Tuesday, February 27, 2007

History in the making

How apposite that, when it comes, it arrives not in the main pages of any of the newspapers, where the defence correspondents are well and truly asleep, but in the business section – in this case The Times.

We are talking here of an item headed, "Treasury threatens to cut £35bn of defence projects" and even then, because it is about "business", David Robertson, the business correspondent, misses the huge political and strategic implications.

The thrust of the story is, as advertised on the label, that the Treasury is threatening to cut defence projects worth up to £35 billion in the Government's next spending round, the comprehensive spending review (CSR), which outlines spending for the next five years. And that means that key projects could be cut.

But the dynamite news is that the Army could be the biggest loser. The Treasury, says The Times is thought to be unhappy with Future Rapid Effects System (FRES), which the newspaper describes as "a £14 billion project for up to 3,000 armoured vehicles." It tells us that the Treasury is understood to favour buying a replacement off the shelf, possibly from a US company, rather than have the UK develop its own.

Whether this happens or not, this news tells us what we had already suspected… that the Army is fighting for its life, its "vision" of the future which is intrisically bound up in FRES. It thus goes a long, long way towards explaining why the Army brass has been so reluctant to rock the boat over Iraq and Afghanistan, and demand the new kit needed for these campaigns. One false move and FRES is toast, they must have been telling themselves.

It begins to look, though, as if the sacrifice imposed on the Army is in vain. But, if their vision of FRES is to be junked, then the Defence Committee missed the vibes completely. And, if the Generals do not get their toys, what then? Is the ERRF also toast?

For those of you who have the time, read our FRES thread. While the media and the politicos are so fast asleep you can here the snores from here, there is history in the making.

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