Morale must endure

The PM on Defence (3) [edited transcript]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Morale must endure.

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

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

  called-to-account    Bullingdon Defences - cover KINDLE

 

Field Marshal Viscount Slim wrote —

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

 

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.

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. 

 

“Crude and Bonkers” Armchair Generals?

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

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

2 future carriers

HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

F-35B Vertical Landing

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

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

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

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

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

5.   Has the Defence Secretary been briefed that –

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

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

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

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

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

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

Taylorcraft Auster Mk1

‘Buddy Cover’ for troops facing IED-ambush threats

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Postscript dated 25 October 2013

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

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

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

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

COMMENT

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

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

 

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