Whether or not the Conservatives fulfil their promise to keep Defence spending at 2% of GDP might seem an academic subject to most people. With Labour and Conservatives both likely to cut defence spending further if they form the next government, according to a defence think tank, to those serving at RAF Marham it is an important matter.
When I was posted to Marham for my first tour, the base was adapting to Tornado operations and the Cold War shaped everything we did, as being ready for combat with the Soviet led Warsaw Pact alliance within minutes of the ‘balloon going up’ was our constant reality.
If sirens called at any hour we rushed to work and immediately prepared for what might be a war involving nuclear, chemical or biological weapons. We knew that as one of NATO’s nuclear bomber bases Marham was a primary target for Soviet attack, both from the air and from Spetsnaz forces on the ground. So the threat was very clear, but we were well equipped, well trained and confident in our people, our kit and our tactics.
Thankfully, we will never know if our finely honed skills would have been good enough to win a war in Europe, or if our confidence was misplaced. But we were well prepared, not least because we were well resourced and there were plenty of us. Back then Defence spending was around 5% of GDP and the Armed Forces had over 300K Regular personnel, including some 90K in the RAF supporting over 50 squadrons of aircraft. How times have changed.
Then, the Armed Forces faced the constant threat of all out war but that burden fell on broad shoulders. Today, the threat may be different but peace is not guaranteed, so why does our government seem to view defence of the nation as a reluctant obligation? It ring-fences foreign aid and other departmental budgets but repeatedly cuts back on the funding needed to keep the military well equipped, well trained and well resourced.
Between 1975-1990, more people left the Armed Forces each year than there are in the RAF today, so of course the situation now is different; but the moral duty to defend our nation and to make sure those who volunteer to serve in the military have the numbers, equipment and resources needed to fulfil that duty is as true today as it was then.
The political candidates in South West Norfolk might talk about defence and ‘overstretch’ in the Armed Forces, but how many actually know what it is like to ‘take the Queen’s shilling’, to spend months away from family each year, to repeatedly move home and be prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice? I do. So if you want an MP who thinks the government should honour the 2% Defence spending commitment and not treat our military as an underfunded emergency service, then vote UKIP on May 7th.
UKIP Parliamentary Candidate for South West Norfolk
Marham photo by Gary_Troughton CC
Crown copyright acknowledged on RAF crests