Malevolence and Negligence

Despite the understandable hopes of his family and legion of supporters, observers more removed from the Sergeant Blackman tragedy did not expect a favourable decision from yesterday’s bail application.  The arguments presented in court were sound in law, indeed many would judge them unanswerable, but the Blackman case has been driven to its present stage not by law but by administrative mandate, and it is shaped by a bureaucratic malevolence against which no one can fight.  Any who doubt this malevolence should read the analysis of the JAG’s Sentencing Remarks in Chapter Three of The Betrayal of Sergeant Blackman (available inexpensively from Amazon).

One of the principal arguments advanced by his supporters is that the cumulative stress imposed by the repetitive patrols in which he and his men acted as Taliban-bait led to a temporary mental breakdown.  In presenting the terrible reality of this, a situation to whose truth Sergeant Blackman’s commanding officer was prevented from testifying at his Court Martial, the absence of air cover was a crucial consideration, and that avoidable absence was owed to MoD negligence, a conscious and deliberate negligence. The cause of this negligence was explained by emailed letter from one of our colleagues to Sir Michael Fallon, the Defence Secretary, dated 7th December, but it has received no answer, not even an acknowledgement of its receipt, perhaps because it was blocked in his back office.  Accordingly, the full text of that letter is reproduced here.

Dear Secretary of State,

Your announcement (as reported by the Daily Mail) that injured troops will no longer have to sue for more compensation will be widely welcomed, and you deserve the profound thanks of many who have sought over the years to have these men and women treated fairly, but were you advised by the MoD clerks that this concession will substantially reduce the possibilities of the MoD being sued for negligence?  Doubtless it may do so in those cases in which victims, persuaded of the value of a half-loaf, fear that an adverse decision in court might be used to cast doubts on the validity of what has already been agreed, but where the negligence is clear, where it is inexcusable negligence in the somnolent surroundings of Whitehall, and not an error in the heat of far-flung battle, the MoD must be seen to remain fully accountable.

The newspaper predicted that on that day (1st December) you would “announce a 12-week consultation” on the new proposals.  One must hope that the terms of reference will have sufficient width to include the probable consequences of victims of IED-ambushes suing the MoD on the grounds of Whitehall’s criminal negligence, for among these may be a flood of claims based on the absence of close air cover (“Buddy Cover”) for foot patrols sent out through the wire as Taliban-bait.  It may be that only fear of the hostile publicity triggered by those claims, and the large awards the courts are certain to make, will force the MoD to recognise the immense damage inflicted on the Armed Forces by bureaucratic whims, and then to ensure that for COIN foot patrols there will be no repetition of the careless waste of lives and limbs suffered in Basra and Helmand.  COIN conflict has not ended for the British Army with the retreat from Helmand and the downsizing of the infantry, for IEDs may yet become common in Western Europe and even within the British Isles.  Mumbai has shown us the future and the MoD, as you must know, is unprepared for it. 

My letter of 20th July drew your attention to the three principal deficiencies, fundamental weaknesses, underlying our failures in Basra and Helmand – competence, morale and honesty – and shortcomings in two of these, competence and honesty, have contributed to the negligence responsible for the loss of scores of lives and limbs.  The paper attached to that letter described how for the early stages of the Helmand campaign the MoD’s direction was in the hands of three hopelessly unqualified bureaucrats, a financial director with no financial qualifications, a policy director responsible for Afghanistan who had never served in the Armed Forces, and a PUS similarly innocent of any military history and whose background was principally in welfare and pensions (although she was very successful, one must admit, in the expensive promotion of equality and diversity during a period when equipment budgets were so heavily squeezed that troops in the frontline were short of essential equipment).

Obviously, this triumvirate, for whom the Senior Civil Service had sanctified supreme power, had no idea how, for example, Helmand should be treated either at the strategic or operational level, but in respect of the negligence directly responsible for the deaths and mutilations delivered in the IED-ambushes, their ignorance of basic tactical experience was material.  The warrior’s triad of Sword, Shield, Support’ was dismissed.  The ‘Sword’ was thought good enough and, although not the best, to fight the Taliban it usually was sufficient; the ‘Support’ was usually inadequate, and reports of this from the frontline were treated with morale-sapping carelessness; but, alas, the ‘Shield’ …  Where was the Air? Where was the ‘Buddy Cover’?  Where were the Austers’ successors?  Why were there so few Chinooks?

As you may know, and certainly as you ought to have been briefed, an inexpensive Small Military Aircraft (SMA) was available for ‘Buddy Cover’ in two versions, the simpler ‘Tribal’ version for issue to the Northern Tribes, and the rather more complex ‘Patrol’ version (optionally equipped with an array of sensors and bespoke gadgets) for use by the British forces.  

Of the first, the MoD’s own test pilots at AAEE Boscombe Down had completed its splendid evaluation report with a General Summary in which its key findings were re-emphasised in this final paragraph (in which the red italicised emphasis here is the editor’s):

“The type demonstrated convincingly that in its current form it would be capable of conducting a wide variety of missions at a fraction of the cost associated with other air vehicles in the spectrum from parachutes through helicopters to remotely piloted vehicles.  At the heart of these capabilities was its outstanding aptitude as a detailed reconnaissance platform both by day and by night, its near immediate availability and its complete autonomy once provided with fuel.  Furthermore, the type promises considerable potential at an unmatched degree of economy for improvement in the future where the constraints imposed by Civil Regulations could be relaxed for military, operational purposes.” 

That paragraph alone is sufficient to alert any intelligent clerk to the potential of this aircraft, the Dragoon, as a life-saver when escorting a foot patrol or road convoy in hostile territory, detecting body heat among the crops, noting unusual behaviour, and recognising the significance of disturbed earth on a track.  Applying the data from the AAEE tests to the Helmand casualty figures gives a probable saving of 100-plus lives and a larger number of limbs if, following the correspondence with the CGS’s staff (forwarded to DECISTAR) in 2007, the Dragoons had been deployed in 2008 as recommended.  (Later tests in Australia and the US gave results that justify much higher savings being calculated.)

It is unnecessary here to quote from NATO conferences at Ramstein and Chièvres, London presentations at RUSI and the RAeS, and long days of discussions at Warminster, Wilton and Shrivenham, or to quote from very senior officers, British and American, who include Field Marshal Lord Harding (MiD in Waziristan, and Governor of Cyprus during the EOKA insurgency) and ex-CDS Lord Richards, who saw active service recently in Sierra Leone and Afghanistan, but the weight of documentation will sink any defence the guilty PUS, Dame Ursula Brennan, might offer on behalf of the MoD.  The reputation and authority of AAEE and ARAG alone will do that, and General Richards formed his judgement, shaped by personal experience in Helmand, after flying the aircraft, whereas the PUS vetoed the proposed use of Dragoons not only with no understanding of their use (or of COIN), but without seeing one fly, without even seeing one on the ground, and without meeting its designer or even talking with him by telephone.

If this seems harsh, then reflect on what such newspapers as the Daily Mail will make of a clerk who had in her personal consultancy fund sufficient money to start saving lives with an initial SMA deployment, who pleaded a lack of money but was found later to have several million pounds unspent, and who confessed to the Select Defence Committee that she did not know what a precision aerial delivery system was, a precision aerial delivery system being one of the benefits supplied by SMAs, and rejected by her, whose absence forced the use of vulnerable surface transport.  (You will recall that Lt Col Rupert Thorneloe wrote many memoranda explaining the need for more air assets before he was killed by an IED while travelling in a road convoy that could have been unnecessary if an aerial delivery system had been available.)

While calculating the numbers of lives and limbs lost by this negligence aggravating the ignorance of the “Sword, Shield, Support” mantra, it is necessary also to account for the damage to senses and to mental health.  Then there is the wider problem of the effect on morale, on the Army’s fighting spirit, and thus on the Army’s fighting ability.  And then there is Sergeant Alexander Blackman, RM.  When men are sent out through the wire day after day, week after week, without air escort, without the ‘Buddy Cover’ that would watch their flanks, scan ahead for evidence of ambushes, warn of disturbed ground on their track, and relay messages every time their unreliable radios fail, which is too often, the stress builds, and then that stress is sometimes sufficient to crack eventually even the toughest [bold red emphasis added here is by the editor].  

The italicised text on pages 18-20 of The Betrayal of Sergeant Blackman [attached to the letter ~ Editor], attempts to describe this experience (and justifies immediate release for this victim of the MoD’s contemptible virtue signalling).

Another very helpful book, Bullingdon Defences, is available inexpensively from Amazon.  You will find pages 70-96 useful for they provide the substance of the prosecution’s case against the MoD’s direction during the years of the Helmand campaign.  They clearly and irrefutably demonstrate also that the figures for avoidable deaths and mutilation in Helmand (plus the consequences of the absence of SMAs in Basra where, for example, an Auster successor would have relayed the murdered MPs’ call for help) have not been exaggerated.  The prevention of repetitions of such negligence is, my colleagues and I believe, a ministerial responsibility, for all our experience persuades us that the cure to this bureaucratic malaise will not be generated within Main Building.

You may decide the “12-week consultation” ought to have a full briefing on the Dragoon Concept and the ‘Buddy Cover’ its exploitation provides for COIN operations.  I should welcome an invitation to visit London to give one.


Perhaps someone will draw the attention of the Defence Secretary to this letter.  Perhaps we shall be invited to brief him.

The law courts will reach their decisions according to their practice, but the court of public opinion, when its members have full access to all the relevant facts, will reach another. Accordingly, it is our duty to ensure these facts are given the widest possible circulation.  The Court Martial has been reported as having “reached” the verdict of its members, seven officers claimed by the JAG to be Sergeant Blackman’s peers (although manifestly not his peers), but the Court Martial did not “reach” a verdict: it merely confirmed by five votes to two (a member reported to Frederick Forsyth) the verdict reached inside the Great Wen, the MoD, and handed down as guidance as to what was expected.  It was, as stated in Parliament and often repeated in this blog, a “stitch-up” from its ignoble start.





Salus populi suprema lex esto

The PM on Defence (2) [edited transcript]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We shall meet at the same time next Thursday.

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

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Si vis pacem, pare bellum

The PM on Defence (1) [edited transcript]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

History has decided.

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

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


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“Crude and Bonkers” Armchair Generals?

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

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

2 future carriers

HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

F-35B Vertical Landing

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

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

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

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

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

5.   Has the Defence Secretary been briefed that –

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

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

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

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

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

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

Taylorcraft Auster Mk1

‘Buddy Cover’ for troops facing IED-ambush threats

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Postscript dated 25 October 2013

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

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

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

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


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

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


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