than about 1 year in 3 is excessive and puts a lot of strain on soldiers and their families.
Ideally I'd like to add a Light Brigade to ease the strain of deployments but I'm not sure what the costs of that are likely to be.
All of this is based around Regular Forces; the TA should be at a minimum maintained at its current size, and ideally expanded, again so that extended deployments place less stress on the lives of TA members outside the Army; with a side point of trying to maintain the Army's links to a wider population for whom military life grows ever more distant.
Royal Air Force
The Air Force has a few primary roles - Air Superiority, Tactical Strike, Transport, Maritime Patrol.The Air Superiority role is covered for the foreseeable future by the Eurofighter; Tactical Strike is currently covered by Apache helicopters (actually operated by the Army Air Corps) and Tornado fast jets, but Tornado is slated to be replaced by F35 Strike Fighters. Despite delays and problems with the F-35 program, this is probably a good thing as long as the strike aircraft for the Navy's carriers are going to be F-35s, for commonality of training and parts. If that decision needs revisiting then the RAF should probably also be looking elsewhere for strike aircraft. The F-35 certainly is costly and slow in coming, but I don't know enough about alternatives to know whether it is the best option currently available.
Tankers and transports are already in the process of being replaced - Airbus aircraft mostly, which is fine.
Maritime Patrol is the real gap in the capabilities since the Nimrod was retired; probably buy something adequate off the shelf; other nations must have an adequate Maritime Patrol Aircraft in place at the moment, and if not the Americans at least must be working on something. We probably don't need more than one squadron, so developing a British aircraft for that one is a tad excessive.
And that's enough on Defence; already quite long, so expect separate posts for the Home Office and the Department of Justice to follow.