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Cameron cocks up UK's defences - and betrays Afghan troops

Cuts vital helicopters, fails to grip MoD. Abysmal

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'My advisors told me to'. What, you mean those guys with a massive conflict of interest?

So a modernising Prime Minister would surely have shut down the Tornado bomber fleet, saving colossal sums right off. Any bombing we need done in Afghanistan for the next decade could have been done by the Harrier (we know this is true, as until recently the Harrier was the only jet we had there) supplemented by the Eurofighter, some examples of which can now drop smartbombs perfectly well.

But "the advice" was to scrap Harrier and keep Tornado, Mr Cameron tells us. This advice will have come, of course, from the outgoing chief of defence staff - an RAF man - and the head of the RAF. This is like taking advice on how much insurance you need from a telesales operator, and speaks poorly of Mr Cameron's ability to resist being manipulated by the Sir Humphreys (in this case the Air Marshal Sir Humphreys) of Whitehall. It's another case where the armed forces will not, contrary to what Mr Cameron says, move into the modern world and leave the Cold War era behind them.

The cake-slice and jobs-for-boys appeasement approach has continued into the Royal Navy part of Mr Cameron's plans. The Royal Navy will retain no less than 19 largely pointless frigates and destroyers, and its witless plans for new Type 26 frigates - basically retreads of existing Type 23s - will move ahead.

This will have been immensely popular across most of the RN, whose wildly overmanned officer corps is dependent on there being plenty of frigates and destroyers for any hope of promotion - or indeed continued employment. But it's not just Cold War thinking - it's early Cold War thinking. As soon as capable antisubmarine helicopters came into service in the 1970s the antisubmarine frigate was obsolete: as soon as capable sea-skimming missiles appeared in the 1980s the case for air-defence destroyers was fatally weakened.

Far from developing new frigates a bold, modernising Prime Minister might well have laid down plans to supersede such ships altogether with cheap pocket heli-carriers armed with cruise missiles. A sensibly prudent one might have retained as many as 10 in the meantime, just in case. The timid Mr Cameron, unable to face down Admiral Sir Humphrey, has done almost nothing other than get rid of a few antique Type 22s and 42s, long overdue for the boneyard in any case.

What the navy actually needs for real wars of every type - as opposed to the Cold War of the 1960s - is proper aircraft carriers and amphibious ships. Both new aircraft carriers will be built, as Mr Cameron had no option to cancel them. But the first, HMS Queen Elizabeth, will go straight into mothballs as soon as she is built. The second, Prince of Wales, will be enhanced to include catapult launch and arrested landing, and a force of F-35C tailhook stealth jets will be bought to operate from her.

Mr Cameron implied in his speech yesterday that there would be "an operational carrier", and the accompanying documents also imply this - in effect stating that the Royal Navy will always have a strike carrier up and running, ready to respond to events around the world. So far so good.

The smart choice: opportunity from uncertainty

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