LONDON — With combat operations in Afghanistan due to wind down over the next two years, training will shift away from the counterinsurgency slant of recent years and back toward tackling more conventional scenarios. It is precisely this type of training in which simulation provides a real opportunity to give troops realistic exercises while simultaneously cutting costs.
Will senior officers and industry be able to persuade their political masters that investment now can mean reduced costs later? Don’t hold your breath.
Observers say that British Army training seems to be taking a hit, along with other sectors such as equipment and support, in the heavy cuts currently assailing the U.K. defense budget.
This is made worse by the fact that the budget in coming years will be heavily skewed by several big-ticket equipment items, such as the purchase of two aircraft carriers and the carriers’ force of F-35 Joint Strike Fighters.
Without those projects, the defense budget would still be under some tension but could probably cope. Include them, however, and other parts of the budget are liable to suffer badly. And with an estimated 70 percent to 80 percent of the budget already committed to existing programs, there is little room to divert funds into training.
John Louth, senior research fellow at the U.K.’s Royal United Services Institute think tank, believes that the U.K. training budget “may grow slightly at the margins, but not at the expense of equipment.”
If the threat situation remains high, or changes for the worse, it will likely require new kit.
“You need more than guys and gals — no matter how well-trained — to deal with it,” Louth said.
Traditionally, when pushed into a budgetary corner, armed forces will opt for new equipment rather than training.
So what might bring about an improvement in U.K. and European training budgets? Probably only a drastic worsening of international tensions and the need to prepare thousands of troops for deployment. Or, to quote former British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan, when asked for the reason behind the collapse of his government in 1963: “Events, dear boy, events.”