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Eurofighter Tranche 3: Oh please, God, no

BAE and Brown stick it to taxpayers, troops again

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Did I hear that right? £20bn for Eurofighters is value for money, but £20bn for Trident isn't?

So 16,000 people keep their jobs and the rest of us pay them. And those 30,000+ other people who work for us in uniforms - who work a hell of a lot harder, who get paid a hell of a lot less at every level, who are being killed and maimed every day right now, who are often enough housed like pigs when they're at home - they can wait for the things they need.

And they'll wait a bloody long time, because in a few more years the Tranche 3 production run will be over, and those 16,000 arms workers and their lobbyists will be back with their begging bowls and their threats again, saying we should ignore the needs of our 150,000 infinitely more deserving servicemen and women. Once again, we'll be told that vital industrial skills could be lost. Once again, nobody will point out that if these people are actually valuable high-tech sorts, they could easily get jobs elsewhere - jobs that wouldn't require massive government handouts - in the various successful high-tech UK industries so starved of skilled people right now.

Seriously, Eurofighter workers. If you really are capable of doing something other than making jet fighters - something relevant and high-tech that would actually benefit the British economy* - go and do that, and the rest of us will worship you like gods.

If you aren't able to - if in fact all you can do is make fighter planes - tough. We don't need another 90 fighters, and it's quite plain that you can't sell what you make to anyone else unless we pay your development costs - usually not even then. It would be cheaper for the rest of us (much, much cheaper) to have you on the dole.**

And you, Gordon Brown. Your announcement (Word doc) that Tranche 3 will go ahead, pleasingly, makes no actual commitments whatsoever. So feel free to walk back on it as soon as you like.

And you, Cameron, as you seem likely to be taking over next year. You've said that you might cut anything in Defence in order to balance the government's books - even Trident, which may cost as much as £20bn to replace in the near future.

Consider that Eurofighter will have cost at least that much once it finally moves out of acquisition. Reflect that, indeed, membership of the assured-second-strike*** nuclear club may not confer the clout it once did - but for goodness' sake, acknowledge that it's more clout than you get by having a fleet of second-rate combat jets without stealth or proper multirole capability. It's more clout than you get by having a fleet of lovingly-maintained vintage de Havilland Comets. It's more worthwhile than one-trick-pony air defence destroyers, or fantastically over-budget and delayed A400M Euro transport planes which were already very expensive for what they do.

Cancel all that lot, for goodness' sake. Keep Trident. Buy some proper, working helicopters and transport planes and drones. Look after the people on the government payroll who actually matter, and let the fighter bloodsuckers sink or swim. ®

Bootnotes

*Defence exports? Don't even go there. We export about £1.4bn of defence manufactures in a normal year and import around three-quarters of a billion's worth. In order to achieve this paltry half-billion balance of payments benefit, we are forced to waste the majority of our £15bn annual defence materiel budget. If we had to subsidise all our exports to this tune, it would require far more than our entire GDP.

**Sixteen thousand UK workers will be the peak number employed by Eurofighter during acquisition/manufacture, according to the government: far fewer will have had jobs for most of the time it has been underway. Say 10,000 on average, to be generous. The acquisition programme will have cost more than £20bn when it winds up in a few years' time. That equates to average annual cost per job of nearly £70,000. We could have given all those people severance payoffs of half a million quid, bought 140 F-15Es from the States ages ago and come out at least £6bn ahead. In fact we could probably have avoided buying the Tornado F3 too, so we'd have done even better.

***No, air-launched cruise missiles, bombs or whatnot will not do, regardless of what the air force may tell you. You need proper ballistic missiles, because the other side need to be sure your counterstrike can't be stopped. (Unless you're the sort of person who thinks nukes are for using on people who haven't already nuked us.) The ballistic missiles need to be on submarines, because the other side need to be sure they can't find them and take them out before launch.

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