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Getting out of Tranche 3 would require agreement from continental partners, but this probably wouldn't be too hard to obtain given the way things seem to be shaping up at Eurofighter. It's a fairly obvious way to sort out the MoD's budget snags in the short to medium term - and avoid another runaway costs nightmare over the next few years.

Why is the RAF so keen on Tranche 3, then?

Nobody is saying so plainly, but it would appear that the Tranche 1 and 2 planes aren't actually going to be much good for ground attack, though some basic capability has been hastily bolted on. In essence, they aren't going to be much use. The RAF would rather mothball a lot of them and equip itself mostly with expensively-upgraded Tranche 3 models, throwing another £5bn after the original £20bn to do so.

However, there are those who would say that in fact the RAF already has lots of bombers, and that indeed the effectiveness of chucking huge amounts of explosives about - as a means of actually bending foreign people to your will - has long been overrated. Even if it hadn't, there are many cheaper ways to do this than buying hundreds of expensively modified superfighters. The first Eurofighter batches are the way they are because that's how the RAF ordered them, after all.

The other project the Parliamentary Defence Committee didn't like was the new aircraft carriers for the Royal Navy, aka Future Carrier. They went so far as to suggest that the MoD needs to explain "what capabilities these ships will give us that could not be provided in other ways".

The MPs have evidently forgotten about the Falklands War, and failed to notice how comparatively few land bases were available in Gulf II as compared to Gulf I. But it scarcely matters. The carriers themselves - as distinct from the aircraft that will fly from them - can't really be trimmed in numbers or delayed. There are only two on order, they've already been made cheap to the point of seriously affecting their usefulness, and they can't be axed entirely.

Why? Because they will be made in large part by Scottish shipyards which are critical to the political survival of Scottish Labour - and so to the political survival of the present Prime Minister. The actual carrier contract has been delayed and delayed - with a variety of differing theories as to what is holding things up - but preliminary orders for steel and large subassemblies have been given out.

Another big project which is clearly going to happen to at least some degree is the so-called "Future Rapid Effects System", or FRES. This is the Army's £14bn push to replace most of its current combat vehicle fleet, a lot of which is getting very old and embarrassing indeed. There's a lot to argue about regarding FRES - in particular, the requirement for the vehicles to be light enough to be carried by medium transport planes, yet armoured well enough to be used in dangerous warzones.

Given the extremely low threshold of tolerance the UK has lately shown for having its soldiers die in attacks on vehicles, this could be well-nigh impossible. Any genuinely airportable vehicle might soon be elbowed aside by hastily-purchased, heavier, less vulnerable stuff as soon as a future war gets serious - as has occurred in the current conflicts.

But in some ways these are side issues. Nobody can say that the Army doesn't need some new vehicles, asap. This means that there isn't much scope for savings on FRES, not soon anyway.

So it's down to Eurofighter Tranche 3, Nimrod, or - if Gordon Brown suddenly vanishes somehow - the Future Carriers getting axed. Either way, BAE Systems plc will lose a lot of money, and hundreds or perhaps thousands of people in key Labour constituencies will get fired.

So perhaps, as usual, none of them will go. Instead, there will be a fudge - a few combat units shut down, a few useful imported things like C-17 big cargo planes, unmanned surveillance aircraft or CH-47 Chinook choppers not bought.

According to General O'Donoghue, MoD kit-purchasing chief:

We are in the middle of a planning round and the programme will be made affordable. That is the purpose of planning rounds, but where we are at the moment is quite difficult.

No shit, General. ®

*These figures are from a handy Treasury pie-chart, found on page 17 of this pdf.

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