Sergeant Blackman, RM

The big event in Parliament Square on 28 October went as planned, with the highly-disciplined crowd keeping its anger under strict control, and the Royal Marines, as ever, setting a fine example.  But the publicity last year’s event created was not repeated, only the Daily Mail and Daily Express giving the campaign the strong editorial support it must have if this type of extra-parliamentary publicity is to influence the MoD.

Those who expected the Rt Hon Sir Michael Fallon, Secretary of State for Defence, to attend, were disappointed.  Perhaps his Special Advisers have failed to brief him on the importance of Morale in the Armed Forces.

We have published a book, The Betrayal of Sergeant Blackman, RM (now available from Amazon) which includes a foreword by Heraclitus (author of the foreword in Bullingdon Defences, the first book we published).  As it fairly summarises the perversion of the justice imposed on Sergeant  Blackman it is reproduced here in the expectation that readers will encourage all their friends to study it, and thus to understand fully the enormity of what ‘The System’ has done to Sergeant Blackman, his family, his friends, the Royal Marines, and to the Morale of the Armed Forces.

The Blackman Betrayal

Foreword

One of the world’s most powerful Armed Forces, funded by one of the world’s richest economies, exploiting the latest war technologies and directed by highly-educated politicians, having been defeated successively in Basra by a mob of street Arabs, and then in Helmand by uneducated, impoverished, and ill-armed tribesmen, has fallen victim to institutionalised post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and savage self-mutilation. Among those made to suffer most from this psychopathic response have been a loyal Royal Marine and his family: Sergeant Alexander Blackman, RM, is currently still serving the ten-year gaol sentence – reduced on appeal to eight years – that was passed at a flawed Court Martial in which his defence team failed to produce crucial and readily available evidence, and the Judge Advocate General (JAG) betrayed unprecedentedly vile prejudice.

       This book describes the cruel stress imposed on those who, like Sergeant Blackman, led foot patrols in Helmand with inadequate weaponry, unreliable equipment, insufficient sleep, very little rest, questionable doctrine, an uncaring command chain, and, almost as an icon for all that was wrong in Helmand, no reliable air support – especially none of the ‘Buddy Cover’ supplied to infantry patrols in our previous COIN wars by small light aircraft such as those built by Auster and Piper specifically for such tasks.    

       The JAG’s Sentencing Remarks, when examined in Chapter Three, clearly expose their extraordinary prejudice, especially in respect of their failure to take account of the relentless stress under which Sergeant Blackman had to operate. They here reveal the JAG’s rejection of psychiatric evidence, his omission of the crucial explanation of the relevance of the Lesser Included Case to the Board of Officers, and his failure to ensure that all the witnesses supporting the defence of Sergeant Blackman were called. Damning evidence of the ‘stitch-up’ conspiracy is in the refusal to allow the testimony of Colonel Oliver Lee, RM, and of Warrant Officer Stephen Moran, RM, both of whom had sought to give witness, in effect key expert witness, in Sergeant Blackman’s favour, principally in respect of the acute and overwhelming effects of accumulated stress. Colonel Lee’s objection to this shameful miscarriage of justice prompted him to resign his commission, an extraordinary measure for a career officer, one that alone ought to have rung ear-piercing alarm bells in Whitehall and Westminster.

       This book emphasises the important point that the widespread belief among servicemen and women that the case against Sergeant Blackman was a ‘stitch-up’ has damaged Morale throughout the Armed Forces at a time when Morale is at its lowest-ever recorded level. This situation alone demands that immediate restitution of liberty and generous compensation be made to Sergeant Blackman, even before a retrial and the formal Not Guilty verdict that was always his due. The Morale problem must now be tackled without reservation, lest the betrayal of this Royal Marine become a permanent and shameful totem representing, to potential recruits and to potential enemies, life in today’s British Armed Forces.

       Morale, Napoleon believed, is to the materiel as three to one, and there is much in the long history of the British Army to support this assessment. For that reason this book reproduces in Chapter Five a paper submitted to the committee preparing the 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review recommending the most serious and immediate attention be given to investment in the virtuous triad of Morale, Competence, and Honesty, all of which, and especially Morale, were failing, as they are still.

       As will become evident to the reader as these pages turn, the rapid deterior­a­tion in Morale during the last twenty years can be attributed directly, not just to ‘The System’ as has been the traditional verdict (expressed silently with shrugged shoulders,), but to a specific fault in Whitehall’s incestuous relationship with the Senior Civil Service, a fault that has fostered, among other sins, a deliberate disregard for the welfare of those in uniform.

       Among the more serious examples of this calculated neglect has been the treatment of Sergeant Blackman, RM, and his family. His Court Martial was not just a miscarriage of justice: it was a perversion of justice. But that is only part of the story: the Blackman case, because its injustice is so obvious, has caught the attention of the public as has no other since Admiral Byng was shot (with the intention of encouraging other officers to sacrifice themselves in the service of the Admiralty), and has thereby become an icon representing the many other examples of the MoD’s dereliction of duty and uncaring destruction of Morale.

         This book demonstrates that this perversion was not an accident, that it was consciously deliberate, and it describes relevant aspects of that ‘System’ which seeks to give cover to the moral sickness allowing such perversion. Obviously, it is primarily an explanation of how and why Sergeant Blackman was betrayed, and how and why his character was so heinously traduced, but it has a secondary purpose in describing to the public how the Morale of the Armed Forces is being destroyed, not by giving a series of anecdotes (poor food, slum accommodation, unserviceable equipment, penny-pinching logistics, early redundancy reducing pensions, etc, all of which the national newspapers can cover), but by adopting the Sergeant Blackman betrayal as an avatar for the despair recognised, by those who serve and have served, to be a real and present danger to national defence.

The Blackman Betrayal

Available from Amazon.  Spread the word.

Some Comments

London’s new runway

There are again indications that we are close to being informed of the final decision on the new runway for one of London’s airports, Heathrow or Gatwick, both of which choices have nothing to commend them.  This Blog’s belief that the only practical solution to the congestion problem is to be found in the combination of “Boris Island” in the Thames Estuary and Manston a few miles to the south-east is unchanged, but Whitehall’s OODA principle (Obscurantism-Obfuscation-Delusion-Apathy) ensures that it will not even be considered.

Perhaps there is among our readers one who can help the Prime Minister, who may just possibly be still ruling the country in 2026, find an answer to this question:

What do we do, ten years from now, when we have to begin planning for an extra runway, “London’s fifth”?

Heathrow then will be impossible to enlarge, Gatwick will remain extremely inconvenient for road and rail access (M25 and M23 then being as clogged as carparks, and the rail service still stuck in the 20th century), the airspace above both still dangerously crowded, and the Boris-Manston integrated Freeport operation the only practical alternative.

As that is the solution for the future, why cannot it be adopted now?

Think about how much money would be saved, how much investment the London Freeport would attract, how much quieter West London would be, how much faster access to and departure from this Hub would be, and how much safer our crowded skies would be.

Think freely, not on tramlines.

How did we vote?

Many of our voters assumed we favoured Brexit.  Certainly FLIP, whose members are among those the Blog represents, did lean that way, but the ARAG members, influenced more by Defence considerations, held to the view that while Brexit would certainly be better for the UK, Remain would be better for the EU and thus, arguably, for Europe.

The preparation for the vote, especially the campaigns, was saddening, removing any residual faith in the honesty and intellectual maturity of our governors.  David Cameron and George Osborne had long been dismissed as lightweights, but nevertheless their Project Fear was astounding, as also was Alan Johnson’s accusation that the Brexit voters were “walking away from Europe!” — a geographical, historical, economic and religious impossibility.

The choice has been made; the die is cast.  The Prime Minister’s task now is to ensure that the EU understands the UK’s friendship is steadfast, that the UK will remain an economic helpmeet even as it secures what is best for the UK’s future, and that in the resistance to Islamist invasion we recognise Western Europe is indivisible.

The Golden Turkey

The MoD’s persistent attempts to persuade the taxpayers of the value the purchase of F-35B ‘Strike Aircraft’ will bring to the defence of British interests bring regular questions about what we might do to educate the public about the project’s futility.  We did cover the subject fairly in the White Elephants and Golden Turkeys article a few months ago, but our correspondents are correct: we ought to repeat the basic content with greater detail added.

In his interview today on the Andrew Marr show (BBC One), the Defence Secretary spoke of the increase in his budget, his success in meeting the NATO minimum of 2.0 per cent of GDP (no, he did not explain that this was achieved by redefining what was included), and that it was his responsibility to spend the budget wisely.  The F-35B decisions are now his.

In the absence of an update on the F-35B problems from America, here is a dispatch from our correspondent in 15th century Samarkand that may help understanding of the origins of the F-35 designers’ insoluble torment.

Nasruddin and the Samarkand JSF

Alacrity was not a quality readily associated with Nasruddin, the famous Philosopher-Fool, who liked to think long about the answers demanded of him, praying always that his interrogators while waiting would forget their questions, so when the Grand Vizier summoned him to Samarkand he moved slowly, taking a week.  

It was cool in the council chamber.  “We are advised,” the Grand Vizier began with a nod to the smirking youth beside him, “that instead of our warriors using Arabian camels for speed and Bactrian camels for support, it would be less expensive and more cost-effective to have a new camel with the speed of the Arabian and the strength of the Bactrian.  You are to arrange this.  You are to breed a Special Fighter, an SF.  This is Ahmed’s recommendation, and he promises me there will be a large market for our SF.”  He nodded towards his companion.  “You are a holy man, Mullah, and this simple task will be easy for a Sufi of your accomplishments.”  

“But I know nothing of war, Excellency,” began a horrified Nasruddin, who knows well the fate of those who fail to fulfil the Grand Vizier’s dreams.

“Such knowledge is unnecessary.  This is a project under your command, and all you need to know is how to manage it.  Management is the task of the commanders.  War is for the warriors. Managerial skills are yours, so Command is for you.  Details are for them.  A bag of gold awaits you at the stables.”

“But, Excellency, why not Ahmed?” asked Nazruddin.  “If it is his idea, surely he will be best suited to command the project.  He is obviously a very experienced warrior to be able to decide exactly what is wanted.”

The Grand Vizier waved his hand.  The audience was ended.  Ahmed left the chamber with him, still smirking, obviously the current favourite and thus invulnerable.

As Nasruddin made his way slowly to the stables of the Grand Vizier’s Guard, he wondered why the Grand Vizier had not chosen the obvious and far cheaper solution of combining speed with utility by buying a regiment of golden horses from Ashgabat, already proven in war to be supreme, both fast and versatile.  It must be the deplored influence of Ahmed, he thought, preying on a weak man’s thirst for glory.  So he asked for a stallion and a mare from both the Arabian and the Bactrian yards, and ordered that the appropriate couplings be arranged when the mares were next ready to be covered.  There was no hurry, he said, for the mares would not be in season until the sun headed north.  Then, as he collected the gold and turned to leave, he found the degenerate Ahmed grinning at him like a deranged hyena.

“There’s been a change,” Ahmed said, “a minor modification, but it must be incorporated without extra cost.  We have decided that the new SF will have more than teeth and hooves: they must have an extra weapon, a long spike jutting forward from the forehead.” 

“Well,” said Nasruddin, “that will be a task for the armourers and saddlers, not for me.”

“No, Mullah,” said Ahmed, “you do not understand.  You must bring a unicorn into the bloodline.  The spike must come from the skull.”  He laughed, prompting Nasruddin to realise that for Ahmed the project was just a way of becoming rich, that the result of Nasruddin’s dedicated work would never be of any use in battle.  (And the basic idea of marrying the speed of an Arabian to the endurance of the twin-humped Bactrian would give a compromise too slow to fight, too cumbersome to turn quickly, too stupid to use its teeth effectively, too weak to travel far without water, and in battle against elephants too terrified to respond to the reins.)

Why a unicorn?” asked Nasruddin.  “A detachable spike and harness can be quickly changed if damaged in battle and thus must surely be preferred.”

“Oh, Mullah,” laughed Armed, “again you have failed to understand. We are not breeding the SFs for battle, we are breeding them to bring gold to the treasury.  We have learned that the Sultan intends to convert his Constantinople Janissaries into cavalry, invisible cavalry, warriors impossible to fight when they are mounted on invisible unicorns, and he will pay well for them.

But where, wondered a mystified Nasruddin, could an invisible unicorn be found today, and he returned to Tashkent none the wiser and uncharacteristically pessimistic until he remembered the old magus who lived in solitude in a cave below the citadel.  He would know — and he did.

“I can tell you where to find them,” he said. “They’re high in the Hindu Kush, but they are fierce animals.  You will never see a mare, of course, because they are invisible, and the stallions, as you may know, can be pacified only by virgins on the night of a new moon.  So first find your virgin, but don’t go near a unicorn unless she is present, whispering to him.  Without her whispers he will kill you.  He will stomp and trample and bite, and then violate, and the pain of that magical horn is exquisite and lethal.  You never hear of anyone surviving a unicorn rape, do you?”

Five months later, when Nasruddin returned to the Guards’ stables accompanied by a virgin riding a unicorn, he learned that both his camel mares were in foal, but even if one of the foals was a mare it would still take some time before it could be covered safely by the unicorn (for unicorns are large and heavy).  This programme would need several years, sufficient, he hoped, for the Grand Vizier to tire of Ahmed and his fantasies, a breach now undoubtedly necessary for Nasruddin’s health, for every warrior he had consulted had predicted failure — on the basis that in battle they needed a mount that would perform excellently at the job it was bred to do, not a mount that, while capable of two different jobs, would have him killed because it was not quite as good as it ought to be at the critical moment.

Ahmed then appeared.  “I’m pleased you’re back, at last, for we have agreed another small modification that will increase the value of the invisible SF and, when we sell them to other warriors the rewards will be very substantial.  Unfortunately, you will need more gold, we know that, and so we have taken gold from the warriors who want to buy.  For them it is an investment, a joint enterprise, and so the SF will now be known as a Joint Stealthy Fighter, a JSF.”

“Well, what is this new modification that will cost so much gold?” asked Nasruddin.

“We want the JSF to fly.”

“What?  You’re serious?  You mean fly like a gryphon?  Don’t tell me you want a gryphon in the bloodline.  It can’t be done.  You are mad.  Have you never seen a male gryphon?  Huge, they’re huge, and covered in spikes.  Our mares will die of fright if presented to gryphons.”  Nasruddin had lost his fear of the Grand Vizier and was now determined to oust Ahmed from the court.

“You’re inventing problems,” said Ahmed.  “I’ll report you to His Excellency.  Female gryphons can be covered by the Arabian and Bactrian stallions and then the program will continue from there, but you can work in parallel by offering a gryphon to the unicorn.  It’s called concurrency.  I shall inform His Excellency.”

Nasruddin was thinking deeply.  Looking over Ahmed’s shoulder he could see that the virgin, having stabled the unicorn, was now being led away to their quarters, leaving her charge tethered but already fretting at her absence.

“You really have problems understanding this programme,“ he said.  “The last female gryphon known was in Scotland, an infidel realm on the edge of Europe, and she was seen to seize four oxen yoked to the plough and to carry them off, with the plough, which it dropped as uneatable.  That would have probably been just her breakfast.  They’re twice the size of the males.  It’s a matter of scale, and you have no experience of scale, have you?  But, I’ll help you.  The unicorn there, as you see, is a little bigger than a horse.  Go into his stall and brush his hide, stroke his horn, talk to him but remember he’s deaf, so shout at him, tell him that instead of the young girl you will now be looking after him.  He’ll like that.”

And that is how Nasruddin, the Philosopher-Fool, killed the JSF project.

Bullingdon Defences - cover KINDLE

Morale must endure

The PM on Defence (3) [edited transcript]

I think we can begin by immediately following where we ended our last meeting.

If you have now read Called to Account and Bullingdon Defences you will be aware of the substantial savings available in the running costs of the MoD and in the acquisition of materiel. These will be hugely substantial savings if we are ruthless, and there are interesting possibilities in two of the more extravagant programmes: the aircraft carriers, and the F-35B JCA/JSF (alias the Lightning II).

The aircraft carriers are said to be essential if we are to remain in the “First Division”, but with current plans we have contentious issues to settle. Was it wise to build these carriers dedicated to one strike aircraft (in this case the F-35B which is yet unproven, is far over budget, is many years late, and is persuading the Pentagon’s own objective analysts that it is tactically useless)? How much would it cost to retrofit catapults and arresters if we are forced, when the F-35B fails, to choose another aircraft? Are these the carriers we need, or should we have chosen a different design? Were the full costs of a carrier fleet with its full complement of fully-armed escort vessels and supply auxiliaries counted? And how vulnerable to ballistic missiles will carriers be ten years from now? How vulnerable will they be to wide-diameter supersonic cruise missiles with high-explosive anti-tank heads on the day they sail into an area where they are unwelcome?

And if we do have such carriers, where will they operate? In the North Atlantic, of course, but the Indian Ocean will be owned by the Indians, and the China Seas will be owned by China. Almost all the Pacific is owned by the USA. And as there are cheaper ways of defending the Falkland Islands in the distant future against an aggressively oil-hungry and belligerent South American Treaty Organisation, are these new carriers necessary? Without them and their escorts there would be substantial funds to buy and operate many more far less expensive ships of the type we need to keep our vital sea lanes open, free from terrorists and pirates, and our coastlines free from illegal immigrants and drug traffickers. Michael tells me that the MoD is now looking at an inexpensive frigate, the Type 31, which will be very versatile, and if we have no carriers we may not need the very expensive Type 45 destroyers (of which we have six of the planned fourteen) — releasing a lot of money for many more ships. We have to find the answers to all these questions.

Then there is the F-35 itself. Is it needed in addition to the Typhoon? Is its seagoing variant, the F-35B, capable of operation as was intended, especially in respect of range? Is the American Lockheed Martin F-35 programme meeting its targets? Well, no, it is not, as I expect you all know already, but it appears difficult to find anyone in the MoD willing to admit that, even though it is very late, about $200 billion over the projected budget, and the Pentagon’s Director of Operational Test & Evaluation doubts it will ever be ready for operations. (We know the US Marines claim that it met the requirement of their IOC, their Initial Operational Capability, but that was after redefining their IOC as an Interim Operational Capability.) The cancellation of this aircraft for the RAF would provide a substantial saving, although no one has told me how much, apparently because the MoD does not know the figure. Do you, Michael? No, and if you did it would be a different figure next week anyway. Unofficially I’ve been allowed to know that the unit cost will total, when all the extras are added to the basic cost, around £150 million. That seems an awful lot of money for one aircraft that cannot fly very far. However, I am not persuaded we shall need carriers at all after 2020, even if they are not as vulnerable as some of our advisers fear. We need more advice on this, and especially we need to know just how big a carrier’s escort fleet must be, how much that will cost, whether we have that many ships, and, if we do have the ships, do we have the sailors to man them?

Well, why pretend? We already know we don’t have sufficient sailors. Apparently, in pursuit of the bonuses paid to the civil service for “efficiency savings” – which they thought could only be achieved through reducing manpower – the MoD discharged men essential for the continuation of naval operations. Michael, you have to take action on that MoD bonus culture.

These are all matters that require detailed consideration, and although you, Michael, will be advised by the Chiefs, who will probably disagree with each other, I think it may perhaps be useful if you learn the views of a few retired officers whose relevant experience would be helpful and whose opinions will not be shaded by what they think you want to hear. The MoD has been running on tramlines. Few there have dared to think imaginatively under the previous management, so we must encourage new ideas. There really have to be cheaper ways to fight wars.

I believe that with the probable exception of aircraft carriers we must insist on the retention of all the capabilities of the UK’s Armed Forces, funded in part by ruthless surgery and strict discipline, in part by the defence budget, and in part by a third element we shall discuss later. I have mentioned critical mass. There are recognisable limits to downsizing beyond which a fighting unit or a fighting service suddenly loses its ability to fight and, crucially, its ability to train the next generation. The Armed Forces can be pushed down only so far, and then suddenly everything is lost. I am hugely impressed by what was achieved in Afghanistan with inappropriate equipment and inadequate support, as have been commentators from many other countries with whom I have discussed what might be necessary to defeat the Taliban. (For the avoidance of doubt I shall stress here that we do not consider the Taliban to have ben defeated, whatever our predecessors may have claimed.) Our Armed Forces have a core of experience and skill recognised and envied (when politicians have refrained from interference), especially in maritime reconnaissance and urban counterinsurgency, and that expertise is a marketable commodity, a saleable asset. It has been bought with British blood and treasure. It must not be lost; it can earn revenues; and it is a national asset which it is our duty to preserve.

In respect of economic issues it has become fashionable to speak of “UK plc”, but then not to follow the logic of a large company. If any commercial enterprise was in the current financial position of the British Armed Forces then its directors, after ascertaining the full extent of the problems, would examine the savings possible from reorgani­sa­tion (huge within MoD), from reductions in number (using Typhoons only, not the F-35s), from postponed investment (the Trident decision may perhaps be delayed for a few years), from replanning development (projecting power without a carrier fleet), and would certainly consider not only retrenchment, but also its alter­native, expansion — which is what we are here to examine. Expansion, my friends — how shall we fund it?

The expansion of our Armed Forces is vital to prepare for the defence both of the UK and its interests in future war, whether with the deterrence of Trident and its successors, or the projection of sea and air power in support of the Army in a major campaign such as the Falk­lands, or the suppression of insurgencies threatening our allies or our home territory. The maintenance of these abilities requires expansion of the current strength of the Armed Forces, and the Forces should then be available to do the work for which other nations can pay if and when for political reasons they cannot honour their obligations. Germany has been an obvious example, the UN is another, and so is America. When Great Britain and the Empire fought alone against the Nazis for two years, the fight was for American freedom also — and yet America charged us for its support. Now, in the Middle East, America needs us, and although the war there is necessary for our future safety also, that precedent suggests America should pay for British support (as Washington offered when it hoped to persuade Harold Wilson not to withdraw us from East of Suez). If we are to assist in the struggle to save the world from future war, the world can pay, especially those of the NATO countries whose domestic politics prevent them providing their fair share of men and materiel. In line with this policy, and in recognition of the huge contribution our Armed Forces make and will continue to make to peacemaking in underdeveloped areas, elements of the ringfenced budget for overseas development aid will be diverted to the defence budget in recognition of this.

Trident falls into this category of external financing, for although it deters a nuclear attack on British interests, its principal use since its introduction has been to keep the United Kingdom in the First Division and sat firmly on our permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council. As such the deterrent is an expense for Central Government, both for the capital costs of Trident and its replacement, and also for its operational costs. The recent move of its costs into the Defence budget was financial gerrymandering, creative accountancy. However, the financial decision on the Trident replacement, as I have suggested, need not be taken immediately and would best be reserved until we know more about the American progress with the Ohio-Trident replacement.

The UK is an island nation that needs a much larger navy, and its army has shrunk below critical mass. Defence Bonds (with interest at, say, 5 per cent) may be needed to finance this essential protection, but if the nation is to survive, the money for its defence against certain war must be found, just as it was found to save the falling banks. And why not? Quantitative Easing is justly criticised when it feeds an expansion of consumer credit used to support China’s exports, but there is every reason to use it for investment in the Armed Forces. Defence can be financed directly by extra taxation and by the public’s purchase of Defence Bonds, and then be used to reboot the defence manufacturing industry, recreating many of the thousands of jobs lost by our predecessors, and accelerating a continuing surge in economic expansion. The increased capabilities of the Armed Forces will be available for export to wherever the UK’s allies and/or the UN may need support and can pay for it, thus supplementing our foreign currency earnings.

Included in these capabilities the Armed Forces can export are our training schools, traditionally greatly admired abroad but with their potential as income limited until now by the need to train our own people. We can expand them hugely because we have the skills other nations seek, and until other nations have equivalents to Dartmouth, Sandhurst and Cranwell, which most of them will never have, the market is ours. Additionally, we have economies of scale that will make our fees very attractive. We know that the spaces we do offer are much wanted, and we know also that by training the officers and future commanders of foreign forces on our equipment we open doors for our exports.

I have been shown the latest data for the power output from the windmills. The figures are disappointing and confirm the poor reports I have received from Denmark, previously the most enthusiastic advocate of wind power. When we shall need most power, in a cold winter for heating and in a hot summer for air conditioning, our weather will be shaped by anticyclones, which means that we need nuclear power stations for those windless periods. These, naturally, unlike windmills, produce what we need throughout the year. (Those responsible for the arithmetic justifying the windmills may have been those who justified some of the defence procurement catastrophes.) I have now been persuaded that we should examine whether the projected investment of so many billions in wind power might be far better diverted to investment in defence.

Si vis pacem, pare bellum. At the beginning of the 20th century the UK was not ready for the Great War of 1914-18 either intellectually or materially. (Four years before its start the War Minister rejected the idea that aircraft could play any worthwhile role in war, and Lord Kitchener rejected as unnecessary a request for the use of reconnaissance aircraft at Gallipoli, and we all know the consequences of that.) At the war’s close the UK and the Empire found we had lost 990,000 men and the undisputed world leadership we had held at its start. The lack of preparedness was repeated for the World War of 1939-45, when the UK did not have the power to curb Nazi ambitions at the critical time. (Four years before its start the Chief of the Imperial General Staff still preferred cavalry to tanks and he refused to read the writings of Fuller and Liddell Hart who predicted and advocated armoured warfare.) At the war’s close the UK had lost 450,000 men plus the greatest empire in known history. The threat from Soviet Russia that emerged soon afterwards was later neutralised by a NATO built on a platform provided by the USA, without whose faithful support an impoverished Western Europe would be under Communist rule today.

The emerging threat at the beginning of this present century is from an economically unstable world defined by the Islamist threat of jihadism, nuclear proliferation, overpopulation, struggles for resources, and an America with its power declining as the newly industrialising countries surge in population and GDP. If we now cannot learn the lessons taught by the near-past, the harsh lessons of the 20th century, and if we persist in relying on the support of unreliable European allies led by a newly enfeebled America, then we invite defeat.

The defence of the UK requires a ballistic nuclear deterrent (that is Trident, its submarines and the replacements), a navy capable of keeping the vital sea lanes clear of terrorists and pirates (with a large number of small, appropriately armed ships), and an army capable both of fighting insurgencies overseas and of training territorial soldiers in very large numbers at home. The RAF must be capable of logistic support for the forces overseas, of long-range maritime support for the Royal Navy, of Close Air Support, and of retaining an air-fighting expertise appropriate to those threats that might emerge and then perhaps be resisted. The overall ability of the Armed Forces must be increased substantially, and all the investment deferred during the last two decades must now be provided, but the waste of billions of pounds can be stopped with the application of intelligent disciplines and the expulsion from the MoD of politicised and incompetent civil servants. The nation can have what we know is essential for our defence, and it can have it at an affordable price. We cannot afford not to have it.

We are aware, and doubtless Philip will keep telling us, that we may not have all the money the Armed Forces need, but we must clarify the distinction between cutting programmes and cutting capability. The first we can afford; the second we cannot. A rough estimate suggests we ought to plan on at least five per cent of GDP for the next ten years’ investment, and to provide this, as I have said, from savings created by ruthless surgery and strict disciplines, and from the Defence budget, plus from what I described as unconventional means — from ministries such as the FCO (for the nuclear deterrent) and International Development (for peacekeeping), from other countries and organisations (such as America, the EU and the UN), from Defence Bonds, and from foreign companies seeking to invest in the UK’s famous and well-proven innovatory skills in the defence industry. Additionally, we can divert funds from other budgets such as wind power. We shall make this work because we must make it work, and to ensure the nation understands the desperate seriousness of the situation, to ensure the nation understands how my predecessor misled everyone, us included, by the manipulation of some figures and the concealment of others, I intend to include this text, these words I have said to you this afternoon, in my speech at the Party Conference.

Philip, if you have problems with your Treasury people, refer them to the growth of our GDP during the years the Luftwaffe was nightly hammering our manufacturing industry. The increase in the annual rate of growth (not just the increase in the GDP) is staggering. At the same time, in America, where industry was not troubled by air raids, the increase in the GDP rate of growth was incredible, and it laid the foundation for America’s economic strength today. Investment in our defence industries, especially at the SME end of the scale where we often appear to be unrivalled, can pull us out of the mess in which the last government has left us. It will kickstart economic growth again, as pouring money into welfare payments never will, and because of our historic international reputation in this field, Defence, it will bring in foreign investment.

But, anyway, there is no choice. The nation must understand this. Inadequate Armed Forces may constitute a viable political compromise, but they will never form a successful defence. Potemkin destroyers, and aircraft with guns that cannot fire, will certainly make our future historians smile, but they belong to the past. We must never again allow such incompetence. We must now invest for the future.

I shall conclude my Conference speech with a comment on Morale — which currently in our Armed Forces Is at its lowest-ever recorded level.  This would not normally distress the MoD, but it is reducing the chances of hitting the 30,000 target Philip set for the Reserves. There are three elements that concern me: Competence, Honesty and Morale, and of these Morale is the most important.  Field Marshal Lord Slim told us that Morale Must Endure, that of its three foundations, Spirit, Intellect and Material, the Spiritual component has primacy — but, and we all know this, the Spirit of the Armed Forces, specifically their esprit de corps, has been crushed continuously during the last twenty years or so.  (The two books I asked you to read, Called to Account and Bullingdon Defences explain how.)

I want Honesty:  it will start here in this room and drive the Conference. It will recognise that the Morale of our Armed Forces, crucial to our national security, has been crushed by the MoD’s incompetence and dishonesty as manifested by its extravagant waste of money on ill-defined, badly researched projects, its incompetent direction of the campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, its criminal negligence in the dereliction of its Duty of Care, and the dishonesty of its bonus culture. Fixing this may be interpreted as Michael’s job, but it is in reality the responsibility of us all — for our national security is at stake.

Morale must endure.

Thank you all.  We shall resume our discussion of Morale after Conference.

We have been unable to confirm the authenticity of this leaked text, but shall leave it online until it has been formally denied.

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Field Marshal Viscount Slim wrote —

Morale is a state of mind. It is that intangible force which will move a whole group of men to give their last ounce to achieve something, without counting the cost to themselves; that makes them feel they are part of something greater than themselves. If they are to feel that, their morale must, if it is to endure–and the essence of morale is that it should endure–have certain foundations. These foundations are spiritual, intellectual, and material, and that is the order of their importance. Spiritual first, because only spiritual foundations can stand real strain. Next intellectual, because men are swayed by reason as well as feeling. Material last–important, but last–because the very highest kinds of morale are often met when material conditions are lowest.

 

Salus populi suprema lex esto

The PM on Defence (2) [edited transcript]

When this steering group last met I spoke of the inevitability of conflict, which I consider the platform for the expansion of our defence industry, one of the key costituents of our new export drive.

To remind you: War is coming. A nuclear conflict between major states may perhaps be less likely than a conventional one between the interests of a major state and one of the crime syndicates whose rapidly expanding financial strength exceeds, we know, that of many small countries, and indeed interstate war may be rather less likely than network warfare between a nuclear-armed fundamentalist religious grouping and a notionally religious but apathetic Western alliance, but war with massive loss of life, greater than that of the last century, triggered by the accelerating shortage of non-renewable resources, is the threat that we must face, ultimately, when we recognise that we cannot show the historic trend to have changed. To meet this future we need strong Armed Forces with adequate numbers, the best equipment we can produce, and high morale — this last being a factor shamefully neglected by our predecessors and one to which we must pay special attention immediately. Additionally, to support the front line, and to prepare for network warfare within the British Isles if the extremist Islam threat materialises here, as we fear may be unavoidable, we must obtain a substantial increase in the reserves, and especially in a renewed Territorial Army, to protect installations and facilities crucial to our wellbeing.

We shall be told by the news media and perhaps by some of our constituents that we should ignore the wider world, and should concentrate on our European relationships, because within Europe war is now impossible. Is it impossible? Our natural resources are diminishing, populations are on the move, climates which have fluctuated throughout time will continue to vary, Angela Merkel’s supporters are dying faster than her new ones are qualifying to vote for her, and fifty years from now our sparsely-populated Scotland might appear extremely attractive to an Islamist government in Germany seeking lebensraum. It is not impossible that Russia might then call on us to help defend Moscow. Who knows? I don’t and you don’t, but what we do know is that British artillery in 1914 had insufficient shells even for counter-battery fire, that we just failed to lose the war in 1940 because Hitler made a strategic error, and that we would have lost the Falklands if the Argentine Air Force had been better trained in the art of bombing at low level. Who can guarantee we shall have sufficient time to recover when next we are called to fight where or when we did not expect? In past years, when we escaped, we could train a recruit to have a modest competence in six weeks, but, with our present and future technology, that is now, and will remain, impossible.

There is much discussion insisting that we must first settle Government Policy, but that in fact is not the emergency priority. First must be calculated the irreducible minima for the capabilities irrefutably essential, because without this information policies will be proposed on the basis of non-existent resources. Machiavelli warned that “the great majority of mankind is satisfied with appearances, as though they are realities, and thus are often more influenced by the things that seem than by those that are.” This has been true for many years in the composition of Defence policy, and we are now to stop it. A submarine nuclear deterrent that is, as has been suggested, occasionally unavailable is not a deterrent on which policy may be based. A policy for a reliable projection of British power intercontinentally cannot depend on a calendar during which crucial assets are available for only two-thirds of the time. An Army reduced in infantry strength to below its critical mass, that is (among other criteria) to the figure at which skills cannot be passed from one generation to the next, does not provide a platform for the creation of long-term foreign policy. Thus competent and experienced analysts (not politicians, nor arms manufacturers, nor wishful dreamers, nor journalists) must advise us on the conflicts for which preparations must be made. The assets necessary must then be selected. Then the personnel necessary for the employment of those assets must be numbered. It is only then that we may use this information to devise policies that do not conflict with our principal responsibility, the security of the nation. Salus populi suprema lex esto. Those policies, fed back to the military, will facilitate agreement on how much more than the minima will be necessary.

The current state of the UK’s Armed Forces is catastrophic. Rectification of this by conventional means would require an immediate provision of all the money that had been required and refused during the last two decades, plus the money now required to repair the damage inflicted by the lack of that money, plus the new money required to maintain the Armed Forces with the operational skills and assets necessary to ensure a successful defence of the British Isles and our overseas interests. As the company bequeathed to us, UK plc, now teeters on the brink of insolvency, such a massive sum will perhaps require an unconventional approach, but first it is essential to stop the routine and incomprehensible waste of the existing budget.

Its many well-publicised procurement failures have lost the MoD all the credibility it feels is its due. Israel can launch more air strikes in 36 hours and field more armour in the same time span than any other country (including the USA), and Israel’s procurement is managed by a staff of 400. Here in the UK our MoD’s procurement procedures have apparently historically required a staff above 20,000 (now being reduced I’m pleased to say) – which in part must explain why programmes meet extensive delays and exceed their budgets by vast amounts (as Parkinson tells us). “Efficiency savings” have only ever cynically introduced politically acceptable inefficiencies encumbered with the hidden long-term costs our predecessors kept off the balance sheet, but now the intellectual honesty the post-Brexit situation demands will ensure the removal forever of that term from the political lexicon.

Major surgery within the procurement system should produce substantial savings with a drastic reduction in staffing levels, while the implementation of restructured acquisition procedures will save billions of pounds. The current system produces flexible specifications that attract competitively low tenders, but then once accepted the Consensual Incremental Extortion (CIE) begins, with agreed amendments to the initial specifications warranting disproportionately large price increases. A supplier might suggest a modification that will produce a marginal improvement in performance, perhaps of one per cent, and then the total price may be increased by two per cent or by five per cent or by whatever percentage is expected to slip past without controversy. Later, when measure-countermeasure inflation kicks in, the exponential curve, starting from this heightened base, heads for the stratosphere. CIE has destroyed the UK’s Armed Forces’ ability to wage war against ill-armed and uneducated tribesmen — that is the measure of the MoD’s procurement failure. Michael will henceforth prevent this by insisting that suppliers meet exact specifications or face penalties, just as when they deal, for example, with civil airlines.

Intelligent savings need not be restricted to the inevitable staff reductions. The cost of low-intensity wars can be reduced by introducing the disciplines of careful asset selection which require cost-effectiveness in the choice of weapon selection. It is, for example, absurd for Tornados at £33,000 per hour to be used for tasks that can be done equally well, and sometimes rather more efficiently, by smaller and far less expensive aircraft at a cost less than one per cent of that figure, and yet I understand there are plans for all the Tornados we used in Afghanistan to be replaced by Typhoons modified at huge cost for close air support. Greater financial disciplines are desirable anyway, but for the Middle East, which may require our presence for perhaps the next half-century, or even longer, they are essential. Effects-based targeting is fine; I want effects-based spending, too.

Now I should like you all to read Lady Hodge’s book, Called to Account, so that you clearly understand how the MoD has wantonly wasted the Defence funds. As Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee she dug deep into the mire, and we must all learn from what she unearthed. You should all read also Bullingdon Defences, because that reveals the cost to morale inflicted on our Armed Forces by the MoD’s catastrophic carelessness and neglect. It’s your baby, Michael, but we all must share the responsibility for ensuring there will be no repetition.

We shall meet at the same time next Thursday.

We have been unable to confirm the authenticity of this leaked text, but shall leave it online until it has been formally denied.

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Si vis pacem, pare bellum

The PM on Defence (1) [edited transcript]

Not all the public understands primus inter pares, and now I am Her Majesty’s First Minister I am not sure I do either.  As I am the one who takes the rap when any one of you falls down, we are most certainly not equal, and it is that thought which now inspires what I intend to say to you today.

At our first plenary session I reminded you all that UK plc is not only a trading company that must trade to survive, a truth we all recognise, but also that it must survive if it is to trade, a simple reality some of our predecessors have neglected.  The situation in which we find UK plc today is catastrophic, and with the discovery almost every day of more hidden data we must conclude that severe measures are essential.  Fortunately we now have with Brexit a new opportunity that will in the public mind excuse severity and justify innovation.

While discussing our international trade I made the point that in common with all companies in distress UK plc must examine every escape mechanism, and this means looking carefully at the elimination of waste, at borrowing, at raising more capital, at downsizing, at vastly increased efficiencies, and at new expansion.  We shall have committees to examine all these measures, and more, but this committee is to concentrate on expansion in the one department where we have no choice but to expand.  That department, colleagues, is Defence.

Why have we no choice?  The Government’s first duty is the Defence of the Realm, and as our predecessors neglected it we have much to repair and replace.  Let me try to quantify the problem.  During the 1960s, when the greatest danger to the nation appeared to be that of a Soviet invasion of Western Europe and the dreadful war that would have followed, our average Defence spend was around 5.8 per cent of GDP.  During the next decade this dropped to 4.8 per cent, and then during the 1980s it dropped further to 4.5 per cent.  With perestroika there came the declaration of a “peace dividend” and the spend was dropped to 3.2 per cent of GDP until a Labour Government took over and dropped it first to 2.5 per cent and finally to 2.3 per cent.  Since then our immediate predecessors have planned to reduce it, if we refuse to fudge the definitions, to below 2.0 per cent.

That “peace dividend” was fictitious because it was supposed to represent money being saved by no longer having to defend ourselves against the Soviets with only conventional weapons, but in reality we were never able to defend ourselves with conventional weapons alone.  NATO would have been forced to go nuclear on the third day, and perhaps even earlier.  You and I and our constituents may not have known that, but the Governments of those days did.  So the baseline for the calculation was false.

Not only was there no “peace dividend”: there was a failure to understand that with the collapse of the bipolar stability the Americans and Soviets had created, a new instability required larger and more powerful Armed Forces to defend our interests and to enforce peace with different equipment and new skills.  During the bad days of the Cold War it was rare for the UK to fight.  We had Korea as part of the United Nations Force, and an insurgency in Malaya, but thereafter we experienced only comparatively minor post-colonial problems with little loss of life.  Since the collapse of the Berlin Wall, however, our conflicts overseas have been frequent — the Gulf War in 1991, Bosnia in ’92, Kosovo in ’99, Sierra Leone in 2000, Iraq from 2003, Afghanistan which, I fear, has no end in sight, and, of course, the Falklands whose security from invasion will remain a serious worry for both the near and distant future.  Accordingly, and especially because the weaponry we produced for a possible high-intensity war here in Europe was so often quite unsuitable for low-intensity conflict elsewhere, the investment in national defence should have been far higher — at least double.

Today we face a situation in which our predecessors planned to invest in the coming year a percentage of GDP that is little more than one third of the 5.8 per cent that was insufficient for conventional defence anyway.  Moreover, this small increase does not compensate for several decades of underinvestment that have reduced our defence assets substantially in both number and quality to the point that the men and women of our Armed Forces no longer trust our Defence Ministers’ judgment, a serious detriment to the morale already suffering from the poor housing provided for their families (and for which all pay unjustifiably high levels of rent).  You are well aware of the scandalous waste of money owed to seriously flawed MoD decisions, so I shall not list them now, but we must recognise the consequences — the financial drain of the horrific PFI contracts; the helicopters we need but do not have; the helicopters we have but cannot use where we need them; the Potemkin destroyers sent to sea without their defence systems; the 14 Type 45 destroyers agreed as the bare minimum yet reduced in number to 6, several of which are for one reason or another currently in dock and awaiting engine modifications to allow them to operate in tropical waters; the EFA Typhoon fighters that first had a gun, and then didn’t, and then did after all but could not fire it, and now is to have one to fire in support of the troops, but at a cost of many millions of pounds per aircraft; and the lack of a genuinely cost-effective aircraft for Close Air Support (needed in Afghanistan where the Tornado cost an unaffordable £33,000 per hour, plus fuel, to operate).

In summary, then, the ministry for which you have accepted responsibility, Michael, is a total financial disaster.  To begin to repair the damage our various predecessors created we shall need in the forthcoming financial years access to funds at a level of five per cent of GDP plus a margin — say around £80billion.  Across-the-board cuts cannot be applied to this situation, Philip, for the Defence budget has been cut already, as it has been every year since the 1960s, from 5.8 per cent (which was always insufficient anyway) down to the current insane, inadequate two per cent.

Well, I assure you, the UK will not commit suicide on my watch.  War is coming — not perhaps a state-on-state conflict during the term of this present Parliament, although that will come during our lifetime and we must prepare for it now — but insurgency and terrorism are coming into the British Isles now, during the term of this present Parliament, and on a scale that can be classified only as War.

The technical ability to kill large numbers of humans has improved in every century during the last millennium, and every century the death toll has increased accordingly to reach about 150 million for the last one.  With the population of the world expanding quickly, as is natural, and with the pressure on key resources such as water now beginning to threaten disturbances, who will gamble on this thousand-year trend being reversed?

War is natural to Man, and preparation for war has been Man’s principal activity all down our long march.  Machiavelli warned us that Man is more inclined to do evil than to do good, and the history of the last five hundred years has not contradicted him.  The Great War of 1914-18 was the war that was to end all our wars; remember?  The atomic bombs dropped on Japan in 1945 were the weapons that would end wars forever; remember?  And yet after 1945 we had Korea, Viet Nam and the Falkland Islands, and the horrors of Pol Pot, Rwanda Burundi, and the Balkans.

History has decided.

Well, I’ve given you something to ponder.  I should like to see you all again at three o’clock on Thursday, to hear your ideas on how we may proceed in solving the problems of Defence finance.

We have been unable to confirm the authenticity of this leaked text, but shall leave it online until it has been formally denied.

 

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Heroes of Helmand

If you did not watch Heroes of Helmand recently on Channel 4, or record it, you missed one of this year’s most important reports of the mismanagement of our war in Afghanistan. It astounds all who see it, but, of more importance, it makes everyone ask questions. Fortunately, it can be downloaded from the Internet.

Easy Company, consisting of Paratroopers and Royal Irish, is shown taking over a compound from a company of Danish soldiers who, symbolically, are taking away with them equipment far superior to that the Britons replacing them have brought.

The compound looks nothing like those we’ve all seen in movies. Its walls are much too low to give the protection the men will need, and the lookout posts are so exposed they will invite sniper fire and, as you will see, men will be killed.

So your first question will almost certainly be: “Why are these guys sent here?”  But it could also have been about why they were in Helmand at all. And your next question will be about the air support the company commander needs for reports on movement in the vicinity of the compound: “Why is the sky empty?” you will ask.

If you have kept a copy handy, you will readily deduce the answers from Sir John Chilcot’s Report and his findings on the conduct of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. If not, well, one word appears sufficient: Incompetence.

But there is another word Sir John refrained from using: Insouciance.

Insouciance in the MoD is owed to the unbridgeable gap between those who rule, the Senior Civil Service, and the cannon fodder they direct (memorably described by a recent MoD ‘Boss’ as “public sector workers”).

Incompetence, on the other hand, in Whitehall, is owed primarily to ignorance, and that this can have such tragic effects in battles so far away from London is owed principally to the lethal disease of perverted managerialism.

Managerialism

What’s that? Well, after a famous Frenchman, Henri Fayol, analysed the art and science of management it was decreed that an understanding of that art and science was all that managers needed for success. A detailed knowledge and understanding of what their organisation was supposed to be doing could safely be left to the lower orders.

This belief took root in Whitehall, where it was nurtured by the Senior Civil Service who quickly recognised its beneficial effects on promotion and on security of tenure, and in the Ministry of Defence its status was elevated to that of a religion. But why should this be so?

If the detailed knowledge and understanding of what the Royal Navy, the Royal Marines, the Army and the Royal Air Force did was unnecessary, then the Senior Civil Service could run the Defence of the Nation without the interference of admirals and generals. The only restriction that could offer any inconvenience would be money, but once agreement with the Treasury was reached on what was to be available, then how it would be used would be decided by those clerks sitting in the offices best furnished and enjoying the finest views of the Thames.

Now, no one can expect this to be believed, even after the defeats in Basra and Helmand, can they? Can you believe it? No? Of course you can’t. Now sit comfortably.

Let us look at the monstrous triad, the three principal decision makers in power when we were sent into Helmand. First, the man in charge of the crucial finances, the MoD’s Financial Director, had, according to Hansard, admitted to no financial qualifications. Second, the man who led policy on our military engagement in Afghanistan, the Director of Operational Policy, had, according to the MoD website, never served in the Armed Forces and had no naval, military or avian experience or qualifications. And third, the Boss . . . . . . .

Well, obviously, the Boss would compensate for the manifest inadequacies of the other two, or could hide them, for that Boss was the top Boss who ruled the MoD (and could veto whatever she didn’t like admirals, generals and air marshals doing). And her qualifications included a university degree in English literature, some time in the Justice Ministry to which she eventually returned, and several years at Work and Pensions. (She had absolutely no experience of the Armed Forces before she joined the MoD as 2nd PUS to keep a close eye on the finance, but her Pensions experience was very useful when those who were just short of their retirement date could be squeezed out more cheaply.)

And herein lies the true source of our Helmand problem. Managerialism decrees that the managers know how to manage and thus, implicitly, that they appreciate the decisions requiring knowledge and understanding must be left to the lower orders. Unfortunately, these managers, although, devoid of military, naval and avian understanding, use the authority of their high positions to take asinine decisions such as that which sent only 600 men into Helmand, a hostile province three times the size of Wales, and sent an inadequately-armed company into Musa Qala where, as the Channel 4 documentary shows you, encircling its low walls 500 well-armed Taliban waited, planning to kill them.

Another question this documentary feature will prompt you to ask will be about the men having to expose their fragile bodies in the observation posts on the roofs. Obviously, they needed to know what the enemy was doing, but why not, you will ask, use an aircraft to watch the enemy and to report its movements by radio?

That’s a fair question, and before going back into 1939 to answer it, we ought to note that all the startling information published today in today’s blog has been copied from the MoD website and MoD memoranda, and from Hansard. Additionally it may be noted that these complaints about the lack of aircraft to protect vulnerable infantry were explained in detail in the Daily Mail four years ago, and elicited no response from the MoD.

The Austers

When WWII began the British Army had no liaison aircraft suitable to work with the artillery for reconnaissance and to report fall-of-shot, so twenty light touring aircraft, two-seaters, were requisitioned. They had been made in England under licence from the American Taylorcraft company, and after modification a few went to France from where they returned in 1940 without having seen action.

They were then given more powerful engines, named the Auster Mark 1, and sent to North Africa in 1942 for Operation Torch where in action they acquitted themselves well, as they did throughout the war on every front. The Americans acquired similar liaison aircraft (they called them “grasshoppers”) from Taylorcraft, Aeronca, Piper and Stinson, and together with the Austers the allies had in service by the end of the war 15,300 of these valuable utility platforms.  Later marks of Auster continued flying after the war, but in the 1950s the Army, desperate to operate the weird helicopters then becoming available, agreed that in return for accepting this, the RAF would own all the fixed-wing aircraft.

Officially the RAF had no further need for small liaison aircraft.

auster

The Auster in World War II

‘Buddy Cover’

For the Auster this was the kiss of death, yet the troops on the ground, the men doing the actual fighting, needed those Austers. That was sixty years ago, and in Helmand today those Austers are still needed for the same reason, ‘Buddy Cover’, the liaison work that includes persistent surveillance from overhead, continuous reconnaissance of enemy position and movement, resupply of ammunition, food, water, batteries, mail, medical requirements, and emergency evacuation when medical helicopters are unavailable.

Of all these uses the most valuable in Helmand is the escort of vulnerable foot patrols and, as shown in the documentary, the bird’s eye view of what the enemy is doing – avoiding the casualties sustained in the observation posts.

The Austers are no more, but their replacement was designed for greater performance, simplicity of maintenance, and ease of operation. Additionally it was to be inexpensive to buy and to operate, and it was to be so easy to fly safely that the time needed to train pilots was less than for any other military aircraft.

dragoon-with-drone-platforms

Tandem-seated Dragoons out-perform the early Austers

The Dragoons

The MoD’s own experts at Boscombe Down, the RAF test pilots in A&AEE (the Aeroplane & Armament Experimental Establishment), had two Auster replacements, named now as Dragoons, for four months of rigorous evaluation and produced a glowing report that the clerks, finding it conflicting with their decision that “the future is rotary” (meaning that future battlefields would use only helicopters for liaison work), gave orders for the report to be suppressed.  (Suppression of the truth is not so rare as one would hope and expect.)

The aircraft’s supporters continued to press their case with, eventually, the Chief of the Defence Staff presenting to the Boss its need in Helmand, but the opposition remained firm. Although the Chief was a soldier, had commanded in Afghanistan, and had flown the aircraft, the Boss saw no need to heed his advice, nor even to visit the aircraft to look at it. And to every representation the answer remained the same: “There is no capability gap in Helmand.”

So the foot patrols continued to go out each day along routes festooned with trackside bombs, the IEDs, and into the ambushes coordinated with them, while those in compounds like Musa Qala were under fire every day from snipers and mortars, forever running low on ammunition and supplies, receiving their mail, so important to morale, only at odd intervals, and without air support to assist them materially, to reassure them that they were not forgotten, that they were not alone.

But those who’ve never served in the Armed Forces, who’ve never been in action, do not understand morale. If the MoD managers understood morale, then the MoD would not now be forced to acknowledge that the morale of the Armed Forces is lower than at any time in their history. That is official. (And it is blamed on everything and anything but the MoD itself.)

Channel 4’s documentary shows the besieged soldiers in Musa Qala running short of ammunition, and the resupply late. What is not obvious from this is that it was a common danger that had generated an Urgent Operational Requirement for a Precision Aerial Delivery System (this being one of the Dragoon capabilities). Urgent Operational Requirements (always known as “UORs”) are a priority and must be treated as such.

When this UOR remained unsatisfied for 26 months (while men were dying and, remember, it was ‘Urgent’), the Boss was asked by the Public Accounts Committee in Parliament for an explanation. If you check Hansard you will see that she replied, “I am afraid I don’t know what the precision aerial delivery system [is].”

There were, she insisted elsewhere, “no capability gaps in Helmand,” and indeed, if the UORs were ignored, then the managers in Whitehall could sleep easily.

The men in Musa Qala were betrayed, as were so many in similar bases, and so many hung out to dry on Helmand’s roads. The Daily Mail was the first journal to stress this, the BBC with The Lost Platoon, and now Channel 4 with Heroes of Helmand have followed with startling documentaries, and now it is the task of our readers to ensure through their MPs that the MoD will no longer send our men and women into action without ‘Buddy Cover’.

The A&AE trials at Boscombe Down and the Skylink trials in the US and Australia produced figures which, when applied to the Helmand casualty data from IED-ambushes, state that some 100 to 150 lives would have been saved if the foot patrols and convoys had been given ‘Buddy Cover’ Dragoons to detect newly disturbed earth and ambush formation.  Additionally, a similar number of limbs would have been saved.

We shall fight in this type of low-intensity war again, and we must prepare for it now.

The Very Close Air Support known as Buddy Cover will never be provided by the F-35B.  It must have slow-flying, quick-turning, ground-skimming Dragoons designating targets for the A-10 Warthogs.  Don’t let the politicos sell you on the F-35 JSF.  We cannot afford to buy it, and if we do buy it, then it will never be allowed to fight down in the mud.

Boris: A Happy Coincidence

 

The sudden availability of the late Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, the Brexit’s principal spokesman and, for a short time, candidate Leader of the Conservative Party, together with the Prime Minister’s decision to postpone yet again the decision on London’s airport expansion, is directly relevant to the post that appeared on the Blog yesterday. 

Serendipity

Brexit has given the UK the freedom and incentive to assume again its historic leadership of Western Europe, using the traditional quality of the Armed Forces and their fighting spirit to establish once again the nation’s reputation for innovation and success in the fields of technology and commerce as much as in naval, military and aeronautical conflict. This opportunity can be harnessed to attract the international finance that seeks to invest in leadership, and will additionally help to unify the constituent parts of the UK.  Success is a magnet.

The postponed decision on London’s airport is supposedly restricted to that of a choice between an additional runway at Heathrow and one at Gatwick, a counsel of despair dictated by intellectual fears of the perceived impossibility of designing alternative solutions whose responsibilities politicians will consent to accept.  It is, of course, a ridiculous situation, described in one response to an enquiry as choosing the better of two bad alternatives when both are eliminated by the original criteria of noise and traffic pollution, and, of course, by future inaccessibility.  “Boris Island” showed the way — why was it discarded? Should it not now be reexamined in the light of its proponent’s new availability as the internationally renowned and energetic enthusiast needed to drive its candidature forward?  Why is its potential not being assessed in combination with the comparatively low-cost utility of Manston Airport?

Expansion at Heathrow is for the brain-dead.  Gatwick may be a potential solution for some of today’s problems, but for none of tomorrow’s, and thus it must be ignored on financial grounds.  The Government’s decision must cater for very long-term requirements, and these include both the ability to expand, and then to keep expanding without (as has been traditional in airport construction) tearing down expensive facilities at their half-life.  Moreover, the construction’s investment operation must be integrated within the national investment plan and exploited as an irresistible magnet for foreign funds, a task for which the late Mayor of London would be unrivalled.

The Plan in Brief

  1. Secure the future of Manston Airport by compulsory purchase.  (Note: its future ownership is currently in contention).
  2. Designate Manston as a Freeport, upgrade its facilities, expand its area, and invite appropriate industries to reserve plots.  (Brussels might have objected to the Freeport status, but Brexit will applaud it.)
  3. Complete the “Boris Island” construction plan and begin work there as soon as is appropriate.
  4. Negotiate the route for a double (or probably triple, eventually quadruple) MagLev track from Manston to Boris.
  5. Plan improvements to current rail links and upgrade to motorway status the dual-carriageway A299 link from Manston to the M2. 
  6. Plan a New Town south of Manston and east of Canterbury.  (Early housing will be required for the construction force and the personnel transferred from Heathrow.)  Finance can be leveraged off the eventual resale of Heathrow for housing.
  7. Begin the diversion of air traffic growth from Heathrow and Gatwick into Manston as the first stage of the joint BorisManston operation, concentrating initially on dedicated air freighters and business traffic.
  8. Exploit the Freeport status as the principal attraction for investment — an attraction which, owing to geography, and freedom from the EU’s limitations, will be huge.
  9. Build the Boris Island 4-runway intercontinental airport, London’s only 21st-century airport (with potential for a later additional seventh runway), fully integrated with the fifth runway operation at Manston (where space should be reserved for a future sixth runway).

Operationally the two airports will have Boris Island (London East) as the principal activity and Manston (London South) as the satellite, with most air freighters using Manston, but financially, and especially for investment, the two airports must be treated as a single entity.  With some very substantial investment funds looking for returns larger than those offered by the banks, a Government-sponsored opportunity such as this must be very attractive.

MagLev rail link
The Magnetic Levitation (MagLev) high-speed rail link

The MagLev link (much shorter, less expensive, and far less disruptive than that proposed for Gatwick-Heathrow) is obviously crucially important, but in view of the absence of the constraints that hit the Gatwick-Heathrow traffic, adequate helicopter links will be available too. Phase Three could see the MagLev track extending above the river, close to its bank, into the City and perhaps beyond.

The New Town will be needed for the substantial numbers of workers employed in the years of construction, plus some of the airport workers transferred from Heathrow, plus some of the immigrants continuing to arrive at Dover, plus those arriving to work in the new and high-tech industries established in the Freeport.

Boris Island
Britannia Airport, Boris Island, London East, “Shivering Sands”

The “London Airport problem” requires a big solution, sufficiently big to attract the attention of the type of international finance sought.  This solution is sufficiently big also to offer partial solutions to the local employment problems, and to the need to identify suitable space for the Government’s national housing development plans.  No physical constraints to the airport’s construction have, it is claimed, been identified in the latest feasibility study of what is now called Britannia Airport (previously “Shivering Sands”), and the value of the project as a national inspiration should be sensational, typical of the morale boosting activities the UK’s role as leader of a Greater Europe demands.

So who will forward a link from here to Boris?