Monday 16 October 2006

Another patronising, holier-than-thou post

The abortive (for the UK) Horizon projectThere was something close approaching joy in the EU Referendum household this morning at the sight of The Daily Telegraph with its front page headline declaring: "Navy 'too weak' for big role in Korea blockade".

Not, as you will appreciate, was there any comfort to be gained from the message. But the very fact that a British newspaper has actually noticed something like this and is able to detach itself from its feminine side long enough to report it on the front page is indeed something to celebrate.

Equally, one took considerable enjoyment from the leader – something almost of a throwback to the days of Empire, the headline trumpeting: "Britain's obligation to blockade North Korea".

And then… what a wonderful opening line: "If you want to engage in gunboat diplomacy, it helps to have some gunboats."

How true. How so very true.

Thus says the newly-masculine Telegraph, Britain has been in the vanguard of those pressing for sanctions on North Korea after its detonation of a nuclear device. And "now that the UN Security Council has authorised those sanctions, it falls to us to assist in their enforcement in any way we can, in particular via a blockade of North Korean trade."

Yup… go with that – and with the next bit:

…just as the Army has been starved of the resources to do its job in Iraq and Afghanistan, so there are serious question marks over whether the Navy is equipped for this task. Since Labour came to power in 1997, the Navy has lost a third of its ships. We should be able to rustle up a couple of frigates or destroyers, a submarine, even an aircraft carrier.
The trouble is that the paper seems to lose it a bit – it goes on to say:

But as the Sea Harrier was withdrawn from service earlier this year, and its replacement does not arrive until 2013, those ships will be defenceless against missile fire. Unless our fleet shelters under the protection of the French or the Americans, its air defences are pitiful; were the Falklands crisis to recur today, our task force would be sunk before ever sighting Port Stanley.
Gone are the days of Desmond Wettern, when a Daily Telegraph correspondent was regarded as a world authority on naval issues. We are now reduced to this abysmal degree of ignorance. And ignorance it is – this is not "techie" pedantry: there is no way a Sea Harrier was ever and could ever be considered as part of a missile defence – it is (was) an air superiority fighter and its role would only be (as in the Falklands) to intercept enemy aircraft. Whether it could handle North Korean Mig 29s is another matter.

Furthermore, in any fleet, an aircraft carrier is an extremely vulnerable and attractive missile target and, therefore, far from contributing to missile defences, requires the deployment of considerable assets to protect it from attack.

One can see the point the Telegraph is trying to make though. The news piece sets it out:

…senior navy officers expressed deep concern about their ability to defend their ships against a hostile missile or fighter threat after a decision was enforced six months ago to scrap the Sea Harrier fighter. As a result of government cutbacks any British ships deployed to the South China Sea to enforce the UN resolution would depend on the American or French navies to provide "beyond visual range" air defence with their aircraft carriers.

The Navy has been cut by almost a third since Labour came into power, and the admission by Royal Navy commanders that they were struggling to find suitable ships to deploy to the UN force will raise further questions about the Labour government's handling of the armed forces' budget. Britain's military commitments to Iraq and North Korea have exposed glaring deficiencies in resources and equipment.
Thus do we get "defence correspondent" Thomas Harding citing a "naval officer", writing: "… without the Sea Harriers the ships will be vulnerable to attack if there are no US Navy Aegis class ships in the area. … The Fleet will not have adequate air defence until the first Type 45 destroyer enters service in three years."

This then allows the newspaper leader-writer, by way of a conclusion, to twitter: "It will be a disgrace if Labour's neglect of our Armed Forces renders us unable to play our part."

But I must stop doing this - dismissing Harding and his ragbag of fellow hacks as intellectual pygmies. One must not be so arrogant or opinionated. It is totally unreasonable to expect newspaper writers to know anything of what they are writing.

Far be it for me to point out, therefore, that the Type 45 Destroyers (or their equivalent) would have been with us years ago but for the er… Conservative government’s obsession with trying to develop a common European frigate - the ill-fated Horizon project.

And now for the Type 45 - spot the differenceOne must not say that they are also grossly over-priced and that this is entirely due to the insistence on fitting European missile systems. Nor must one note what we got from Mr Thomas bloody Harding on the day of the first Type 45 launch. We simply must not remind people that he trilled that the Type 45 was a 'quantum leap forward' for the Navy, faithfully reproducing the MoD press release, almost to the letter.

My critical piece, incidentally, was headed, "A retreat from defence", commenting on the inadequacies of British journalists, but I now realise that this was simply unwarranted arrogance.

All this is behind me now. Mr Harding is a Great Man and the Wondrous Daily Telegraph has now pronounced that the reason we are short of ships is entirely the fault of the Labour Party. Who am I to disagree with that, or even mention that, had the Conservative Party gained power at the last election, things might not have been any different?

Me, I'm just an ignorant blogger.