More expense? Necessary? Well spent?

I've just read a news report on the arrival of the RAF's first two stealth fighters. Apparently each plane costs over £70million. There are plans to buy 48 of these by 2023. Now forgive my crude maths (I only have a university degree in the subject) but that's £3.3billion. Eventually the aim is to have 138 (9.7billion). Am I the only one who says what the...?

Now I am not totally against maintaining a strong military to defend the country but who are we going to fight that would mean we need 138 of the latest generation of warplane? All the countries that come to mind when thinking about that question own nuclear weapons so war with those nations is insanity anyway.

I realise that there have been plenty of small skirmishes we were involved in the last few years and that there will be many more instances when Britain needs to stand up and play its part in ensuring the safety of others in the years to come (and hopefully not many instances of the war mongering we've seen in the past - none would be nice but I'm not that naïve.). But do we really need 138 of these incredibly expensive planes? Are the enemies we are going to face possess weapons advanced enough that we will need them? And need that many of them? I can't see it..

Now I know I might be being naïve here but I'm not sure this is the best way of spending money in the difficult times ahead. You may have already got this idea of my feeling from an earlier blog posting when I argued against spending an estimated £50billion (more likely in my opinion to be in excess of £10billion) on replacing Trident.

Now I am not going to come out totally against military spending. I happen to believe that the 2% of GDP target for NATO members is not unreasonable. What I'm arguing against here is how nearly £10billion is being spent. Are these planes worth their cost? Well, when it comes to technology and military effectiveness I have no doubt these are cutting edge but there other ways we could spend money - many of which would see the spending stay in the UK. These planes are made in the USA and so its money going out of our economy. There are ways we could maintain our commitment to NATO without just shipping billions out of the country.

For one thing there is the size of the army. We now have less than 90,000 regular soldiers in the UK army. Now modern warfare is different to the wars fought in the past but I've heard many military people say this number is too small. Increasing the size of the army would be one way of keeping our NATO promise and would benefit the economy as a good deal of that expenditure would not leave these shores.

Likewise there is the fact we could develop our tech internally. After all the Eurofighter, for all its delays, is a great aircraft. Surely we could produce another one in Europe, one that would mean more money into the coffers of British businesses.

I feel we have to look a little more inwardly when it comes to future spending. I'm not suggesting we build a metaphorical wall around our shores. My suggestion for developing a European plane in a similar way to the Eurofighter implies cooperation. That plane was built by the UK in conjunction with Germany, Italy and Spain. But just going outside our borders and buying that many American made planes doesn't make total sense to me.

And before you think I am anti-USA let me assure you I am not. I consider the special relationship Britain has with the USA to be incredibly important to our future. But you can maintain such a relationship without neglecting your own industry. And we need that industry going forward.

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