Last month, I posted a story about how Australia, militarily, was becoming more closely aligned with the United States, and slipping away from the orbit of the Euro-obsessed British. This was followed by a posting from my colleague on the nascent Anglosphere, which confirmed this dynamic.

Now, from the The Australian comes yet further evidence in an article headed "Australia to share US secrets".

US President Bush, it reports, has issued a decree changed US national disclosure policy, upgrading Australia to the highest rank of intelligence partner that the US has in the world. Australia's new status is equalled only by Britain and vastly expands the quantity and quality of US intelligence our agencies receive.

In the 50 years of the US-Australia alliance, writes The Australian, Australia has never before enjoyed this level of access to American intelligence. The agreement ranges from tactical and operational military information through to comprehensive national assessments.

Increasingly, Australian agencies will have direct access to US intelligence systems. Australian military personnel in the Middle East, for example, can already directly access US intelligence databases and real-time battle space imagery.

The new relationship occurs at many levels. Canberra now has a permanent senior officer stationed at the US Strategic Command in Nebraska (pictured right). US Strategic Command is responsible for integrated intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, space and global strike operations, information operations, integrated missile defence and command and control.

It is the most sensitive intelligence hub in the US military network and to have Australians stationed there at high levels of seniority is a sign of the depth of the intelligence relationship. Australia gains access at all levels - to US raw intelligence, to US assessments of the intelligence and to real-time operational information and planning.

This has meant Australia further upgrading its own security because the US is extremely sensitive about who shares such information. Australia's new status is a sign of the growing trust the US has in the Australian military and intelligence community. Co-operation between Canberra and Washington in these fields has grown exponentially as a result of both the war on terror and the joint operations in Iraq.

In an editorial today, The Australian elaborates on this development, declaring that the change in Australia's status shows the reserves of trust that exist with our major ally. It is also a testament to the close relationship between Mr Bush and John Howard (pictured left), adding that: "the US alliance is, of course, the foundation of our security. Less well understood is the way the huge US defence budget subsidises our own military and intelligence spending, making it easier for Australian governments to provide the social services we value."

Continuing on this theme, it emphasises similar issues to those which have made the "special relationship" so valuable to the UK. "In recent times," the editorial says, "the closeness of this relationship, which is based on shared values and a history of helping each other out in times of conflict, has been expressed in many ways, including the free trade agreement signed last year and Australia's commitment to the liberation and rebuilding of Iraq. The new intelligence symbiosis, which among other things will help us fight terror in our region, is a further example of how the US alliance materially benefits Australia."

That "symbiosis" may be helping Australia now but, as far as the UK is concerned, informed sources report to us that British defence companies are experiencing "severe difficulties" in obtaining sensitive information from the US, suggesting that, far from enjoying equal status with Britain, in fact, Australia is now in a more privileged position.

This can hardly be a surprise. Amongst the more dubious articles of the "secret treaty" which we highlighted last month is "mutual recognition" of security clearances for the personnel from the signatory states.

Thus, according to the innocuous-sounding "Framework agreement" concerning measures to facilitate the restructuring and operation of the European defence industry, Part 4 (Article 23) defence workers from France, or Germany or German or any other of the signatory nations who have been given security clearance by their own country can be allowed full access to British defence secrets, and without even the British authorities having to be notified.

There plenty of examples of US sensitive technology having leaked from European firms to China, so there can be no surprise that things are getting tougher for Britain. As we cannot even control access to our own secrets, why should the Americans trust us? But, when Australia is cementing serious relationships with the US, and we are left out in the cold, it really is time to ask where we are going. Can we really afford to accept an Anglosphere that excludes the UK?

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The series of "Booker is wrong" letters to the Sunday Telegraph, attempting to rebut his pieces on the Europeanisation of the UK armed forces, continues apace. This week, we have Andrew Simpson of Bath, who offers what must qualify as the most bizarre contribution to date.

The Panther Command and Liaison VehicleUnder the heading, "I helped pick the Panther", Simpson reveals that he was formerly the MoD desk officer who initiated the Future Command and Liaison programme, which resulted in the procurement of the Panther vehicle (illustrated right), but he also tells us he is currently a consultant to Iveco – the builders of the vehicle.

Mr Simpson now feels so strongly about his employer's product, that he writes to tell us that he "cannot allow the gross errors of fact in Christopher Booker's article on defence procurement to go unchallenged." He is, he tells us, "the only person to have been intimately involved in this programme from initiation to contract award."

With such splendid qualifications, Simpson then takes Booker to task for referring to his employer's product as being "obsolescent". "Nothing could be further from the truth," he asserts. "Development of the base vehicle was started by Iveco as recently as 1999. It is as close to a state-of-the-art vehicle as is currently available, featuring a highly innovative protection system." Before dwelling on this specific point, it is as well to acquaint ourselves with what this "state-of-the art" Panther is replacing.

Firstly, it will take over close combat reconnaissance from the Combat Reconnaissance Vehicle (Tracked) (CVR(T)) series, better known as the Scorpion/Sabre series (illustrated left), vehicles which have done good service but are now urgently in need of replacement.

But, it is also being supplied to combat engineers, as their reconnaisssance and liaison vehicle, replacing the venerable but perfectly servicable FV 432, an example of which can be seen on the left. From the illustration can be seen the kind of kit that engineers carry into battle, and this is – theoretically – a ten-man vehicle.

The "state-of-the-art" Panther is, at best a five-seater and, in order to fit the radio, one or two seats have to be removed. Thus, it comes as no surprise that the Panther is already believed to be suffering from space constraints and the Engineers are rumoured to want a trailer.

None of this, of course, is mentioned by Simpson, who focuses on Booker's reference to the US up-armoured Humvee, which could have been bought for £100,000 as against Simpson's employer’s £413,000 Panther. "Humvee-based designs were considered and rejected by the MoD because that vehicle lacks the necessary protection and reliability for the role," writes Simpson. "Indeed, the Humvee itself is widely recognised as being obsolescent.”

The Sika Combat VehicleNeedless to say, Simpson misses the point. It is not so much the design of the Humvee or even the Panther which is obsolescent. It is the concept – the idea of having a general purpose vehicle to carry out a wide range of different tasks. We already showed you one possible alternative to the Humvee, the M1117 Guardian - which even at twice the price slated is still cheaper than the Panther. But the proposed replacement for the CVR(T) series should actually look something like the Sika Combat Vehicle (pictured above).

This is the fruit of the US Future Scout and Cavalry System (FSCS)/UK Tactical Reconnaissance Armoured Combat Equipment Requirement (TRACER) programme - a joint US-UK venture, originated in 1996, with an in-service date of 2007.

In February 2000, however, the project was cancelled when the US Congress shifted funding from the FSCS to a more ambitious, all-embracing concept known as the Future Combat System (FCS). The British government could have continued with the project but chose not to, writing off an expenditure of £131 million. So, while the US continued its development, the MoD issued a specification which led to its purchase of the Panther.

Interestingly, when the MoD came to shortlist the contenders for the contract, the Pather was not included in the selection. The Iveco vehicle was only entered after the short-list had been announced, at the insistence of the MoD, which then went on to select it as the winner, despite cheaper and probably better contenders, not least the South-African-built RG31, used by the US forces and £124,000 cheaper than the Panther.

Whichever way you look at it, the Army has been short-changed, and so has the taxpayer. Still, there is always a silver lining – at least Mr Simpson has got a nice little earner with the winner of the contract he helped to award.

For our latest report, see here.

COMMENT THREAD

The online journal Defense Industry Daily criticises Booker for attacking the MoD’s decision to buy the Italian-built Panther light armoured vehicle at £413,000 each instead of the up-armoured Humvee at £100,000 each.

Even the US, writes DID, is upgrading its armoured fleet, buying in vehicles such as the M117 Guardian (illustrated left). As it happens, the US recently purchased 724 of these vehicles on a fixed-price contract of $258.8m, which equates to $357,458 or £194,092 each - i.e. less than half the price of the Panther.

If you were a soldier in hostile territory, exposed to bombs, mines and gunfire, which would you prefer? The Panther (right), or the Guardian (above)? And, if you were – as you most certainly are – a taxpayer, which would you prefer, £413,000 or £194,092? Well, you have not been given a choice. The MoD have already decided that the Pather is the best vehicle for the British Army.

That, dear readers, is part of the price we are paying for European defence integration.

COMMENT THREAD

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