One billion pounds. It sounds like rather a lot of money – which it is in many respects; it would pay for more than a few rounds down the local, or several holidays. But in terms of modern defence budgets, it is not a huge sum. What is more, given that it has largely been earmarked for two main purposes – cyber and subs, it is not going to save any regiments, RAF bases or warships from being closed, scrapped or disbanded.
When the Chancellor made his announcements yesterday he was not making a spur of the moment decision – though some might wonder these days. He was, of course, working on briefs provided by departmental staffs representing all the various interests looking for a funding boost. As he pointed out in response to criticism of his defence allocation, he is a former Defence Secretary so would be aware of the general state of defence – and its priorities.
What we did not get, as far as TMT is aware, is any detail of the allocation of the funds. As we already know, a boost of £600m was given to the Dreadnought submarine programme earlier this year to allow initial contracts to be placed in order to keep the overall project on track. But many said that was not enough and more would be needed to keep things going. So you can see just how much of that £1Bn might be soaked up by the next generation of Trident-armed subs.
Will the reference to Cyber Defence funding apply to the overall UK effort or just the MOD’s sector. Will it merely be a top-up or has the “system” had to acknowledge just how much more complex (and expensive) this form of defence has become?
Britain views cyber-security as being part of the integrated defence strategy for the UK – and, therefore, more than a solely “military problem” controlled by the defence chiefs. Cyber is run on a twin-track approach, with GCHQ overseeing the main effort. GCHQ has its own specialist arm called the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), with a somewhat separate MOD-dedicated Cyber Security Operations Centre (CSOC) based at Corsham.
The NCSC provides a service to the nation as a whole. This might include assisting private or commercial bodies in the UK that might be affected by cyber-attacks. However, its main role is to detect and defeat cyber attacks on a national level. This means that its “enemies” might be civilian or commercial hackers operating in the UK or overseas, but also overseas government agencies such as the Russian Military Intelligence operating against UK civil targets. The NCSC also works with industry to try to bring on new people and companies to assist with cybersecurity, one reason being that this is a growth business area which makes money for the UK. The NCSC also works alongside agencies such as the police to assist with national and international cyber-based criminal activities. However, it also talks to its military cousins in the CSOC.
Following an announcement in the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) in November 2015 that the government would spend almost £2Bn on cybersecurity over the five years to 2020, the military’s Cyber Security Operations Centre, CSOC, was set up in 2016 with a £40m budget with the aim of protecting: “The MOD’s cyberspace from malicious actors. It will enhance our ability to secure Defence networks and systems against cyber threats and bring together our defensive cyber activity which will enable us to continue to operate safely and securely.“Extract from MOD announcement, 1st April 2016.
Thus the CSOC became the “military arm” of the overall cyber security component envisaged in the SDSR. However, as already mentioned, the amount allocated was not large, hence the comments about the purpose of the money being discussed yesterday in the budget.
Three other areas of defence-related funding were mentioned. One was the Defence and National Rehabilitation Centre (DNRC) which is to receive a boost of £75m. Education is to receive £1.5m. However, the third is that of the Armed Forces Covenant Trust with specific emphasis upon assisting veterans with mental health needs. In this last case, the Chancellor said he would repay VAT collected on the sales of commemorative items by charities working in this sector. It is a sad reflection perhaps that, although the money will be put to good use, the Chancellor recognises that so much of this work is done within the voluntary sector and not by the MOD which should shoulder this burden,