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Andrew barnes

A well balanced article, highlighting the link between foreign aid spending and defence. By diverting a small amount of money, we would not only be able to provide a better response to natural and man made disasters, but we would alleviate pressure on our already over stretched armed forces, specifically the Royal Navy, which is often in the vanguard during such incidents. Moreover, the money would be a welcome boost to UK defence, such as the shipbuilding industry, which employees many apprentices. This would surely be a win win for any UK government and easy to sell to the public?


Too sensible to happen, but one can hope….
More DfID money should also be spent on important infrastructure (ports, airports etc) in British Overseas Territories, especially those of strategic value for humanitarian aid and promoting the national interest….


A very fair and well balanced article with very reasonable suggestions.

Could you send this [tweet, or what ever social media works] to prospective candidates at the forthcoming election, if they agree with the sentiments then at least like minded individuals, such as us, can make an informed judgement about their candidacy . If they disagree, then they are, for me, out of the contest.


as a ps

May I suggest slight refinements to the ideas …

Unlikely any C17s will be available for purchase [hasn’t the production line closed, with maybe one ‘whitetail’ left], US might be willing to sell one or two second hand [ they have over 200] BUT better still, help our German allies, with a post BREXIT gesture, and buy a few of their A400s that they dont want [as a very reasonable rate] and would otherwise be stuck with…

Increase the number of ships for the MARS SSS from 3 to 5, with Ship 4 and 5 being the dedicated HADR first respondents, [rotating one on, one off like the Albion-class] and based in the Caribbean. This will achieve some economy of scale, too, with the bigger purchase, unit cost should be lower…

I have ALWAYS said that every penny of DfID money spent should first wipe its face in the UK economy, building a hospital ship [ the Edith Cavell] in one of our own shipyards is a must, to boost the local economy … The ship could then offer the chattering class their children an alternative for their Gap Year, where they pay to swab the deck. Medical Students can serve a term on board and the NHS can encourage all their senior administrators to volunteer one weekend a year free.

It is criminal that those 12 Merlin are sitting in some warehouse doing nothing …

David Stephen

I think you are right about the C-17s and maybe the A400s as well but in regard to those 12 Merlin airframes, are they still in stowrage? I was under the impression that some if not all of them had been partialy or fully canabilized for the HM2 and HC4 upgrade programmes. If I am wrong and they are still usefull then I would say getting them operational would be the first priority. Does anyone have any concrete information regarding the current state of the 12?


By all accounts those Merlin are not fit for conversion to the HM2 variant with hard landings and other woes leading them to becoming Christmas Trees for the rest of the fleet and have been gutted of everything useful. Apparently it would be easier and cheaper to buy new Merlin off the line then bring those 12 back into service.

David Stephen

That is exactly what I feared. A real shame but I dont think any more Merlin is going to happen, buying even a 1/2 dozen and we wont get much change from £200 million. On the other hand £200 million plus whatever it costs to fit 4-6 Chinook with refueling equipment is a lot less than £1 billion for 10-12 V-22.

Kiwi Matt

I certainly admire the enthusiasm from this author, but several your proposals are simply not realistic. It does not make sense from a public policy point of view for a large chunk of one department’s budget to be transferred to another, to fund the annual operating costs of regular defence units and their associated equipment. Especially when the equipment & personnel in question will not be used for foreign aid/relief operations for most the time, e.g. the annual cost of operating the Bay class Auxiliary Landing ships.

It would be much wiser to set aside a separate budget for the MOD (funded by DFID) for specific defence operations that support the UK Government’s ODA objectives. This could take various forms, from the RAF being allocated funding for a specific amount of manpower hours, maintenance, and other deployment costs associated with responding to humanitarian crises, to peacekeeping missions for the Army (which is largely the case now), and reimbursing the Royal Navy for the logistics support and supplies they provide during disaster relief efforts. This would mean that the MOD/Armed Forces would not usually be forced to dip into their own already stretched budget when these events occur, and it would free up some existing money to pay for other core operating expenses. This approach has been trialled to some extent with the Conflict, Stability and Security Fund, as the DFID contributes 40% of its overall budget.

Your suggestion of upgrading some of the RAF’s Chinook fleet with anti-corrosion materials and foldable rotors so they can operate in a marine environment makes total sense, and given the added capability provided by such a move, it would significantly enhance aid relief operations. The government could probably get away with the aid budget picking up the whole tab too.

The idea of constructing a hospital ship to be operated by the Royal Fleet Auxiliary certainly has merit, but I think that an idea like this needs to be bolder. If you’re going to construct a vessel which you intend to be on standby for most of the year, then it certainly does not make sense to build just one. If the UK Government wants some operational flexibility, then two boats should be ordered at a minimum, and they should also have a duel role. Ideally a ship of this class would not only have a hospital on-board, but it should also be able to store a significant amount of food and basic supplies, and have an inbuilt amphibious capability to bring these ashore. Essentially, you’d end up with a design that looks a lot like an amphibious transport dock and of a similar size to the San Antonio-class, but if you want the vessel to be effective in disaster relief operations around the globe then it would need to be this large. It would also do wonders for Scotland’s shipbuilding industry and wipe the smirk off a number SNP politicians I’m sure!

And finally, I don’t believe that spending more money on expanding the C-17 fleet would be an effective use of taxpayer dosh. Firstly, the aircraft is no longer in production, and I seriously doubt that any country would be willing to offer a number second hand Globemasters for sale. It’s also a more expensive beast to operate than a Hercules or Atlas too, so it would be more practical for the UK to purchase additional A400M units, and the extra helicopters needed to operate any new RFA amphibious relief ships.

The debate over Britain’s aid budget and the current Conservative government’s pledge to spend at least 0.7% of gross national income annually on overseas development aid, is a political distraction that has been mainly manufactured by tabloid newspapers and some defence hawks. The fact is, it makes sense for the UK to contribute a significant amount of funding to overseas aid given the humanitarian situation that exists in many parts of the globe. It is as much about national self-interest as it is about altruism. The UK defence budget is under pressure because the past four administrations have run a flawed procurement policy, and political leaders have not been honest about the level of taxation required to fund public services to a reasonable standard post GFC, and this includes defence. When the Treasury is forecast to borrow £58.3bn over the coming financial year, something has got to give, and diverting 20% of the DFID’s budget will not make the defence budget sustainable in the long term.

Just my thoughts from Down Under anyway!

Bloke down the pub

Contrary to popular conception, the number of people in the world living in extreme poverty has been falling for decades. This is almost entirely due to economic development in third world countries, brought about by simple things like the commercial expansion of mobile phone networks. Government aid has been a sticking plaster to provide the illusion that we are doing something to help, and thus ease our consciences. In reality, the aid we give distorts local markets, making it uneconomic for local businesses to compete. The arbitrary 0.7% target should be abandoned, and our foreign aid restricted to emergency relief in response to natural disasters. As the article proposes, a proportion of that response would be via the armed forces, which should be adequately funded out of the budget.


I am going to be contrarian like Kiwi Matt and say this is an impractical idea wrapped up with some fantasy fleet assets that will take funding away from more needed programs and into Steel that will sit along side rusting!

Firstly transferring funds from one department to another is at best a sticking plaster solution and could exacerbate issues if it is then put into building ships that we can’t crew or maintain (a common problem with the Arm Chair Admirals I’m afraid). To be effective the transfer would have to be very year and any fantasy fleet purchases will have to be fitted into an ongoing budget uplift.

Now rather than transferring you could just reduce the annual international aid budget and increase the annual defence budget but politicians don’t like the press from that kind of thing.

Picking out a few ideas that are problematic or could be done better if tackled in a different manner:

“Fund the replacement and running costs of RFA Argus . Old and in need of replacement, this ship has a hospital on board and provides aviation training for the RN. She is another proven aid platform that could be replaced with a merchant ship conversion at low cost.”

Is Argus in need of replacement? She is nearing the end of her life but does she need a like for like replacement? The role she was originally purchased for which as a helicopter training ship is not particularly necessary now. The RN has been using other platforms and the vastly improved simulators available to do this. They tried using her as an LPH but she never did that well and she had the casualty reception roll tagged on, with millions spent on making her a vessel adequate in that role. I think there is a better far cheaper and more efficient solution but more on that in a moment.

“Build a dedicated hospital ship. We have already made the strong case for a ship that conforms to the Geneva Convention rules on hospital ships and provides free healthcare overseas in this article.”

A terrible idea and anybody who touts it should be chased naked through the streets by a mob wielding fish! Again this is the worst kind of fantasy fleet Arm Chair Admiralism, it is a terrible idea for the simple reason it would spend most of the time being under utilised sitting alongside sucking up funding personnel to keep a vessel that has single role going! It would be millstone around the defence budget! NO JUST NO! SILLY PERSON!

“Expand MoD owned sea-lift. It should be noted that merchant ships with significant capacity are usually needed to bring in large scale supplies after the initial emergency response is provided by the military. The MoD has 4 Point class Ro-Ro vessels on charter which are used for transporting military equipment overseas. This capacity could be expanded by chartering or building additional ships. New money could also contribute to the cost of the 3 planned Fleet Solid Support Ships which provide food, ammunition and spares to the RN at sea.Going back to the Argus replacement issue this is where we need to think more out of the box and look to have capabilities that are flexible. Rather than an Argus replacement or a dedicated wasteful Hospital ship the best solution imho is a fourth.”

This has merit but we go back to the same old issue we haven’t got the bipedal flesh bags to crew a large increase in vessel numbers or the budget to keep it all going even robbing it from other departments. We need to look back at what we can do with what we have got and procure equipment that is flexible. To that end I think we need to radically rethink what we want capability wise and then procure equipment that can do it without tying up crew and ships unnecessarily. Going back to my alternative ideas about Argus let’s have a think about what we want to do:

1) We want an at sea casualty reception/hospital facility
2) We would like an increase in sealift
3) We have lost the forward repair capabilities of Diligence
4) We only have a limited amount of budget, personnel to crew any vessels out of the current pool and can’t sustain lots of new hulls

Here is my solution:

A) RFA Argus is retired as planned
B) Four rather than three Fleet solid support ships are procured
C) The extra Dry Stores ship should be no different from her three sisters
D) A palletised casualty reception/hospital facility is built that is scalable and keep quickly installed on any vessel RFA, RN or civilian that has a large vehicle deck
E) A palletised at sea forward repair facility that is scalable and keep quickly installed on any vessel RFA, RN or civilian that has a large vehicle deck

With that solution we get an uplift in at sea transport without a crewing impact, we have a hospital and repair facilities that can be put on any of the new dry stores ships or the Bay and Point classes. If we are in a conflict situation that means we can’t tie up ships for those facilities we use STUFT and commandeer civilian vessels with a suitable vehicle deck. Four standard dry stores ships replacing the remaining Fort class, RFA Argus and RFA Diligence is far more sensible use of funds that will better support our international humanitarian aid programs. On a side note the new dry stores ships need to be as close machinery and system wise as possible to the Tide class ensuring better use of resources by pushing commonality within the RFA.


In my view there is no case at all for British tax payers money going to so called ‘third world’ nations with missile programmes and advanced jet fighters, while Britain’s own Armed Forces, are being destroyed by Government cuts, lack of totally vital kit, lack of money and lack of manpower.

UK Armed Forces need a minimum 3% of GDP on Defence, just to try to make up for recent cuts.The first duty of any Government is the protection of her people.


Agreed. We’re actually giving money to China! The World’s Second Largest Economy…

Anton Deque

The foreign aid budget needs reviewing. It seems strange at the very least for the U.K. to be making donations to India for example, an emerging regional power and nuclear armed country. Focussing aid on projects (education, health and security) rather than countries is I hope being done already. There is also a clear need for the British people to see what happens to the foreign aid and who benefits. The feeling I experience too often is the money is siphoned off Time and again the really big international disasters receive a generous response from the British people. I do not think accusations that a trim and agile foreign aid budget represents a turning inwards is helpful. Our armed forces have a truly magnificent record of going to the assistance of distressed people around the world.


I am flabbergasted at the stupidity of the UK in setting the overseas aid funding at an ever bloated .7% of GDP. With one of the fastest growing GDP’s we are diverting resources from ourselves at an ever increasing rate when we have one of the fastest growing Debts and ongoing Deficit Shortfalls in the world. Madness.
This is very poor management of resources and shows the Chancellors complete incompetence. I thought we should be reducing the % of Government spend as a %of GDP.
All that before we even consider the poor old UK taxpayer who is having this expropriated from their schools hospitals and even our defence forces budgets. Incredible.
As an accountant I would think it wholely appropriate to charge one department for Services given to another. Meaning at least 20% of the Aid budget should be charged by Defence who largely enable it. Therefore I would also think it entirely appropriate for a wholesome proportion of Capability that enables said aid budget to function and for disaster aid to be delivered where needed, to be shared. At present because this gifting is driven largely by virtue signalling and delusions of it reaching those for whom it is intended, it should be open to proper Auditing and Scrutiny; at a level which at present its not. Why not?

Trevor Hollingsbee

The MOD/DFID would do well to look at the Royal Australian Navy’s brand new multi role aviation training ship SYCAMORE, based on a large OPV , to replace ARGUS , although the RN/RFA would probably want a bigger hull.