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Drayson locks Forces chiefs out of Defence budget carve-up

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Lord Drayson, the British arms industry's man inside the Ministry of Defence, has moved to lock the heads of the armed services out of the room in which the Forces' future is to be settled. This is being billed as an attempt to prevent interservice bickering, but it will leave the rapacious UK arms business facing almost no uniformed opposition in its bid to pocket more government cash.

The Financial Times, having seen a copy of a speech to be delivered by Drayson, reports that a new MoD committee set up to "review direction and affordability" will not include the heads of the army, navy and air force “because we need to fix the counter-productive incentives within the system”, according to Drayson.

“We need to make sure that the decisions made about capability are rigorously examined... from the perspective of Defence overall and not a single viewpoint within Defence,” the noble lord is expected to add.

The only uniformed officers on Drayson's new committee will be the chief and vice-chief of defence staff, the UK's top serviceman and his deputy. Air Chief Marshal Jock Stirrup, the topmost brass hat, is serving an extended term in the post - a move which was widely interpreted as being made in order to keep General Richard Dannatt, the former head of the Army well known for his clashes with political superiors, out of the job.

Lord Drayson's ostensible attempt to stop the Forces fighting for expensive projects which do little to boost the UK's punch - but much to bolster a given service's budget - is in theory a good idea.

The RAF, left to itself, would squander fortunes on buying more Eurofighters and then turning them into a deep-strike force capable of penetrating strong enemy air defences - a thing that it is vanishingly unlikely the UK will need to do. The Army is currently planning to spend no less than £14bn recreating its heavy tank force, despite the fact that it is 20 years since that force went to war - and the general who commanded it then has since said that in fact the last real tank battles ever seen took place 20 years before that.

The Navy is also wasting money foolishly at the moment, not on aircraft carriers as everyone thinks - those are a good idea and a joint-service one to boot, and cheap in this context at £4-5bn - but on billion-pound unarmed missile destroyers.

Unfortunately, empire-building by the services is only one of the reasons why defence procurement is such a disaster area in the UK. The other and much more malevolent factor is the colossal influence wielded by the UK's arms industry: BAE Systems plc and its various compatriots.

Almost totally regardless of prices, delivery times or capability delivered, equipment for our forces is always chosen so as to give as much work as possible to these companies. The jobs so created or safeguarded are bought unbelievably dearly: it is normal to find that much better equipment could have been bought for earlier delivery, every sacked or not-hired worker given at least a million pounds, and still there would be a nine-figure saving to the public coffers compared to what is actually done.

Nor does the placing of work in the UK offer us any independence from foreign supplies. A "British made" helicopter, aircraft, missile etc will contain engines and other vital equipment from abroad, so we remain dependent on other countries for tech support and parts.

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