London: Britain’s Armed Forces are unable to protect the country from a full-scale attack, the former head of the Joint Forces Command has warned.
General Sir Richard Barrons, who retired in April, said that civil servants are focused on “skinning” budgets rather than tackling “profoundly difficult” strategic challenges.
In a memo to Defence Minister Michael Fallon, Sir Richard added that the Ministry of Defence has worked to “preserve the shop window” but the Armed Forces’ capability had been “withered by design”.
The warning comes despite the Government’s decision to increase spending by nearly £5bn by 2020/21 and to meet NATO’s target to spend 2% of GDP on defence for the rest of the decade.
Sir Richard said: “There is a sense that modern conflict is ordained to be only as small and as short term as we want to afford – and that is absurd.
“The failure to come to terms with this will not matter at all if we are lucky in the way the world happens to turn out but it could matter a very great deal if even a few of the risks now at large conspire against the UK.”
The memo, seen by the Financial Times, singles out Russia as a possible threat to British defences.
Sir Richard said: “UK air defence now consists of the (working) Type 45 (destroyers), enough ground-based air defence to protect roughly Whitehall only, and RAF fast jets.
“Neither the UK homeland nor a deployed force – let alone both concurrently – could be protected from a concerted Russian air effort.”
The former Joint Forces Command chief also raised concerns that Britain’s Armed Forces are reliant on small numbers of expensive equipment, such as new aircraft carriers, which “we cannot afford to use fully, damage or lose”.
The warning comes a day after the MoD announced that it is finalising a £30m deal to develop a hi-tech laser weapon.
In a statement, the MoD said: “Our defence review last year put in place a plan for more ships, planes and troops at readiness.
“That plan was backed by a rising defence budget.
“And, crucially, it was backed by all of the service chiefs.”