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.

Back from the Near-Departed

It’s been a long time, and to those who have written with good wishes my thanks and confirmation that the recuperation is proceeding more or less to plan.  A quick return to blogging has been deterred by acceptance that with all the excitement of the Referendum eclipsing everything else of political importance, the Defence of the Realm is fairly low on the SA scale, but we can now announce that the anthology of 2012 Daily Mail blogs, Bullingdon Defences, is at last available as a Kindle book on Amazon, where it will soon be accompanied by a print version.  All royalties from the Kindle version go directly to Help for Heroes to support the Flying for Freedom training of veteran amputees planning on becoming flying instructors.

The Bullingdon name used by the book’s title alludes to the  cost and nature of several of the most expensive assets procured by the MoD with the approval of the highest levels of government.  As the Forbes Blog  wrote in the Daily Mail four years ago:

“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 truly 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 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 tangible and lasting value, while the remainder is drunkenly trashed.

The only significant change to the blog is the header, the Daily Mail name disappearing, and a Sunderland flying boat emerging from North Atlantic maritime cloud.  Is this to be considered significant?  Yes.  The Sunderland design dates from the ’thirties, it was a superbly effective aircraft, simple and rugged, inexpensive in operation and maintenance, and extremely versatile.  It was not a compromise multirole aircraft, but as it was designed and built with genius it could and did perform several roles: antisubmarine warfare (ASW), long-range maritime reconnaissance (LRMR), Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR), Close Air Support (CAS) in Low Intensity Conflict (LIC), Counter Insurgency (COIN), cargo resupply, trooping, passenger evacuation, and polar exploration.

Readers of earlier posts will have recognised the relevance of that menu, and of the versatility it demonstrates, to the contrast with contemporary multirole design in which trade-offs conspire to reduce by compromise the effectiveness of each role.  The F-35 ‘Golden Turkey’ programme was intended to produce a successor to the F-16 that would succeed also the F-18, and the Harrier, and the A-10, and can now be recognised as a massive waste of money.  It is a prime example of where the multirole fallacy is bound to lead us before the men with the pursestrings can be persuaded to abandon their fantasies.

Versatility created by genius is superior to ‘multirole’ invented for marketing.

Dreams: White Elephants, Golden Turkeys

A House of Commons Select Committee report, Towards the Next Defence and Security Review, began:

“The capabilities of HM Forces should be determined not by budgetary constraints but by a fully-developed strategy which defines the position in the world that the UK wants to adopt, says the Defence Committee”

— and, oh, the joyless mirth those words triggered!

Last month the Chief of the Defence Staff delivered the CDS’s annual Christmas address to the Royal United Services Institute.  As expected, this was a fairly dull and comprehensive tour d’horizon that presented the usual Whitehall views, of course, naturally … so yes you may slumber if you wish, just print the press release, and you lot over there move along, nothing to see here …

But was it actually dull? No! It certainly was not. It was remarkably stimulating.

The CDS spoke of our post-SDSR2010 course leading to “a strategically incoherent force structure: exquisite equipment, but insufficient resources to man that equipment or to train on it”, a ‘hollow-force’.  And he spoke of our “Royal Navy as being perilously close to its critical mass in man-power terms.” Had he lost the script? Had someone fed him print-outs from this blog?

But what is this “exquisite equipment” of which he speaks?

HMS Queen Elizabeth copy

Yes, the new carriers, HMS Queen Elizabeth II and HMS Prince of Wales, plus the Joint Strike Fighter (alias Joint Combat Aircraft, Lightning II, F-35B STOVL) version of the most incredible aircraft programme in history, described in combination as ‘Carrier-Strike’, are his new “exquisite equipment” – a phrase certain to enter the quotation dictionaries. To independent analysts, freed from the subjectivity enforced by MoD or Defence Industry contracts, these fantasies are respectively the MoD’s ‘White Elephants’ and ‘Golden Turkeys’.

The Royal Navy, the CDS fears, will not have the trained manpower to keep the carriers at sea, nor the jolly jack tars to man the escort ships needed to protect them from such future threats as surface-skimming hypersonic cruise missiles fired in salvoes and arriving simultaneously from different directions. (And the MoD doesn’t really have the money to buy them without subsidies from other ministries, for the original target of £3.8 billion has grown to an acknowledged £7.2 billion and is approaching the eight to ten billion pounds this blog first forecast.)

If, as we believe he must have done, the First Sea Lord has already explained to the CDS that by the time the two carriers are ready to put to sea, they will be too vulnerable to risk in a war zone, he may be wondering what on earth his successors will do with them — which may be one reason he is thinking of asking other government ministries to help fund the cost of Defence. The Department for International Development (DfID) is an obvious candidate for this privilege because it has buckets of money it is desperate to spend in order to meet the Prime Minister’s target of donating seven billion pounds every year, a target annually adjusted upwards.

Those readers who remember the Bird and Fortune discussion of the carriers mentioned here last week will doubtless have recognised the solution already. Their flight decks, it was claimed, were big enough to hold 49 tennis courts, the hangars could shelter 12 Olympic-size swimming pools. These are big ships already capable of producing thousands of meals every day, and with hospitals that can be extended into the hangar space to treat many hundreds of sick and injured. The galleys also may be extended to provide thousands of meals for helicopter transport to stricken areas.

So the Royal Navy will have two dedicated disaster relief ships ready to help the victims of tsunamis, droughts, famines, earthquakes, and civil wars.  They may carry a few V-22 Osprey transport helicopters, a squadron of Chinook utility helicopters, and large numbers of Dragoon utility scout aircraft. And when the UN finds it necessary, they can deploy quick-reaction peacekeeping forces. supply logistic support, and provide a headquarters linked to the world’s capitals.

When not leased to the UN for specific disaster relief operations, their acquisition and their training activities would be funded by DfID from the ring-fenced 0.7 per cent of the UK’s GDP, an arrangement that will secure the continuance of an important segment of our naval expertise while also retaining in service many valuable men and women soon to be threatened with redundancy.

JSF F-35B copy

In addition to the vulnerability of the carriers to the newly developed anti-ship cruise missiles, there is the problem of the carriers’ inability to mount with their planned F-35B fleet an effective Combat Air Patrol (CAP) to protect themselves from air attack.  Among the factors contributing to this are the number of Joint Strike Fighters (JSFs) aboard, their range, the lack onboard of Airborne Early Warning (AEW) aircraft (and, no, altitude-restricted helicopters are not an alternative), the range of enemy air-launched anti-ship missiles, and the number of sorties each serviceable F-35B can fly each day (currently predicted to be one every two days – although, surely, this will be improved before the aircraft are bought, won’t it?)

Of course, the phrase “planned F-35B fleet” is hedged with uncertainty because no one really knows what the plan is now or will be in 2015. There was early talk of “at least” 72 JSFs when we did not yet know if they would be the ‘jump-jet’ F-35B or the much longer range F-35C that needed the carriers to have catapults and arrester wires. Then the F-35B was chosen, and then a little later the F-35C was chosen – and then after that it was back to the F-35B with the change justified in a paper prepared, it was reported, in one afternoon. The numbers were fluctuating in parallel, with talk of two carriers with 6 JSFs each, or one carrier with 12 JSFs and the other carrier in mothballs. All fantasy, of course.

Sending a carrier to sea to fight a war with 12 strike aircraft had to be a joke, obviously, hadn’t it? No, it wasn’t a joke. Eventually someone in Whitehall heard the laughter and the provisional decision (or speculation), to be confirmed in 2015, was that there would be 36 JSFs for one carrier, and these could be transferred to the second carrier later, if that was ever completed. Now these 36 JSFs, all of the F-35B version, were projected by the analysts, on the available serviceability and regeneration data, as necessary for the carrier’s CAP, so where were the aircraft for the Government’s promised ‘Carrier-Strike’ capability? The Royal Navy and its incredibly expensive ‘Fifth Generation’ JSFs would be able to attack targets a short distance away from the carrier, or the aircraft would attempt to protect the carrier from such high-flying Mach 2 aircraft as the ‘Fourth Generation’ Su-35s before they launched their missiles, but they would not attack any targets.

Yet what targets could the F-35B attack? The munitions in the bomb bay are ‘smart’ – actually very clever – but they are not very powerful. Yes, but this is not important, a Westminster expert explained, because the F-35B is a successor to the Harrier and thus will be used for close air support (CAS) in counterinsurgency (COIN) operations where the Rules of Engagement (RoE) restrict the lethality of our weaponry – ah! that’s alright then!

So ‘Carrier-Strike’ will become CAS? There will be many among this blog’s readers who belong to an older generation that remembers pictures of the RAF’s fighter-bombers flying at low level, and very low level, to destroy trains and road convoys in what was then called ‘ground attack’ — and when these aircraft flew similarly to support the troops in direct contact with the enemy, that was CAS. But as a consequence of the never-ending war between the US Army and the US Air Force (more on this later, perhaps next month), CAS has been redefined.

B-52 copy

A B-52 dropping its bombs to “support” troops in contact with an enemy six miles below will have its action described as CAS for that reason alone. On such basis, the F-35B JSFs flying “CAS” will not be where British ‘Tommies’ and American ‘grunts’ want them, down in the mud, in touch, working with them from an austere strip — oh, no! At £125,000,000plus each they will be kept very high above anything an insurgent might fire at them.

What about the RAF then? The answer to this has been kept very vague, and what has been suggested makes no sense at all, unless ……. Unless what? Well, back in the decade following the Great War the Air Ministry had many different ideas about the bombers we might need (when the men there were dreaming about the fighters which were much more exciting), and thinking about range seems not to have been considered of great importance. If a bomber could reach the military installations and dockyards of northern France, that would be good enough. If we pierce the smoke and mirrors obfuscating the F-35B range data it appears that Brussels may have replaced northern France as the possible target. Is this important? No, of course not, it’s just a sad joke to make a point more memorable, but the MoD is describing the RAF’s use of the F-35B as ‘Deep Strike’ and that is not a joke. It is dishonest, and it repeats a traditional failing that the threatened privatisation of procurement and acquisition will not eliminate. This was explained in this blog a month ago and may be worth rereading.

So how do we assess the ‘Golden Turkey’? For the Royal Navy it is being bought at an unaffordable and still unknown price to arm the ‘White Elephants’ for ‘Carrier-Strike’ — for which it has neither the range nor, as a fighter (owing to performance limitations well known seven years ago) the ability to survive combat against potential enemy aircraft already in service. Implicit in ‘Carrier-Strike’ is the need for the carrier to survive, but the F-35B on currently projected performance and in planned numbers cannot operate an effective CAP. For the RAF the F-35B range performance prohibits any form of ‘Deep Strike’ that requires the aircraft to return to friendly territory.

None of this will be good news for those in the MoD who have disregarded their duty to keep the Defence Secretary fully briefed on the facts. (Nothing in this blog is ever Secret or above; it is all readily accessible in Washington, if not in officers’ messes in the UK.) And doubtless some adverse comments will be posted. (One of our colleagues writing elsewhere was recently assailed for having accepted the anti-JSF views widely published in American Defence papers, but we don’t just accept — we look at the JSF data published in Washington by the DoD (US Department of Defence) and the GAO (Congress’s Government Accountability Office), and then we do the maths. It’s that simple.)

All the factors briefly raised here deserve greater exposition, and that will appear here in future months, but it is now perhaps worthwhile to touch on what the F-35B would cost us up-front (a figure that will double during its 30-year life).

Remember there are three versions of the JSF — the F-35A ordered by the USAF, the F-35C ordered by both the USN and the USMC, and the F-35B ordered by the USMC only (and the British, of course). The F-35A is the cheapest version and its supposed price tends to be quote airily as if it were a generic price, so that when this is claimed to be $85,000,000 for a single F-35A there is left the impression that the other aircraft will be around that but perhaps a little more.

Obviously, a smart politician will ask if the $85,000,000 includes the engine (it does not) and all the other extras an aircraft needs to fly (it does not). That may then encourage him to ask if the $85million is accurate anyway (and it is not). He will be told that it may be more right now, but that the price is decreasing “with the learning curve” (and it is not). Of course, the way in which the costs have been structured allows full use of smoke and mirrors. Example? Right, here is one of many. The early spreadsheets included figures for maintenance labour costs through the years and decades of production, and with these was included a speculative annual percentage increase – a guess, obviously, when trying to predict figures over a quarter-century. Now watch closely. Take this guess and reduce it by, say, 0.1 per cent, and the predicted unit cost of the aircraft will decrease. Wow! So you see Senator, Secretary, General, Admiral, the price is coming down, just as we predicted the learning curve will affect it.

As we have said before, it is no use asking the Defence Secretary how much these ‘Golden Turkeys’ will cost us. He does not know. There may be someone in Lockheed Martin who knows, but he will keep it secret. We on this blog certainly do not know the exact figure, but we are able to assemble the DoD and GAO reports and read with them the Selected Acquisition Reports (SAR), and examine the data available to the general public, and to the British MoD, and we can say with a fair degree of certainty that these ‘jump-jet’ replacements for the Harriers that were planned to cost us perhaps £75million each will not cost us less than £125 million each. (This blog will publish the American calculations of the figures next month.)

This £125,000,000 ‘Golden Turkey’ is one element of the CDS’s “exquisite equipment.” Who believes we can afford it?

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

THIS IS A REPUBLICATION.  AFTER THE ORIGINAL WAS EMAILED TO REGISTERED FOLLOWERS IT INEXPLICABLY DISAPPEARED FROM THE SITE.

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.

Blackman+Blair

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:

Agility+Versatility

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 forbesblog.net link to as many of their friends and colleagues as possible.