Friday 2 June 2006


Preening with the Predator - the Telegraph 'take'We have remarked on several occasions on the "Boys Own" tendency in the media, in the way they treat defence issues. A better example of this could hardly be found than in a gushing two-page spread in the news section of the Telegraph today, chronicling the deployment of Predator UACVs by the RAF in Iraq.

Apart from the fact that this is hardly news – the MoD has been leasing Predators from the US for the best part of two years, to my recollection – such is the superficial nature of the story that it lacks any of the analytical bite that might be expected of a serious newspaper. It might, for instance, have questioned why it is that the UK finds it necessary to hire UAVs, in which event it might have stumbled on the much more interesting story of the abysmal failure of Britain's own programme.

This is the story of the Phoenix, a drone with such embarrassingly poor hot weather performance that it failed entirely to deliver. Yet, oddly enough, this was reported by the Telegraph in November 2002, which told us that an upgrade to allow high temperature operations had been cut "to save money", something that the paper then branded "ill-considered".

The flight of the Phoenix - notIt is due that that "ill-considered" economy that we had to go cap-in-hand to the Americans to lease Predators, until the Phoenix replacement comes into service – the Watchkeeper - not expected until 2010 at the earliest, at a cost unspecified yet likely to be substantial.

And only hinted at in the Telegraph story is the problem that the Predators are regarded as "theatre assets" so that, while we are paying for the leases, and making our own personnel available to operate them, they are tasked according to coalition priorities, which means they are often unavailable for British use.

Such is the juvenile approach of this once serious newspaper to such issues that it is hardly surprising that our population is so ill-informed and the government gets away with so much.