Editor’s Column: The Month in Defence – April 2011

25 April 2011 (Last Updated June 1st, 2020 13:57)

Despite budget cuts, the escalating war in Libya is throwing the shop window wide, leading to a flurry of debuts. Defence editor Berenice Baker casts an eye over the key military news that hit the headlines over the last month.

Editor’s Column: The Month in Defence – April 2011

Military action in Libya has escalated from civil unrest through the UN's introduction of a no-fly zone into a full-scale civil war, and coverage dominated the world's media. The month began with speculation on whether or not it would be legal for the UN to arm the rebel forces.

The point of contention came between UN Resolution 1970, which imposed an embargo preventing arms being imported into or out of Libya, and Resolution 1973, which promoted 'all necessary measures' to establish a no-fly zone over Libya.

To get round this problem, one proposal from the UK is to supply Libyan rebels with non-lethal weaponry to help fight President Muammar Gadaffi's forces.

To date, UN forces have limited action to air strikes. Meanwhile on the ground, the hostility has escalated with the bombardment of the strategically important city of Misrata by government forces turning into a lethal deadlock.

Most recently, the UK National Security Council decided to expand its existing diplomatic team in Benghazi to include a military liaison advisory team. Drawn from experiences military officers, the role of the contingent is to advice the National Transitional Council (NTC), a political body representing the rebel forces.

"Some ministries of defence have elaborated on specific cuts to be made over the year to meet targets for savings."

Coping with cuts

In a month when many countries entered a new financial year, some ministries of defence took the opportunity to elaborate on specific cuts to be made over the year to meet targets for savings.

The UK announced the first swathe of military redundancies resulting from the Strategic Defence and Spending Review (SDSR). In September 2011, 1,000 army and 1,600 navy posts will be cut, with a quarter of all Fleet Air Arm fast jet pilots being laid off.

The RAF has already announced plans to make an initial 1,000 staff redundant, and the Brigade of Gurkhas will lose 50 soldiers.

Cancelled military programmes are a massive sink for government money. The US disclosed a number of ways in which it had ameliorated the problem by reusing technology developed for programmes that are then abandoned. For example, the non-line-of-sight cannons, developed for the future combat system's 155mm artillery weapon programme, are being harvested for upgrades to the Paladin tank-mounted howitzer.

The Netherlands revealed where it would make cuts to achieve budget reduction targets. These include major cuts to its current and planned naval fleet and disbanding two Royal Netherlands Army tank battalions will be disbanded.

Concern was widespread about the cost of involvement in the Libyan conflict in the midst of an economic downturn. The US Air Force revealed it has been spending close to $4m every day to participate in the military action in Libya, including the provision of 50 fighter jets, 40 support aircraft and munitions.

"Cancelled military programmes are a massive sink for government money."

The total cost to the US for the first ten days spent in Libya – 19-28 March – is estimated to be $550m.

Bucking the trend for cutbacks, China released a white paper revealing that the People's Liberation Army is investing heavily in new and high-tech weaponry and equipment. Russia has also announced plans to boost the countries defence, which include doubling its production of ballistic missiles from 2013, and undertaking a massive naval modernisation programme.

The shop window

Libya provided an unexpected shop window for recently introduced military aircraft. Making their debut were the Eurofighter Typhoon and the Dassault Aviation Rafale, both of which have been involved in air strikes since the beginning of the action. Both are on the shortlist for a number of high-value contracts and get free and invaluable advertising on the evening news. One of their main rivals, the Saab Gripen, joined the action shortly afterwards.

Israel unveiled its two new high-tech defence systems: the Trophy active protection shield for tanks saw its first battlefield use, intercepting and destroying a rocket propelled grenade. It automatically detected the source and fired back.

The country also deployed its experimental Iron Dome missile shield, a $200m anti-rocket system that can intercept short-range rockets with small warheads. Each battery can protect an area of 100km² and Israel is planning to acquire further batteries. The two first batteries to be deployed have intercepted eight rockets fired from the Gaza strip.