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.





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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

“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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