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What does ‘national defence' mean in a pandemic? It's no time to buy fighter jets

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We are defending ourselves against the wrong threats. For decades, UK governments have been fighting not just the last war but a redundant notion of war, spending hundreds of billions against imaginary hazards. At the same time, as we have become horribly aware over the past few weeks, they have neglected real and urgent dangers.

A month ago, just as the coronavirus began racing across the UK, the government boasted that it had raised military spending by £2bn to £41.5bn . Our military force, it claimed, was “the tip of the spear for a resurgent Global Britain”.

Most of this money will be spent on equipment and infrastructure. The UK is acquiring 138 new F-35 aircraft. According to the manufacturers, Lockheed, this “supersonic, multi-role” fighter “represents a quantum leap in air-dominance capability”. It “has the range and flexibility to win, again and again”. But win against what? Can it bomb the coronavirus? Can its “advanced stealth, integrated avionics, sensor fusion and superior logistics support” defeat climate breakdown? It is of as much use in solving the world’s complex and pressing problems as a jackhammer is to a watch-mender.

The most likely role for such weaponry is to wage elective wars in distant nations. Even in these circumstances, the F-35 could be outdated before it is deployed. The decisive weapons in such conflicts are likely now to be drones, not jets. It might have “multiple capabilities”, but all this means is that the UK will bring a Swiss army knife to a gunfight.

Last month Ben Wallace, the British defence secretary, gave a........

© The Guardian