Re Defense Procurement
"Some would say that when the government takes money out of the UK economy in taxes, it has an obligation to put it back through spending, not send it abroad."
Really? Loads of British government contracts involve money going abroad. Every IT contract to EDS or IBM involves large foreign owned companies. What makes defence so special? Apparently the desire to make sure that people don't have the kit they need.
" Defense spending on UK products represents a stimulus to the british economy, maintaining british jobs and developing high-technology industry. Defense R&D in particular is an investment in science in general, not just in the military."
Simply no. Current mega-budget items are things like Nimrod (a must for anorak 1950s aircraft enthusiasts) or aircraft carriers. Neither has a real world application. Look, its been a British government fallacy for years, doubtless in some drug induced haze an Admiral fantasises that the Nimrod boys will leave their ancient comet and invent a better DVD player. Its simply not going to happen. Lets take a test - all the readers that have PS2 or PS3 or something similar at home go "Whoo". Everyone with an SA-80 go "yee-hoo" I'm willing to bet that there are a lot more "Whoo" out there,
To put it another way - Japan imports much of her military kit and she's been pretty damn innovative (although she does also have a number of US made helicopters built by Kawasaki). Admittedly Japan doesn't go in for massive military operations.
"Equally pertinant is the fact that American kit is cheap because US companies are able to achieve greater economies of scale by flogging the stuff around the world. "
So by your argument it appears that nearly every other country on the planet agrees that US kit is a lot better than their British competitors. Who are we to stand in the way of the bulk of international opinion? Might as well get something decent for our money.
Look, the SA-80 was bought by only the poor suckers in Jamaica, Mozambique and Zimbabwe. In the case of at least 1 of these the likelihood of the military using their weapons on people who actually have guns is nearly zero so the SA-80 is a perfectly respectable weapon for that purpose. Ethical people will be glad to hear that the SA-80 was given as part of the foreign aid - at least the poor suckers (or their population) didn't have to pay for them.
"If we sold more stuff abroad, and the US less, the price differential would not be so noticeable."
Hm... SA-80A2 rifle costs around $2000 a pop (we have around 200k of them, at a cost of £450m), the M-16A2 $400 at list price, the AK-47 is available worldwide from $50 upwards. The M-16 is considered to be a highly capable rifle, the AK-47 and her many variants are legendary. The SA-80 is, at best lets face it, slowly recovering from a reputation as a death trap ("The SA-80 is a lethal weapon. Often to its user"). A recent test firing showed it to be highly reliable, but sources in Afghanistan and Iraq still say that the weapon is deeply flaky.
"Besides, it's one thing to buy US parts because they're cheaper, it's quite another to lack the ability to produce them yourself. The DIS is designed to maintain capabilities, not necessarily to produce everything in the UK. "
So we can go to war with the Americans? Cough, gag, gasp. My money is on the Yanks. In fact, I surrender now. Look, the reality is that Iranians have F-14's flying nearly 3 decades after they broke military ties with the Americans and that includes time spent fighting a massive ground war, neither of which the British have done. The argument that we need to keep throwing masses of money away to keep some navvies on-line in case we decide in a mad moment to burn Washington down again is in reality just an argument that the Iranians are, apparently, a lot smarter than the RAF techies. Its possible, sure, but I doubt it.
The reality is that all this spending money, which was once fine when we were rich, is that we want the ability to re-enact the massive failure that was Suez. That the military in the UK is able to get away with this kind of delusion is a sign of how inept our politicians are.
"Maintaining capabilities occasionally requires buying the more expensive option."
Sure. But the UK always goes expensive, and never gets the capability it needs. Buying the better US helicopter gets us more effective kit, sooner and - for the same money - more helicopters. Going the Merlin route gets nothing immediately, gets less in the future, and gets fewer helicopters.
If you mean we spend more to get less is the same as maintaining capabilities the question is capability for what? My guess is more waste. Each job in the UK defence industry is subsidised to the tune of, give or take, £15,000 a year. The dole payment for these useless workers is not £15k a year.
Of course you might like the fact that the British military pays too much, doesn't get what it needs, and faces cash crises like 2001 when entire infantry regiments were eliminated to pay for the worthless kit that they had ordered in previous years (Eurofighter, we're looking at you - we might note that the highly capable Sea Harrier was dumped for the Eurofighter).
"Free trade is all very well, but the world does not show any signs of becoming a peaceful utopia any time soon, so there are certain things you need to be able to produce for yourself."
Such as? We buy in an awful lot of kit, we spend an awful lot of money and money is very tight right now. The UK cannot afford to have one system for each service to play in a particular game. The obvious thing to do is stop wasting money on prestige projects and military stupidity. An example? Lets take something like anti-submarine warfare. We have, on the books or currently awaited:
Merlin Mk1 helicopters at a cost of £4-5bn
Nimrod MRA4 patrol planes £3-£4bn
Attack submarines £3bn
Total cost: £12 to 16bn. Thats a lot of equipment that could be of use in Iraq or Afghanistan. Or we could waste it re-enacting the Battle of the Atlantic.
So who will this kit be used on? Well the most likely opponents are the Iranians. They have 3 Kilo-class submarines.costing in total around £400m. In other words we're spending some 30 to 40 times what the Iranians are to deal with a threat that doesn't really exist. Nice. Welcome to bankruptcy.