Thursday, November 18, 2010
The rushed and seemingly shambolic way the government conducted its Strategic Defence and Security Review "badly damaged the confidence and morale" of the armed forces, according to a damning report drawn up by officials for the Defence Secretary, Liam Fox.
The draft report sharply criticised the way decisions were taken and failed to consult allies properly, Defence officials said last night.
The internal MoD report says that the decision to scrap the Ark Royal
and its fleet of Harrier jump jets were taken at the last minute with armed forces personnel first hearing of the decision from the media, the Guardian was told last night.
Officials in the National Security Council, chaired by David Cameron, are understood to have been criticised in the "lessons learned" report for the way they handled the debate on the review and the way final decisions were made. "People could have been consulted better," sources said.
SDSR: Lessons Identified, is dated 3 November and marked "Restricted", the Daily Telegraph reported last night.
It describes a process carried out too quickly to take proper account of advice, to consult allies or to win the support of the armed forces.
The review left Britain unable to fly planes from an aircraft carrier for 10 years and abandoned the RAF's much delayed Nimrod spy plane project.
"At Cabinet Office direction, there was no pre-briefing of the chain of command and no pre-warning of units affected by the changes," it says.
"The combination of well-sourced media stories on final decisions and these restrictions on internal communications have badly damaged the confidence and morale of our personnel and created a poor baseline for implementation."
The paper says that senior officers warned of the need to engage services personnel in the process but were ignored. That decision was "clearly a mistake".
The leaked paper was written by those overseeing the review at the MoD, chaired by Tom McKane, its strategy director and one of the most senior civilian officials.
It casts doubt on the NSC's contribution, saying earlier meetings "did not provide the guidance the department required". Its members took too long to understand "complex" defence issues, the report says. The discussions on threats and interests provided little useful guidance, it added.
According to the Daily Telegraph, the paper also says that not enough was done to consult close allies like the US.
A consultation was carried out but responses were received "only as decisions were being taken and collated only as they were being confirmed," the paper says.
The board suggested that another "six to nine months" should have been spent on "high-level military judgments" deciding which forces, weapons and equipment would be needed.
The board also found:
• The MoD as a whole "did not fully understand – or accept" the scale of the cuts it was facing. The review should have started with "a more hard-nosed description of the financial challenges".
• The armed forces had no "meaningful internal thinking" on how to deliver major cuts and effectively blocked "radical" options like restructuring the army.
• Some decisions made by Fox's team were "potentially ambiguous and remain under dispute", partly because proper notes were not kept.