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The disruption caused by reports of drones flying over Gatwick airport in December 2018 was a magnificent illustration of the uselessness of the UK’s big-ticket defence spending. The United Kingdom is not short of high-end military kit. Apart from its nuclear deterrent (which may or may not be in working order), the nation’s £37 billion annual defence spending has allowed it to build, buy and maintain a formidable array of weapons systems. Britain’s new aircraft carrier provides a platform for F-35 fighter planes and, according to the UK defence secretary, the power “to strike decisively from the seas anywhere in the world”.

Yet, despite all this firepower, the country’s second busiest airport (a strategic asset if there ever was one) was immobilised for more than 24 hours, leaving tens of thousands of people stranded. In time a military grade jamming system was deployed, but by that stage the stable door was flapping in the wind and the horses had bolted.

The Gatwick example raises the question: what is the point of the UK’s defence spending and posture? The question is timely as the UK government is currently undertaking a strategic defence and security review in order to update its 2015 national security strategy. The chaos and keystone cops incident at Gatwick leads us to ask: who or what is being secured.

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Category: Science