April 25, 2009:
Britain's military, after decades of funding neglect, may finally be getting a shot in the arm, sort of. The British Army has suffered from chronic lack of money since before the end of the Cold War and had subsequently experienced manpower and equipment shortages as a result. Normally this would break a lesser military, but the Brits have always been able to rely on their primary strength, their professionalism, to see them through the day. The British military, particularly the Army and Royal Marines, have high levels of esprit du corps and regimental standards of readiness. They train as they would fight and so on.
The UK government is planning to increase its defense spending substantially in the next year. For 2010, the military is hoping to receive over $5.1 billion in extra funds to pay personnel, purchase new equipment and spare parts, The extra money to be allocated for equipment upgrades and purchases alone is estimated to be at least $1 billion, money that the services, the Air Force in particular, desperately needs. Unfortunately, it is unclear as to whether this boost in military spending is going to become a regular thing. This seems unlikely and British officials have hinted that the substantial increases are a one-off deal designed specifically to aid Britain's overseas war efforts for the time being. Concerns are being voiced that once British troops are withdrawn from Afghanistan and Iraq permanently, whenever that may be, the services' equipment and salary funding will once again be reduced to dangerous levels. To make matters worse, Britain is facing a problem balancing its own books due to a large defense overspend, again brought on by the significant deployments abroad. Extra money is needed for not only salaries and new equipment, but to ensure that the military does not, once again, spend more money than is allocated to it to cover operational costs.
During the last few decades, the British have luckily been able to get by and be successful despite the dismal state of their defense budget. During the Falklands War in 1982, Britain experienced the same problems with its forces operating on a shoestring after massive defense cuts, with the Navy being hit particularly hard. But the British consistently have extremely high standards of discipline and training that helped them stomp the Argentines during the conflict in the South Atlantic. In many ways their adversaries were better equipped but lacked the skill and competency of their British foes. However, the difference between the Falklands, Desert Storm, and the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, is time. The Falklands war lasted only a few weeks, and the first Gulf War was extremely short as well, meaning the British could get away with substituting skill for all of the other shortcomings brought on by huge defense cuts. But Britain has been operating in Afghanistan almost as long as the Americans now and the strain of the long protracted war is making itself felt. Whether Britain learns its lesson and begins to permanently maintain its armed forces better in the future remains to be seen. Britain, unfortunately, is learning the hard way that future conflicts won't be as short and sweet as the Falklands.