Si vis pacem, pare bellum

The PM on Defence (1) [edited transcript]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

History has decided.

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

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

 

Bullingdon Defences - cover KINDLE
Available from Amazon ~ All royalties go to Help for Heroes

 

Heroes of Helmand

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Managerialism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Austers

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

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

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

auster

The Auster in World War II

‘Buddy Cover’

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

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

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

dragoon-with-drone-platforms

Tandem-seated Dragoons out-perform the early Austers

The Dragoons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Boris: A Happy Coincidence

 

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

Serendipity

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

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

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

The Plan in Brief

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So who will forward a link from here to Boris?

 

 

The EU Referendum: Leading a Greater Europe

Most of the questions addressed to the Blog in recent weeks have asked for a simple answer to the Referendum question, straight and easy to understand.  They implied that the facts thought to be relevant were unavailable.  How then should the enquirers vote?  To this there was no satisfactory answer, but the one the Blog provided was at least accurate: “The Referendum, it had been said, was to offer a choice between remaining in ‘a reformed EU’ or leaving, and as there was as yet no ‘reformed EU’ in which to remain, then the vote must be postponed. Ideally, it should be postponed for at least the two years necessary to reform the EU’s Byzantine policies and procedures.”

A few questions were addressed also to FLIP, drawing the following response:  “While it is easy to construct a list of reasons justifying the decision to remain, it is equally as easy to do so for the decision to leave. Accordingly, paralleling certain bizarre possibilities in quantum mechanics, there are two correct answers which become incorrect immediately they are given, this depending on the quality of the politicians tasked with the next stage of the processes.”  The decision in favour of leaving being unalterable — another vote, as proposed in the online petition and certain to expose the UK to international ridicule, will be rejected — it is essential that the negotiating teams (i.e. for both the UK and the EU) consist of the finest adult brains available.

The UK team must therefore ensure that the EU team understands from the start of the preparations for the first meeting that the UK intends to negotiate on the basis of a fraternal relationship disciplined by the UK’s vision of l’Europe des patries, and that accordingly the UK will work to mitigate any adverse consequences of her withdrawal suffered by the other 27 member states.

And that is why for the Blog’s contributors it is impossible to ignore the Referendum’s result:  the sector offering the greatest opportunities for fraternal support, the sector in which the current international dangers are now most obvious, and in which the UK’s eminence and leadership will be uncontested, is Defence, as it has been in centuries past.  (France, owing to its insoluble internal fragility, is no longer a realistic rival for a freed UK.)  During the two to three years of negotiation ahead of us the recognised threats within Europe will be Islamist terrorism from the south and southeast together with Russian adventurism from the north and east, and the UK’s most valuable contribution in this respect will be in the Air.  (The third threat, to be examined in a future Blog, is the latent flood of hopeful immigrants from Africa supplementing the existing flood of refugees from Asia Minor.)

So where does the UK now stand, with the Referendum having divided the country into nearly equal proportions, the majority of the MPs not representing this trauma, and the content of the forthcoming negotiations being uncertain?

  • The UK currently has the world’s fifth largest economy
  • The UK currently has the largest defence budget in the EU
  • The UK has one of the five permanent seats on the UN Security Council
  • The UK is one of the two nuclear-armed Western European countries
  • Until the turn of the century the UK was renowned for military success.

That is the platform.  Brexit is now forcing a changed perspective on the UK, one that will require a detailed examination of the most recent Strategic Defence & Security Review (SDSR2015), and out of this will emerge a revised scale of priorities.  Moreover, among the beneficial measures Brexit will drive, long overdue, will be recognition of Effects-Based Financial Analysis as an essential preparation for Defence Investment.

Defence of the People is the Supreme Law

The 21st-century dangers the West faces and will continue to face are of such overriding importance that even the notoriously blind statesmen on the left of the political spectrum will recognise Salus populi suprema lex esto as the governing principle for the immediate future — and when they do so the way is clear for the newly freed and revitalised UK to assume, in its role of Europe’s Defence Supremo, the leadership of Greater Europe — of the fraternal partnership of the UK, the EU, Norway, Iceland, Switzerland, and the Balkans.  This partnership would be a mutual understanding based on Europe’s Judaeo-Christian heritage, comprehensive but probably unwritten (with any aspects considered essential for written confirmation covered by such existing treaties as those of NATO, UNO, OSCD, OECD, et al).  Assumption of the de facto  leadership of Europe would contribute significantly to the reunification of the UK – and would attract investment.

In recent years the EU’s military ambitions, fostered by a perception that a United States of Europe must have its own Armed Forces, have called increasingly on the UK to support such EU initiatives as anti-piracy patrols off the Horn of Africa, and while such activities are obviously laudable, the stress imposed on a diminished navy has strained the UK’s ability to fulfil NATO requirements.  This EU-NATO conflict had to stop, and Brexit, naturally, will now stop it.

However, within the scope of a revised vision, and with no political stress on the NATO relationship, the UK will lead Europe’s own contribution to European defence, greatly to the benefit of the EU member states.  Pre-Brexit discussions with the US considered ways in which the Royal Navy might assist the US Navy east of Suez, and perhaps also in the Far East, but the UK’s currently budgeted Order of Battle (OoB) will not allow a continuous presence there (a temporary attachment while en route to showing the flag in Australia, New Zealand and around the old Empire being the most the UK will offer).  The UK’s maritime attention will now be concentrated on the North Atlantic (plus the Falkland Islands’ interests) to safeguard the trade routes important for the EU, leaving the French to cover the West Coast of Africa with the Spanish, the Red and Arabian Seas with the Italians, and the Mediterranean with both.

Poseidon to be bought for the RAF
P-8 Poseidon to be bought for the RAF

This maritime responsibility will require many more than the UK’s nine new ASW/LRMR Poseidon aircraft now on order, plus more attack submarines, and many more frigates than contemplated in the SDSR, but will not justify the cost of the two new aircraft carriers and their short-legged jump-jets.  Regular readers may remember that this Blog has never ceased to criticise the carriers for their cost and vulnerability, and the ‘Joint Strike Fighters’ for their cost and tactical uselessness, and will remember also that the MoD’s publicity machine does not recognise these failings.  Fortunately, the reappraisal forced by Brexit will ensure that ministers will have no excuse not to ask the questions their civil servants have until now suppressed, and, having asked those questions of independent experts and analysed their answers, the ministers will know how to finance the aircraft they really need.

Tactically limited F-35B landing
Tactically limited F-35B bought for the Royal Navy and the RAF

The North Atlantic maritime threat is almost wholly a low-intensity submarine conflict from which escalation would rapidly bring nuclear war, which no candidate for state-on-state conflict wants.  (Even as far back as the ’sixties some of the ASW aircraft, the Mark III Phase 3 Avro Shackletons, were equipped to carry nuclear depth charges.)  However, if it did happen and remain non-nuclear, then it would almost certainly be accompanied by a low-intensity land war in Scandinavia and the Baltic region, a scenario recently explored by General Sir Richard Shirreff in his faction (not fiction) thriller 2017 War with Russia.  This would require Europe’s resistance to invading tanks to have air support that would in turn require a semblance of air superiority to protect it.

Air Support

The EU’s NATO members would contribute their fighter squadrons, and to the mélange of F-16, F-35A, Eurofighter Typhoon, Swedish Gripen, the UK would add the RAF’s Typhoons and, on current planning, the hopelessly inadequate F-35B Lightning II.  (General Mike Hostage, while Commander of USAF’s Air Combat Command, confessed he would not commit the F-35A Lightning II to battle without an escort of F-22 Raptors, so this ‘Golden Turkey’ is not an asset on which British ministers should rely, despite having a total of 138 on order.)

Various press releases describing the F-35B Lightnings ordered for the Royal Navy and the RAF have fantasised about their use for Close Air Support (CAS), but in Whitehall and Westminster there is much confusion about what CAS is.  In the US the war between the Air Force and the Army is not as big or as serious as the war between the Air Force and the Navy, but in respect of CAS and its cost in blood it is crucially important.  One of its casualties was the definition of CAS which was changed to emphasise that the enemy to be attacked must be geophysically close to the friendly force to be supported — this then allowing big bombs dropped through cloud from aircraft six miles above the battle to be classified as CAS, and shiny, sexy aircraft to be bought to ferry them to the battlefield (and to bring them home again when the Rules of Engagement forbade their use).  Previously it was always understood that CAS was provided by pilots who were physically and psychologically close to the troops they were supporting, situationally as aware as they, in visual contact with the enemy, and trained to interpret its movements — but no commander will commit a British F-35B to true CAS at ground level against Russian armour, not at £125 million each and sensitive to anything aimed at its single engine.  Yet an effective deterrent to Russian armour is essential, so how will the UK, as Europe’s leader, meet an armoured thrust into the Baltic States?

A-10
The A-10 ‘Warthog’ ~ World’s greatest CAS aircraft

By far the greatest CAS aircraft ever designed, the Fairchild Republic A-10 ‘Warthog’ Thunderbolt II, has a truly astonishing record of success and survival against Russian armour (in Iraq).  It has a similar record in counterinsurgency (COIN) in Afghanistan.  Regrettably the RAF’s buyers, as readily seduced by the glamour of ‘pointy-noses’ as any in the US, have never ordered them.  However, with the UK as Greater Europe’s unofficial but undisputed de facto leader, the principal partner of the US in NATO’s response to a Russian attack, the RAF needs the superb and proven A-10 — which could be available with new engines and new wings from the US at around one quarter of the cost of the unusable F-35B.  (The grounds for cancellation of the F-35B order would be its failure to meet the original performance specification and price.)

The Way Forward

Sterling has fallen on the exchange markets, but as it has been overpriced for some years, as have the currencies of several countries, the new rate will benefit British exporters.  The FTSE100, in apparent contrast, has risen, but this is far less significant as an indicator of economic health, and if the UK’s economic activity is to rise, as it surely must, substantial investment is necessary.  Defence, in which the UK once led the world, can again lead in this, and a deal on the new A-10, widely needed for both anti-armour and future COIN, should be sought.  The second most obvious area will be in the design of new warships according with the principles of Effects-Based Investment.

The Blog will return to the potential of British leadership in a Greater Europe, and to this subject of cost-effective CAS protecting Greater Europe, fairly soon.

 

 

Bullingdon Defences - cover KINDLE

The Kindle version of Bullingdon Defences is now available on Amazon.  Its royalties go to Help for Heroes in support of the flight instructor training scheme for disabled veterans.  Do recommend it to your friends.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.