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1981 - Nott Review

The review which took place under Sir John Nott's tenure at the MoD ran from January to June 1981. It was conducted in the international context of a Soviet military build-up and the domestic context of a severe economic downturn and the introduction of cash planning to control public spending. In the Report on the 1981 Statement on the Defence Estimates (SDE) : "The Secretary of State in his introduction says that the right balance must be re-established "between inevitable resource constraints and ... necessary defence requirements". In other words, the Government's commitments to spend money on defence have outstripped the availability of funds ..."

The Nott review confirmed the decision to proceed with the purchase of the Trident system from the USA to replace Polaris as the UK's strategic nuclear deterrent. The Territorial Army and the other reserve forces were to be merged and rebuilt to meet the requirement for home defence, which was also to be reinforced by a new fighter aircraft (eventually the Eurofighter programme). The British Army of the Rhine was to be held at the level of 55,000 but to be re-equipped. The main cuts under the Nott review were to fall on the Navy which, although it took on the Trident submarines, was to lose around one fifth of their 60 destroyers and frigates. Despite the supposed abandonment of the carrier program, three so-called 'through deck cruisers' had been built, designated as the Invincible Class. One of these three carriers and the two amphibious ships Fearless and Intrepid were also to be cut. Out-of-area, or expeditionary, warfare capacity was therefore to be further significantly reduced. With Trident, greater reliance was once again to be placed on the strategic nuclear deterrent as the counter to the Soviet threat (together with an increased submarine fleet), and the overall force structure emphasised the UK's increasing expectation of acting only as part of NATO for overseas expeditionary operations.

These proposals were rapidly scotched by the experience of the Falklands conflict in the Spring of 1982, which was commented on by our predecessors in three separate Reports. In the White Paper on the lessons of that conflict, published in December 1982, it was announced that the 5th Infantry Brigade was to become an airborne force including an all-arms assault parachute capability of two battalion groups (withdrawn under the Mason Review); Fearless and Intrepid were to be retained in service. The third aircraft carrier (HMS Invincible) was to be retained, and the number of destroyers and frigates held at around 55. v The White Paper concluded by signalling a return to 'flexibility and mobility', but as an extra rather than a central feature of force structure : "The many useful lessons we have learned from the Falklands Campaign ... do not invalidate the policy we have adopted following last year's defence programme review. The Soviet Union-its policies and its military capabilities-continues to pose the main threat to the security of the United Kingdom and our response to this threat must have the first call on our resources. Following the Falklands Campaign, we shall now be devoting substantially more resources to defence than had been previously planned. In allocating these, we shall be taking measures which will strengthen our general defence capability by increasing the flexibility, mobility and readiness of all three Services for operations in support of NATO and elsewhere."

However, by 1985, Parliament was commenting : "Our concern that there might be difficulties in managing the Defence Budget into the 1990s has ... turned into the strongest suspicion that there will indeed be ... cancellations, slowing-down of acquisitions and the running-on of equipment beyond its economic life-span. The evidence we have received from the Ministry has not allayed our fears ... A likely consequence is that important issues will be decided as a result of short-term financial considerations and not in the context of a long-term view of defence requirements or by weighing priorities in a sensible manner. We have drawn attention in this Report to substantial pressure developing on the defence budget over the coming years, and have no doubt that this will require some hard decisions. We are told that there is no immediate need for a major defence review; but we fear that the cumulative effect of managing the defence budget in the manner endorsed in the White Paper may result in a defence review by stealth."

This call for a defence review was to be a constant theme of the Defence Committee over the next decade, but was to remain unanswered until 1997. The government preferred to adopt, in the face of a dramatically changed international security environment, a process of almost continuous review.

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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 03:08:05 ZULU