MoD budget train crash behind Brown v forces rumpus
PM's choice: Outsource arms makers or squaddies
Comment A complicated battle is going on behind closed doors in Whitehall at the moment regarding the British armed forces' budget. Some of those involved are making public statements; others are briefing the media off the record; others still are saying nothing at all.
The players include the upper echelons of the Ministry of Defence (MoD), civil servants and uniformed both. Des Browne, the UK defence secretary, and his junior ministers are also embroiled - though Paul Drayson, Baron of Kensington and until lately MoD purchasing boss, has lately quit.
Gordon Brown, the new Prime Minister, and his old Treasury subordinates are of course intimately involved. From the sidelines - and often enough from within government buildings - the arms industry tries to keep as many fingers in the pie as it can.
It is a fairly open secret that, as usual, the MoD's finances cannot be made to add up. This is because the UK is committed to huge kit purchases over the coming years. Hundreds of exorbitantly expensive Eurofighter jets will arrive, and a dozen airliner-sized MRA4 Nimrod subhunter planes which - horrifyingly - are to be even worse value. Now the MoD has also pledged firmly to buy two big new aircraft carriers and a whole different fleet of jump-jets to fly from them. At the same time, a fleet of billion-pound air defence destroyers is building, and the MoD seriously needs to make up its mind about replacing large parts of the Army's antiquated combat vehicle fleet.
Quite apart from all that, there are two large wars going on overseas, which mostly call for entirely different things: most notably infantrymen, but also unmanned surveillance and weapons drones, satellite bandwidth, close air support and - above all - transport aircraft, both helicopters and fixed-wing. Of all the new multibillion pound projects currently in the pipeline, only the carrier jump-jets and the new Army vehicles have much relevance to Iraq and Afghanistan. Hard-pressed fighting commanders right now would probably swap even these for more troops and more aircraft to move them around in.
Meanwhile, as ever, ordinary British service personnel remain very badly paid and often abominably housed. Where they are also fighting hard - as in the infantry, and certain other arms - there is a very serious recruiting and retention problem, which is not totally out of control only because of a significant influx of overseas personnel.
Now five former chiefs of staff - that is, ex-heads of the army, navy, air force or perhaps overall boss of all three - have stood up in the House of Lords and heaped damning criticism on the new Prime Minister, saying that he has never been a friend to the armed forces and that he continues to starve them of cash.
Lord Charles Guthrie, a former SAS officer who rose to be Blighty's top uniformed serviceman, was especially scathing. He said the only time Chancellor of the Exchequer Brown had ever been seen at the MoD was "when he came to talk about the Rosyth dockyard, which was in his constituency”.
(The Royal Navy had four dockyards in the early 1990s but only wanted three. The Tories unsurprisingly decided to close Rosyth, in the Labour stronghold north of the Forth bridges. Then Labour took power, and as a result Rosyth remains an unofficial fourth naval base to this day. Porkbarrel politics relating to the Rosyth shipyard is also a major factor behind the recent decision to buy the new carriers.)
Meanwhile, it is no secret that the MoD is short of a large sum of money in the annual budget now being planned - perhaps a billion pounds - with which to pay the bills it is committed to; let alone doing anything serious about soldiers' pay, helicopters, transport planes etc.
The exact details are especially obscure, as in late years the MoD has been getting significant amounts of extra money from "conflict resolution" funds set aside at the Treasury while Mr Brown was Chancellor. Brown would perhaps have intended this cash more for peacekeeping and development-type efforts, but in the event much of it is going on the expenses of Iraq and Afghanistan.
Please sign up
A brilliant article if i do say so.
Can i ask The Reg to help please? Can you ask your readers to sign up to the following petition on the PM's website:
It's vital if the British public are to be able to help our men and women they need help:
The reality is that over the past 50 years there has been good, bad and indifferent kit from suppliers of all nations. Uk defence has a pretty good track record of producing some rather good stuff. The traditional failing was reliability (a hang over of WW2 attitudes where an AFV was expected to do more than a couple of thousand miles in its life). However, circa 1980 the Army at last got serious about reliability and UK designed and developed systems such as Cha2, AS90 and warrior are on a par with if not better than anying coming out of the US. Anybody who has the delusion about wondrous US kit should pay attention to the Cold War artillery, mostly equipped with US kit, the best that can be said is 'very ordinary', but it was cheap and in all cases the only option available.
The issue is that UK has often demanded higher capability than what was available off the shelf, this means either significant modification or a new design. The 1 tonne LR is an example, suggesting a Willies jeep could tow Rapier or a light gun and its ammo is a joke. The need was for a compact and light vehicle to fit inside small aircraft (eg Andover and the NASR for Chinook (that one failed that time around)) with the power to pull the required loads. Fleet management and logistic considerations then meant that this vehicle was then more widely used in a general purpose role.
It useful to note that many nations demand a significant level of local content when they buy foreign equipment. There are several reasons: guarantee of supply, ability to make modifications during the equipment life, fitting classified gear that you don't want getting into the hands of the foreign supplier, jobs, and in the past foreign currency. There are probably others.
I'm amused that most of the procurement failures shouted about are ancient history, although some are intersting (eg Nimrod AEW was basically a failure to recornise Moore's law and in consequence a daft policy for chips). The change to 'Smart procurement' and CADMID in the late '90s is having a good effect. The capability managers in MoD have to establish the required capbility in consultation with their constituency and overall defence policy (one of the reasons some current kit has problems is that it was designed for NW Europe, the policy at the time). They do not write specification, the relevant IPT then gets on with the acquisition including a heap of risk reduction. Obviously other issues can get in the way, like a political commitment to some arbitrary deadline. If anyone knows a better approach then they are wasted on this list, or better still tell someone starting with your local MP.
"Hundreds of exorbitantly expensive Eurofighter jets will arrive, and a dozen airliner-sized MRA4 Nimrod subhunter planes which - horrifyingly - are to be even worse value"
MRA4 is not just a subhunter, it will join the MR2 over Iraq and Afghanistan providing high value ISTAR assets for the Army.. just about everyone wants to add some system or other to them. But then it doesn't say this on the Wikipedia page so feel free to spout crap.
"and the MoD seriously needs to make up its mind about replacing large parts of the Army's antiquated combat vehicle fleet."
So we're ignoring the Mastiffs that are already in service in Iraq then? Or the other vehicles that have been bought in in spite of FRES not being complete?
"Quite apart from all that, there are two large wars going on overseas, which mostly call for entirely different things: most notably infantrymen, but also unmanned surveillance and weapons drones, satellite bandwidth, close air support and - above all - transport aircraft, both helicopters and fixed-wing. Of all the new multibillion pound projects currently in the pipeline, only the carrier jump-jets and the new Army vehicles have much relevance to Iraq and Afghanistan. Hard-pressed fighting commanders right now would probably swap even these for more troops and more aircraft to move them around in."
Yes we know the army are working hard, but try for some balance man! The biggest mistake made in defence over the years has been to buy kit for the wars you fight today and neglect other assets. The simple fact is that if the UK is to maintain it's independent ability to create a taskforce to do what it pleases this assets are vital.
Actually you know what, I give up carry on, i'll just ignore the articles...