UK arms industry 'same as striking coal miners' - Army head
We need Maggie back to deal with them, says general
Interview Blighty's top general - hotly tipped as the next head of the armed forces - has hinted strongly that the British defence industry can no longer expect to rely on sweetheart deals from the Ministry of Defence (MoD). He adds that modern warfare has now left the tank behind as surely as it has the horse.
General Sir David Richards is the current head of the British Army, and we here on the Reg defence desk were speaking to him earlier this month as part of a round table event at MoD headquarters organised by Prospect magazine.
As all the world that cares knows, the MoD is now passing through a Strategic Defence Review under the new government, in which its procurement plans (and thus in many cases the organisation of the Forces) will be brought into line with the future budget. At present, the stated equipment-buying programme is many billions more costly than the available money - and indeed it appears that that budget will now be cut substantially.
One major reason why the MoD's spending plans are so out of control - and have been since well before 9/11 - is the long-standing policy of buying kit in such a way as to place as much industrial work as possible here in Blighty, pretty well regardless of cost.
Thus it is that we find ourselves buying Nimrod MRA4 subhunters for the same price as a fleet of space shuttles, A400M transports for triple what it costs to buy much bigger C-17s, waiting years for overpriced Lynx helicopters when we could have had bigger, better, cheaper Blackhawks - sooner. And all the things we buy are still full of US or other foreign kit, so we wind up dependent on other nations for tech support anyway.
What does Richards, front runner to replace Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup as head of the combined armed forces this year, think of this?
"I would love to see a very prosperous British defence sector but I don’t think it’s the job of the military to prop up ailing industries," he told us, before going on to liken UK defence contractors to the former nationalised coal-mining industry - famously dubbed by Mrs Thatcher a system of "outdoor relief".
"If British industry can deliver, then fine," Richards told us. "But if they’re too expensive versus the competition then I don’t think it’s our job to spend money simply to keep those industries alive.
"Ultimately, it’s why Margaret Thatcher did what she did in the 1980s. You can love her or hate her, but she transformed the British economy at a time when it was going down the tube. We’ve got to be similarly robust in our approach to the British defence sector. And I’m pretty certain that that is the view of the new ministerial team in defence.
"There may be certain things we must keep — shipyards are one example. But tanks, vehicles, these can be produced very cheaply under mass production. If you’re only producing 300 for the British army they are going to be too expensive to export to anybody else. And probably too expensive for us."
That sounds uncompromising enough, but in fact the serious British tank industry is pretty much already gone*. Meanwhile a few shipyards are still fighting hard to stay alive and keep selling things to the Royal Navy, their only possible customer given their sky-high costs. So these comments by the general aren't terribly controversial in detail.
Even so, the overall thrust of his remarks - and the suggestion that "the new ministerial team" are also against propping up subsidy-guzzling British arms firms - may send something of a chill down spines at BAE Systems.
Next page: Things look bad for Armoured Juggernaut UK
MoD is the problem
MoD is the problem and always has been.
As anyone who has ever designed kit for the MoD knows, it takes perhaps 10% of the time and less of the budget to design anything. The remaining 90% is paperwork. Endless bloody paperwork.
Eg - C3I system for a 1990s-era destroyer took less than 6 months to design - and design-prove. It took longer than that (and cost nearly as much) to win the bloody contract, never mind build it - suffice it to say that EOL components became a significant factor before the first system was even installed.
The UK "Defence" industry is a complete pile of shit now - and has been for decades really. The ongoing reason for it being a pile of shit is the MoD. The reason for that is simple - jobsworths. Nearly 100,000 of the useless fuckers, all trying to justify their existance with more paperwork.
Making weapons/support systems that work is pretty simple. Making weapons/support systems that work effectively for the UK forces is bloody impossible because from tender to delivery is measured in DECADES and is controlled by morons.
So what do you all reckon, UK engineers (the poor sods that are left) are that bad? Or could it perhaps be that England treats engineering like some sort of dirty subject. Far better to listen to the "chaps" eh?
You get what you deserve and when the mismanagement is endemic from the highest levels of govt then what the fuck do you expect?
Hey! Sir Dave!
Why not do a *real* Thatcher and get the Polish to do for us what the British Army do at a quarter of the price?
One could even sell off existing defence infrastructure to tax-avoiding cronies and foreign asset-strippers, like the traitorous cow did to everything else. Pimms all round!
In the 1930's, people were saying exactly this. After the "war to end all wars" everybody "knew" there would never be another major war again. As a result, the Royal Navy was left with it's last major ships being relics that were outmatched in the first world war, the army was left with an obselete collection of junk and the RAF was still messing around with byplanes.
By the time it became clear that Nazi Germany actually wanted a fight, the navy and army ended up getting screwed to fund an airforce that gave the RAF a fighting chance against the Luftwaffe. The reason we won the battle of Britain was more due to Hitler's stupidity than our preparedness.
We ended up buying overpriced crap from the US, a lot of which ended up on the bottom of the ocean rather than in our hands. We eventually won the war, but the cost of american help (all of which was bought and paid for) bankrupted the empire and left Britain with debts that it took us 50 years to pay off.
We need tanks, aircraft etc. even if they are just sitting in air conditioned hangers as a classic "force in being" to prevent attacking us with tanks or aircraft worthwhile as an asymmetrical measure. We don't need local industries pumping out vastly overpriced and under-performing equipment we can buy from somewhere else for half the price.