Alex Massie

Robert Gates does the Royal Navy a favour

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TNR asks defence analysts Who Won and Who Lost in Bob Gates's realignment of Pentagon spending priorities? One party that doesn't get a mention is the Royal Navy, yet the curtailment of the F-22 fighter programme and the allocation of increased resources to the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter must be considered good news for the Navy and the Royal Air Force.

Given the (intolerable) pressures on the MoD budget the sooner (and the cheaper) the F-35 is developed past a point of no return, the better. Granted, it seems unlikely (in the present climate) that Britain will really buy as many as 150 of the aircraft, but the development of the JSF remains essential to Britain's future defence capability. Without it the new carriers - the Queen Elizabeth and the Prince of Wales - won't have any planes to fly and without the planes there's obviously not much use in having the carriers.

No new carriers in turn dramatically reduces the UK's ability to project force. Consequently, the sooner more money is pumped into the JSF the better it must be for the MoD which, probably correctly, must still fear that the politicians will, as so often before, consider the MoD a sitting duck when it comes to cutting government expenditure.

Indeed, I suspect that there's a decent argument to be made that if future defence spending can have either a replacement for Trident or the carriers and JSF then we should opt for the latter.

Meanwhile, rather predictably, a Pentagon budget increase of 4% this year leads AEI's Gary Schmitt and Tom Donnelly to accuse the Obama administration of "gutting" the US defence budget. The notion that the US, which will spend $533bn on defence this year (not including the costs of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan) faces a serious threat from any other conventional power is, um, a stretch. The USAF is still going to have 187 of the $140m a pop F-22 fighters, but the idea that it's worth spending any amount of money to prevent the prospect of a single plane being shot down is absurd. It's important to consider pilots' welfare of course, but not at any cost.

But again, the US which currently spends roughly 50% of the global defence budget, is not being "disarmed" no matter what the frothier commentary on the right might suggest. Only in a world gone mad can increases in defence spending be reported as cuts. Sadly, that's the world we live in.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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