Missile defense systems disguised as Coca-Cola trucks? Farm tractors armed with cannons?
Britain’s military isn’t in great shape, but who knew that things were that desperate?
Yet Gavin Williamson, Britain’s Minister of Defense, has been a fount of these and other bizarre ideas, according to the British newspaper the Sun.
It is important to note that the Sun is a tabloid newspaper packed with lurid crime stories, often accompanied by photos of attractive women in revealing garb. But that article paints a picture of a defense minister desperate to find ways to field advanced weapons in the midst of a £20 billion ($25.7 billion) defense budget shortfall. This idea is in keeping with other reports as well.
The Sun quotes several insiders—identified only as “senior sources”—who claim Ministry of Defense officials are at their wit’s end at how to deal with Williamson’s inspirations.
For example, Williamson allegedly told Polish officials that a missile defense system could be disguised as soft drink trucks. “The idea was to have an HGV [heavy goods vehicle with the livery of the Coca-Cola brand—but inside would be a missile defense system,” a source told the Sun.
During a meeting with British officials on the military equipment budget, Williamson also asked if cannon could be mounted on farm tractors. “He said, ‘Can’t we buy tractors and put really expensive guns on them?’” according to a participant. “People were open-mouthed. Others didn’t know where to look. It was totally bizarre.”
Williamson has also been mocked for keeping a tarantula named Cronus on his desk until it was removed after one of his staff complained of arachnophobia.
Laugh as you may at Williamson's alleged suggestions, but even in madness, there is a method. Though the sun has set on the British Empire, the United Kingdom still punches above its weight in military power. It has the most proficient of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's European armed forces, as well as the most willing to use military force. This includes regions such as the Middle East and now the South China Sea, where Britain plans to dispatch one of its new aircraft carriers to dispute Chinese territorial claims.
However, Britain is struggling to procure expensive new weapons, including £3 billion ($4 billion) aircraft carriers and F-35 stealth jets while struggling to maintain its aging Trident nuclear missile submarines and an 82,000-strong army.
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In other words, Britain has champagne defense tastes, but a (warm) beer budget.