Back from the Near-Departed

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

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

“A defence posture based on the claim that our defence spend is ‘the fourth highest in the world’ has no credibility, for even if that were true it would not be a measure of our strength. The immense size of the bill for a truly smashing night out with the Bullingdon Club would not necessarily mean a man had eaten the best dinner in Oxford, would it?”

And thus a defence assumed to be good only because it costs more than can be afforded became known as a ‘Bullingdon Defence’ – ostentatiously extravagant, and one in which the greater part of the expenditure produces nothing of tangible and lasting value, while the remainder is drunkenly trashed.

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

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

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

Dreams: White Elephants, Golden Turkeys

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HMS Queen Elizabeth copy

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

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

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

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

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

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

JSF F-35B copy

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

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

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

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

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

B-52 copy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bullingdon Defences

Last year we published a series of six articles describing how the British Ministry of Defence had wasted billions of pounds on defence projects – with the intention that we might persuade readers to consider whether an organisation capable of such monstrous errors of judgement could be trusted to continue controlling the nation’s security.

These six parts have now been republished, together with others, in an anthology which will soon be available as a Kindle book on Amazon.  For the present a PDF version (with its web links inactive) is available for download from here.

All our revenues from the sale of the book, whether by donation from those who download the PDF file or as the purchase price on the Amazon website, will go to Help for Heroes to support the wounded soldiers, now training as pilots on the Flying for Freedom (F4F) programme, who will be using their new skills in specially modified Dragoons on next December’s Antarctic Expedition.

So what are Bullingdon Defences? 

The Strategic Defence & Security Review, the SDSR of 2010 (now known also as the Suicidal Defeat and Surrender Retreat), which, being composed together with a Spending Review was subordinated to that Spending Review, expected the United Kingdom economy happily “to continue with the fourth largest military defence budget in the world.” Since then this boast of “fourth largest” has been repeated by Cabinet Ministers ad nauseam, as if it actually means something of significance, fantasising that it would be interpreted by the electors as evidence of the United Kingdom’s continuing military strength. It wasn’t, it isn’t, and it won’t be.

The consequence of this was that in February this year the Prime Minister could pronounce in an article for The Scotsman: “We’re safer, because in an increasingly dangerous world we have the fourth-largest defence budget on the planet, superb armed forces and anti-terrorist and security capabilities that stretch across the globe.” There is little doubt that he really believes this, for he shows no understanding of military matters and relies on what the Ministry of Defence tells him, but there is monumental danger in this belief, because he, following his two predecessors, is confidently and brazenly stripping us naked before our enemies.

In response the Forbes blog wrote: “A defence posture based on the claim that our defence spend is ‘the fourth highest in the world’ has no credibility, for even if that were true it would not be a measure of our strength. The immense size of the bill for a smashing night out with the Bullingdon Club would not necessarily mean a man had eaten the best dinner in Oxford, would it?

And thus a national defence assumed to be good only because it costs more than can be afforded became known as a ‘Bullingdon Defence’ – ostentatiously extravagant, and one in which the greater part of the expenditure produces nothing of true and lasting value, while the remainder is drunkenly trashed.

To download the PDF file click on this link Bullingdon Defences

Lions Betrayed by Donkeys

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

Lord Thomas, the Lord Chief Justice, has said of the Blackman court martial: “The case is of the greatest public interest, involving as it does a unique charge of murder against soldiers on military operations against a wounded detainee. There is, therefore, the greatest public interest in the whole of the proceedings being publicly reported.”

And when sentencing Blackman the Judge Advocate General spoke of the importance that “this Court sends out a very strong message that while this sort of offence is extremely rare, if not  unique, those Service personnel who commit crimes of murder, or other war crimes or crimes against humanity while on operations will be dealt with severely. This is a message of deterrence but it is also to reassure the international community that allegations of serious crime will be dealt with transparently and appropriately.”

So both the Lord Chief Justice and the Judge Advocate General recognise the importance of the public interest and, specifically, in the JAG’s words, the importance of the message. Accordingly, it may fairly be assumed that both judges accepted that there would be public discussion of the trial, of the verdict, and of the sentence. The JAG alluded also to transparency – which is a good start point for public discussion of what some consider a travesty of justice, and which others have described as a political ‘stitch-up’ recalling memories of Admiral Byng, of Captain Dreyfus and, more recently, of Sergeant Nightingale.

So let us look at transparency.

Blackman+Blair

Public comment has compared, for example, Blackman with a drug addict who murdered his baby son in anger because he had exhausted his supply of cannabis and yet received a prison sentence of only six years, and, more tellingly in view of the ‘transparency’ urged by the JAG, compared with the late prime minister, the Rt Hon Anthony C.L. Blair, who avoided impeachment and wanders the world accumulating treasure.

The killing of Osama bin Laden offers an interesting comparison. He was shot dead by Special Forces who could have captured him and could then have taken him to America for trial (an inconvenient trial perhaps). He was defended only by his unarmed wife. He may have preferred death to capture, as probably also may the Afghan in the Blackman case, but that is not relevant. Osama bin Laden, although not in a war zone, was shot in the line of duty, and was alive when the trigger was pulled, while Blackman’s Afghan, who in contrast was in a war zone, also was shot in the line of duty, may not actually have been alive when Blackman pulled the trigger, and earlier had been attempting to kill British servicemen, for which purpose he was when discovered still armed. (No one can swear that he was alive when shot, but medical specialists in this field explain that a dead man’s muscles can twitch, giving the appearance of life, if the chest is hit soon after death, as it was in this case by a bullet.)

Equal and appropriate treatment!  Is this the message?

Blair-Bercow motto

We can take this a little further during the next couple of weeks. For the present, responding to the JAG’s call for transparency, we shall just ask for the reasons that a child killer, a soldier killing a live al-Qu’aida leader, and a civilian whose moral deficiencies wilfully led to the loss of more than a hundred thousand lives, should be treated so differently from Blackman. All are not equal in the UK, certainly not in the decisions of the MoD when the objective of treating an accused man with justice is replaced by the objective of looking good to the liberal establishment and pretending to the world that “the British Government is whiter than white.”

The question we must ask as we search for transparency will be about the apparently compulsive need to punish our own, propitiating Moloch, the god of the Guardianistas, in a spirit of self-abnegation that appears to justify, as once with the first-born, Penance-by-Proxy (PbP). For the higher civilian ranks within the toxic environment of the MoD, no opportunity to injure servicemen ever appears to be  deliberately neglected, whether by reducing pension entitlement, by premature redundancy, by misinterpreting or rewriting regulations, by invalidating allowances, or by convening avoidable courts martial – and Blackman’s court martial was avoidable, as, for similar reasons, was Sergeant Nightingale’s. Psychiatric evidence in both cases was accepted by the court and then discounted, yet both men deserved at least the consideration freely given to the psychoses of undeserving politicians.

Those who allow PbP to persist in the official treatment of the Armed Forces betray them as surely as do those of their leaders in the MoD who send them out on patrols where every footstep may shred their legs, emasculate them, mutilate their bodies, or kill them, and then – if they have survived so far – after the continual stress of these patrols has accumulated to such extent that it affects their judgement, insist that there can be no allowance for this because not everyone, according to the JAG, buckles at the same point.

Sergeant Blackman, RM was betrayed, and such betrayal will continue (and Army recruitment will decline in consequence of this and similar betrayals) until the Government stops it.

From a Correspondent: Breakfast with the MoD

Among the readers here will be many of those who last year realised that much of this blog’s material has been supplied to me by recently retired members of the Armed Forces and even by middle-ranking civil servants still inside the MoD.  Usually, after deleting the rants, I select only what I think useful and necessary, but today I am reproducing a report in its entirety.  It is alleged to have been submitted with an expense account, although I am not sure I believe that.

It was late when I arrived at the B&B, but there was a kettle with a teabag in my room and I eventually found a cup in the bedside cupboard bottom drawer, and then my tiredness hit me and I was asleep as soon as I dropped onto the bed.  In the morning the shower worked but the water was tepid, yet the soap packaging had a name I knew to be expensive, so at least the management was trying.

Breakfast was the real beginning of my education.  Salisbury Plain is still very much MoD-land, and this was very much the sort of B&B one expects of a lodging managed by Whitehall, especially when the staff is rumoured to be on detachment from Main Building.  I sat at the only table and looked at the menu, beautifully printed, obviously designed by one of the hundreds of talented and expensive PR men the MoD employs, and spoiled only, I thought uncharitably, by its grammar and spelling.  But that was not important, and I was hungry.

After waiting for rather a long time, or so it seemed, I left to find evidence of human occupation somewhere and eventually stumbled into the kitchen to discover a cook wrestling with a large and complicated food mixer.  I explained that I was in a hurry and should be grateful for tea, toast and scrambled eggs.

“Ah,” he said, in a voice I recognised from my dealings with MoD over the years.  “Sorry, no eggs, and although we do have bread, somewhere, we lost our toaster as an efficiency saving.  I can do you some caviar, and I’m plucking one of the turkeys, and we’ve got some Christmas pudding.  There’s no tea now, for when they cancelled the biscuits they decided we didn’t need any more tea bags during working hours, but there’s some champagne left in the fridge.  Of course, if you’re in a hurry, and if you’re really sure you want breakfast, I’ll get you a croissant from next door.  We share our resources with the French now, and if that’s not enough I can probably get you some sauerkraut later, if you’re not too fussy.  European Defence Force, you know.  That’s the future.  More economic, they say.”

I looked around the kitchen. It was clean but, fairly obviously, not used in a regular or systematic way.  There were seven pans, all of the same size, but as there was no frying pan my scrambled eggs would have been a non-starter even if there had been any eggs.  I checked the refrigerator, a top-of-the-line and very expensive European model, made, I suspected, in four different countries and assembled in Lancashire, but it was empty apart from about a dozen pots of caviar and a half-full bottle of an inexpensive champagne.  The oven was from the same multi-role manufacturer, but when I checked its controls no lights appeared.

“What’s wrong with this?” I asked.

“Oh, nothing, really.  We didn’t plug it into the electricity because we were promised an Aga and with an Aga we won’t need an oven.”  Then, responding to my congratulatory smile, he continued, “Problem is: I have to be trained and all the instructors were made redundant in the last cuts because all the new Aga ovens are oil-fired and we can’t afford the oil any more, so that’s okay, really, I think, or anyway that’s what they told me. ‘It’s to protect the bonus,’ they said.”

“So how do you cook?” I asked. “I mean, that food mixer won’t cook, will it?  And although I’m no expert, it looks to me as though it won’t even work.”

“Work?” he said, in wonder.  “Of course it won’t work.  I’ve been waiting for spare parts for months.  It’s just for show, really.  We all know that.  Like a soap on the telly, it’s all illusion.  Nothing here actually works.  We can’t afford for it to work … electricity’s too expensive … so we blame the lack of spare parts.”

“But doesn’t that upset you?” I asked.  “I mean, you’ve obviously nothing to do.”  And then I added mischievously, “Or are you just waiting for your redundancy money to come through?”

“Oh, no,” he said.  “There’s no redundancy for me.  Too many ahead of me in the queue.  Now to fill the spaces opening up I have to change to being a Warrior driver, or something like that.  Anyway, that’s all in the future, and no one really seems to know what’s happening.  And in any case I have to do Shrivenham first.”

Shrivenham?  That made no sense.  The staff colleges are at Shrivenham, and only officers attend them, not kitchen hands, not even cooks.

“Shrivenham?” I said.  

“Yes,” he replied.  “I have to pass the Equality & Diversity Course before my next posting.  Should be fun.”

So I left him for my appointment, breakfastless.

Perhaps the title I chose should have been NOT Breakfast with the MoD.

For the 2012 archives visit forbesblog.dailymail.co.uk