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UK’s missile, drone threat grows due to budget cuts

  • UK air defences weakened by decades of budget cuts
  • Threat from missiles and drones increasingly significant
  • Defense officials explore options for infrastructure protection

Although the United Kingdom possesses air defence equipment of exceptional capability, its current stockpile is insufficient to safeguard the extensive array of critical infrastructure throughout the nation or provide protection for soldiers deployed on overseas operations.

The United Kingdom’s once-world-class air defences have been eroded by decades of cost-cutting measures, making it increasingly susceptible to the threat posed by drones and missiles, according to military sources and Cold War veterans.

It is believed that British defence officials are examining alternatives to bolster the country’s capacity to defend vital national infrastructure—including government structures, power plants, and military installations—against the type of cruise and ballistic missile assaults by Russia that are wreaking havoc in Ukraine.

According to defence sources, however, any credible “integrated air and missile defence” plan would likely require an additional augmentation in defence expenditures beyond the 2.5% of national income increase that the prime minister recently proposed.

“Could the United Kingdom protect its urban areas from an aerial barrage of missiles?” “Absolutely not,” a senior defence source confirmed under the condition of anonymity.

“Do members of the public understand what to do if an air attack occurs?” To put it simply, are we being defended? No.”

Engaging the sizable red icon

A former Royal Air Force technician observes a screen while a radar scans for enemy aircraft from within a cabin at an ancient military base-turned-museum in Norfolk, flicking a series of switches to prime a simulated batch of missiles.

Robert Findlater declares, “It has acquired a target,” indicating a dot on the monitor that resembles something from a classic computer game.

A buzzing sound signifies that the radar signal is intensifying in strength in anticipation of the approaching hostile aircraft.

Once within range, the green text “free to fire” replaces the red letters that previously read “hold fire” on one of the displays.

Mr. Findlater presses a large red button while leaning forward.

Suddenly, the cabin is shaken by a roar imitating the sound of a projectile taking off.

Powered by a Rolls Royce engine, the Bloodhound air defence missile could accelerate to sixty miles per hour in a tenth of a second before escalating to twice the speed of sound as it approached an enemy aircraft or missile; at the time, this was considered cutting-edge technology.

“Our launch has been accomplished successfully,” the RAF veteran announces with a grin.

Subsequently, he returns his attention to the screen and observes a succession of seemingly oscillating radio waves—uniformly, until a spike emerges, signifying the missile’s approach towards the intended target.

“The radar is currently scanning for the missile, and it has detected her in its beam.” The following object you observe is the warhead.

“It has extinguished, and you eliminated it,” the veteran declares as the simulation concludes.

Mr. Findlater, who had been retired for many years, enlisted in the RAF in 1968.

Ascending the ranks, he was promoted to the position of chief technician on a Bloodhound unit, where he was responsible for maintaining the missiles’ readiness and capability to fire upon any impending threat.

A stretch of grass outside the cabin where the system was operated, concealed a collection of white-painted rockets and warheads that were formerly oriented upwards but were now positioned horizontally.

Mr Findlater responded with a chuckle when asked what message it was intended to convey to former Warsaw Pact adversaries of NATO: “Do not come calling… It indicates that “we are prepared to receive you.”

Formerly stationed along the United Kingdom’s coastlines, the ground-based systems were components of a multilayered Cold War air defence network that also comprised fighter aircraft and other weaponry.

However, following the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, the complete arsenal of Bloodhound air defence missiles was decommissioned. Additionally, to conserve money, successive prime ministers downsized air bases and fast aircraft squadrons, a policy measure that has been dubbed the “peace dividend.”

Consideration had been given to investing in Patriot air defence systems, which are even more competent and continue to be a vital component of the air defences of the United States and several other NATO allies.

Mr. Findlater, however, believed that the government simply surrendered and shut everything down because the threat was no longer present.

When asked if he believed the United Kingdom was currently well-defended, he responded, “No, I do not believe we are defended at all.”

The individual expressed sadness regarding his emotional state as a result. In light of what existed during the 1970s and 1980s.

At one with destiny

Additionally, the RAF Air Defence Radar Museum houses a Cold War operations room that has been frozen in time; along one wall are enormous boards that indicate the number of fighter aircraft that will be prepared to scramble.

Additionally, rows of desks are present, each equipped with radar displays and buttons that appear crucial.

John Baker, age 69, formerly held the position of aircraft identification and recognition officer at this hub.

When asked whether the United Kingdom’s air defences were war-ready during his time in service, he replied, “We practised. There were military drills.

Approximately every two months, a minor exercise would take place, and once or twice a year, a significant NATO exercise would be conducted, with this radar site serving as the epicentre due to its proximity to Europe.

Although he expressed concern that his knowledge of the military’s air defence capabilities was no longer current, he appeared less certain that they could withstand a significant attack today.

Should countless hundreds of cruise missiles and drones materialize? I do not believe it is secure to eliminate every single one of them, stated Mr. Baker.

The individual stated: “I’m glad I did my time back then – and not now.”

Air defences are “grossly insufficient”

Although the United Kingdom possesses air defence equipment of exceptional capability, its current stockpile is insufficient to safeguard the extensive array of critical infrastructure throughout the nation or provide protection for soldiers deployed on overseas operations.

An escalation in the quantity and calibre of missiles and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), developed by adversarial nations including Russia, China, Iran, and North Korea, exacerbates the gravity of the situation.

As of now, the Royal Air Force (RAF) possesses a mere nine frontline fast jet squadrons, which includes the rapid reaction alert aircraft that operate at the forefront of air defence against any potential threat.

Although contemporary aircraft such as the F-35 and Typhoon are considerably more advanced than their forebears, the United Kingdom maintained 30 frontline squadrons after the Cold War.

The six Type 45 destroyers of the Royal Navy are outfitted with the sole ballistic missile defence systems in the nation.

The navy spokesperson, however, states that only three of these vessels are “operationally available,” one of which is currently engaged in operations in the Middle East.

The military possesses approximately six Sky Sabre ground-based air defence systems on land, each of which is capable of intercepting multiple missiles.

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However, at least two of these weapons, and almost certainly more, are deployed overseas, and their range in the United Kingdom is extremely limited.

Jack Watling, a senior research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute, characterized the current air defence system of the United Kingdom as “horrendously deficient.”

Britain benefits from its geographical location, as it is bordered by several European NATO states and Russia.

Since the fall of the Soviet Union, however, many European nations have reduced their air defences to save money.

“We always hear this argument from the Ministry of Defence that gaps in our own capability are acceptable because we’re part of an alliance,” Mr Watling explained.

Comparable to if you were attending a “bring your own booze” party and declared, “Since there will be other guests, I will not be bringing any alcohol.

“If that approach is taken by all individuals, then there would be nothing to drink.” Furthermore, an examination of the entirety of NATO reveals a dearth of air defences.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Defence stated, “The United Kingdom is adequately equipped to face any eventuality, and its defence would be united with that of our NATO allies.

We continue to engage in close dialogue with allies and partners regarding potential opportunities to enhance our capabilities and modernize air defence across Europe as part of our pledge to allocate an additional £75 billion towards defence expenditures over the next six years.

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