John Fortune and Nasruddin

“It’s 2014,” I was told at breakfast this morning. “It’s a New Year. ‘Everything is going to be better,’ Dave says, so perhaps in preparation for next year’s SDSR we’ll have some new defence policies related to the real world.” But I wasn’t listening.

I was mourning John Fortune of whose death I had just heard. He was ‘a lefty’, I’d been told, but if so then he was an uncommonly perceptive one with a great contempt for the incompetent way the nation is governed by Whitehall. When once asked about scripts and rehearsals, of which the Bird-Fortune team used neither, he explained that they were unnecessary because they worked with “the indefensible. Like British defence policy. Then you don’t have to make up jokes. You just say it.”

Here, in 2008, they presciently discussed the Carrier-Strike programme and its intention to use the short-range F-35B STOVL aircraft.  Some of their figures five years ago were optimistic, the programme cost having doubled since then and the size of the Royal Navy having been reduced further, but in general the sketch was based on a fair interpretation of the MoD’s flawed maritime policies.

2 future carriers

My ancient friend, the philosopher-fool Nasruddin, whom regular readers may remember from past blog entries, although recently in Afghanistan which is regularly visited by F/A-18 strike aircraft launched from American warships in the Indian Ocean, knows nothing of aircraft carriers. Nevertheless a tale is told of him that may strike a chord with readers who have studied the operational limitations of the F-35B STOVL aircraft scheduled to cost us ……. cost us what? The MoD does not know. The Defence Secretary does not know either. But a colleague in Washington predicts that we shall be lucky to get away with £125million each, and that would be only the notional cost anyway, for the real cost over its service life will double this figure. That is a lot for a widget that won’t do what it said on the bubble-wrap packaging when the MoD chose to order the STOVL Joint Strike Fighter.

Mullah Nasruddin visited the souq one day when a caravan of merchants had stopped to fill stomachs and water bags, and to fleece the locals. One of them, a most distinguished man Nasruddin was told, took him into conversation and, having realised that Nasruddin was a very holy man, offered to show him the holy cup that never ran dry. No matter how much wine was drunk from it, the merchant’s friends confirmed, always it refilled itself overnight.

Eventually, after much hard bargaining, Nasruddin persuaded the merchant that he, a holy man, was by far the best qualified custodian for such a holy vessel, and just as the merchant was about to leave he agreed the price he would pay for it.

When Mullah Nasruddin awoke the next morning the holy cup was dry but, nevertheless, because it was holy he washed and dried it with loving care, congratulating himself on his astuteness, and praising the quality of the wine that would have been in it that morning if Allah had wished it. 


Bullingdon Defences

Last year we published a series of six articles describing how the British Ministry of Defence had wasted billions of pounds on defence projects – with the intention that we might persuade readers to consider whether an organisation capable of such monstrous errors of judgement could be trusted to continue controlling the nation’s security.

These six parts have now been republished, together with others, in an anthology which will soon be available as a Kindle book on Amazon.  For the present a PDF version (with its web links inactive) is available for download from here.

All our revenues from the sale of the book, whether by donation from those who download the PDF file or as the purchase price on the Amazon website, will go to Help for Heroes to support the wounded soldiers, now training as pilots on the Flying for Freedom (F4F) programme, who will be using their new skills in specially modified Dragoons on next December’s Antarctic Expedition.

So what are Bullingdon Defences? 

The Strategic Defence & Security Review, the SDSR of 2010 (now known also as the Suicidal Defeat and Surrender Retreat), which, being composed together with a Spending Review was subordinated to that Spending Review, expected the United Kingdom economy happily “to continue with the fourth largest military defence budget in the world.” Since then this boast of “fourth largest” has been repeated by Cabinet Ministers ad nauseam, as if it actually means something of significance, fantasising that it would be interpreted by the electors as evidence of the United Kingdom’s continuing military strength. It wasn’t, it isn’t, and it won’t be.

The consequence of this was that in February this year the Prime Minister could pronounce in an article for The Scotsman: “We’re safer, because in an increasingly dangerous world we have the fourth-largest defence budget on the planet, superb armed forces and anti-terrorist and security capabilities that stretch across the globe.” There is little doubt that he really believes this, for he shows no understanding of military matters and relies on what the Ministry of Defence tells him, but there is monumental danger in this belief, because he, following his two predecessors, is confidently and brazenly stripping us naked before our enemies.

In response the Forbes blog wrote: “A defence posture based on the claim that our defence spend is ‘the fourth highest in the world’ has no credibility, for even if that were true it would not be a measure of our strength. The immense size of the bill for a smashing night out with the Bullingdon Club would not necessarily mean a man had eaten the best dinner in Oxford, would it?

And thus a national defence assumed to be good only because it costs more than can be afforded became known as a ‘Bullingdon Defence’ – ostentatiously extravagant, and one in which the greater part of the expenditure produces nothing of true and lasting value, while the remainder is drunkenly trashed.

To download the PDF file click on this link Bullingdon Defences

Lions Betrayed by Donkeys


Lord Thomas, the Lord Chief Justice, has said of the Blackman court martial: “The case is of the greatest public interest, involving as it does a unique charge of murder against soldiers on military operations against a wounded detainee. There is, therefore, the greatest public interest in the whole of the proceedings being publicly reported.”

And when sentencing Blackman the Judge Advocate General spoke of the importance that “this Court sends out a very strong message that while this sort of offence is extremely rare, if not  unique, those Service personnel who commit crimes of murder, or other war crimes or crimes against humanity while on operations will be dealt with severely. This is a message of deterrence but it is also to reassure the international community that allegations of serious crime will be dealt with transparently and appropriately.”

So both the Lord Chief Justice and the Judge Advocate General recognise the importance of the public interest and, specifically, in the JAG’s words, the importance of the message. Accordingly, it may fairly be assumed that both judges accepted that there would be public discussion of the trial, of the verdict, and of the sentence. The JAG alluded also to transparency – which is a good start point for public discussion of what some consider a travesty of justice, and which others have described as a political ‘stitch-up’ recalling memories of Admiral Byng, of Captain Dreyfus and, more recently, of Sergeant Nightingale.

So let us look at transparency.


Public comment has compared, for example, Blackman with a drug addict who murdered his baby son in anger because he had exhausted his supply of cannabis and yet received a prison sentence of only six years, and, more tellingly in view of the ‘transparency’ urged by the JAG, compared with the late prime minister, the Rt Hon Anthony C.L. Blair, who avoided impeachment and wanders the world accumulating treasure.

The killing of Osama bin Laden offers an interesting comparison. He was shot dead by Special Forces who could have captured him and could then have taken him to America for trial (an inconvenient trial perhaps). He was defended only by his unarmed wife. He may have preferred death to capture, as probably also may the Afghan in the Blackman case, but that is not relevant. Osama bin Laden, although not in a war zone, was shot in the line of duty, and was alive when the trigger was pulled, while Blackman’s Afghan, who in contrast was in a war zone, also was shot in the line of duty, may not actually have been alive when Blackman pulled the trigger, and earlier had been attempting to kill British servicemen, for which purpose he was when discovered still armed. (No one can swear that he was alive when shot, but medical specialists in this field explain that a dead man’s muscles can twitch, giving the appearance of life, if the chest is hit soon after death, as it was in this case by a bullet.)

Equal and appropriate treatment!  Is this the message?

Blair-Bercow motto

We can take this a little further during the next couple of weeks. For the present, responding to the JAG’s call for transparency, we shall just ask for the reasons that a child killer, a soldier killing a live al-Qu’aida leader, and a civilian whose moral deficiencies wilfully led to the loss of more than a hundred thousand lives, should be treated so differently from Blackman. All are not equal in the UK, certainly not in the decisions of the MoD when the objective of treating an accused man with justice is replaced by the objective of looking good to the liberal establishment and pretending to the world that “the British Government is whiter than white.”

The question we must ask as we search for transparency will be about the apparently compulsive need to punish our own, propitiating Moloch, the god of the Guardianistas, in a spirit of self-abnegation that appears to justify, as once with the first-born, Penance-by-Proxy (PbP). For the higher civilian ranks within the toxic environment of the MoD, no opportunity to injure servicemen ever appears to be  deliberately neglected, whether by reducing pension entitlement, by premature redundancy, by misinterpreting or rewriting regulations, by invalidating allowances, or by convening avoidable courts martial – and Blackman’s court martial was avoidable, as, for similar reasons, was Sergeant Nightingale’s. Psychiatric evidence in both cases was accepted by the court and then discounted, yet both men deserved at least the consideration freely given to the psychoses of undeserving politicians.

Those who allow PbP to persist in the official treatment of the Armed Forces betray them as surely as do those of their leaders in the MoD who send them out on patrols where every footstep may shred their legs, emasculate them, mutilate their bodies, or kill them, and then – if they have survived so far – after the continual stress of these patrols has accumulated to such extent that it affects their judgement, insist that there can be no allowance for this because not everyone, according to the JAG, buckles at the same point.

Sergeant Blackman, RM was betrayed, and such betrayal will continue (and Army recruitment will decline in consequence of this and similar betrayals) until the Government stops it.

Agility and Versatility

My  recent article on the Betrayal of Sergeant Alexander Blackman mentioned “the advice of Liddell Hart and Colonel T.E. Lawrence” and gave in a footnote its source as W.F. Hogarth’s paper The Point of the Spear.  I’ve received suggestions that this blog ought to publish it, but that has not yet been agreed.  However, here is one dating from 2007 that covers much of the same ground and, as the IED menace in Afghanistan was then in its very early stages, appears embarrassingly prescient.

It includes also the Lawrence quotation relevant to the doctrinal failings that affect the Blackman case.  Readers will be interested to note that in respect of the Turks whose tactics he criticised, and our 21st century MoD copied, he wrote of the “helpless” regular soldier who “owned the ground he sat on, and what he could point his rifle at …”  FOB in Helmand?

Of interest too will be his final argument for the use of our air supremacy to save lives.  This was 2007, and it was ignored.

Here is the link to the PDF version:


As most readers will be aware, the Blackman case is going to the Court of Appeal, so not all hope is lost.  The support of the public is, I believe, a comfort for the Blackman family and that support may perhaps increase a little if readers forward the link to as many of their friends and colleagues as possible.  

“Crude and Bonkers” Armchair Generals?

Although this blog’s colleagues are not “crude and bonkers”, “financially illiterate” armchair generals, but rather air force and navy pilots, warship and aircraft designers, and financial analysts, they have understood his message.  The Secretary of State for Defence does not wish to have their advice.

Accordingly, this blog will not today attempt to advise him, but will instead pose some questions on subjects of concern, these being [1] the new aircraft carriers, [2] the aircraft the Defence Secretary wishes to operate from them, and [3] the coordinated IED-ambush tactic expected to remain for both ground troops and civilian populations the principal threat in insurgencies.  Readers may wish to forward some of the questions to their MPs.

2 future carriers

HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales

1.   What is the Defence Secretary’s assessment of the vulnerability of the new carriers if they are deployed in hostile waters.  Have the dangers posed by the weapons listed here been evaluated?

(a)   Supersonic (and soon hypersonic) anti-ship cruise missiles (ASCM) with semi-armour-piercing high-explosive (SAPHE) or large diameter high-explosive anti-tank (HEAT) warheads.

(b)   Short and medium-range anti-ship ballistic missiles (ASBM).

(c)   Torpedoes.  (As the Defence Secretary may have been advised, the carriers appear to have no side protective systems.)

(d)   Mines.  (The carriers appear to be designed with a simple inner bottom giving almost no protection to under-keel threats.)

2.   What tests were completed on the carriers’ Rolled Homogeneous Armour (RHA) plate ability to defeat the kinetic energy of a supersonic ASCM (similar to that of an 11 inch to 14 inch shell)?  These tests would have been completed long before the Defence Secretary took office, but was he shown the results?

3.   What confidence does the Defence Secretary have in the carriers’ protection against HEAT warheads, bearing in mind the HEAT penetration of RHA by 3 to 6 times its own diameter?  (A single HEAT hit could be catastrophic and he will remember how HMS Hood exploded despite the pre-war warnings about the lethality of the kriegsmarine’s biggest guns.)

4.   Although everyone recognises the ASTER 15/30 capability against incoming missiles, what is its performance against crossing targets such as the missiles aimed at the carrier the Type 45 Destroyer is there to defend?  (The Probability of Kill (Pk) against incoming missiles is said to be around 0.97, which if true is very good indeed, but against crossing targets the accusation of a suicidal 0.15 Pk appears not yet to have been refuted with contrary data.)  What is the truth?

5.   In the decisions to minimise crew size in our warships (“efficiency savings”?), what allowances were made for the need to replace battle-damaged equipment with humans when the action begins?  (All-singing-all-dancing computerised machinery is financially economic and very sexy, but when hits are taken our warships need hands, which is why they are so-called.) We have noted political boasts of the intimidating size of the carriers (although around only half the size of the latest US carriers) and we have been asked if, in view of the tactical impotence of their aircraft, we shall exploit their size by ramming enemy coastlines (preferably, it has been suggested, with Captain Blair in the crow’s-nest and Captain Brown as the figurehead).

F-35B Vertical Landing

The Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) ‘jump-jet’ F-35B

1.   What is the Defence Secretary’s assessment of the F-35B’s vulnerability in combat?  As its weight problems have reduced its performance, and the solution to the recently discovered bulkhead cracks may lead to further weight increases, have the ‘g’ limits been reduced again?  Specifically, what for this allegedly ‘fifth generation’ fighter are the ‘g’ limits compared with those of the ‘fourth generation’ Russian Su-35 available for sale to other countries?

2.   What are the top speed and service ceiling of the F-35B in comparison with the top speed and service ceiling of the Su-35?  Yes, scary, isn’t it?  And the third element in the fighter pilot’s holy trinity is … ?

3.   Range!  Range is the third element.  (The first edition of the Joint Operational Requirements Document – the JORD – asked for the F-35B a combat radius of 464 nautical miles, but the associated data were so imprecise that USN representatives in the Pentagon thought it should be reduced to 386 nm – which they believed achievable.)  What has the Defence Secretary been told is the combat radius of the Royal Navy’s F-35B when flown by squadron pilots (not manufacturer’s test pilots) on a high-low-high profile with 15 minutes over the target and a return to the carrier with adequate fuel reserves?

4.   In defence of the purchase of the F-35B it has been suggested that what is good enough for the United States Marine Corps ought to be good enough for the Royal Navy.  Has the Defence Secretary been informed that the USMC has exchanged some of its ordered jump-jets for the longer range F-35C carrier version of the JSF, that when operating the F-35Bs it will eventually buy, the carrier will provide ‘buddy refuelling’ to extend their combat radius and to reduce the amount of reserve fuel the Royal Navy F-35Bs must save, and that the intended USMC and RN operations are too dissimilar to be compared?

5.   Has the Defence Secretary been briefed that –

(a)   – when flown in “stealth” mode the F-35B’s bombs cannot be heavier than 500lbs (insufficient to destroy, for example, a standard target such as a typical railway bridge)?

(b)   – current problems with the “stealth” anti-radar coating restrict the JSFs to one flight in two days?  (“Stealth” is the successor to the ‘swing-wing’ or ‘variable geometry’ aircraft as a concept of value only to the manufacturers – not to the operators.)

(c)    – the proposed complement of 12 F-35Bs per carrier is insufficient to operate a combat air patrol (CAP) to defend the carrier from ASCM-carrying attack aircraft, leaving no aircraft available for the strike missions (‘Carrier Strike’) for which this absurdly expensive combination has been assembled?

(d)   – no one in the MoD knows what the F-35B operation will cost the UK, and neither does anyone at the Pentagon, and nor does anyone at Lockheed Martin?  (How, then, can the famous ‘black hole’ have been filled, when no one knows the figures?)

(e)   – who advised the Defence Secretary that ‘Deep Strike’ (or ‘Deep and Persistent Offensive Capability’) would be possible with the F-35B?  (See this blog dated September 24th.)  If the carrier stands so far off-shore it has a fair chance of not being hit by shore-based ASCMs, will its aircraft (if the CAP is abandoned) have the range to reach a target and return to the carrier?  And if the F-35Bs are launched as strike aircraft from the carrier, will they survive air-to-air combat with a ‘fourth generation’ aircraft?  (The answer to that, of course, is probably not, and if they meet a ‘fifth generation’ fighter they will have no chance at all, having neither escape speed, nor height, nor agility — and the vaunted “stealth”, if it truly exists, is neither all-aspect nor all-wavelength.)

Well, that is enough for starters.  These questions are intended to publicise the reality that a group of independent and objective designers and fighter pilots (not “crude and bonkers”, “financially illiterate” armchair generals) have recognised that the carriers and the F-35B aircraft chosen to operate from them are too vulnerable to give ‘Carrier Strike’ any credibility. The Secretary of State for Defence will have heard the common claim that the magnificent electronics (computers and sensors) of the F-35B will allow the pilots to know exactly where and when they will die but, of course, this will only be after all the lines of computer code have been written, and that is many years away – which he may not have been told.  The priority question he must now ask is about the SAPHE and HEAT tests against the carriers’ armour, the RHA.

Taylorcraft Auster Mk1

‘Buddy Cover’ for troops facing IED-ambush threats

More than half the British casualties in Helmand arose from IEDs and/or sniper fire which could have been deterred or detected or destroyed before the troops were hit.  Against such threats the US Army in Vietnam used small military aircraft ( SMAs) such as the  O-1 to accompany, at low level, foot patrols and road convoys.  The British did the same in post-colonial conflicts, in Korea and in WWII, with British Austers and American Pipers and Stinsons.  However, despite a long campaign to persuade the MoD to provide ‘Buddy Cover’ with SMAs (and to protect perimeters such as that at Camp Bastion, successfully penetrated later by the Taliban), this low-cost, economic defence was consistently rejected for demonstrably fatuous reasons.

1.   Why were the recommendations presented by the MoD’s own professional experts, the Boscombe Down test pilots, for the use of the Dragoon SMAs in the role of the earlier and now obsolescent Austers rejected and their evaluation report suppressed?

2.   Why were the proposals presented by the MoD’s own professional experts, the Advanced Research & Assessment Group (ARAG) analysts rejected without any trials.

3.   Why was the request for Dragoon SMAs made by the recently retired Chief of the Defence Staff (CDS) vetoed by a Permanent Under Secretary who could not understand the principles involved and who was unqualified for her job as the head of the MoD?

4.   How many lives, limbs and senses were lost in IED-sniper coordinated ambushes that if not initially deterred would have been detected and destroyed by SMAs?  How much will the damage to mental health arising from these ambushes cost the UK?

5.   Why are the Afghan Forces being left without simple and economic air assets capable of Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR), resupply, casualty evacuation, ‘Buddy Cover’, perimeter patrol and border patrol, despite the ARAG proposals presented consistently since 2007?

Obviously, these questions would not have been asked if we had not known the answers, but this blog asks them anyway because there is some doubt about whether the Secretary of State for Defence appreciates the importance of the questions and  has been briefed on the answers.

Postscript dated 25 October 2013

The MoD has today said of the penetration of Camp Bastion’s perimeter defences, the two US Marines then killed in action, and the loss of six Harriers destroyed and two seriously damaged, that –

“Following the incident we contributed fully to a number of US and International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) reviews as well as carrying out our own thorough investigations.  These processes were undertaken to assure the force protection of ISAF personnel and equipment and to prevent a similar attack happening again.

“As such, the UK’s consideration of the US review was primarily focused on whether any new material had been brought to light that would warrant additional UK action. We have now considered the US review findings in detail and are confident that we have identified all significant lessons and acted upon them.  Consequently, we are content with our earlier assessment that no further UK action is required.

ARAG consistently emphasised the danger to Camp Bastion and Kandahar perimeters from 2007 and recommended, in line with the Boscombe Down evaluation report, the economic use of Dragoon SMAs by day and night.  What, we wonder, has the MoD done with the ARAG papers?  What does the MoD intend to do with those papers now they have been validated?  How thorough are “thoroughinvestigations in the MoD?


An American colleague writing in a private email today has contributed this –

Basically an ASCM warhead attacking the British carriers will have to penetrate multiple decks or bulkheads in order either  to mass detonate stored ammo or to cause the hull to sink or capsize.  So the question is not just the RHA but the array of decks and bulkheads. The flight and hangar decks have to be about 30mm and 20mm respectively in thickness in order to withstand aircraft wheel loads when landing or parked. This is not armor.  Most decks/bulkheads will be 7-10mm.  It requires about 30mm of steel to defeat most fragments.  It requires about 325mm of steel to defeat a SAPHE warhead on a missile at Mach 2 plus.  It requires about 1,400mm of conventional steel to defeat a first generation ASCM’s HEAT warhead …. and double that for the current state of the art design.  Obviously, on the battlefield modern tanks use advanced armor which is more effective then steel.  Relative to the required weight per square metre these are perhaps 3-7 times as effective as steel …. but this is against darts or smaller diameter HEAT warheads.  I do not believe anyone has studied defeating big warheads.  As a matter of fact, the US can no longer manufacture ballistic steel armor thicker then about 100mm.  My guess is that the British carriers will have fragment protection, but not ballistic protection designed to defeat penetrating warheads.  (By the way, the issue for the ASTER 30 is not just Pk against crossing targets …. but a very limited engagement envelope owed to the limited kinematics of the missile.)


For the 2012 archives visit

From a Correspondent: Breakfast with the MoD

Among the readers here will be many of those who last year realised that much of this blog’s material has been supplied to me by recently retired members of the Armed Forces and even by middle-ranking civil servants still inside the MoD.  Usually, after deleting the rants, I select only what I think useful and necessary, but today I am reproducing a report in its entirety.  It is alleged to have been submitted with an expense account, although I am not sure I believe that.

It was late when I arrived at the B&B, but there was a kettle with a teabag in my room and I eventually found a cup in the bedside cupboard bottom drawer, and then my tiredness hit me and I was asleep as soon as I dropped onto the bed.  In the morning the shower worked but the water was tepid, yet the soap packaging had a name I knew to be expensive, so at least the management was trying.

Breakfast was the real beginning of my education.  Salisbury Plain is still very much MoD-land, and this was very much the sort of B&B one expects of a lodging managed by Whitehall, especially when the staff is rumoured to be on detachment from Main Building.  I sat at the only table and looked at the menu, beautifully printed, obviously designed by one of the hundreds of talented and expensive PR men the MoD employs, and spoiled only, I thought uncharitably, by its grammar and spelling.  But that was not important, and I was hungry.

After waiting for rather a long time, or so it seemed, I left to find evidence of human occupation somewhere and eventually stumbled into the kitchen to discover a cook wrestling with a large and complicated food mixer.  I explained that I was in a hurry and should be grateful for tea, toast and scrambled eggs.

“Ah,” he said, in a voice I recognised from my dealings with MoD over the years.  “Sorry, no eggs, and although we do have bread, somewhere, we lost our toaster as an efficiency saving.  I can do you some caviar, and I’m plucking one of the turkeys, and we’ve got some Christmas pudding.  There’s no tea now, for when they cancelled the biscuits they decided we didn’t need any more tea bags during working hours, but there’s some champagne left in the fridge.  Of course, if you’re in a hurry, and if you’re really sure you want breakfast, I’ll get you a croissant from next door.  We share our resources with the French now, and if that’s not enough I can probably get you some sauerkraut later, if you’re not too fussy.  European Defence Force, you know.  That’s the future.  More economic, they say.”

I looked around the kitchen. It was clean but, fairly obviously, not used in a regular or systematic way.  There were seven pans, all of the same size, but as there was no frying pan my scrambled eggs would have been a non-starter even if there had been any eggs.  I checked the refrigerator, a top-of-the-line and very expensive European model, made, I suspected, in four different countries and assembled in Lancashire, but it was empty apart from about a dozen pots of caviar and a half-full bottle of an inexpensive champagne.  The oven was from the same multi-role manufacturer, but when I checked its controls no lights appeared.

“What’s wrong with this?” I asked.

“Oh, nothing, really.  We didn’t plug it into the electricity because we were promised an Aga and with an Aga we won’t need an oven.”  Then, responding to my congratulatory smile, he continued, “Problem is: I have to be trained and all the instructors were made redundant in the last cuts because all the new Aga ovens are oil-fired and we can’t afford the oil any more, so that’s okay, really, I think, or anyway that’s what they told me. ‘It’s to protect the bonus,’ they said.”

“So how do you cook?” I asked. “I mean, that food mixer won’t cook, will it?  And although I’m no expert, it looks to me as though it won’t even work.”

“Work?” he said, in wonder.  “Of course it won’t work.  I’ve been waiting for spare parts for months.  It’s just for show, really.  We all know that.  Like a soap on the telly, it’s all illusion.  Nothing here actually works.  We can’t afford for it to work … electricity’s too expensive … so we blame the lack of spare parts.”

“But doesn’t that upset you?” I asked.  “I mean, you’ve obviously nothing to do.”  And then I added mischievously, “Or are you just waiting for your redundancy money to come through?”

“Oh, no,” he said.  “There’s no redundancy for me.  Too many ahead of me in the queue.  Now to fill the spaces opening up I have to change to being a Warrior driver, or something like that.  Anyway, that’s all in the future, and no one really seems to know what’s happening.  And in any case I have to do Shrivenham first.”

Shrivenham?  That made no sense.  The staff colleges are at Shrivenham, and only officers attend them, not kitchen hands, not even cooks.

“Shrivenham?” I said.  

“Yes,” he replied.  “I have to pass the Equality & Diversity Course before my next posting.  Should be fun.”

So I left him for my appointment, breakfastless.

Perhaps the title I chose should have been NOT Breakfast with the MoD.

For the 2012 archives visit

Do you truly understand your Prime Minister?


“Do you understand your Prime Minister?” the General asked me.  “Have you seen the news from BAE Systems?  It’s a picture of his new peaceship.  The First Sea Lord says it’s designed for ‘humanitarian and disaster relief work around the world’, but just look at it.  It’s not built for the North Atlantic, not with that hull it ain’t (look at the flare), but it’s painted North Atlantic grey to make it look stealthy.  Very fashionable, stealth.  If it’s to run around the world doing good as the SDSR tells us, the Prime Minister will want people to see it, won’t he?  So it shouldn’t be coloured for stealth – it should be painted vividly in highly saturated fluorescent red, white and blue.”

Type 26 GCS Peaceship 

“Yes,” I said, “but this is the Type 26, the new Global Combat Ship.  It’s going to be in combat against pirates and drug runners.  That’s why it’s grey.  Not exactly stealth, but ‘low observability’.  Look, it has a gun.”

“A gun!” he said.  “You call that a gun?  When I was a toddler I had a cowboy suit with a bigger gun than that.  Matelots used to know how to cover their rear, but they can’t here with that, can they?  A Somali in a skiff with an RPG could approach from astern and sink it.”

“Yes, if it could get near enough to use an RPG, but there’s a helicopter to look after the rear.”  But only one, I thought, and that might be a Merlin even if they plan on an updated Lynx.  And how often would a Merlin be serviceable in 2020?

“Six years ago, in the Gulf, HMS Cornwall had a chopper but it couldn’t even defend the cabin boy’s iPod.  D’you see there are no rails?  A rough sea swamping the deck and stealth will be destroyed by a trail of sailors washed overboard.  No davits for the lifeboats. No lifeboats.  I can see only two cells for launching missiles – perhaps there are more astern – but it really doesn’t look like a warship, does it?  It’ s a peaceship. What’s it actually for?”

“I don’t know,” I said.  “They plan on it coming into service in 2020, so …”

“2020!” he interrupted.  “It’s a BAE Systems contract commissioned by the MoD, for heaven’s sake.  And it’s for the Royal Navy, which is still governed by tradition.  That means it will be vastly over budget, too expensive to fully equip, and years late, years late.  We’ve been sending ships to sea without their missiles ever since that lunatic Brown decided missiles were unnecessary so long as our ships were actually capable of putting to sea with missiles if they had any, so having no missiles because we have no money is the tradition we must now follow.  (The current Deputy Prime Minister is pushing that as the new Naval doctrine.  He even says the Vanguard submarines should go to sea without their Trident missiles!  It’s called LibDem Duality.  That means having a deterrent that can’t deter.)  Forget 2020.  That date was chosen for PR reasons because the first new carrier is due to go to sea then – without aircraft, of course, because we can’t afford the ones for which it was designed, and those will be tactically useless anyway.”

“Well, it’s not really that bad,” I said.  “When the peaceship does eventually come into service, it will be basically a new type of frigate.  Our admirals insist on having a destroyer-frigate navy.  That’s what they understand.  They can cope with aircraft carriers, but they don’t really like them.”

“Yes, you’re right,” he said, “and that’s the problem.  A destroyer-frigate navy.  The frigates are there to defend against submarines, and the destroyers against air attacks, but the submarines the frigates once fought successfully were diesel-powered.  They can’t fight nuclear subs.  Only other nuclear subs can do that.  Helicopters could sometimes, perhaps, but I doubt it for the future.  The destroyers might do point defence against some incoming missiles, but not against crossing targets, and not against the existing supersonic surface-skimming cruise missiles heading for the carrier – and by 2020 new hypersonic anti-ship missiles will have put this Type 26 Global Combat Ship out of business, and the carriers, too, of course.”

“Perhaps you have a point,” I admitted.

“I’ll tell you what’s behind this,” he said.  “By the target date of 2020 the carriers, even if they are ready, won’t have the strike aircraft their designers intended, and they will be far too vulnerable to put to sea in a war.  But they will have hospitals and helicopters and large kitchens they call galleys, and hangars full of Red Cross and Red Crescent parcels, so that they can run around the world ‘doing good’ in crisis areas, droughts, tsunamis and earthquakes.  The same goes for the new Type 26 GCS alias frigates, which also will be far too vulnerable to expose to actual warfare.  It’s all in the subtext of the SDSR.  And why?”

“Search me,” I said.  “I don’t understand my Prime Minister either.”

“It’s his ‘Soft Power’ theory,” he said.  “Someone told him of the ‘fleet-in-being’ doctrines developed by Lord Torrington and Admiral Mahan that allowed the Royal Navy to rule the seven seas while staying safe in port, and then he coupled those to Brown’s lunacies about it being sufficient to have unarmed ships so long as they are capable of being armed, and then he realised that if the Royal Navy remained unarmed and also stayed in port the MoD would be able to reduce its personnel by half.  So this ‘Soft Power‘ idea was initially about saving money to fund the International Aid budget he had ringfenced.  It’s the same strategy he’s used with education.  If there are to be no grammar schools it’s not possible to educate modern youth, and if you can’t educate modern youth you don’t need to spend the money trying.  I know that doesn’t work, but neither did he until he tried it.”

“Hold on,” I said.  “That’s absurd.”

“Of course it’s absurd,” he said.  “You know that and I know that, but he doesn’t.  Now watch the Army.  It’s fighting wars with inferior equipment and as its morale drops the lads queue up to leave and ancient regiments cannot find new recruits.  So then he disbands the regiments because they’re undermanned, and suddenly we find we have an army which is no longer an army, just a collection of 82,000 extremely unhappy men and women with capability consistent with ‘Soft Power’.  We can’t fight a war with an army of only 82,000.  It’s not possible.  And we can’t fight anything with ‘Soft Power’.”

“What about the RAF, then?” I asked.

“He followed his predecessors and took orders from Brussels.  We had to agree to buy 250 Eurofighter Typhoons.  That was twenty-odd years ago.  We now plan to have in 2017 only 107 of them and they will cost us three times what we were told would be the price.  To pay for them we first took a complete and fully operational attack wing of Jaguars offline and scrapped them, and more recently we decommissioned all our Harriers (and then, not having any Harriers to fly from the through-deck cruisers he decommissioned those too and scrapped them).  Now we are told that these wonderful Typhoons won’t do the job the Jaguars did because they cannot integrate their computer software with the weaponry software.  That’s why the Typhoons attacking Libya needed Tornados to fly alongside them to aim their bombs for them.”

“Yes,” I said.  “I knew that.”

But as we had only eight pilots capable of flying those Typhoons, it was all a nonsense anyway.  Having the Tornados fly all the way from Norfolk each day in order to help the Typhoons work as simple bombtrucks must be the most bizarrely uneconomic arrangement in RAF history, and it was all done in an attempt to hide the stupidity of decommissioning the Harriers and scrapping HMS Ark Royal.  And then, after all this unnecessary expense, and after the failure to hide from the world the Typhoon’s inadequate ground attack capability, the operation was claimed to be a huge success that justified the SDSR decisions.  What cynics call spin, older judgement describes as blatant dishonesty.

It is dispiriting to think back to the Second World War when in 1940, still suffering from the lack of preparation, we could yet launch, just, enough fighters each day to defend us against very large fleets of well-escorted bombers, and then later to when we could send, each night, raids of a thousand bombers flown by a thousand pilots to attack the enemy factories, and then to appreciate that there were only eight pilots to fly the RAF’s shiny new frontline fighter-bombers against Libya.

And the cost of all this?  When a representative of the MoD told the Public Accounts Committee in the House of Commons that the Typhoons were costing only £72 million each, one of the committee members told him that if we divided the full programme cost by the 107 Typhoons we would have accumulated by 2017, then we were paying £186 million each.  Ah, yes, but for that figure, he was told, it was necessary to include the cost of research and development.  One wonders who he thought was to pay for that.  The tooth fairy or the taxpayers?

This fundamental incompetence in the interpretation of the numbers pushed around in the MoD has been well illustrated with the decommissioning of the Harriers and their sale to the US Marine Corps, with which they are planned to remain in use for several years, and for even longer if the F-35B, their theoretical replacement, fails so badly that even the White House must recognise it.  No one knows how much the F-35B will cost the Royal Navy, nor even how many will be bought, but the price will not be less than £125 million each.  This means that the sum received by the MoD for the sale of 72 Harriers plus spares plus support equipment, £110 million, is less than the currently forecast price the MoD will pay for one F-35B, one single F-35B without spares, in whose performance independent aviation defence analysts have no faith, absolutely no faith at all.

“You know what I think,” said the General.  “I think it started with the Typhoon and the scrapping of the Jaguar attack wing.  That was in the same continuum that is planned to end with the Armed Forces cut to the bone and unable to fight a war alone for British interests.  Our frontline ships will be too vulnerable and too few to fight, the RAF won’t have sufficient aircraft or pilots to operate, and the Army won’t have sufficient men to field a brigade for an overseas campaign.  That is the ‘Soft Power’ that can be provided for pennies so that the pounds can be spent on International Aid.”  He paused to pour the remainder of the Glenlivet into his glass while I recalled the Jaguar stupidity.  In 2004, the MoD decided to retire the ground attack Jaguar aircraft early (although it was eventually delayed until mid-2007) and to spend £119 million to install ground attack upgrades on early Typhoons to cover the resulting capability gap.  The MoD thus took offline a fully operational attack wing, long before its life was over (the Indian Air Force is to continue flying upgraded Jaguars for another twenty years), in order to fund an overdue aircraft it could not afford, and then made that overdue aircraft even more unaffordable by upgrading it at great expense to do the work of the proven and splendidly efficient operational aircraft taken offline to help fund the newcomer that was supposedly replacing it.

“Think of the continuum as a flexible hose,” the General continued.  “At one end, before the Berlin Wall came down and our lords and masters were burbling on about imaginary ‘peace dividends’, we had Armed Forces that could defend our national interests.  Now we do not.  One end of the hose was in Westminster back in 1990, and the other end is in Brussels in 2020 when the ‘Soft Power’ will ooze into the EuroForce to become its ‘Soft Power’ element – to operate peaceships, air ambulances, and stretcher bearers.”

He emptied his glass and turned it down.

“Sic transit gloria mundi,” he said. 


For the 2012 archives visit

The ‘Multirole’ Joint Strike Fighter and the ‘lead weight’ tied to its tail

A Lesson from World War II

When I began to design aircraft it was 1943, the war prevented models flying higher than the roof of a two-storey house lest a nervous witness trigger an air raid alert, we usually restricted ourselves to gliders because elastic of good quality was so difficult to obtain, and the principal design manual was the monthly Aeromodeller magazine, one of whose writers taught me a lesson which resonates still, seventy years later, when I read such words as those spoken by Mr Philip Dunne, the deluded Minister responsible for defence procurement, in support of the Joint Strike Fighter at the Defence Security and Equipment International exhibition in London last week.

The remembered lesson was my first encounter with a spoof article, when after the immediate reaction of “he can’t be serious” I sat back and enjoyed the ride.  It started with (for a ten-year-old child) the incontestable truth that the greatest problem aircraft designers face is that of calculating the centre of gravity (the ‘C of G’).  Our practice then was to reduce the difficulty by attaching the wing to the fuselage with rubber bands.  An adjustment of the attachment would then make a small alteration to the position of the aircraft’s ‘C of G’ and a larger alteration to the position of its Centre of Pressure, so heuristic experimentation would thereafter, after many test flights and a few repairs, produce a solution we called “the optimum.”

The spoof adopted a more direct approach, proposing that the easiest solution to the ‘C of G’ problem was to attach a large lead weight to the aircraft tail, and then to ignore it and to forget there had ever been a problem.  This recommendation was accompanied by a line drawing of a Spitfire empennage to which a large weight was attached with a thick rope.  I must confess that although this revelatory experience has been engraved on my memory since that day, many years passed before I recognised the pervasive nature of the “lead weight syndrome”, not only in aircraft design, but also with other major government projects.

(Major government projects?  Certainly!  The HS2 is the ‘lead weight‘ on plans to increase the UK’s industrial productivity;  on plans to solve the UK’s energy crisis it is the wind farm virus;  and on plans to project military power overseas it is Carrier-Strike, a fantasy based on exorbitantly expensive and vulnerable aircraft carriers whose imminent obsolescence only the MoD’s obscurantists ignore, and whose cost is sapping the effectiveness of all other branches of the British Armed Forces.)

As Mr Dunne has announced his enthusiastic support for the JSF, the Joint Strike Fighter of which the British government apparently plans to buy 48, or perhaps 36, or even, the optimists forecast, 72 (although not the originally planned 138 on which the price was to be based), all at an “affordable” but unspecified fly-away price, it would be useful to look at the JSF’s own ‘lead weight’ – one that is unique in aviation in the variety of its tragic aeronautical and financial consequences.

The Origin of the JSF’s ‘Lead Weight’

It was all hopelessly wrong from the beginning, when the American Joint Advanced Strike Technology (JAST) research evolved into the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) programme.  What are now termed the ‘legacy’ aircraft and considered outdated with inadequate potential for further development (or for commercial profits), these being the A-10 and F-16 of the USAF (both uniquely superb, still, in the roles for which they were designed), the F/A-18 of the USN, and the F/A-18 and AV-8 Harrier of the USMC, were all to be replaced with a completely new and heavily computerised design that would allow ‘multi-role’ employment, have irrefutable superiority over all foreign rivals, and reflect great prestige on all who can claim some association with it.  (These foreign rivals were classed as “fourth-generation aircraft” and this new design would be “fifth generation”, both of which are meaningless marketing terms still in use today.)


 The A-10, the ‘Warthog’, the greatest CAS aircraft ever

Tribal politics made the A-10 (a dedicated Close-close-close Air Support aircraft much loved by the Army) very unpopular with the USAF chiefs (who dislike involvement with the grubby business of fighting in the dirt), so despite its unrivalled track record in war and its unquestionable promise of decades of supremacy it was scheduled to be scrapped.  As these words are being written there is a battle in Congress between those who believe it would be premature to scrap it before the F-35B has proved itself, and those who enjoy scrapping aircraft in order to justify buying new, bright, shiny and expensive replacements.  (A few Warthogs still fly in Afghanistan, but many more are parked in the Arizona desert and could even now be bought by the RAF at a knock-down price.)


The F-16, unequalled as the ‘Best Value’ fighter choice

The F-16, as also the A-10, was the product of Washington’s ‘Fighter Mafia’ (a team of experienced and highly skilled pilots and designers dedicated to the teachings of Colonel John Boyd, the father of modern fighter air warfare).  It has been sold worldwide in thousands and retains further unexplored development potential.  (The RAF could have had it and should have bought it, but domestic politics intervened – with the consequence that the UK wasted billions of pounds, principally on buying the Eurofighter Typhoon which is now at six times the F-16 offer price, and three times its own initial budget price.)


F/A-18 Super Hornet, for some an alternative to the F-35C

The F/A-18 also has unexploited potential, so much so that for some of the partner countries in the JSF project it will be the alternative when they recognise the JSF is a failure, or if the US itself decides that the plug must be pulled.  The AV-8 Harrier has no development potential left, but with the Initial Operating Capability (IOC) of the F-35B (the USMC’s jump-jet which is the UK’s too) so far in the future (using here the traditional definition of IOC, not the new and politically convenient definition just adopted by the USMC), then the AV-8 Harrier (and the UK Harrier version lately sold by the MoD to the USMC [72 aircraft plus spares and support equipment for £110 million] at a firesale price) will be doing the JSF jump-jet version’s job very capably for the US for many years yet.


AV-8B, the USMC version of the Royal Navy’s Sea Harrier

What may be deduced from this brief description of these four aircraft?  Surely it can be only that the decision to press ahead with the JSF Project was over-hasty, driven by commercial enthusiasm and a lust for profits, not by immediate operational necessity.  And the ‘lead weight’?  Yes, we shall look at that in a moment.

The fateful JSF decision decreed that one aircraft design would replace the USAF A-10 and F-16, and the F/A-18 of the USN and USMC.  This meant that one single design with appropriate modifications would be a Close Air Support (CAS) aircraft, and a fighter aircraft, and a ‘deep strike’ aircraft – and that this would produce, it was said, huge economies by exploiting 70 per cent commonality.  The F-16 would be replaced by the F-35A, and the F/A-18 by the F-35C.  The USMC then complained that the AV-8B Harrier had been forgotten, and that the Marines must have a jump-jet version of the JSF.  This became the F-35B, which, surprisingly, came to be treated in effect as the base model from which the F-35A and F-35C would in effect be adapted, and the ‘multirole’ JSF was thus given “a role too far.”

This is the ‘lead weight‘ that was attached to the tail and killed the JSF stone dead – although, yes, still, so many years and hundreds of billions of dollars later, the key actors in the melodrama, while knowing this to be so, refuse to recognise it.  The ‘multi-role’ meme is etched into procurers’ minds in the Pentagon and in Whitehall, and those minds appear incapable of looking at the cost objectively.

The Consequences of the JSF’s ‘Lead Weight’

The idea that one all-singing-all-dancing aircraft would do the work of four dedicated aircraft was promoted as both a cost-saver and, in the belief that it would be a certain attraction to the air forces of other nations, by the claim that increasing the numbers sold (3,000 was an early target) would reduce the unit cost for the American buyers.  Unfortunately, in reality no major military aircraft production can operate this way today.  The supposed economies over the alternative manufacture of dedicated single-role aircraft did not exist, for the cost of the complexities of the exponential growth of the interactions outweigh the hypothetical savings.  Moreover, those complexities transform into hyper-expensive complications which lose time, and that time lost gives potential foes the opportunity to leap ahead in the technological race.  In warfare, simplicity is good.  In warfare, waste avoidance is good.  The JSF project failed on these grounds right at the start.

And the ‘lead weight’?  The jump-jet version for the USMC, sold by a smoke- and-mirrors artist to British governments (both immediately past and sadly present in a coalition), needed vertical thrust to allow jumping.  This vertical thrust required a fan of a minimum diameter which reduced the size of the weapons bay and, of crucial importance, disciplined the minimum width of the fuselage in that critically important area.  The boasted commonality then cast its lethal shadow and the USAF and USN versions, the F-35A and F-35C, were given that same minimum width too, truly, (although they were allowed to retain the longer weapons bay).

One of the most critical aspects of supersonic design and of operating modern fighters is flight in the transonic region, especially the acceleration of the aircraft from 0.8 Mach to 1.2 Mach (from 80 per cent of the speed of sound to 120 per cent).  There have been various approaches to this – the hyper-thin wings of the TSR-2 and Concorde, the variable geometry of the later swept wings, and ‘area rule’ which is now observed in all modern supersonic aircraft (except the JSF, of course).  ‘Area rule’ gives an aircraft fuselage a waist (just where the F-35B is fattened by its fan) that reduces drag in the transonic region.  The effect of that absence of ‘area rule’ on the JSF, on all the versions of the JSF, can be illustrated by comparison examples of the performance data for the F-35A and for the legacy aircraft it is supposedly replacing.

An F-16C armed with four missiles and a half-full fuel tank flying at 30,000 feet takes around 28 seconds to accelerate from 0.8 M to 1.2 Mach.  The F-35A, hit by the commonality penalty, was not expected to be as good as this, but it was expected to need less than 40 seconds when the first Joint Operational Requirements Document (JORD) was agreed.  The third version of the JORD has increased this to 60 seconds.  The 40 seconds allowance should not have been accepted ab initio, and its increase to 60 seconds should have had all the politicians refusing to sign contracts until it was explained and improved.  But OODA (Obscurantism, Obfuscation, Delusion, Apathy) rules in Washington just as in London.

The jump-jet’s extra weight carries other penalties.  The decisions to reduce metal thickness in certain areas in order to compensate for it, plus the removal of some safety devices, earned adverse publicity and prompted grave concern among the independent commentators, some of whom, being members of the ‘Fighter Mafia’, have unchallengeable credentials, but the effect on performance was even more alarming.  Actually, it is dire, because the F-35B has reached its limit – yet more modifications are being recognised as necessary, and, because this happens to all military aircraft, more equipment will be added in the future.

The original JORD gave target specifications.  For example, at 15,000 feet and 0.8 Mach all the JSF versions were expected to sustain a load of +6.0g, with a minimum acceptable for the jump-jet of +5.0, but after the Operational Test & Evaluation Report of 2012 this was reduced for the jump-jet to +4.5g.  This is one of the key parameters on which, when in combat, a pilot’s life depends.

Does the JSF Performance Justify its Replacement of the Legacy Aircraft?

The superb A-10, which is capable of having wings refitted and modern electronics added, could stay as the principal CAS aircraft for the next 40 years.  It carries the terrifying Gatling gun and 1,100 30mm explosive shells, plus a variety of missiles, rockets, and bombs, in far greater numbers than the F-35B will carry.  Moreover, it was designed to take heavy punishment while flying at very low heights, whereas all the JSF versions are recognised as extremely vulnerable aircraft (currently banned from flying within 25 miles of lightning).

The F-16 as a fighter, and as the strike aircraft for which the original design was adapted, has earned with the Israeli Defence Force an unrivalled reputation for its performance in battle and its operational reliability.  How well does the F-35A compare?  It is slower, maximum speed being 1.75 Mach (although currently limited to 0.85 Mach because the afterburner’s heat damages its skin) as against 2.0 Mach, but apart from that there is little that can currently be said, not just because many of the key details of the JSF are classified, but because, despite the SDSR2010’s claim of the JSF being the best fighter in the world, its development is not yet complete, its Operational Test & Evaluation (OT&E) programme is still in its infancy (seven years behind schedule), a substantial portion of its computer code is still unwritten, and the helmet display, the nerve centre essential for the control of the aircraft, has serious limitations.

As the F-18 replacement, the F-35C must be capable of ‘deep strike’, which is the principal reason that the incoming government in 2010 decided to buy it in preference to the F-35B ordered by its predecessor.  Subsequently, owing to political haste and departmental blunders, the choice was reversed and the MoD claimed the F-35B to be capable of ‘deep strike’ – much to the hilarity of North America’s aviation analysts, but to the despair of British analysts who fear for the UK’s future.

We can discuss ‘deep strike’ in a future blog when we look at the details of the F-35B key performance parameters (KPP), but today we can note that the radius of action Lockheed Martin quoted initially was 450 nautical miles, that this was reduced in response to haggling about the unrealistic flight profiles used, and that British naval aviators quote 385 nautical miles as being more realistic, especially as the lack of aerial refuelling means that pilots will be very fussy about returning to their carrier with adequate reserves.  From that background we must proceed to calculate how far the carrier is to stand offshore to avoid enemy supersonic cruise missiles, for that distance must be subtracted from the radius of action.  It does not leave much for any target ‘deep’ inside enemy territory, does it?

Does it matter?  The solution is simple, one of the JSF’s enthusiastic political supporters claimed, for the F-35B will carry additional fuel in external tanks, just as the F-16 and F/A-18 do, and this will give the extra range required to reach its target!  Well, yes, but the great USP of the JSF aircraft is their ‘stealth’ (more accurately, their lower observability) which has absorbed so much of their development budget, and this does not survive external tanks being hung on them.


The Canberra ~ >3,000 miles range

Do the British politicians promising ‘deep strike’ understand what they are claiming?  The first jet aircraft the RAF was given for this role was the Canberra whose range was >3,000 miles.  The TSR2 planned to replace it claimed a range of >2,800miles.  The Buccaneer which did replace the Canberra had a range of 2,300 miles.  Those figures give a measure of the ‘deep strike’ meaning.  We shall not know the range figure for the F-35B until much later on in the OT&E programme, which is many years behind schedule, but it has been claimed to be around 1,400 miles – although we know from the JORD it was not expected to exceed 1,200 miles, less than one-half of the Canberra’s range.

TSR2-8The TSR2 – >2,800 miles range

Are the British politicians deluded?  Or are they trying to delude the electorate?

The Reality Behind the Spin

Lockheed Martin has had to face the unpalatable fact that the failure of the JSF programme is widely discussed in its home market.  The reasons for its failure are many and well known, and among the independent analysts the consensus view is that it was doomed to failure from the start.  No aircraft has ever had such a heavy ‘lead weight’ tied to its tail.  As a blog explained last year, an aircraft designed for a single role can often be adapted successfully for another.  This is versatility.  But an aircraft designed to be ‘multirole’ will suffer from so many tradeoffs (the greater the design’s complexity, the greater the suffering) that as a jack-of-all-trades it will be master of none (NBG).

Versatility comes from genius;  ‘multirole’ comes from marketing.

To battle against growing hostility, Lockheed Martin is currently running a fierce PR campaign worldwide, helped in the UK directly by the MoD and by Ministers such as Mr Dunne.  A campaign of this intensity (which gives immense publicity to the achievement of a routine deck landing) is a certain sign that the quality of the product is unacceptable.  The F-35B with an empty weapons bay can take off and land, which is no big deal, but it is years away from being a warplane, from being able to fight – despite the SDSR2010’s mendacious claim three years ago of it being one of the two best fighters in the world.

And the key message in the current campaign, always the resort of failures, is “job creation”.  Whenever an analyst finds undue emphasis on the number of jobs to be created, he reads “never mind the quality, feel the width!” and knows it’s another confidence trick.  This one is a world record.  There has never been one like it in the past.  There will never be another of this size.

This page does not intend to be a destructive analysis of the F-35B forecast to cost us currently around £125 million each just to buy.  (OMR – Operation, Maintenance and Repair – is calculated to double this figure during the lifetime.)   The details this needs will be released in blogs during the next few months.  What has been presented here with the ‘lead weight’ paradigm is the evidence that the JSF programme, although it will doubtless be commercially successful for Lockheed Martin (the concurrency that assures this will be explained in a later blog), was forecast to fail from the start.

A Question for the MoD

Readers familiar with last year’s series of reports on the billions of pounds lost by the incompetence in MoD’s contract negotiations will not be surprised to learn of suspicions that in respect of the JSF F-35B little has yet changed.  The Pentagon’s Inspector General is about to submit his audit of the JSF Program in which he states that the F-35 program office should modify its contracts to “include a quality escape clause, to ensure the government does not pay for nonconforming product.”  If the Pentagon has failed to protect itself, can the MoD assure us that nevertheless the UK is protected with “a quality escape clause”?  Or are we yet again caught in a Nimrod-Typhoon-carrier trap?

For the 2012 archives visit

Humiliation Avoided ~ the Tory rebels saved the Prime Minister


Has there ever before been such a debate as that in the Mother of Parliaments on August 29th?  Conceived in error, promoted promiscuously, supported speculatively, and culturally iconic, the wide range of incoherent opinions its result produced were to be modified, contradicted and restructured by their possessors within minutes of them leaving the chamber.

Mr Cameron was grievously wounded, or his reputation enhanced by his integrity; the British nation was now an international joke, or its democratic virtues universally admired; Labour had won a stunning victory, or Mr Miliband’s conduct was disgraceful; the ‘special relationship’ with our closest ally was destroyed, or the American people would gratefully follow the example the British had given.

And at the centre of this confusion a “humiliated” Mr Cameron played the alpha male, basking in the admiration of those who claimed, or who were about to claim, or would later claim, that what he had done in seeking the approval of Parliament was right, while he reflected on the unhappy revelation that the 272 whipped votes he had captured might not actually represent the views of the British Christians he had for several months been hoping to take to war in support of Islamist terrorists fighting a tyrannical régime, and butchering minorities, including Christians, in a Muslim country.

From the cacophony monitored by the news media emerged substantial criticism of Mr Cameron, some eloquent, some barnyard, but in general it was justified.  “He doesn’t do numbers, they’re not important, just detail,” and for this debate, certainly, it appears he neglected to calculate what might happen if Mr Miliband was as unreliable as Mr Cameron’s colleagues have been trying to persuade the voters.  A loyal Tory said,  “He’s not a chess player.  He never thinks more than one move ahead.”

Another comment on a similar theme was, “The pawns are the soul of chess!” –  a quotation resuscitated from an 18th century French musician of Scots ancestry (the de facto world chess champion) that recognised Mr Cameron’s weakness in forever concentrating, as of course did Mr Blair, on what is big, appears simple, and feeds the ego (e.g. the unaffordable HS2, the vulnerable aircraft carriers, and the uneconomic wind farms rolling out across the countryside to smother our children’s heritage).

But what if Mr Cameron’s supporters had numbered 282 instead of 272 and he had won the vote against an opposition of 275?  Would we now be at war?  Was that the plan?  Was there a plan?  Or did we not need a plan because we were going to war only to support the Americans?  The Americans, of course, had produced the plans for the war against Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, and the plans for the destruction of the Afghan Taliban, and the plans for the introduction of democracy to Libya, so with such experience Mr Cameron could safely leave these mundane matters to Washington, could he not?  Well, he did.

So what was Washington planning for Syria?  Who knows?  Washington doesn’t, and whatever it might be it failed to win the support of General Dempsey, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (CJCS), a fact well known in the USA but not so in the UK.  General Dempsey is the equivalent of the British Chief of the Defence Staff (CDS), and both the current CDS and his predecessor advised against going to war with Syria – so at the military level, at least, there was some agreement.  (The boast of a ‘Special Relationship’ continues, naturally, despite the post-debate hysteria, because it is and has always been the correct way to describe the protocol governing our exchange of Intelligence with the American agencies.  The term has never legitimately described any other arrangements.)


We have a fair idea of what was initially in President Obama’s mind, a punitive operation that would degrade President Assad’s ability to use chemical weapons again, and we have a rough idea of how this transmuted into a larger and more intensive offensive that by destroying the Syrian government’s military advantage over the insurgents would reduce its resistance to entering negotiations, but what ideas did Mr Cameron have?

If we start from his oft-repeated claim to military power based on the UK’s defence budget being calculated as the fourth highest in the world, then we know we are in trouble.  That is Bullingdonism.  (Did he believe that when his night out with his club cost him £1,000 he had therefore eaten the best dinner in Oxford?)  Does he not understand that Israel, whose defence budget is a fraction of ours, can within 36 hours field more armour and launch more aircraft strike sorties than the whole of European NATO including the North American contribution here in Europe?  Money wasted is no measure of military power (scrapped Nimrods, unused Chinooks, short-range Tornados, Eurofighter Typhoons at triple the forecast price, and currently the vulnerable aircraft carriers and the ‘jump-jet’ Joint Strike Fighters, the F-35B, whose performance falls a long way short of that agreed in the Joint Operational Requirements Document and yet have a price soaring with every new estimate).

Has Mr Cameron learned nothing from the many months it took to defeat Libya, a nation of six and a half million at war with itself, after he had removed the Royal Navy’s aircraft carrier and its Harriers from the fleet, and had to rely on the six RAF Typhoons for which we had operational pilots, each of these aircraft needing to be refuelled in the air three times while transiting between the UK and its target, and each needing a Tornado to fly alongside to help it drop its bombs?

An informal coalition of Generals and Admirals together with the current CDS and his predecessor explained to him the limitations owed to the legacy of Mr Brown’s years in power and exacerbated by the Strategic Defence and Security Review of 2010 (SDSR2010).  He knew that he could not use the RAF to strike Syrian targets, for the Tornados would be easy meat for the Mig-29 fighters Russia promised (which might have been flown by Russian ‘instructors’), and with the Army kept at home by the “no boots on the ground’ promise, a British war on Syria would have had to be a naval affair.

But the UK no longer has a navy.  We have a few warships left, certainly, but their number is now well below critical mass.  We cannot deploy in all the areas in which we have maintained a British presence for centuries.  We cannot even watch all the key problems we have monitored in more recent times, and we are continuing the tradition established in the Brown years of sending our ships to sea without their armament.  The Royal Navy that once ruled the world is no more.  In sum — Mr Cameron should be grateful to the Tory rebels who defeated him in the debate, for they pulled him off the hook on which his braggadocio had impaled him.

What then of the Americans?  If Congress had approved (as Congress had to if President Obama’s explanation in 2007 was correct), would the action have been restricted to the US Navy and its cruise missiles?  The four destroyers now in the Eastern Mediterranean have around 150 Tomahawks available, sufficient for a token strike perhaps, but not to inconvenience very much an enemy who has been given adequate time to disperse his crucial assets.  (The destroyers would not launch all their Tomahawks ~ a substantial number would be retained because a resupply cannot be loaded at sea.)  The American warships would be standing well offshore, outside the range of Syrian anti-ship missiles, but that means the Syrians, alerted by Russian reconnaissance whenever Tomahawks were launched, would have had half an hour or more of Tomahawk flight time to move sensitive assets away from the target sites recorded by American reconnaissance and programmed into the Tomahawks by the warship operators.

In area, Syria is a little less than one and a half times the size of England, and a Tomahawk will carry either 1,000 lbs of high explosive against a fixed target, or a load of light-weight scatterable submunitions for an area target – so we are talking about a gentle slap on the wrist.

Would the US Air Force have stood idly by while the US Navy had all the action and therewith earned a larger slice of future budgets?  Targets for air attack were chosen, and if the MiG-29s, whose delivery from Russia had been delayed by payment problems, had been lent on approval, then American aircraft would possibly have fought with MiG-29s in Syrian colours but flown by Russian ‘instructors’.  (The MiG-29 may not be Russia’s best fighter, but it is well proven and its missiles are good.)  If Iran had then joined the party, Israel (capable of launching 2,500 short-range strike sorties per day) might have done so also, seizing the opportunity to eradicate Hezbollah establishments and Hezbollah forces in the field, while also prepared to pre-empt possible Iranian responses against Israeli population centres.

At that point, as the Middle East erupted, British politicians would have been claiming that the world had gone mad, American politicians would have been pleading that they really hadn’t wanted this to happen, and French politicians would have been demanding that the US and the UK take the blame and stop the fighting.  But it would have been too late.


The First World War, ‘The Great War’ as we used to call it, was the awful price we paid for having national leaders who stumbled blindly towards catastrophe while retaining and ignoring their own ability to stop and sit down and talk.  It began 99 years ago.  What did it teach us that our present generation of politicians can remember?  The French had great faith in their magnificent Army, the Americans had a moat 3,000 miles wide and little concern for minor squabbles in Europe, and the British were confident that the war would “be over by Christmas,” and that the Hun would “be taught a lesson.”  So our leaders stumbled onwards, just as Messrs Cameron and Hague stumbled last month, oblivious to the consequences of making war unnecessarily with inadequate resources, but uncaring because they are truly ignorant of war.

Is it not ironic that, contradicting what we have been led to expect, it is President Putin who has demonstrated a statesman’s maturity, reluctant to be seen to act until he was ready to accept the applause, manipulating the players from behind the curtain.  We knew his objectives – protection of Assad to ensure Russia’s use of Syria as a strategic naval base; defeat of the insurgents (a threat also in his own country and thus one to be discouraged violently); a demonstration of diplomatic superiority over the American president; and neutralisation of the American threat to attack – and he must be fairly well satisfied at what he has achieved so far.  Mr Kerry has been out-manoeuvred, for if the speed of Syrian chemical disarmament drops below that agreed, it will not be possible for Mr Obama to say, “It’s too slow, so we are going to kill a few people with our missiles to encourage faster progress.”

The Tory rebels may or may not have “humiliated” their leader (this blog believes not), but in addition to persuading Mr Obama to think twice, they probably saved the UK from humiliation.  Yes, we may assume that our Typhoon fighters would perform well against Syria’s ground attack aircraft, and even against the MiG-29 fighters, but Ayios Nikolaos (part of the Dhekelia Sovereign Base Area), our Middle East GCHQ colony in Cyprus, could not be protected from the Syrian Scuds launched from short range as a legitimate and catastrophic response to a British act of war – or to an American act of war fed with GCHQ intelligence.

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Resumption of Operations ~ The Analyses Continue

Last December‘s Mail Online decision to restrict its blogs to those of staff writers prompted suggestions that the William Forbes blog be continued independently, but other obligations intervened, despite heavy pressure from colleagues wishing to use it as an outlet for their most pressing concerns, principally those in respect of the egregious carriers-JSF programme, “Carrier-Strike”.  This is especially relevant today with the news of back-bench Tories resisting further cuts in our Armed Forces and the decision to replace trained and experienced soldiers with weekend soldiers trained on summer camps ~ a policy that contributed substantially to our defeat in Norway in 1940.  These independently minded and patriotic MPs, whose spokesmen have served in uniform, deplore such “white elephants” as HS2 being funded by money needed to sustain the Armed Forces and to improve the nation’s defences. The same argument applies also to the Carrier-Strike programme, to its vulnerable carriers and to their troubled jump-jet Joint Strike Fighter, the JSF F-35B.

2 future carriers

The Dream

Several months ago I wrote of the Joint Strike Fighters needing the new aircraft carriers as their home, and of the carriers needing the JSFs as justification for their own existence, but this was intended merely to illustrate the absurdity of the deteriorating situation in which the nation finds itself.  The current civilian head of the Armed Forces, Jon Thompson, is reported in Hansard as having said to the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee, “the Ministry of Defence got itself into an unbelievably difficult financial situation” and as having then continued: “if you are £72 billion in a budget black hole, you have to do something about it.”

Many will be aware that the “black hole” was originally £32 billion, then £35 billion, and then finally (we thought) £38 billion, at which point this blog described it as an illusion, and in its efforts “to do something about it” Whitehall has destroyed several regiments, reduced the Royal Navy to below its critical mass, and emasculated the Royal Air Force.  Now, apparently, according to Mr Thompson, the figure is £72 billion.

From my colleagues’ perspective the most significant factor in this disaster is the Carrier-Strike programme whose eventual price will be immense.  No one knows what the exact figure will be, partly because the JSF manufacturers cannot give one for the JSF, and partly because the partners building the carriers under the MoD’s supervision have a long history of unreliable price forecasts, but if the original plans are retained the long term costs will certainly exceed £25 billion (and if through-life costs are calculated carefully they may exceed £40 billion).

F-35B Vertical Landing

The F-35B JSF about to land on a test platform

Independent analysts insist that the carriers will be too vulnerable to use in a hostile environment after 2020, that the aircraft, the STOVL F-35B, will not operate as was agreed in the celebrated Joint Operational Requirements Document (the JORD) and will be tactically useless, that we cannot afford to complete the programme, and that the collection of regiments, ships and aircraft lost by its lunacy reduces the international standing of the UK to the third rank.  Each of these arguments will be examined here during the months of October and November.

Those who have read this blog in the past will know my own view:

“I am not against the Carrier-Strike programme despite being a Conservative.  I am against the Carrier-Strike programme because I am a Conservative.”  © [structure] David Cameron

The programme in its current shape was devised by the last Labour administration for a political purpose, electoral advantage.  It would secure a few thousand jobs in areas the then chancellor, later prime minister, thought important.  The incoming Coalition could have dumped it, but was persuaded by some extremely dodgy arithmetic that it was too expensive to cancel and then made it the centrepiece of its equally dodgy Strategic Defence and Security Review, the infamous SDSR2010.  (The National Audit Office has since revealed that cancellation of both carriers would have saved £1.2 billion.) True Conservatives believe in conserving the ability to defend our national interests, not in chasing glamorous but senseless projects bequeathed by previous governments.

But this is for future blogs.  Today, with the renewal of activity, a lighter approach is more appropriate.  Accordingly we shall turn to my old friend Nasruddin, the acclaimed philosopher-fool.  For those who know little of him I should say that although many countries claim him as their own, with Turkey currently making perhaps the strongest case, I believe he was more probably born in Bokhara in Uzbekistan (and thus, being familiar with neighbouring Afghanistan and its sad history, is a useful man to know, as will become apparent).

When Nasruddin returned to his house one night after having enjoyed an evening at the tavern he lost his keys and dropped to his knees to search for them with the help of the street light.  A passing friend asked what he was doing and offered to help. Then two more friends returning from the tavern joined them, and although soon he was surrounded by willing helpers the keys could not be found.  Eventually one asked, “Mullah Nasruddin, where exactly were you standing when you dropped the keys?” Nasruddin paused to think and then replied, “Over there, by the door.”  His friends were puzzled.  “Why then are we searching here?” they asked.  “Because the street light is here,” explained the mullah patiently.

And that’s all I shall add today in respect of the planned employment of HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales (whose Photoshopped fantasy decorates the top of this page).


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