Can Liam Fox break the power of British Army, Navy, RAF chiefs?
Top brasshats set to be booted out of Whitehall
In any case, interservice strife and the overmanning at senior levels which feeds it are only two of the problems which cause the MoD to let itself down so badly and so routinely. The other big one – and it is much, much bigger – is the MoD's relationship with the British weapons industry. This sees it always buy expensive kit off short production runs and then pay massively to maintain that kit in sweetheart deals with the manufacturers: no matter that better and cheaper could be bought elsewhere.
Lord Levene and his colleagues essentially ignore this issue, and seek to pretend that the problems lie only inside the MoD:
The Chief of Defence Materiel (CDM) should be a member of the Defence Board ... reflecting DE&S's role as the Department’s primary interface with industry and owner of the vast majority of the Department’s commercial risk, the CDM should have the lead responsibility for Defence industrial and commercial policy and functions ... on support, there is the potential to build on the trend over the last decade and move towards the greater involvement of industry in supporting military capabilities both at home and on operations ...
We understand that current MOD and cross-departmental organisational structures do not allow for the optimal delivery of Government support to defence exports ... Further work on this is needed ...
If all this goes wrong, it would mean that industry gets a (louder) voice on the Defence board just as uniformed representation gets seriously thinned out. But then to be fair, senior uniformed officers have seldom shown any appetite for trying to resist the huge political pressure to buy from factories in the UK regardless of price, regardless of quality and regardless of the fact that the resulting products are always dependent on support from the US and other foreign nations anyway. So we probably won't lose much by it.
On the whole, then, a fairly large shakeup seems to be on the cards which could turn out OK if we're lucky. It would be nice to think that the process was under control of a man with a bit more grasp on the nitty-gritty of defence, however.
Liam Fox: facing criticism
Announcing the Levene report – and plainly smarting from criticism to the effect that it might have been a poor idea to axe the Royal Navy's carriers in light of the subsequent Libyan fighting – Dr Fox said:
Let me take head on the persistent claim that the nature of our operations in Libya, and the cost of them, would be different had we an aircraft carrier and the Harrier in service. The truth is that we still would have based RAF Tornados and Typhoon to Italy for the air to air role and to carry the precision weaponry such as Stormshadow or Brimstone that Harrier cannot carry.
In fact the Harrier was the first British aircraft to be cleared for the latest Paveway IV smartbombs – the main weapon now in use by British planes over Libya – ahead of the Tornado and the Typhoon, as the RAF will tell you. Indeed, Typhoon was not an operational bomber at all until a rush effort after Libya had kicked off, and had not been planned to become one for years, whereas Harrier was. Harrier, in fact, was equipped for Brimstone: and the latest GR9 Harriers could easily have had Storm Shadow too – if Storm Shadow were any use, which it is not.
Poor work, Dr Fox. It would have been a lot better to admit that the Defence review was badly mucked up in that respect – and in others rather more important. ®
*The land forces which retook the islands had to be transported, supplied and in many aspects supported by sea. Many of them were Royal Marines – part of the navy, not the army – and the lead brigade, 3 Commando, was a primarily Royal Marine formation. Both it and the follow-on 5 Brigade, which saw less fighting and did less well, were under the command of a Royal Marine general.