Saturday 31 March 2007

A matter of respect

It might have taken a little time, but – a week on - at least The Daily Mail has woken up to the full extent of the humiliation which our proud nation has had to suffer.

Thus, as the Iranians through their Moscow ambassador hint that a show trial is being prepared for our kidnapped service personnel – with the truly ghastly prospect of "punishment" if the "charges" against them are proven - the paper proclaims the stark truth in a robust leader: "This humiliation shames Britain".

The parading of the British hostages on Iranian television is not just humiliating for them but for this country, it says. "Those images will be beamed around the world, with the clear message that we are impotent in the face of this blatant aggression and provocation."

This is a theme picked up by Max Hastings in the Mail's Saturday essay. He rightly reminds us of past glories and the power of gunboat diplomacy and notes that "Blair's true legacy" is a bankrupt foreign policy and the tarnishing of our "glorious Armed Forces".

Along the way, Hastings also notes that there is no credible military option available to us in seeking to release the hostages, thus arguing that we must rely on diplomacy. He then remarks on the tardiness of the EU response (so much for all Blair's wasted wooing of the EU, he writes) and the ineffectiveness of the United Nations, under which mandate the British forces were acting.

Hastings, though, does not offer a way out – a solution to the crisis. He believes that there is nothing specific we can do as we are entirely in the hands of the Iranians. So the great man turns to Gordon Brown, the prime minister soon to be, and asks, "what will he do differently, to rescue this country from the international shambles which Blair will soon bequeath to us?"

Standing aside from Hastings for a moment, those who would advocate an invasion of Iran might do well to remember that it is the major supplier of oil to Japan. A disruption in the flow to that country alone would have a knock-on effect which could plunge the world into recession – a scenario we explored last year (here and here) - while the closure of the Strait of Hormuz, cutting off Saudi and Kuwaiti (and Iraqi) oil, would most certainly have that effect.

However, to rule out such an ostensibly satisfying option is not to say that, as Hastings suggests, passive diplomacy is our only option. And this is not the only issue where Mad Max goes off the rails. He writes:

When this business is over, hard questions should be asked in Britain. Who was responsible for exposing the sailors within reach of one of the most reckless nations in the world? This was a kidnapping waiting to happen. It has laid bare the bankruptcy of British foreign policy, shackled to America's Iraq calamity. Blair has forfeited respect in the Muslim world, where a decade ago our influence remained substantial. He has lost not only the battle to turn the British people into Euro-enthusiasts, but also his campaign to make this country a major force in Europe.
Here, we see the glimmerings of understanding, only for them to be submerged in left-wing rhetoric and nascent anti-Americanism – never far from the surface where Hastings is concerned.

For sure, we have lost the respect of the Muslim world – and especially Iran – but is it because of "the bankruptcy of British foreign policy, shackled to America's Iraq calamity"? The "kidnapping waiting to happen" was hardly a function of foreign policy. More likely, it was – certainly in the view of this blog - a result of failures of military intelligence, operational planning and execution.

However, if you think about it, the rot did not start in the northern Gulf. As we have been recording meticulously on this blog (in postings far too numerous to list here), Army policy in response to continued attack on British land bases has been supine to the point of being craven.

For years now, Iranian-backed militias have been taking free pot-shots with mortars and rockets at British bases, and the Army response has been to hunker down and do nothing (or very little).

When it got too much to bear in Camp Naji, al Amarah, the Army simply ran away, abandoning the camp, which was stripped bare by the militias in 24 hours. Similarly, we abandoned the British Consulate in the Basra Palace complex, despite a £13 million refit, because of constant mortaring - and we are now planning to retreat to barracks in Basra Air Station.

It seems obvious, therefore, that the Iranians must have taken home the message that you can attack British forces with impunity - they will do nothing about it, other than run away. From there, it is hardly any great feat to link the Iranian aggression against Royal Navy boarding parties and the attitude of the Army.

Should that be anything like a correct analysis – or even partially correct – then the answer is equally obvious. What we need is a variation on the theme adopted by the Metropolitan Police of yore, when one of their own was murdered. Without knowing who was responsible, officers would "turn over" villains, making their lives intolerable and ordinary theivery impossible. Sooner or later – or so the theory went – the criminal fraternity would sue for peace, and deliver up the murderer to justice.

In like manner, we know that there is strong Iranian influence (and presence) in southern Iraq. In that region, therefore, Iranians are accessible – and vulnerable.

There, a robust, aggressive response by the Army, with the help and support of our allies and the Iraqi Army – which is proving to be a force to be reckoned with – all directed against Iranian interests, could soon have Tehran suing for peace. And even if that did not work directly, such action would go a very long way to restoring that precious commodity which we have lost – respect. More than anything else, we must imbue our enemies and friends alike with the knowledge that the British are not to be trifled with.


Friday 30 March 2007

Something of an irony

It is something of an irony that a few days before the Iranian Revolutionary Guard kidnapped 15 of our marines and sailors, Iran's Civil Aviation Organisation took delivery of its first new western-made aircraft since the 1979 Islamic revolution.

But the biggest irony of all is that the aircraft - which will be jointly operated between PAAviation and Iran's CAO for skydiving training – is a British-made 10-seater Britten Norman Islander. However, the interior can be re-configured to transport VIPs and it can also operate as an air ambulance or be used for coastal patrols.

The sale, worth $2 million, has been specifically agreed by Washington as part of efforts to encourage Tehran to halt its nuclear program, and a $2 million package of spare parts has also been agreed, to bring 10 other Islanders (bought before the revolution) to airworthy condition. It was thought that Britten Norman might send technicians to Tehran to help supervise the rebuild.

The agency which negotiated the sale says that this link gives an idea of specification of the aircraft. Needless to say, the Iranians are delighted with the deal so far and, we are told, have expressed interest in a further three aircraft. It will be interesting to see if our government now allows such a sale to go ahead – but then, the Iranians did recently increase their negotiating power somewhat.


Holding to account

I had not intended to return so quickly to the Iran hostage situation, but two contrasting news pieces demand attention, one in The Daily Mail (no link) and one in the The Daily Telegraph.

The Mail headlines: "'Complacent' Navy faces inquiry", while the Telegraph - Thomas Harding again – has it that, "Vulnerable Royal Navy boats 'like sitting ducks'".

Interestingly, in the Harding story, we are told that "questions over why two lightly armed Royal Navy tenders were allowed so close to Iranian waters largely unprotected will be raised if and when the crisis is resolved," while the Mail tells us that an inquiry is already under way. "Senior commanders" say this paper, "want to know how they (the sailors and marines) could be captured so close to the frigate Cornwall…".

Very much echoing the theme of this blog, the Mail then goes on to say that, "Military sources last night claimed the incident had exposed 'lax procedures'". One "insider" is cited, saying: "We've been doing these boarding operations for months and it looks as though that has bred complacency".

Inevitably, we get a ritual denial from the MoD but, intriguingly, we also get an admission that "the Iranians had played games of cat and mouse with the Navy in the Gulf for months without any serious incident".

So much for the Mail but then we get the specialist correspondent Harding. He tells us that which we already knew, that the Lynx helicopter which escorted the Cornwall's boats in the boarding phase then returned to the frigate. Incredibly though, the reason given was that "...the situation was not deemed dangerous".

We are also told that the Cornwall was stationed between four and eight miles from a suspicious Indian merchant vessel, "because the water was too shallow".

But now Harding the apologist, looking after his chums, kicks in. "Radar operators on board," he writes, "would have been able to spot the green dots of the Iranian boats but they would have remained meaningless among the dozens of dhows in the area until they reached 25 knots," adding:

But with just three minutes travel to the boarding party, the radar would have picked them up too late. It was also too late for the Lynx to get back on station. Launching a helicopter off the back of a warship is not straightforward as the pilot has to judge the precise moment for lift-off.
He then informs us that the ship's 4.5-inch gun would also have been ineffective against the Iranian boats, which can travel up to 40 knots (even though the Cornwall's 4.5, with its highly sophisticated fire control, would have blown the Iranian launches out of the water) and that:

The servicemen were also caught unawares as they were disembarking with some already in the boats, some on the rails and others on the Indian vessel. The Iranians also appeared friendly at first.
Once again, therefore – we get no hint of criticism – an interesting reflection on a newspaper which is quite happy to give politicians, businesses and the rest a hard time. How curious it is that it then gives the armed forces such an easy ride, no matter how lamentably they perform.

And the more one looks at this, the more lamentable the performance of the Royal Navy does seem to have been. In the first instance, local commanders seem to have lacked any notion that the operation on which they were sending their personnel was highly dangerous, in a zone where Iranian action was always a possibility.

Then, as to the Cornwall standing off "four to eight miles" because the water was "too shallow", this beggars belief. Try this one for size: "…we are sending you chaps into action but the road is too narrow for our tank so we're parking it eight miles down the road to back you up".

As we have remarked on the forum, the Royal Navy does have two minesweepers in theatre, HMS Ramsey and HMS Blythe. These are shallow draught, so they could get in close. Furthermore, they are armed with 30mm Bofors Oerlikon guns (circled), which are more than adequate for taking on Iranian speedboats. If the frigate could not do the job, therefore, a more suitable craft should have been deployed - such as one of these minesweepers. The first rule has to be: chose the right tool for the job.

As for the Lynx helicopter, we have remarked on the forum, its best function would have been to provide an overwatch, warning of the approach of the Iranian vessels – although such helicopters are routinely fitted with door-mounted machine guns.

However, as we also pointed out, monitoring the movements of sea vessels is not something that has to be confined to rotary wing aircraft. In fact, the task could be carried out far more economically (and just as effectively) by fixed wing aircraft, in a task exactly analogous with fisheries protection. And, as these pictures illustrate (above), there are any number of small twins which can be used, the illustrations respectively showing Scottish, Irish, Australian and Canadian surveillance aircraft.

Finally, turning to the actual conduct of the boarding, we do not seem to have any footage of the actual capture but film shown by Iranian television does show the team on a dhow (possibly taken earlier by Cornwall personnel) – "grab" illustrated.

What is apparent is the lack of any tactical discipline. The boat crews are focused on picking up the team from the ship, there is no one obviously on lookout, or with weapons at the ready, facing any potential threat. In all, it has the air more of a school outing than a military operation in disputed waters, where there is a risk of capture and death.

In the past months, we have heard a great deal about the "covenant" between the nation and the military, and the obligation of the politicians to ensure that our service personnel are properly equipped and have the resources they need. But this also works the other way. We have a right to expect professional conduct from our armed forces and, on the face of it, there are indications that this was not delivered.

This does not only affect the conduct of operations. On issues such as equipment, it is up to the senior officers to specify what they need – which does not always seem to have been the case – and even with the contentious matter of the Rules of Engagement, field commanders and their superiors must ensure that our armed forces are not put in danger by overly restrictive rules.

We complain that our politicians have no military experience but the corollary of that is that they take advice from their military commanders, and will rarely contradict it. To that extent, our military actually have had a freer hand than they may have had in the past, but it puts a special responsibility on them to get their advice right. One seriously wonders whether that has been the case.

What must happen, therefore, is that the media must get over its infatuation with the military and take a more critical view of its actions and conduct. It could start by looking at the performance of the force commander, Commodore Nick Lambert (above). There seems enough now to be asking whether this man should be court martialled, and whether his superiors also should be held to account.


Thanks for nothing

Left in the humiliating position of having nothing in the locker with which to take on the Iranians after their abduction of our service personnel, our esteemed government has been running, cap in hand, to the United Nations Security Council for a resolution condemning Iran's action.

For all we got for our efforts, though, we need not have bothered. The mighty mouse groaned and heaved and delivered what Reuters called "a watered-down statement" which merely expressed "grave concern" at the detention of the 15 British crew members, calling on Tehran to allow "consular access" to them.

Britain had wanted a call for their immediate release but this was apparently blocked by the Russians. Her ambassador, Vitaly Churkin, is reported to have told the Council, during the closed-door consultations, that Moscow would not back Britain's call for UN support.

The original British draft circulated Wednesday would have had the Security Council "deplore the continuing detention by the Government of Iran of 15 UK naval personnel" and back "calls for (their) immediate release". It would note that "the UK personnel were operating in Iraqi waters as part of the Multinational Force-Iraq under a mandate from the Security Council under Resolution 1723 (2006) and at the request of the government of Iraq."

The final UN statement, however, avoided the issue of whether the ambush took place in Iranian or Iraqi waters, leaving the British service personnel hung out to dry.

More and more, this is developing into a "Tipperary situation" - after the old joke in which a tourist in the depths of Ireland asks a local the way to the town, only to be told, "I wouldn't start from here".

And, as more details emerge of the snatch, it has emerged that only two boats were initially used by the Iranians. Video footage has been released by Iranian television showing close-ups of one of the vessels, a small speedboat with a crew of three, armed with what appears to be a single 12.7mm machine gun.

This was hardly a formidable force and one which, with the right assets in place and an alert overwatch, could easily have been seen off. Given the enormous repercussions of the kidnapping – to say nothing of the national humiliation – questions as to how the British service personnel were so easily ambushed now become increasingly urgent.


Thursday 29 March 2007

A proper inquiry

One need hold no brief for the Foreign Office to feel that the Daily Mail's criticism is a little bit wide of the mark.

For sure, its policy of appeasement has not improved the credibility of Britain but, as the latest Iranian response indicates, our diplomats have been dealt an almost impossible hand, where they hold very few cards.

Clearly, the Iranians are playing games, now suggesting that the promised release of Faye Turney may be delayed because of the UK's "incorrect attitude", demonstrating quite how difficult it is to deal with a government that simply has no conception of what playing by the rules actually means.

But, while seeking the release of our people is vitally important, not for one moment must the government (and especially the MoD) be allowed to gloss over the circumstances which gave rise to their abduction in the first place.

A classic line was taken by The Daily Telegraph with Thomas Harding cosying up to his chums in the military, noting only of the incident that, "caught unawares," the British personnel "had little choice but to surrender." He does not ask, though, why the personnel were caught with their pants down.

Neither was there any hint of criticism of the military from Tory foreign affairs spokesman William Hague who, in yesterday's Commons debate sought merely to "commend our forces for the difficult and dangerous tasks that they are undertaking", then asking whether the MoD would "look again at its configuration of forces in the area, so that the forces undertaking these tasks are fully protected, or better protected, or better able to deter interference with their activities?"

Ann Winterton, however, took a far more robust line, asking foreign secretary Margaret Beckett:

Will the Foreign Secretary have a word with the Secretary of State for Defence to ensure that in future no British forces operate in Iraqi waters - which are known to be extremely dangerous; past incidents proved that -unsupported and without appropriate protection and back-up? Could there not be other incidents in future - we very much hope not - and might this not be a dangerous precedent given that, possibly bearing in mind the current rules of engagement, there is no meaningful deterrent against the Iranians?
Beckett, of course, sought to divert attention from this issue, stating that "there will be a careful review of the courses of action that the government should pursue in future," but then emphasising that "the focus at present is on action on the diplomatic front to recover our personnel" … exactly the line taken by the bulk of the media.

Winterton, however, backed up her plea with a letter published in today's Telegraph, picking up the sloppy reporting by the paper a few days earlier. She wrote:

The report (March 27) that "questions were asked in the House of Commons yesterday about whether rules of engagement prevented the Cornwall from opening fire " is inaccurate. I did not even mention the Cornwall in my question to the minister of state.

The best information available is that the Cornwall was out of visual contact with the two British boats when they were surrounded by several Iranian fast patrol boats with heavier arms. The question is why that was the case, given the risks in the area and UN action the following day to impose sanctions on Iran over its atomic programme, which was likely to cause some reaction. If the Cornwall had been in visual contact, would the Iranians have risked the abduction?

It seems to me that Britain is expecting its service personnel to take on ambitious and dangerous projects without providing adequate protection and back-up.
For once, even The Business is losing its usually deft touch, remarking, entirely reasonably that, "Spineless Britain faces its greatest humiliation since the Suez crisis," but failing to comment on why we ended up in this mess in the first place.

Beckett's "careful review of the courses of action that the government should pursue in future," is not good enough. The military must be held to account and, if there are failings – at whatever level – these must be identified and action taken to ensure there are no repeat failures. It serves no one's interest – least of all the armed forces – for any failings to go uncorrected. There must, therefore, be a proper, public inquiry on how the events of 23 March came to pass.


Air cover

According to The Times, the decision to offer no resistance to Iran "was down to the commander of the two boats". And there was no air cover at the time because a helicopter had just returned to HMS Cornwall after watching the successful boarding of a merchant vessel.

Of this latter information, we were aware, as this is recorded by the MoD website. But, since that was the case, one has to return to the issue of why the Cornwall was out of visual contact with the boarding team, and why she did not position herself between the boarded ship and the Iranian border, where she could better detect any protential threat.

Alternatively, we have things called Nimrod maritime reconnaissance aircraft. One of these could have provided an overwatch for the whole of the Northern Gulf. But it is precisely these aircraft which we know have been used for land surveillance, backing up our forces in Iraq and in Afghanistan. Thus, it seems as if the overall shortage of assets could be having a knock-on effect right through the system, the end result being that our people are left unprotected.


This does not compute

We have now an account of the Iranian abduction of our sailors and marines. According to Vice Admiral Charles Style, Deputy Chief of the Defence Staff, briefing on the MoD website, the events were as follows:

Our boarding started at 0739 local time and was completed at 0910 with the merchant vessel having been cleared to continue with her business. Communications were lost with the boarding team as the boarding was finishing … at 0910. HMS CORNWALL's Lynx helicopter, which had been covering the initial stages of the boarding, immediately returned to the scene to locate the boarding team.

The helicopter reported that the two seaboats were being escorted by Iranian Islamic Republican Guard Navy vessels towards the Shatt 'Al Arab Waterway and were now inside Iranian territorial waters. Debriefing of the helicopter crew and a conversation with the master of the merchant ship both indicate that the boarding team were ambushed while disembarking from the merchant vessel.
Now, with reference to the chart provided (above), using the measurements supplied by the MoD, the mother ship, HMS Cornwall is about 8.5 nautical miles from the boarding party - to the south east. Why wasn't she between the boarding party and the Iranian border?

Then, her top (flank) speed is 30 knots, but she takes a little time to work up to that so, on that basis, it will take her up to 20 minutes to get to the scene.

But, it would appear, the Cornwall does not immediately set out. All we are told is that, when communications are lost, the helicopter is "immediately" despatched and reports the British boats under escort, already in Iranian waters.

Now, it can only take the Lynx a couple of minutes to get to the scene. And the British boats are already over the border. They have travelled around two nautical miles to get there – faster than the Lynx can get to the scene, even though it left "immediately"?

Then we see the Iranian film. One scene is missing from the BBC rendition , a very short sequence with a "grab" shown above right. This shows a close up of HMS Cornwall. But it is Iranian film.

Let me get this straight ... one presumes the Cornwall is still in Iraqi waters. So, the Iranians, having kidnapped two boat crews from the Cornwall now hang around in Iraqi waters to get a video shot of the frigate? Otherwise, how come the Cornwall got that close to the Iranian boats? And if Iranian boats are in Iraqi waters, how come no protest is made?

Between what we are seeing and what we are being told, there seems to be a few gaps. And what we see simply does not compute.


Friday 23 March 2007


News is coming in of an abduction by Iranian revolutionary guards of two Royal Navy boarding parties – 15 men in all - from the frigate HMS Cornwall.

According to the MoD website, the incident took place at approximately 1030 Iraqi time.

The British personnel were engaged in routine boarding operations of merchant shipping in Iraqi territorial waters in support of UNSCR 1723 and the government of Iraq. The UK boarding party had completed a successful inspection of a merchant ship when they and their two boats were surrounded and escorted by Iranian vessels into Iranian territorial waters.
The MoD says it is "urgently pursuing" the matter with the Iranian authorities at the highest level and on the instructions of the Foreign Secretary, the Iranian ambassador has been summoned to the Foreign Office. "The British Government is demanding the immediate and safe return of our people and equipment."

In 2004, Iran detained eight British servicemen for three days after they allegedly strayed over the maritime border. The UK claimed the men were "forcibly escorted" into Iranian territorial waters. And, although the men were returned, the equipment was not.


That didn't take long

It was only yesterday morning that BBC correspondent Paul Wood, embedded with the Second Rifles in Basra, was confidently chirping over the airwaves that, "the British Army believes it is winning here".

This was in the same week that the Army had pulled out of its base in the Old State Building in central Basra, an event barely recorded by the BBC and almost entirely ignored by the MSM.

Yet, a mere two days later, fighting had erupted in the centre of the city, again given little attention by the BBC but recorded in depth by Sam Dagher of the Christian Science Monitor, his piece headed: "British leave, battle erupts over Basra".

The fighting, it appears, broke out between rival Shiite groups - those loyal to Moqtada al-Sadr and the Fadeela faction - and spilled out onto the streets. The CSM report (based in part on Reuters copy) records eyewitness claiming that masked gunmen had swept through the centre of the city carrying AK-47s and rocket launchers.

In scenes that appear to be redolent of the hand-over at al Amarah where the British Abu Naji camp was stripped bare by the militias, some of the fighting was reported to be over control of the vacated Old State Building.

A source from the Fadeela Party in Basra also said the party headquarters had been completely burned down in the clashes, and the fighting had then moved to the house of Basra's governor, Mohammad Musbih al-Waeli, a leader from Fadeela, which came under siege as gunmen tried to storm his residence.

Dagher argues that the turmoil signals the beginning of the kind of battles that could erupt in Iraq as outside forces depart, citing Martin Navias, an analyst at the Centre for Defence Studies at London's King's College. "There will be a power vacuum in Basra," he says. "As the British begin to extricate themselves from Basra, there will be fighting among these groups." Dagher' piece continues:

Fadeela officials said that "neighboring" countries, in a veiled reference to Iran, were backing certain factions in Basra including an individual they named who has known links to Mr. Sadr. "Iranian influence in southern Iraq is very strong and there are loads of Iranian personnel running around Basra, but which faction they are coming down for is unclear," says Mr. Navias.

"The British adopted a policy of live and let live. They never confronted the Shiite militias unless they were pushed in certain situations .... This allowed the different factions to assume power in the governing council, police and other institutions."
Reuters reports that hospital sources said seven people had been wounded in the clashes which seemed to have died down shortly after midday yesterday, when the intense gunfire dwindled to sporadic shooting.

A curfew was imposed for several hours as Iraqi police, soldiers, and British troops deployed in the area. However, British military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Kevin Stratford-Wright could only say that by the time British troops got into the city, "there wasn't much to see."

Curiously, few other media outlets have given the events much coverage either, one exception (at the time of writing) being The Times, which relies on correspondent James Hider, filing from Baghdad.

Hider cites Abdul-Qader Mohammed Jassim, the Iraqi defence minister, who just happened to be in London, saying that his troops were capable of tackling outbursts of violence and that he had brought forward the deployment of an extra 5,000 Iraqi soldiers to the city. For the time being, therefore, the line is holding.

Nevertheless, in a separate report, Reuters claims that the Mehdi Army is breaking into splinter groups, with up to 3000 gunmen now financed directly by Iran and no longer loyal to the radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. This, says the agency, is seen potentially as adding an even more deadly element to Iraq's violent mix.

Whether we saw some of that yesterday is a moot point, but it seems entirely compatible with the developments Reuters is reporting. One thing must be certain though: while the media spend most of its time and effort on watching the US activities in Baghdad and elsewhere – this being the main focus of BBC reports yesterday – the situation in Basra is far from settled. We could possibly be looking at a sharp deterioration in the security situation over the next few weeks and months.


Thursday 22 March 2007

The mystery deepens

Attacks on the Basra Palace base are intensifying, says the Radio 4 BBC Today programme, which this morning ran a short piece on how the Army is coping. Soldiers, we are told, are routinely getting only three or four hours sleep a night, as they are exposed to incessant mortaring.

Despite this, a young Army officer interviewed claimed that the Army is "getting the upper hand" and "has the ability to track and defeat this enemy".

The piece follows this officer and his troops, who form the "Quick Reaction Force", chasing down the attackers … in Warrior mechanised infantry combat vehicles. Predictably, by the time they arrive at the co-ordinates from which an attack had been mounted, there was no sign of the enemy, although the piece recorded that, on this occasion, the patrol was ambushed and a gunfight erupted.

As is so often the case, the report was superficial. The previous night, a patrol had captured a car in which rockets and bombs had been found, but we were not told how this came about. But no insurgents were captured or killed.

Once again, therefore, we seem to be in the same situation that frustrated the ground patrols at the Abu Naji base in al Amarah, before it was abandoned because of the incessant attacks (the picture above shows the effects of one). By the time they arrived, the insurgents had long gone, hence the need for a helicopter response – which we know was occasionally provided by the United States.

Why this resource is not available remains one of those modern-day mysteries, compounded in this event by another. The patrol described by the Today programme, arriving at the scene, did not appear to know the whereabouts of the mortar crew which had mounted the attacked. Yet, as we discussed in our earlier piece, the technology exists to pinpoint and follow attackers, using advanced electro-optical equipment fitted to fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters.

Here the mystery deepens. Despite my comments about the lack of equipment and the failure to learn from Northern Ireland, it seems the Army was well able to learn the lessons.

As the picture and narrative above shows, in December 2003, three Britten Norman Defender aircraft were ordered for use in Basra - each equipped with the formidable electro-optical equipment which has been so successful in tracking insurgents - the first aircraft entering service with the Army on 1 October 2004 - just 9½ months later.

It also appears that these aircraft were available in al Amarah. We also know that the base there was equipped with Mamba counter-battery radar, which means that some of the key elements needed to deal with the mortar threat were in place.

What appears to have been missing were the helicopters to convey troops rapidly to the scene, and an effective patrol strategy.

This notwithstanding, currently, there are no indications that the Defenders are still in use. There is no reference to them on the Army Air Corps website, they do not appear on the main MoD site and no official photographs seem to have been published. And, even if they were still in use, three aircraft are not enough to mount 24/7 standing patrols covering all the British bases. This might explain why we are resorting to using the Iraqi Sama aircraft (the model here seen over Basra air base).

Operational security is one thing but, on the face of it, it would appear that the lack of information on our capabilities is aimed more at concealing inadequacies than protecting our troops. And, despite having its reporter on the ground, the BBC did not even seem to notice.


Wednesday 21 March 2007

Cheap and cheerful

Earlier this month we picked up the fact that the British Army was relying on air support from the Iraqi Air Force, flying cut-price, militarised versions of a Canadian-designed light aircraft – the Sama CH2000 - flying out of Basra Air Station.

Through a Parliamentary Question tabled by Ann Winterton , we now learn that the support provided is no occasional outing. In the last two months some 70 sorties have been flown, backing up our Army.

In many ways, this is exceedingly good news. In the first instance, it can do no harm to the morale of Iraqi personnel to have provided such a valuable service to the British Army. Secondly, one is reassured that the Army is getting cover from these invaluable aircraft. Fitted with the MX-15 optical surveillance turret and data links, they are as capable as the Nimrod MR2 and the Merlin helicopters used for land surveillance, which are fitted with exactly the same equipment.

But most of all, with the Sama costing a mere £360,000, this proves the point that a land surveillance capability need not cost the earth – or the £14.2 million that the MoD is planning to spend (average) on each of the Future Lynx helicopters which will give the British Army the same capability as the Samas (but not until 2014).

Interestingly, since 1989, the Army has been operating the "cheap and cheerful" Britten Norman AL1 Islander on surveillance duties, mainly in Northern Ireland – where so much experience has been gained on counter-terrorist operations. The same equipment, especially if fitted with the MX-15 turret, would be ideal for operations in southern Iraq, and would cost far less than the RAF Nimrods and the Merlins which, at the moment, are the only British aircraft providing this capability.

One wonders why the Army needs to relearn the lesson it gained in Northern Ireland, or perhaps it takes the view that, as long as the RAF is providing the service "free of charge" it need not invest in its own future. Certainly, any organisation that would prefer to spend £14 million on a capability that it could have for a fraction of the price cannot be said to be short of funds.


Tuesday 20 March 2007

Overwhelmed to impotency

As we reach the fourth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, the airwaves are full of wailing and gnashing of teeth as the moonbats debate the merits or – more usually – otherwise, of the military action. Given less attention – and much less than it deserves – however, is another debate, this one on how the military should gear up to fighting and winning the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

For the Americans, that debate has been underway for some time and, yesterday, the AFP agency acknowledge the outcome, with a piece headed: "War remoulds army into boots-on-the-ground counter-insurgency force".

The US military, it says – citing "analysts and military officials" - is strained and stretched by the bloody conflict, but it has been forced to adapt and relearn how it fights its wars.

General David Petraeus (pictured above), the new US commander in Iraq, spent the past year writing the Army's first counter-insurgency manual in two decades, reviving a military art that had been all but lost after the Vietnam War. Troops are training for urban combat at mock Iraqi villages in the Mojave Desert, and counter-insurgency is the subject of the day at military academies and in the pages of journals. A new generation of combat-tested military leaders is in command.

But the agency also reports that "some generals worry it [the US Army] may lose its edge in fighting high-tech conventional wars," a fear very much reflected in British military circles, not least by Air Chief Marshall Sir Michael Graydon (retd), who we recorded saying that "We mustn't fall into the trap of becoming a peace-keeping militia." He declares: "An ability to conduct full-scale military operations is the foundation for successful peace-making and peace-keeping."

What is interesting here is that, while the United States military also confronted this issue in a big way during the Vietnam era, the UK has never engaged in the debate in the same way – or to the same extent. Previously, British counter-insurgency operations have absorbed a relatively small part of defence budgets, so the military were never forced to make a choice between conventional and counter-insurgency operations. But, as forces have contracted and we have taken on commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan, gearing up for counter-insurgency operations is having a significant impact, especially on the Army.

Equally interesting is that many of the arguments that emerged during the Vietnam era – especially over the use of airpower – were never really resolved. Yet, if they are being re-addressed by the Americans, so far in the UK the debate has not really taken off - at least, not in public.

One element of that debate is about (or should be about) the costs of technology, which is getting so expensive that even wealthy countries like the US have difficulty in affording it. Another is that the increasing sophistication and performance of military hardware, which is now out of balance with the primitive nature of the enemy that is being fought.

The classic example of both elements is the Apache attack helicopter (pictured right) which, in British hands, ended up costing £60 million each. A hugely complex machine designed for killing Warsaw Pact tanks on the plains of northern Europe, it is now being used to kill Taliban fighters who are able to field nothing more sophisticated than 4x4 pick-up trucks and ancient Russian machine guns.

What needs to emerge from the debate is the definition of military equipment which embodies sufficient capability to do the job yet which is sufficiently affordable to permit the purchase of enough units to meet operational demands. There is no point having equipment that is capable of meeting all contingencies which ends up being so expensive that not enough is bought, or it is too expensive to use.

To this problem we have alluded in our piece yesterday when we pointed out that hi-tech MX-15 optical surveillance equipment is at the moment carried by a variety of platforms, ranging from the Nimrod MR2 and the Merlin helicopter, to the Iraqi Air Force Sama 2000s. More to the point, this same equipment will be fitted to the Future Lynx, which, at an average of £14.2 million per airframe, will end up being used to carry out exactly the same task as the £360,000 Sama 2000.

It is in the use of helicopters generally that costs are getting out of hand. Before they became available, many of the functions at present carried out by them were done by fixed wing aircraft, latterly the Auster AOP9 which continued in service until 1965. And while it could not perform all the duties of a helicopter, its short take-off and landing capabilities did allow it to perform air observation, casualty evacuation and utility transport operations. Undoubtedly, something similar could perform many of the duties currently undertaken by helicopters – especially if fitted with the MX-15 optical surveillance equipment – at a fraction of the cost.

Similarly, where helicopters are needed and there is absolutely no alternative, instead of always using Lynx, Chinooks or Merlin helicopters, we could for some of the tasks fly the updated version of the Vietnam era Huey, known as the Bell 412. This costs a fraction of what the other types cost to buy and operate.

More particularly, the Lynx struggles to operate in the hot conditions of Iraq and, doubly suffers in the hot and high conditions in Afghanistan. There, it has been reported that the extreme heat and thin, rising air of the Helmand desert has limited the Lynx to operations between dusk and dawn, when temperatures fall to acceptable levels.

On the other hand, the "unique abilities" of the Bell 412s include "flying in hot and often humid conditions whilst also being able to carry considerable loads", for which purpose the Army has acquired six military versions which it employs in the predominantly jungle areas of Brunei and Belize – but not in either Iraq or Afghanistan. Unsurprisingly, the Pakistani Air Force, which must operate in conditions very similar to those in Afghanistan, flies Bell 412s.

It is not only in the use of helicopters, however, where the debate is needed. When it comes to air support, the role of more economic equipment also needs to be discussed. The USAF went through the arguments extensively in the 1960s as sophisticated, high performance aircraft like the Phantom became available. Too fast to allow accurate delivery of close air support, and so large that it presented an inviting target to ground fire, cheaper and more effective alternatives were soon employed. Amongst those was the piston-engined Skyraider and the T-37 basic trainer (pictured), which became a potent warbird.

About the same time, the British equivalent, the Jet Provost, was upgraded to become the Strikemaster, giving good service in the Oman insurgency, alongside Hueys which were able to operate in the desert heat.

For our air support in Afghanistan, however, we operate Harrier GR9s – upgraded versions of the GR7 – hugely expensive machines with limited payloads. Their one advantage is the ability to make vertical take-offs and landings, but neither of these attributes are used. For the type of support needed in the region, the Tucano used by the RAF as a basic trainer could do the job. And, at £5 million, per aircraft, the cost is less than that paid to convert a GR7 to GR9 standard, allowing us to buy many more.

What does emerge from this is that money is not always the issue, and despite claims to the contrary, the Armed Forces are not actually short of money for equipment – buying better, as can be demonstrated with the Bell 412, can also mean buying cheaper.

Getting in the way though is the determination of the military to buy those increasingly expensive and complex "toys". For the UK to afford to go to war - and win - this process must be reversed.

Thus, in a similar contest, said Ed E. Heinemann, designer of the B-26 Invader, the A-1 SkyRaider and the A-4 SkyHawk: "The obstacles to any simplification may seem insurmountable, and the reasons for more complexity are many and powerful. But if we permit this Frankenstein of complexity to continue to work at its current plodding, insidious rate, it will slowly overwhelm us to impotency."


Sunday 18 March 2007

Contempt of Parliament

We learn today from The Sunday Telegraph that British commanders in Iraq have ordered artillery to be used against insurgents for the first time since the end of the war.

The move follows a sharp increase in mortar and rocket attacks on military bases in the city. Military officials confirmed that troops at five bases are being shelled daily with mortars or rockets.

It is understood that Maj-Gen Jonathan Shaw, the commander of the multinational division in southern Iraq, asked for a battery of six 105 mm guns from 40 Regiment Royal Artillery to return to Iraq to counter long-range attacks by insurgents. This will be the first time that British forces have used artillery in Iraq since 2003, when it was used during the war against Saddam Hussein's forces.

Says The Telegraph, for several months, insurgents have been attacking British bases with 120mm mortars and rockets that can be fired from several miles away. Both weapons are notoriously inaccurate in untrained hands and many of the rounds fired at British bases land in residential areas, killing and injuring civilians. Commanders hope that the insurgents will be discouraged if they are met with an artillery barrage from the British 105mm weapons every time they open fire.

Good though this news is that we are taking active counter-measures, I have been hearing from a variety of sources that, unlike the "gung ho" US, the British will not use artillery because of the risk of civilian casualties. Now it seems we too are to join the ranks of the "gung ho", returning fire when attacked.

But the fact that we learn of this from a newspaper can only be a deliberate snub to MPs – and Parliament in general. For some months now, several MPs have been asking the secretary of state for defence for details of measures which the MoD is taking to protect our troops, only for the questions - one as recent as last last Wednesday - to be dead-batted on security grounds.

What MPs cannot be told, however, can be released to a national newspaper and thence into the public domain. That, by any measure, is contempt of Parliament.


Saturday 10 March 2007

An unhealthy lack of information

Our struggle to keep abreast of the progress in the Iraqi and the Afghani campaigns is not done for entertainment or out of idle interest. We take our responsibilities as citizen/subjects in a democracy seriously, and could hardly do otherwise, having so often declared that democracy is not a spectator sport.

Thus it is that we need to know what is going on because, if the campaigns are being badly mismanaged, and the government does not respond adequately or at all, we will be part of that band of people who raise a clamour and demand action. That is what living in a democracy is about.

The trouble is, so many miles removed from the action, we rely on others for information, on the media, on official sources and on the occasional discussions with people who have been there – all assessed through the filter of our own experience, background knowledge and powers of understanding.

That said, the essential problem with Afghanistan is that the flow of information is sparse and very often second-hand. Media reports, for instance, are often datelined Kabul, written by journalists hundreds of miles away from the action in the context where it matters not whether it is hundreds or – like us – thousands. The information is still second hand.

That much which is based on official information can be totally unreliable, representing spin from organisations which are determined to present the best, and thus leave out bad news.

A classic example is a recent media report of Nato activities at Garmsir. Offering details of a military "success", a month later the troops are still having "successes", but seem no further forward than when they had their earlier successes.

We saw this especially with the accounts of the Kajaki dam clearance, where we are now being told of a third operation in as many months, having been led to believe that the first two had been successful.

On the other hand, looking at the totality of information available to us, we believe there is a possibility that Nato (and especially British) forces are not doing too well. We could even be at risk of losing.

However, unlike many, we do not take the view that the Afghani war is inherently unwinnable – the white man's graveyard of yore – and took some comfort from a piece earlier last month in the American Spectator by Hal Colebatch.

He argued that the myth of inevitable defeat for British forces is precisely that – a myth. The previous campaigns in Afghanistan, he writes, don't tell us much about the present one, except that it is a very tough country inhabited by very tough people. Any army there had better be well-equipped and supplied, well-motivated and with clear-minded military and political leadership.

Then, today, in The Times, we get soldier turned photographer and war correspondent, Anthony Loyd, who argues that, "for once" an Afghan war is winnable, declaring that "the tide is turning against the Taliban".

However, if as Loyd believes, the Taliban is spent force, his information comes not from direct communication with them, but from Nato sources – the same sources that arranged a truce in Musa Qala, only to have the Taliban move in and take over.

The Australian Herald, however – with a reporter Kandahar – reports that 40 miles to the south of Musa Qala, "Sangin is boiling", the town that straddles the British communication line to the Kajaki dam region.

The fierce and unexpected activity of the Taliban here tends to confirm the fears of some analysts who, according to the Herald, argue that the insurgency has spent the winter regrouping and is showing signs of more sophisticated communications, tactics and command-and-control structures. And it has Pakistan as a sanctuary from which to operate. And, as we saw recently, they can still reach out in unexpected places, to ambush unsuspecting convoys.

It is as well to remember that only a fraction of the manpower and aid deployed to Iraq is being allocated for Afghanistan yet, while the country and its population are bigger than Iraq, the foreign force is only a fifth of that in Iraq. Even with everything going for it, the Nato force is going to find it much harder to prevail.

But there are worrying sign the Karzai government – never firmly in control – is losing its grip in the southern provinces, while the population is becoming more alienated by foreign troops, and their perceived indiscriminate killing of Afghani civilians.

This harps back to a perspicacious report published in February 2004 on the dangers of collateral damage, a report which seem to have been largely ignored as Nato forces rely more and more on airpower rather than more precise and controllable land equipment.

All we have to go on, though, is slender scraps of information – and a sense that very little effort is going into reporting what is going on. Instead, we get acres of coverage on the career of Patrick Mercer, a minor Tory politician, unknown to most people before a few days ago, all from a media that is obsessed with trivia.

If the war is winnable, though, we need to make sure we put the necessary resources into winning it but, so far, it is more than a little difficult to find out what is going on. That is not healthy.


Thursday 8 March 2007

Assisted suicide

If a measure was needed of how dismally the MoD procurement process is letting down our troops, an answer to a question from MP Ann Winterton in today’s Hansard reveals that an armoured vehicle selected in July 2003 is not going to be delivered to the Army until the end of this year – more than four years after it was first ordered - and then, initially, only to "training establishments".

This is the Italian-built Panther Command and Liaison Vehicle. A formal order was placed in November 2003 for 401 vehicles, with an option for up to 400 more, the first batch priced at £166 million, equating to £413,000 each.

As we remarked when we first wrote about the subject, a top-of-the-range Rolls-Royce would come cheaper. Furthermore, it was selected in preference to the larger and better-protected RG-31, built by a South African subsidiary of BAE Land Systems, costing not much more than half the price of the Panther.

What makes this so devastating is that the Parliamentary answer coincides with a press release by the US Oshkosh Company, celebrating the award of a contract to produce evaluation versions of the Australian-designed Bushmaster (pictured) - part of the programme to re-equip the US armed forces with Mine Resistant and Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles.

This we reported earlier this month but even then our information was out of date, as we were writing about 4,000 vehicles being ordered. In mid-February, the number was increased, subject to Congress approval, to 6,738, in recognition of how effective the vehicles have been in protecting their occupants.

But the ultimate irony is that, while the US is powering ahead with a major re-equipment programme, our hugely expensive Panthers are effectively useless for service in either Iraq or Afghanistan.

Not only do they provide considerably less protection than any of the MRAP vehicles, the interiors are proving too small even for their intended command functions.

Worse still, since they are designed as command vehicles, and differ from any other vehicles in service, they present an easily identifiable high-value target to insurgents. They would be a liability on an "asymmetric" battlefield, amounting to an exercise in assisted suicide for their occupants.

We end up, therefore with 400 redundant vehicles for a price which would have put 500 or more MRAP-type vehicles in Iraq and Afghanistan where they are needed - all over a timespan longer than it will take the US to re-equip its entire armed forces with such vehicles.

Thus are we served.


Monday 5 March 2007

Value for money

According to a Reuters report, last weekend was a good one for the newly re-emerging Iraqi Air Force, which took delivery of five "Huey" helicopters, the first of a batch of 16 donated by Jordan.

They have been refitted with modern avionics and new engines in the United States at a cost of $3.5 million each, funded by Washington. Fitted with Kevlar armour and missile defence systems, the full upgrade makes them, effectively, new aircraft.

The remainder of the batch is expected to arrive in July and, by the end of the year, the Iraqi Air Force will have 50 to 60 helicopters, including 28 new Russian aircraft. This is very substantially more than the RAF is able to field in the region - and at an extraordinarily economic price. To refit each Huey cost $3.5 million which, says Reuters, compares to $5.9 million for a new Black Hawk configured for the US Army or $5.5 million to $7.5 million for a new Russian MI-17.

Compare those prices with the Future Lynx that the MoD intends to buy, at £14.2 ($28) million each (average price).

And, if that is capability on the cheap, the Iraqi Air Force does even better with its growing fleet of fixed-wing surveillance and utility aircraft. One type operated is the Australian-designed and Jordanian-built SB7L-360 Seeker reconnaissance aircraft (above), a bargain at £450,000 each, fully equipped. This is a single-engine, two-man, high-visibility aircraft fitted with high-resolution surveillance systems, which are capable of providing live observation feedback to ground forces and additionally carry digital video recording hardware and other reconnaissance technology.

Then there are the SAMA CH2000 MTSA (Military Tactical Surveillance Aircraft) (above). They are based on the Canadian design of the Zenair Zenith 2000 and are assembled by Jordan Aerospace Industries in Amman. The aircraft are fitted with a forward looking infra-red imager, a daytime TV camera capable of detecting a man-sized target at two miles range from 2,000ft, and a full military communications suite.

At only just over £363,000 each, these offer exceptional value to an emerging air force.

Interestingly, some of these aircraft operate from Basra Air Station. And, while one can immediately imagine any suggestion that we might acquire some would be treated with disdain, it is germane to note that they have been used recently to support British forces operating in Maysan province, carrying British Army observers (pictured).

This points up the increasingly bizarre attitude of British procurement officials who seem so wedded to buying equipment with all the "bells and whistles" that we end up not being able to afford enough kit to support our operations. We thus have to rely on our allies who are able to provide the very support we lack, with equipment that costs a fraction of what we ourselves pay.

Somewhere in the corridors of the MoD, there is someone who needs to be banging a few heads together and starting to demand value for money. Methinks his name is Lord Drayson.


It's The Sun wot's doing it!

At last, one of the national dailies is waking up to the peril which our troops are facing in their bases in and around Basra, as they are rocketed and mortared daily, with a steadily increasing number of casualties.

That this newspaper is The Sun is probably helpful, as it is the largest-circulation paper, and has a strong impact on politicians, who believe (probably rightly) that it has the power to influence voting intentions.

Certainly, now that the paper has raised the issue, if there is the disaster in one of the bases that we expect and fear – where a bomb strikes a tent full of sleeping soldiers, or a crowded mess – then it will return to the issue with a strident "we told you so", which will be politically highly damaging.

Unfortunately, it does not look as if we are quite there yet as defence editor, Tom Newton Dunn, on a visit to Basra Palace, is obviously very much in the thrall of the British propaganda machine, highlighting the Iranian threat, which was done some time ago, rather than the lack of resources to deal with the threat.

Thus, we have Tom Newton Dunn repeat the Army's defeatist mantra that, "Most of the firing is from gardens or trucks in built-up areas so troops can't fire back." There is no sense that there are other countermeasures available or that the lack of resources represents serial incompetence on the part of successive governments, and their military advisors.

Still, Dunn's piece, highlighting the peril that our troops face, is at least a welcome contrast to the media silence on this issue. Perhaps while he is there, he might develop a better understanding of the lack of protection and political inertia.

That is not to say, however, that the Army is being entirely inert, given its successful action at the end of January and the raid over the weekend, but this is clearly not enough.

And, on that last raid, while the MoD website was quick to announce the success (and rightly so), it has been rather remiss in not announcing that a soldier was seriously injured by an "unknown gunman" who opened fire on him. We should not have to find this out from a press agency, what the MoD is leaving out.

Anyhow, if The Sun can do the mortar story, maybe some of the other media might be shamed into following and our glimmer of hope might blossom into reality.


Sunday 4 March 2007

You can beat a Pinzgauer

The Sunday Telegraph publishes a letter today from Graeme Rumbol, Managing Director, Pinzgauer Ltd, headed: You can't beat a Pinzgauer. He tells us,

I write in response to Christopher Booker's article published in The Sunday Telegraph on October 29, 2006 questioning the suitability of an armoured variant of the Pinzgauer all-terrain vehicle which my company is supplying to the British Army. I dispute Mr Booker's assertion that Pinzgauer's Protected Patrol Vehicle offers less protection for troops than Snatch Land Rovers currently used by the Ministry of Defence in Afghanistan. Protection is an extremely sensitive area and while our vehicle has new defensive features, we are unable to talk about them publicly for very obvious security reasons.

The article also failed to recognise the renowned off-road capability of the Pinzgauer, which has not been compromised in our new armoured version, and means it can be driven out of potentially dangerous situations by traversing terrain where other vehicles are unable to go.

Mr Booker stated the price of each Pinzgauer PPV is £487,000. This figure is wrong. The purchase price for our vehicle is less than half the figure quoted by Mr Booker. He seems to have failed to take into account in his calculations that our MoD contract also requires us to supply logistical support, spares, training and other essential support services which are all built into the overall costs.

The Pinzgauer has a superb reputation and, as such, I feel it important to clarify this situation.
We're banged to rights on the price. I simply took the posted contract price from Pinzgauer's website and divided it by the number of vehicles ordered. So we cannot say that near-on half a million pounds is the purchase price – simply what each of the vehicles are going to cost the Army. We stand corrected.

But, while Graeme Rumbol disputes "Mr Booker's assertion that Pinzgauer's Protected Patrol Vehicle offers less protection for troops than Snatch Land Rovers", we note he hides behind a veil of security in order to avoid giving any details. However, despite this reticence, that has not stopped his own company publishing the details in a trade brochure: see above.

However, he can dispute all he likes. The Pinzgauer Vector, as we have indicated here and here is a killer of men, the weakenss confirmed by the specification.

The topmost photograph shows an unarmoured Land Rover which has been hit by a mine. The crew survived, with the energy of the explosion absorbed by the wheel and engine housing.

In a Pinzgauer Vector, the driver sits on top of the wheel, with only thin armour between him and any mine explosion. He would most certainly have been killed by the explosion from which the Land Rover crew walked away.

Interestingly, Mr Graeme Rumbol invited us down to Guildford to see his wonderful Pinzgauers. We agreed to come, as long as he could arrange for us to see a demonstration of him driving a Pinzgauer Vector over a 7 Kg anti-tank mine (half the protection afforded by an RG-31). Strangely, we have not heard back.

Thus, it seems, Mr Rumbol is not prepared to expose himself to the risk he is quite content for soldiers in Afghanistan to face in his product, for which he is being so amply rewarded by the MoD. I wonder why that is.


Thursday 1 March 2007

Airboom or bust?

As expected, Airbus Chief Executive Louis Gallois yesterday announced his much delayed "Power8" plans to restructure his ailing company, shedding 10,000 jobs in the process. The jobs comprise 5,000 directly employed staff and 5,000 workers contracted from other firms and redundancies will be phased over the next four years. Additionally, Airbus intends to sell all or part of six factories.

Most of all though, Gallois railed against the "nationalist infighting" that had dogged the company from its inception, a "poison" that threatened to destroy it. "We need to be interested in the future of Airbus and for that we need to be one integrated company," he said

Despite the unions having been fully involved, and a careful spread of the job cuts to ensure equity between plants (to the detriment of the overall restructuring), there were still protests at Airbus factories in France at Meaulte and St. Nazaire. Jean-Francois Knepper, chairman of the European works council warned that there would be strike calls. But, he said, "perhaps a strike is not enough,"

Britain is to lose 1500 jobs, but the plant in Filton, near Bristol, is being given extra work, making carbon fibre composites for the wing of the A350. Other deals include setting up the main plant in Toulouse, France, for sole assembly of the A350 while the Hamburg plant will build the smaller A320.

These, however, are only the headline issues. Gallois is also committed to slashing operating costs, targeting reductions of € 2.1 billion from 2010 onwards and additional € 5 billion of cumulative cash flow from 2007 to 2010. Although much of this will come from reducing the headcount, operational efficiencies are also needed.

Therein lie some of the risks, as Airbus is considered by some commentators to be light on engineering and development skills, and is hard pressed to manage the A380 remedial work, the A350 redesign and the ongoing development for the military airlifter, the A400M.

Some of the slack will be made up by outsourcing some of the structural development and manufacture to risk-sharing partners, which will roughly double, while "lean manufacturing" is planned in the remaining plants, bringing expected productivity increase of 16 percent by 2010.

Yet, despite Gallois wanting to leave national infighting behind, he has been forced to maintain inflexible national work-share arrangements, which suggests that he has not yet got a complete grip on the company with is dominated by Franco-German politics, so much so that both Merkel and Chirac had to be consulted over the job cuts

The proof of the effectiveness of the changes, however, will be in whether the company can claw back some of the business it is losing to Boeing, and make up time on some of its projects. Little can be expected of the A380 but, in the wings, serious decisions are awaited as to the fate of the A400M, which looks like coming in late, overweight and short on range and payload.

Far from being out of the woods, therefore, Airbus may be heading for even more stormy waters, with its troubles only just starting.