Saturday 24 December 2011

A retreat into dogma

Ministers, we are told are considering proposals under which the private sector could play a large role in the procurement of weapons and equipment for the armed forces. Says The Guardian, the civil servant in charge of defence procurement, Bernard Gray, has submitted a report setting out options for bringing in private expertise, and a decision is expected in the New Year.

The problems, however, are not going to be solved this way. Contrary to popular belief, the procurement system is actually quite efficient. If the services want a particular type of widget, and tells the system to go out and buy a requisite number, it will usually do it, on time and within budget.

Where we have the major issues with "big ticket" equipment purchases, though, the excess costs arise for a number of reasons. One is the failure of the services to define properly what they want, and then to keep changing the specification through the procurement process.

Another is the use the defence budget to support British (and increasingly European) defence industries, with purchases dictated by political rather than operational need. And then there is the "pork barrel" dynamic, where equipment is purchase from specific areas, again for political advantage.

Of all the issues, though, the definition problem is perhaps the most acute – and the most expensive. That, basically stems from the fact that we have lost sight of what we really want our Armed Forces to do. Military equipment is (or should be) the ultimate in functionality, and if we are unclear as to the functions needed, it is almost impossible to specify the right equipment.

Thus, it seems as if we have a Tory-led government, with no real idea of what to do, retreating into dogma, and privatising some functions which should properly remain in the public sector. After all, if you don't know what kit you really want, getting Tesco to buy it isn't going to make things any better.

That aside though, whatever the merits or otherwise of such decisions, now – during the Christmas break - is not the time to announce them. These are major changes, with profound implications. They should be subject to full discussion, and should not be rushed.


Wednesday 21 December 2011

A War of Choice

Hailed by its publishers as the first book on Britain's occupation of Iraq during 2003-2009, this of course is by no means the first. That accolade goes to Ministry of Defeat, published in 2009 - see below right ... note the similarities in the subtitles. But, as author of that book, I must be very careful in criticising what might be seen as a rival product - although it isn't. This is a very different book.

What one must realise with Fairweather's book is that it was written with the broad approval of the MoD, which gave him access to many of the characters he interviews. And therein lies its strength. It gives what appears to be a very accurate account of how a segment of the establishment - diplomatic and military - saw the occupation, and their role in it.

Unfortunately, that is also its great weakness. This account is hardly dispassionate and it is certainly not accurate. It represents a highly partisan attempt of that segment of the establishment to cover their backs and mitigate their own failures.

The narrative itself is confusing, as it darts about all over the place - to areas outside the British zone of control, and even to Afghanistan, and the attempts at characterisation verge on comedic. We have "ruggedly handsome" Brits, and the like ... and even a "wily" Arab.

And clearly, technical details are not Fairweather's strong point. He is a people person, and his knowledge of kit and the technology of war is slight ... indicated by a large number of unforced errors, and unfortunate phrasing. Since when did a Predator "hover" over battlefields, and when did a "Spectre" gunship have a 105mm cannon "slung beneath it".

Such errors, however, pale into insignificance compared with his uncritical acceptance of the myth that EFPs (which he manages to describe without naming - unhelpful when you are looking for them in the extremely poor index) were made in Iran, despite the very substantial evidence that al Amarah was a major bomb factory, with scores of incomplete EFPs being found there when the city was recovered.

Therein lies the essential weakness of the book. Fairweather is not a historian or a professional researcher. He is a journalist from the "he says, she says" school, and as long as he has talking heads to back up his assertions, that is sufficient. The idea of triangulation, or using documentary evidence, does not seem to occur to this writer, making his narrative a compilation of uncorroborated sources, the veracity of which we have no means of knowing.

Add to that some huge omissions - how can you not even mention Operation "Promise of Peace" in an account of the occupation, when this set the seal on the British occupation?

How can you not discuss the role of the MRAP in restoring tactical mobility to the battlefield, to which the British were too late in coming, relying to the last on the Snatch? And how can you not discuss the vital, game changing role of the UAV, and the scandal of the British Phoenix, a result of procurement failures stretching back decades?

All that said, however, Fairweather adds detail that isn't generally known, and if you already know enough about the campaign to be able to sort the wheat from the chaff, then the accurate detail he offers is illustrative and useful. But if you want a book to tell you what went on in British sector of Iraq during 2003-2009, this isn't it.


Tuesday 13 December 2011

Courage is not enough

We last looked at the ill-fated Kajaki Dam project in June last, when we concluded that it was a complete waste of time, money, effort – and lives. And, to reaffirm that, the latest report in The Guardian tells us that, owing to "cuts" in the US government's Afghanistan development programme, it is unlikely that the project will ever be finished.

No one will dispute that the military operation in September 2008 operation was not an epic adventure, "sneaking" the heavy machinery needed to upgrade the generating capacity across 100 miles of hostile territory in northern Helmand. At the time, it was acclaimed by the British army as one the most daring operations of its kind since the Second World War.

Yet, if the final outcome is that nothing changes, all the derring-do, the skill in planning and execution, have been wasted as well. We would have saved out time and money, and the world would have gone on just as before.

It is not therefore – as some will aver – cynical to question the wisdom of military operations. However good they may be at field tactics (and that is variable), the military is notoriously bad at taking in the bigger picture, and assessing the overall value of its own input. The famed "can do" attitude of the military, therefore, is as capable of getting it into trouble, as it is of extracting politicians from their own messes.

And here, in Kajaki, the project was always doomed. Not is it a question of money – this is just the figleaf. The Americans are perfectly justified in not throwing good money after bad.

Not least of the problems, and one that is effectively insoluble, is the remote location of the generating facility. This, as Booker remarked in 2009, meant that we were unable to secure the transmission lines, thus allowing the Taliban to control the distribution of the electricity, charging to maintain the supply and thus topping up their coffers at the expense of British and (latterly) US taxpayers.

At the time we produced that article, we took a lot of flak for our pessimism, also being accused of denigrating the bravery and skill of our military. But, as it transpires, the military and its supporters were being unrealistically optimistic. Unfortunately, as is now all too evident, courage is not enough.

The worst of it all is that, for want of the capacity not being supplied from Kajaki, electricity is being supplied by the Americans from hugely expensive diesel generator sets. Even if these are left when the Americans depart, it is unlikely that the Afghan government will be able to afford to run them. Electricity supply, therefore, will very quickly deteriorate.

And here we see something of a double-whammy. The absurd sums of money, spent on the pitifully small increase in capacity from Kajaki, could have been far better spent on alternative schemes.

Given that Afghanistan has huge reserves of high quality coal, and a plentiful supply of cheap labour, the most logical provision would have been low-tech, coal-fired generator sets, near the points of consumption, such as Kandahar, thereby minimising transmission distances and increasing security of supply.

But with British and US aid dominated by climate change luvvies, the idea of subsidising coal-fired stations in Afghanistan has been vetoed (a real veto), even though we are apparently happy to pay for similar facilities in India, Pakistan and South Africa.

The courage of our military, therefore, has been completely negated by poor policy-making and, latterly, by climate-change warriors, who demand danger money and full-time armed guards just to venture into the Afghan hinterland, where they can wreak their peculiar form of damage.

Looking at this debacle in the round, one can only despair. Sometimes, we think, the military has its weapons pointed the wrong way. The real enemy – the one that does by far the greatest damage – lies not in the hills of Kajaki but in the offices of Whitehall, where the more deadly battle is being fought out.


Sunday 11 December 2011

A waste of space

We should be grateful, I suppose, that we have a parliamentary committee of public accounts (PAC), chaired by the redoubtable (irony) Margaret Hodge MP. This is a committee set up to monitor government spending, in an attempt to ensure we get value for money. The role of the committee is, ex post facto, to examine specific projects and criticise government departments where it feels money has been wasted or not wisely spent.

But, in a sort of quis custodiet ipsos custodes question, who monitors the PAC and decides whether we get value for money from the committee?

That question is highly relevant in view of its performance last week in delivering its fifty-ninth Report of Session 2010–12, on "The cost–effective delivery of an armoured vehicle capability", in which it accused the MoD of spending £1.1 billion on programmes to acquire armoured vehicles, without delivering a single vehicle in more than a decade.

Its view was the MoD had proved to be both "indecisive and over-ambitious" in its attempts to manage the programme, complaining that will now be gaps in capability until at least 2025, making it more difficult to undertake essential tasks such as battlefield reconnaissance.

The conclusions of the report were widely publicised, not least by the Press Association, the inference being that the MoD should have delivered the armoured vehicles specified in its programme. Without exception, the media have condemned the "flawed procurement process".

What we cannot find in any of the reports in the popular media is any reference to what this report is really about. Nowhere do you find any mention of that which is identified in the PAC report, that this is about the Future Rapid Effects System (FRES), and yet another complaint about its non-delivery.

Evaluation and reporting of this long-running saga has been a black hole as far as the popular media is concerned. There is not a single newspaper or broadcaster which has yet had anything intelligent or useful to contribute on the issue, and right up to press it does not fail to disappoint.

It is, therefore, left to the likes of the PAC to do the heavy lifting, but here also lies nothing but disappointment. To examine what amounted to the most expensive single armoured vehicle procurement programme ever mounted by the MoD – worth £16 billion in acquisition costs alone – the committee managed to produce only a slender 40-page report, including the covers, including the written evidence and the transcript of oral evidence – which took one half-day.

The list of witnesses also tells a story – it was confined to Ursula Brennan, Permanent Under-Secretary, Ministry of Defence, Lieutenant-General Gary Coward, Chief of Materiel (Land), and Vice-Admiral Paul Lambert, Deputy Chief of Defence Staff (Capability). The committee relied for the totality of its oral evidence on three MoD officials, and for its written evidence on one MoD report.

We are not going to rehearse the issues in depth here. I've done it all before, two especially relevant pieces being this and this. Suffice it to say that the whole concept of FRES is flawed, and overly expensive, and largely abandoned by the United States, which pioneered the concept.

For the PAC to have come to a reasoned, objective conclusion, it would have had to have done a lot more work than it did, interviewed many more witnesses and trawled through hundreds if not thousands of documents. The slight, superficial report that it did deliver was a waste of time and space – and money.

But that, it seems, sums up parliament these days. If it was wound up tomorrow, the building given over entirely to tourism as a "museum of democracy", would we really notice any difference? Is there now actually anything parliament does, much less does well, that would make a difference to our lives?


Thursday 1 December 2011

Synchronised departures

One could be cynical and suggest that the reason we are seeing so little published about Afghanistan is that the MSM is keeping its powder dry. With 390 military deaths stacked up so far, it needs ten more to bring the figure to the magic 400, when we may expect an orgy of gushing press about "our brave boys".

More recently, we did actually see a longish piece in the Failygraph from Thomas Harding, reflecting on what had been achieved by the Army in the five years since it had been deployed to Helmand province.

And if to some his report seemed overly optimistic, that unfortunately is what you get when you rely on the MoD for your access, and have to pay lip service to the Army "spin doctors" in order to ensure continued access. In truth, though, if you want to find out what is going on in Afghanistan, the last thing you should do is ask the military, or an embedded journalist.

For a more sanguine appreciation, you would be better off reading the latest piece from Matt Cavanagh, who takes a cool look at the region as US troops continue to withdraw.

And what we do or achieve in Afghanistan is very much "under license" from the United States for, without the airpower, the logistics and the heavy lifting in some of the more bitterly contested areas, the UK forces would be a small, besieged outpost, achieving very little at all.

In his piece, Cavanagh notes that the public's attitude seems to be one of "weary resignation" and also notes that, while fatalities amongst British and other international forces are down on last year, civilian casualties are up 15 percent on last year, itself 15 percent higher than the year before.

Although modest by Iraq standards, this contradicts the pledge given by Gen. McChrystal to reduce overall civilian casualties, and marks one of the many coalition failures in a failure-strewn campaign.

But on top of the steady toll from suicide bombs and, this year we have seen a series of high-profile "spectaculars", the attacks in Kabul, notably the siege at the Intercontinental Hotel in June, the storming of the British Council building in August, a 20-hour shoot-out near the US embassy in September, and a bomb killing seventeen international troops and contractors in October.

At the same time, writes Cavanagh, the campaign of targeted assassinations has continued, including among its victims General Daud, the pre-eminent regional police commander; Ahmed Wali Karzai, the president's half-brother and de facto boss of Kandahar; Burhanuddin Rabbani, former president and lately head of the peace council charged with reaching out to the Taliban; and a number of district governors and town mayors.

Interestingly, and worryingly, American and British officials stick doggedly to the line that the spectaculars and assassinations are irrelevant, or even encouraging.

And then we have that great [transport] expert, Philip Hammond, the new defence secretary, tell us that his "military advice" is that the insurgency is on "the back foot", and argues that these "so-called spectaculars … rather suggest desperation".

Such an assertion might have more credibility if we had not heard something similar when the Taliban switched from direct confrontation in the platoon house phase, to asymmetric warfare, majoring on the IED.

While it caught the military flat-footed – despite plenty of warning – the brass excused its own inadequacies with such comforts, while the politicians pushed them into taking on protected vehicles and adopting other counter-measures which took the sting out of the Taliban's initiative.

But what it did demonstrate was that the Taliban was capable of thinking flexibly, and responding to changing circumstances, with a speed that leaves our Sandhurst warriors struggling.

And so it is with the "spectaculars" and assassinations. We see here, almost an echo of the Viet Cong tactics in 1960s Saigon, but with a guiding mind that clearly recognises that the coalition forces are no longer strategically relevant. The battle is now on to dominate the population once the foreign troops have scuttled back home, their chests full of medals.

Cavanagh thus offers some useful correctives to the usual shallow thinking that passes for strategic wisdom, including the caution that we should not be attempting to backfill for the Americans when they leave.

Rather than pretend we have an independent role, we should be planning to align our drawdown more explicitly with the Americans, recognising that, as they depart, so should we – and in phase. If our tactics in theatre have not always been in harmony, we need at least to synchronise our departure plans.

In other worlds, with departure on the near horizon, our politicians and military should avoid the temptation to indulge in a little local "top dogging", and concentrate on getting our people out in one piece, with as much credibility as possible.

That, at least, is what I take from Cavanagh's piece. He is perhaps a little too polite and gentle to point out how easy the military gravitates to disaster mode, especially when egos and careers are at stake. But above all, we need to recognise that the adventure is over and the only strategic gain it to recover as many warm bodies from theatre as possible, and to hold the body bags.

As for the broader politics, we have given up any hope of our dismal set of domestic politicians having even the first idea of what is going on in the region, and are fully reconciled to Afghanistan becoming a policy train-wreck within a decade of our leaving. But that is another problem, for another time. We have enough at the moment to keep us busy.


Tuesday 29 November 2011

The reign of the expert

This is slightly old news but I have been saving it until I could do it justice. And for that, one needs a little background to be able to appreciate and savour the full enormity of the development.

As to the background, in our sister blog, we have written many times of the great white hope of the Army Brass, the £16 billion FRES programme which former CGS Sir Richard Dannatt regarded as essential to the future of his Army.

At the heart of this concept was the medium wheeled armoured personnel carrier, Dannatt's preferred type being the Piranha, the acquisition of which he regarded as so important that he was prepared to forego mine protected vehicles in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Those with any memory at all will recall the near reverence with which the media treated Sir Richard, the great expert of such stature that, when he retired, the Daily Telegraph could not wait to sign him up as their expert on all things military (although we hear very little of him nowadays).

Possibly the greatest (and certainly the most consistent) source of opposition to the concept was the DOTR blog, one piece provoking an unprecedented intervention by the then procurement minister, Lord Drayson, on our blog, and a strong rejoinder that remained unanswered – largely because it was unanswerable.

Needless to say, this dramatic development was ignored by the MSM, which is wedded to prestige, and would give space to Dannatt, but not our blog. Who were we, after all, to challenge the Great General?

Well, with the programme on hold and with no sign of it being activated in the near future, we now see what surely must amount to its death knell – brought to you by the US Army.

This comes in the form of news of the US equivalent of FRES, the so-called FCS concept, based on an American version of the Piranha known as the Stryker. The US Army, in this respect, is much further advanced than the British and had an experimental Stryker Brigade deployed in Iraq in 2003.

Now we come to the news of the moment. A Stryker Brigade is now to be deployed to Afghanistan, as the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, but with one very notable omission. It is not deploying its Strykers, which are now in use by the Alaska-based 1st Brigade, 25th Infantry Division, in a somewhat safer environment.

Replacing the Strykers in Afghanistan are a mix of vehicles such as the Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles and its all-terrain variety, the M-ATV.

What is especially poignant here is that these are the very vehicle types that the great military expert Dannatt was prepared to forego in order to acquire the Piranha and equip his own equivalent of the Stryker Brigade which, even in 2006 he was claiming to be the Army's key equipment priority.

Had the great expert had his way, the UK would now be saddled with a programme which even the US has abandoned, in favour of the vehicles that our experts rejected, but have now in place in Afghanistan.

All of this goes to show that, regardless of their elevated rank, and the "prestige" afforded to the brass, this does not necessarily mean that our so-called military experts know what they are talking about. And, in this case, the evidence goes to show that, fortunately, we were spared from the fruits of their expertise.

The reign of the expert, it would appear, is something we cannot always afford.

Sunday 27 November 2011

Empty vessel syndrome

We have observed before how many journalists, on picking up a long-running story, seem to have no history – and neither time, inclination (or even capability) properly to research the background. Thus, on lifting a single nugget, without understanding or context, fabricate a report which adds little or nothing to the corps of knowledge, and most often distort or confuse the issues.

So it is in the Independent on Sunday, where journalists Brian Brady and Jonathan Owen happen upon a report on "secret tests" carried out in 2005 on Snatch Land Rovers.

Amongst other things, the tests confirmed that the Snatch was "overmatched" by the then current array of IEDs ranged against it, and also "revealed" that even when soldiers wore body armour the Snatches provided little protection from IEDs.

The Independent acknowledges that official documents released to the Iraq inquiry last year revealed that ministers had been warned that Snatches needed to be replaced in 2006. That indeed was the case, but the newspaper then seeks to shift the time frame to an earlier period.

Thus it tells us, in what amounts to the single, substantive new fact of the story, in a "vehicle protection presentation" held on 16 March 2005 – the second anniversary of the Iraq invasion – the defence technology company QinetiQ reported that "Snatch performs relatively poorly but in line with expectations when attacked by projectiles".

This, on the face of it, though, does not refer to IEDs – more likely to RPGs. But, whether or not QinetiQ then reported on the failings of the Snatch, the most serious shortcomings, in respect of dealing with the explosively formed projectile (EFP), could not have been known. That weapon was not deployed in a fatal attack until 1 May 2005, when Guardsmen Anthony Wakefield and Gary Alderson were killed.

By 6 June, however, an intact EFP array had been recovered and evaluated and it was from that point that it was clear that the Snatch was no match for the weapons being used against it. And when on 16 July in al Amarah, Lt Shearer and two others were killed in a Snatch following an EFP attack, there can have been no doubt.

Contrary to the impression given by the Independent story, therefore, there is nothing new about when knowledge of the new threat emerged, but the newspaper makes a big deal about the MoD withholding reports, claiming that "disclosure of such information could prejudice the safety of the armed forces".

That, of course, is one of the genuine reasons why the MoD might withhold such information. If your equipment suffers a fatal flaw, the last thing you are going to do it admit it to the enemy.

But, a year later, despite significant additional casualties, the vulnerability of the Snatch was becoming so evident that we were to pick it up on this blog, leading in August to a review of the vehicle by then defence secretary Des Browne, and its partial replacement by the Mastiff.

Here, journalists Brady and Owen get it completely wrong, reporting that an emergency review of the Snatch vehicles was not announced until 2008 – "after a tide of protests from the families of service personnel who had been killed or suffered horrific injuries in a series of IED attacks in Afghanistan".

The review was in 2006, and carried out after the issue was raised in this blog, and then in the Sunday Telegraph and Sunday Times, at our instigation, followed by a spirited campaign in parliament, led by Lord Astor of Hever. This, as set out in Ministry of Defeat (pp110-122) is one of those instances when everything came together,.

Brady and Owen, though, insist on rewriting history. The immediate replacement for the Snatch was the Mastiff, later augmented by the smaller Ridgeback, but this ignorant pair fail to realise this. Instead, they get confused by the later long-term contract for the Foxhound, designed from scratch as the long-term replacement, complaining that this has not yet been delivered to theatre.

The journalists thus miss the point. The crucial part of the story is not that the dangers were ignored, but why they were ignored, and long after they were known - and why the replacement was so long in coming. Here, it is not good enough simply to say that the MoD failed. There was a very specific and egregious failure, attributable not to officials but to senior officers in the Army. They not only ignored the shortcomings of the Snatch, but actively blocked replacement with better vehicles.

For those who understand the issues, the real reason was because Jackson and then Dannatt were committed to the FRES programme and feared that, if protected vehicles were bought, the money would come from the FRES budget. Thus, to protect the budget for their new toys, they were prepared to let soldiers die.

Such an assertion I have made many times, including it with great detail in my book, Ministry of Defeat. If it were not true, it would be libellous and wrongly damaging to the reputations of two of Britain's most senior generals. No one, however, has ever disputed the issues.

But now we can see in the evidence of Lord Drayson, then procurement minister, to the Iraq Inquiry, confirmation of the assertion. In his witness statement, he told the Inquiry:
The project to improve/replace SNATCH was always separate to FRES. The Generals stressed the urgent need to replace the ageing fleet of Army Fighting Vehicles as a whole when voicing their concerns over delays to FRES.

However SNATCH was a Protected Patrol Vehicle rather than an AFV, and was not an old vehicle. In terms of augmenting Protected Patrol Vehicles such as SNATCH the focus in early 2006 for the Army was on the VECTOR which in March 2006 I was told was General Dannatt’s highest priority as CinC LAND.

Progress on FRES and concerns about SNATCH Land Rovers should not have been connected in theory because the FRES project was designed to provide a different capability, i.e. AFVs not PPVs.

In reality however, I believe that the Army’s difficulty in deciding upon a replacement to SNATCH was in part caused by their concern over the likelihood of FRES budgets being cut to fund a SNATCH replacement vehicle.
Though this whole affair, therefore, we have seen the most egregious failure of the Army. But we now also see the continued failure of the media to understand and deal with the issues, missing the point again and again, always going for the cheap shots, without even beginning to understand what was involved.

Journalists have become empty vessels, to be filled on the day with plausible but inaccurate material, sufficient to fill space in a newspaper, but a travesty of the truth.


Friday 7 October 2011

Another exercise in rhetoric

Ten years into the war in Afghanistan, to call our strategy "fatally flawed" – as does Sherard Cowper-Coles in an incredibly lame piece in the Failygraph - is to pay it a huge compliment. It isn't even that good.

All Cowper-Coles, former British Ambassador to Afghanistan, can do is bleat about us "ignoring all the lessons of the Great Game", as we fail to engage Afghanistan’s neighbours and near neighbours systematically in the struggle to return Afghanistan to its proper place as the crossroads of south-west Asia.

That much is extruded verbal material. The "Great Game" was the interplay between two empires, the British and Imperial Russia. What we have today is altogether different – a proxy war between India and Pakistan, played out on the plains and hills of Afghanistan.

Since it is current British policy to suck up to the Indian government, not a word must be said about the malign role of the Indians in fomenting and perpetuating the strife in this benighted country. This means that the gigantic Indian elephant must perpetually be ignored.

Of course, dealing with India means addressing the Kashmir issue, which means getting India and Pakistan sitting at the same table. That is not going to happen. Even now, with talk of a regional conference to discuss Afghanistan's future, India's presence is not assured. Turkey is trying to broker a deal.

That, in fact, says it all. India was left out of the last regional conference and that it should be left to a minor-league player to be fronting the effort to get it to the table, instead of a high-level Indian presence being the centrepiece of US strategy, says that the policy out there is fundamentally unserious.

The other important player is, of course, China, and here diplomatic paths also lead back to Kashmir. But the really crucial players and India and Pakistan, and without them getting together, any further steps are, as one regional observer puts it, just another exercise in rhetoric.

I'm sure our troops out there would be highly delighted that they are, in the final analysis, fighting and dying for rhetoric. But if they hadn't already realised that they are wasting their time, and that their sacrifices are for nothing other than to save Cameron's face, then it's too late for them to find out now.

Soon enough though, the dreadful charade will come to an end – but not before more billions have been spent, and more lives lost. Until then, there is little more to be said. If there was ever any rationale for us going in, it has long departed. The sooner we get out the better.


Monday 25 July 2011

The generals finally share the blame

"Richard North, the author of Ministry of Defeat and independent blogger, has passionately written that the Committee report, more than the hacking scandal, has highlighted the flaws of both Parliament and the media.

James Arbuthnot and the members of the Defence Committee should have been aware of these issues long ago but they repeatedly failed to address them until now. North has also accused Arbuthnot of maintaining the myth of 'ministerial responsibility', the equivalent of Robinson's modern day 'stab-in-the-back'.

The media for all its interest in Afghanistan also failed to understand what was happening especially in terms of strategic questions and civil-military relations. Newspapers like the Sun and the Daily Mail chose to vilify Gordon Brown while making Generals like Sir Richard Dannatt the honourable soldier.

The Sun as well as the Mail have both been oddly quiet on reporting the Committee's findings, no surprise. The Sun's sister paper The Times, to its credit, did publish this article last year which mirrored this week's committee findings".

It's a good piece ... well, I would say that - but it still is. Read it and then buy the book. I need the money.


Tuesday 19 July 2011

Failure writ large

It's not just the British press, police and politicians that are in crisis, writes Michael White for The Guardian. "Spare a thought for Britain's armed forces, who are risking life and limb in support of state policy, while those of us at home hyperventilate over a squalid political row".

My immediate response to this is "speak for yourself, mate". We did a lot more than spare a thought over the weekend and we – unlike the scumset and associated turd-eaters - are by no means hyperventilating over a media storm.

This, though, is a Guardian journalist with a narrative to sell, a man who, from the depths of the most profound and disturbing ignorance, tells us that, while most weekend attention was focused on the Murdochs, the police and the politicians, the Commons defence select committee issued "a powerful condemnation" of the way the mission to Helmand was handled from day one.

Mr White is, of course, far too grand to read independent blogs but, if he had, he might have seen the alternative view expressed. From that he would have learned that, far from offering "a powerful condemnation", the select committee's analysis was weak and its conclusions tepid.

The clue to the direction of the narrative, though, is White's views on the select committee report. The interesting thing is, he says, "that its ire is not directed against the late Labour government or the then-defence secretary, John Reid".

Instead, he writes, "it is focussed on the top military brass who underestimated the threat from the ever-resourceful Taliban ("you have the watches, but we have the time") and told Reid there were enough helicopters to provide air support when there were not. Ministers were not told the risk level, which later proved fatal to so many young lives".

Now here comes the rub. White describes the committee chairman, Tory ex-defence minister James Arbuthnot, as "soft-spoken but solid". But what he does not say is that he was one of the "good ol' boys", part of the Tory defence claque, who actually maintained the myth – right through the critical period – of ministerial responsibility. It was all Brown's fault, remember?

I recall of the period, from 2006, when I watched every defence debate online, and then read the transcripts. I knew most of the personalities involved, and could read the mood music. Defence then was a political football, the mantras of "over-stretch" and "underfunding" being chanted with semi-religious fervour. The Generals were lauded and praised. Dannatt was treated as a demi-god.

Anyone who had half a brain and a little inside knowledge could work it out. I had a lot of inside knowledge ... through parliamentary and other contacts. Furthermore, I was writing consistently on this theme, culminating in October 2009 when I wrote a piece headed, "The generals must share the blame", celebrating the fact that, at last, the Spectator had published a half-decent piece.

This was by Paul Robinson, professor in the Graduate School of International Affairs at the University of Ottawa, whence I noted that, after years of ploughing the solitary furrow, pointing out that the military should bear some of the blame for the (then) current parlous state of our Armed Forces, and their lacklustre performance in first Iraq and now Afghanistan, only now did the magazine pop up saying the same thing.

In my own piece, I had referred to a particularly trenchant piece of my own in April 2009, where I wrote of "the real enemy in Whitehall" – the MoD.

All this was evident at the time – to the politicians and to the specialist correspondents like Michael White. Yet all of them chose to hold their fire, and focus instead on the Ministers, playing a dirty, devious and thoroughly dishonest game. And only now, are the likes of Arbuthnot – the Tory politician who no longer wishes to put Ministers in the frame - prepared to admit that the military was the author of its own downfall.

What I wrote on Sunday, therefore, is even more evident today. We have had and have now, two egregious failures. Firstly, Parliament – and the long-stop of the Defence Committee, failed to pick up what was going on. Secondly, the media likewise failed, and then failed to note that the Defence Committee was completely dysfunctional.

I despair in writing this. Even as I write, we have a three-ring media circus, centred around the proceedings of a select committee, chaired by an acknowledged crook, grandstanding for all it is worth.  The same failed system represented by the Defence Committee, reported by a failing media.

From it, nothing of any substance will come and, in truth, no one seems to care. The soap opera is everything. The hard, grown-up job of analysing what is going wrong, and coming up with serious solutions, seems beyond the capabilities of anyone involved.

We are going nowhere with this, and nothing will be solved. In due course, the circus will pack up its tents and move on to another show, and we'll be none the wiser. Except that, before this show is even over, real life outside the tent will take a hand. While these fools play, the economy and the world order is falling apart.

Damn them all to hell, for their foolishness, their stupidity and their venality. We deserve better than this.


Sunday 17 July 2011

An unrecognised fracture

Grudgingly, one has to acknowledge that there is a small residue of adult behaviour left in The Sunday Telegraph, it having devoted a tiny part of its output today to a subject far more important than the media "self" obsession. And it has the grace to admit that it is far more important.

The real scandal, it thus says, "is not hacking but Helmand", as it comments on its own report of the Defence Committee report on Operations in Afghanistan, due out tomorrow - "a precise and shocking exposé of how British troops on duty in Helmand, Afghanistan, from 2006 onwards were routinely failed by their senior officers and government ministers". As scandals go, the paper says, it is among the very worst.

It has now been published online (although not yet as a .pdf) and I would concur with the generality of the comments, both in the report and the ST's assessment of it – but with several important caveats, not least the extreme superficiality of the report and its findings.

Most importantly, though, we are talking five years downstream, looking at what were predictable and avoidable flaws in the operation, which were clearly apparent at the time, and about which we were continuously writing. The committee records, for instance, concerns about protected vehicles, but only addresses this issue in terms of the Snatch Land Rover. Thus, it has Brigadier Butler say:
... we also knew before we deployed that we had something in the order of a 45 percent on average shortfall of vehicles. We had already identified that Snatch was not an appropriate vehicle for the desert. We wanted WMIKs and Pinzgauers, logistical vehicles, DROPS, container vehicles, equipment support vehicles, the small Scimitar CVRTs.
Butler is highly regarded in some quarters, but his comments here show a profound and alarming ignorance, and especially in respect of the WIMIKS, which were death traps, and the Pinzguaers (type pictured below), which could not have been more unsuitable if they tried.

And this we were writing about with some force in June 2006 and in the following month when we accused that Army and MoD of corporate manslaughter.

But such is the bizarre superficiality of the Committee that, to guide it through the Labyrinth, it chose to interview General Mike Jackson, the man who did more than most to ensure that our troops were ill-equipped - the man who put the Snatches in Basra.

From a man who would, had there been any justice, been tried and shot for incompetence (pour encourager les autres), the Committee thus did take down these immortal words:
The tactics and equipment required in any campaign are to some extent dictated by the methods of the enemy. General Jackson (p42) explained that the Taliban had moved from direct fighting to the use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) which had changed the need for equipment:

[...] If you recall, in the first two summers the Taliban took us on, basically using fire and manoeuvre—small arms, basically—and each and every time, they were defeated tactically. We can discuss whether any operational-level progress had been made, but they were defeated tactically.

It took them rather longer, looking back, than one might have expected, but they obviously thought very hard, particularly after the second summer, 2007, and said, "We're not going to get anywhere taking on the British soldiers at what they do best; ergo we will find another way".

That brings us to the IED. That changes priorities on our side. Armoured vehicles suddenly go right up in terms of priority, because that is the way you protect the force. As I've already touched on, the dispersion put a greater premium on helicopters. Tactics and equipment will vary according to the operational circumstances. One has to respond. Ideally, you need to be one foot ahead, but that's not always possible.
The response to this, of course, is that it was possible to be "one foot ahead". Once again, we have to recall that, in June 2006 – over five years ago – Ann Winterton asked the defence secretary:
As our forces appear to be winning the firefights in Afghanistan, does he expect those who oppose our troops there and in other theatres to revert to the use of improvised explosive devices? If so, what vehicles are our forces to be equipped with to counter the threat?
The answer then was a classic in studied complacency. Defence minister Adam Ingram responded:
We have been very effective in Afghanistan. We have a potent force in the Apache attack helicopters. We are up against intelligent and capable enemies, whether in Afghanistan or Iraq, and we know that they will continue to look for ways to attack land-based vehicles or air-based platforms. We have a lot of measures in place. The hon. Lady will understand that it is not appropriate to discuss all the detail, but where we identify a threat - be it a new or technological threat - we identify a quick way to deal with it. Sometimes that takes time as we come to understand the threat before developing the technical response. Our focus at all times is the protection of our personnel, whether it involves fixed-wing aircraft, helicopters, land-based systems or maritime systems.
It is thus not as if our fears and concerns were not known in parliament at the time, but as Ann Winterton constantly brought them up in the House, they were just as constantly ignored. Had they been noted and addressed earlier, many lives could have been saved. Why then, we ask, is it only now that we are seeing "a precise and shocking exposé" from the Defence Committee, and one which still seems incapable of getting to grips with some of the detail?

To answer that, we only need to look at the committee chairman, James Arbuthnot, and record that, time-after-time, under his tutelage, the committee has pulled its punches.

In the context where we expect the military to make mistakes (that is what the military does, and is best at doing), and governments to cover-up, the long-stop is parliament, represented in particular by the select committee system. And on this issue – as with many others – it has failed. But Arbuthnot is one of the "good ol' boys", part of the Tory defence claque, who certainly weren't going to let Lady Ann rain on their self-congratulatory parade, much less listen to "voices off" from the far North.

It is, however, a little unfair to put all the blame on Arbuthnot, as chairman. As we recorded last year, the system is broken - and there are multiple fractures. And now, as then, as the chatterati obsesses about entirely the wrong things, we have been almost a lone voice in saying this. Today, in Arbuthnot's report, we see the result – too little, too late, letting the guilty men off the hook, after good men have died unnecessarily.

And while one newspaper sees part of the point, it is not sufficiently adult to realise where the true problem really lies. As we pointed out last year, a crucial part of the scrutiny system - and especially where parliament drops the ball - is the media. Here, the Sunday Telegraph leader does at least acknowledge that: "Our own columnist, Christopher Booker, protested in 2006 at the outrage of British troops in Southern Iraq being sent to meet their deaths in lightly-armoured Snatch Land Rovers, in conditions which also applied in Afghanistan".

But, as it was at the time, while the newspaper allowed Booker to pursue the issue in his column – with the research carried out by myself – it offered us no support. Instead, its own defence correspondent, Sean Rayment, followed a conflicting line, pushing for more Warriors, a theme he was to return to, even as Booker was pushing for the mine protected vehicle solution.

Thus, in the absence of any real exposure from The Sunday Telegraph it was the Murdoch-owned Sunday Times that gave the campaign the necessary kick-start and got it moving. And when it came to the Pinzgauer, Sean Rayment was also out to lunch, having swallowed the Army spin and given the vehicle an outrageous puff. Thus compromised, he was never to offer a word of criticism against the vehicle.

There is the the other part of your problem. It is one thing having a broken system – but when the media does not recognises that, and then exacerbates it by failing to do its own job, there can be no attempt to fix what is wrong.

And when the media think that next week's select committee hearing is "historic", we know we have a long, long way to go. When parliamentarians start asking each other why they have failed so transparently to do their own jobs, then and only then would they be in a position to start looking at the media. So far, there is no sign whatsoever of this happening.


Friday 1 July 2011

Churnalism almost wins out

From the press coverage of the Snatch Land Rover litigation, on which a judgement in the High Court was handed down yesterday, you would think that the case against the MoD had been lost. It hasn't. The campaigners trying to bring the Ministry of Defence to book, for knowingly fielding dangerously vulnerable equipment in Iraq, have won a qualified victory.

The impression that the case was lost comes from the misleading headline on the BBC report (above), but this owes its origin to a similarly misleading report from the Press Association, which completely misrepresents the situation.

The essence of the flawed report, which has been replicated hundreds of times in local and national media, is that "a High Court judge has blocked attempts by families of four soldiers killed in Iraq to seek compensation from the Government".

The soldiers concerned were Pte Phillip Hewett, of Tamworth, Staffordshire, Pte Lee Ellis, of Wythenshawe, Greater Manchester, and Lance Cpl Kirk Redpath, 22, of Romford, Essex, all of whom were killed in Snatch Land Rovers, and Corporal Stephen Allbutt, 35, who was killed by "friendly fire" after his Challenger was hit by another.

Relatives, we are told, said the MoD failed to provide armoured vehicles or equipment which could have saved lives and should pay compensation. MoD lawyers, on the other hand, "said decisions about battlefield equipment are for politicians and military commanders and asked the High Court to stop compensation claims going forward". Then, says the report, "Mr Justice Owen ruled in favour of the MoD".

However, to project – by juxtaposition – that the judge accepted this particular MoD argument is simply false. As a spokeswoman for relatives' lawyers made clear, this was the MoD relying on the principle of "combat immunity", which removes any liability for exercising a "duty of care" in combat zones.

Here, the judge broke new ground. He refused to accept the principle, allowing Courtney, aged 10, daughter of Pte Lee Ellis, to proceed with a case of negligence. Similarly, the Challenger "friendly fire" case has been allowed through.

Where the Press Association had got itself confused is that there were two separate legs to the case. The first was the group of relatives, including Sue Smith, mother of Pte Hewett, who were not dependents, collectively seeking to make the MoD "... accountable for allowing their loved ones to go into combat in vehicles that were manifestly unsuitable for the job".

Because they were not dependents, they have no claim under common law and cannot seek damages for negligence under duty of care provisions. Before anyone can pursue a claim, the law requires them to prove they have suffered financial loss, which the relatives cannot or will not do.

Thus, this group of relatives have instead proceeded under Human Rights legislation (ECHR) and, since even that requires compensation to be claimed, the cases have been lodged in terms of the relatives seeking damages. However, as the entire group have constantly pointed out - articulated by Sue Smith - they are not interested in the money. This, in any case, is likely to be minimal, and soaked up by legal fees and repayment of legal aid. The relatives simply want the MoD brought to book.

Now, it is the ECHR leg of the case that has been blocked - on the grounds that the deceased soldiers were outside the jurisdiction of the UK at the time of their deaths because they were not in the UK nor on a British Army base. Therefore, it is held, the ECHR does not apply.

That the ECHR case would be rejected was actually an expected development, especially after the Jason Smith case. When I spoke to Sue Smith after the judgement, she was not at all dismayed. There are other, different cases being heard which may settle this point – or these cases themselves may end up in Strasbourg.

But on the negligence issue, ground really has been broken. And, for once, the loss-making Guardian has got it right, a distinction shared by the Belfast Telegraph. Both note that, relying on the principle of "combat immunity", the ministry had argued that this was a complete legal defence for incidents that took place in war zones.

The judge, says the papers, disagreed. In The Guardian, he is cited as saying: "There can be no doubt that the [MoD] is under a general duty to provide adequate training, suitable equipment and a safe system of work for members of the armed forces". Thus Courtney's claim, plus claims by Cpl Allbutt's widow, Debi, and Dan Twiddy and Andy Julien – two soldiers injured in the Challenger - could continue.

Before all the misleading publicity, a ministry spokesman had declared that: "The courts have upheld our arguments on Article 2 of the ECHR. We will be seeking leave to appeal against the decision about liability claims for equipment provision".

Latterly, Sky News got the news mostly right – but still with a misleading headline. The Mirror became a late entrant, correcting its earlier story - as did the Mail, while The Sun continues to get it wrong. Interestingly, the Failygraph does not carry a report at all.

Nevertheless, the manoeuvring continues. Those who lost their lives in Snatch Land Rovers – as well as the Challenger set - are one step closer to getting their day in court. Unfortunately, due to the bulk of the media and its churnalism, most people will never realise what has happened.


Wednesday 29 June 2011

Doing the honest thing

A splendidly indignant Peter Hitchens is fulminating about "Dave" doing the talking (telling the military to shut up and do the fighting), while the war dead from Afghanistan are to be sneaked out of the back gate of RAF Brize Norton when it takes over from Lyneham (a few weeks from now) as the arrival point for the fallen.

They will then be routed down side roads to avoid nearby Carterton – a town almost exactly the same size as Wootton Bassett – and make their way to the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford along A-roads and bypasses. There'll be a small guard of honour near the hospital entrance (there already is) but somehow or other the cortege won't go down any High Streets, thus avoiding what has become a media circus.

All of this, however, has to be viewed in the context of the complete and utter failure of the Afghanistan campaign, typified by the experience of the Kajaki power project in Afghanistan, as narrated by the BBC's Mark Urban on yesterday's Newsnight, and repeated today in a BBC documentary.

He refers to a series of the heroic adventures, starting in 2007 and culminating in August 2008 with thousands of British troops taking part in an operation to escort a 200-ton turbine to the Kajaki Dam on the Helmand River, 100 miles north-west of Kandahar City.

The aim was to improve the hydro-electric scheme there, adding a turbine to the two already installed. This was part of a project that has so far cost more than £29 million, and was (and still is) regarded as an essential part of the hearts and minds campaign in the region.

But, three years after so much blood and treasure has been expended (albeit with the bulk of the cash being shelled out by the Americans), the third turbine lies unassembled – the parts littered about the weed-strewn site, exactly where they were left by the British military.

What makes this so desperately sad is that even the slightest knowledge of the history of the area would confirm that the project was never going to achieve its desired aim, even if it had been technically successful.

Not least of the problems was – as Booker recorded in September 2009 that the power lines and sub-stations which feed the electricity to several towns are controlled by the Taliban, who charge money to customers for allowing the juice to reach them.

So obvious, in fact, were the defects of the scheme that a year before, in September 2008, The Guardian, while acknowledging the "brilliant courage and ingenuity" of the British, dismissed it as a "glorious but dangerous folly".

The Kajaki, it said, has been a 90-metre-high, rock-filled demonstration of foreign good intentions for decades but has never delivered the promised benefits to Afghanistan - a political showpiece and always has been since it was built (but not fully completed) in the 1950s by the US to compete with Soviet projects elsewhere in the country.

Such was the delusional attachment to the scheme, however, that this brought a pained rebuttal from then defence secretary Des Browne. The project was not merely a symbol, he declared. "If it were only that, we would never have sent our people on such a risky mission".

Sense and analytical judgement, however, had been submerged in tales of derring-do, marking the self-declared "successful mission". Typical of the period, we got Lieutenant Colonel Rufus McNeil, Comanding Officer 13 Air Assault Regiment, Royal Logistic Corps, declaring of those that had run the hazardous convoy, "Every one of the soldiers did fantastically well."

Well, indeed they did, but it was still a complete waste of time, money, effort – and lives. By December 2009, The Guardian was back on the case with a report headed: "Taliban stalls key hydroelectric turbine project in Afghanistan". The strap read: "Convoy diverted British troops from front but generator may never be used".

The enormous hydroelectric turbine dragged at huge cost by British troops through Taliban heartlands last year, said the paper, may never be installed because NATO has been unable to secure a 30-mile stretch of road leading to an isolated dam in northern Helmand.

To install the turbine needed, amongst other things, 900 tons of cement for new foundations, but security had deteriorated to such an extent that British troops were having to be resupplied by air drop and helicopters. Even the BBC reported the problems.

Now, with additional US troops in the region – but for a short time only – USAid, which is managing the project, remains convinced that the project is worthwhile. US aid officials are now claiming that turbine could be installed in 24 to 30 months.

This is so much moonshine. No more now than in 2003 when then current project was first mooted, is this a feasible project. It remains, as always, a testament to the vain, unrealisable hopes of the coalition forces that they can bring peace and stability to Afghanistan.

Returning to Hitchens and his indignation, one recalls an episode during the London Blitz in 1940, when a cash-strapped council in the East End, finding rather fewer houses on its patch requiring collections, redeployed some of its dustcarts – cleaned out and painted a tasteful black – as hearses to collect the war dead.

Given the quite obvious disdain in which Dave holds the military, and the utter futility of the war in Afghanistan, where lives are being thrown away for absolutely no purpose – to say nothing of our hard-earned cash – he might consider following the example of the East End council.

Thus, for as long as Dave and his cronies continue to throw away lives for no purpose, he might as well do the honest thing and hire in a dustcart, instead of wasting money on expensive hearses that the public now will not be seeing. The symbolism would be entirely appropriate and serve merely to underline what our masters are doing with our money and soldiers' lives out in Afghanistan.


Tuesday 28 June 2011

Losing the will to live

Well, I watched the 13th Century Fox announcement in the Commons yesterday, and the whole of the subsequent debate. Then I read the 82-page report. But you can only take so much punishment before you lose the will to live, so I decided to sleep on it before writing it up.

Having further cogitated, I've come to the conclusion that I'm none the wiser for the travail. More seriously, it is well-evident that Lord Levene, his Defence Reform Steering Group, and thus 13th Century Fox, are not much wiser either.

Yes we agree that there are too many generals, and the number must be cut. But that's low-hanging fruit. We observed as much in November 2009 so it would hardly take a high-powered committee and 18 months to work that one out.

And yes, there appear to be some obvious and necessary reforms amongst the 53 separate recommendations. But even if it was acting purely by chance, you would expect that. And, of course, there is plenty of right-on guff, with the Group telling us that we need to create single, coherent Defence Infrastructure and Defence Business Services organisations, to ensure enabling services are delivered efficiently, effectively and professionally.

The trouble is that the moment you see words such as "coherent" and phrases such as: "to ensure enabling services are delivered efficiently, effectively and professionally", you know they're up to no good.

What one was looking for, though, was some sense that the Group really understood the problems they were looking at, and thus knew where to start the remediation. And here, centre stage is procurement, so that one looked especially for the views on this troubled issue.

What was needed was a clear statement that the failures here stem largely from the inability of ministers and senior military staff to define roles, to match equipment to the roles, then to devise acquisition plans and stick to them.

And here, the Group starts well enough, referring to the Bernard Gray review, where it was noted that successive attempts at reform have concentrated on acquisition delivery, rather than – as suggested – seeing procurement as a symptom rather than a cause of the problems in the Department’s decision making.

We go with that, but what are the problems? And here the whole damn thing falls apart. The Group is not into problem solving, but "lessons learned". Thus, they identify "conditions for success in transformations", producing a Janet & John list that comes straight out of the Common Purpose manual on how to bullshit the public.

Thus we get these headings: leadership: vision; engagement; communication; effective people; implementation; resourced; innovation (which "visibly encourages original and radical thinking, and leverages both independent expertise and internal knowledge"); honesty: "the programmes tone inspires confidence, enthusiasm and a 'sense of opportunity' while being realistic about cuts and challenges"; and benefits.

I will not trouble you further with this, for fear of making you physically sick, but that is a measure of the beast.

What one did not find, therefore, were any recommendations of lasting value. This is about shuffling the deck chairs on the Titanic more efficiently, and getting more value from the band. The only merciful thing is that the report is only 82 pages long, as opposed to the 296 pages of the Gray report.

That, I suspect, will be the Group's only lasting achievement – reducing the amount of waste printed matter that goes in the bins.


Saturday 18 June 2011

A nosedive of morale

Cameron's drive to reduce the size of the Armed Forces, even to the extent that he is forcing Service chiefs to call for redundancies, is undoubtedly marking the final stages in the decline of the UK as a political power. It would be a fool, however, who did not expect this to have a knock-on effect within the Services, so the news from Thomas Harding that morale is at "rock bottom" comes as absolutely no surprise.

He tells us that this, together with concerns that the Army is in a "permanent state of decline" has led to twice as many people applying for redundancy as expected. They include several future battalion leaders and two officers singled out as potential generals. Six brigadiers have volunteered for redundancy and 48 majors, with an average of 16 years experience each, have asked to go.

The important thing here though is that we are not just talking about the over-paid and over-privileged officer corps throwing a hissy fit. The Army is expected to lose a substantial number of senior NCOs, and has also been inundated with applications from corporals, sergeants and staff sergeants.

This we picked up independently, a little time ago, when we learned that the trigger for departure was a tour in Afghanistan. Once they had experience the shambles, hardship and danger of that theatre – with no obvious reason why they should – few are willing to repeat it. Now, so desperately short of junior NCOs are some units that soldiers only a few months out of training are being promoted.

Whatever the MoD and government propaganda might proclaim, we are fully aware that the official accounts are biased and incomplete, on top of which the Army is haunted by its institutional memory of failure in Iraq.

Cynicism has thus become a dominant sentiment and there is a massive sense of the futility of the Afghan operation, Furthermore, the failure of the Army to come to terms with its experience in that theatre has carried over into Afghanistan.

We are thus seeing an institution which has lost faith in itself, the result being dangerous haemorrhage, ending up with the ranks populated by children, as the older, more seasoned troops leave, commanded by a higher proportion of the inexperienced, the incompetent and disillusioned.

Military historians will undoubtedly be able to tell us things have been worse – and the inter-war period when disarmament was the vogue, must have been pretty dispiriting. Nevertheless, when the Army chiefs asks for 25 colonels to volunteer for redundancy and receives 52 applications, it must be agreed that the situation is dire.

One wonders, though, whether in the short to medium term the situation it recoverable, and whether indeed there is any serious political will to make any improvements. One cannot help but feel that the people masquerading as our leaders are content with the way things are developing, and will be most happy when our Army looks like the picture above.


Saturday 4 June 2011

End game

We saw it coming in January 2006, but it goes back to November 1996 and the Bordeaux agreement on bilateral UK-French naval co-operation, in the dying days of the Major administration. Extended by Blair in 1998 in St Malo, we now have three prime ministers: Major ... Blair ... Cameron, all with the same agenda.

And now we move to the end game, the final surrender, as the Anglo-French force paves the way for a fully-fledged EU Navy.

Autonomous Mind also picks up the story. "All this has been planned and delivered, hidden in plain sight of the electorate and the media, yet even now many in the media are still unable or unwilling to connect the dots and explain to our population what our political class has done. They are sickening quislings to a man and a woman".

What more can one say?


Sunday 22 May 2011

The politics of denial

The British formally ends its final military mission in Iraq today – a Navy training operation in the Gulf. Interesting how CNN marks the occasion with a Snatch Land Rover, while Hague says the mission has left Iraq "a better place".

In all probability, Iraq is indeed a better place. But Hague claims too much in taking the credit. The British expedition in southern Iraq was a failure, and only the combined efforts of the Iraqis and the US Forces salvaged something from the wreckage, but not before many people – and especially Iraqis – died unnecessarily.

Ironically, the Snatch Land Rover is the symbol of that failure, representing the inability of the military to adapt to circumstances, and handle a vicious but ultimately beatable insurgency. But to this day, neither the military nor the politicians have to grips with their failures. They are still in denial - a sure recipe for continued failure, of the nature we are currently experiencing in Afghanistan.

Interestingly, the Tories could have started with clean sheet, but they have also bought into the cover-up and are no more able to cope with acknowledging failure than their predecessors. As with so other issues, all we get is the closing of ranks. "Face" is more important to the establishment than success - and certainly more important than the lives of soldiers.


Shocked ... again!

Coalition plans to pull out of Afghanistan are being hampered by theft and fraud totalling nearly $1bn, The Independent on Sunday is telling us. It adds that "hopes of a timely withdrawal of British troops from the region have been dealt a critical blow by revelations about massive bank frauds which have forced donors to suspend vital international aid".

In a country that is possibly even more corrupt than either India or Pakistan, and where it is known to all but the blind, deaf and the stupid (i.e., most of our politicians) that the élites of Afghanistan have been enriching themselves at the expense of international taxpayers, this really can come as no surprise.

And where the people of Afghanistan see daily the lack of progress (being unable to read the ISAF press releases), knowing full well that the bulk of the aid money is being ripped off, the Taliban are seen by many as the only hope for the beleaguered country. Any idea that we are going to walk away, bands playing, to leave a settled, stable, country, is pure fantasy.

When we leave, as leave we must and will shortly, the money spent will have been wasted, the dead soldiers and the broken bodies and minds of the survivors a testament to the egos and stupidities of successive politicians and military geniuses who thought they could waltz in and make a difference without doing the homework.

Collectively, they should hang their heads in shame.  But they won't.


Friday 20 May 2011


Incompetent defence chiefs cost British forces their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan by squandering nearly £1billion on armoured vehicles that have not been built.

This is the narrative being thrown up by The Daily Fail and others this morning, telling us the Ministry of Defence "wasted a shocking £718million on plans for thousands of properly-protected battlefield trucks which were then scrapped or delayed".

Look behind the headlines and you will see FRES – about which we have written a word or two. But the MoD/Army narrative is that the MoD purchased a fleet of mine-resistant vehicles - including Mastiffs and Ridgebacks - to stop troops being maimed and killed. These were bought as "urgent operational requirements' using Treasury cash. But because they were built specifically for Afghanistan, they are unsuitable for wider use".

In other words, we are being told that FRES would have been a better option – which is pure, distilled BS. The mine protected fleet was bought instead of FRES – in the face of stiff resistance from the Army. Had the Army been given its way, there would have been carnage.

But there is something more fundamental here. Apart from Korea, the Falklands and the first phases of the Iraqi war, every significant conflict in which the Army has been deployed has involved elements of irregular warfare, for which these mine protected vehicles were designed. But the Army hates this type of warfare, refuses to accept that this is the rule, rather than the exception, and hankers after the free-style, war of manoeuvre for which FRES is designed.

Classically, the Army is seeking to equip itself for the wars it would wish to fight, instead of the warfare it is most likely to meet - a triumph of hope over experience.

But FRES, as they say, is the narrative, and the MSM buys it hook line and sinker. The real story is here ... in my book, but we don't want anything like the truth sullying the minds of the public, so let's forget all about that. These people are idiots.


Tuesday 22 March 2011

Costing us a bomb

The Times (no link) is asking questions about the cost of Dave's little adventure in Libya, and so is the Daily Mirror. Even the hand wavers are asking questions. Nice to see them catching up with the derivative blogs.

I've revisited my own figures, and found I had over-egged my original calculations. The GR4s are cheaper than F3s, a about £33,000 an hour. I've assumed that VC10 and TriStar costs and AWACS are about the same as Nimrod, at about £33,000 an hour as well. An eight-hour sortie for three GR4s, therefore - with support - costs about £1.5 million.

From what I can see now, the Tornadoes carry only two, not four Storm Shadows. But here there is the greatest variation in costs. The Times is saying £500,000 – without giving a source. The Mirror has defence "expert" Francis Tusa saying that Britain pays around £1.5million for a pair. They are both wrong.

The hand wavers quote Prof Malcolm Charmers, from defence think-tank the Royal United Services Institute, who gives £500,000 as the cost of the Storm Shadow. That tells you all you need to know about Charmers and RUSI. He is wrong as well.

The total programme cost for the Storm Shadow was £981 million, and we bought 900 missiles. The sum includes development costs, INITIAL support costs and unit procurement costs. There are also the aircraft integration costs - the costs of adapting the aircraft to carry and launch the missile.

Thus, we have the typical MoD trick of separating out the costs under different headings. But the real cost is £981 million divided by units procured ... 900 as far as we know. That makes £1.1 million each in round figures, and puts the single mission cost - with six Storm Shadows at £6.6 million - at slightly over £8 million.

The Brookes cartoon in The Times shows a stylised GR4 with its external stores, each with a label. One Storm Shadow is labelled: "half a school", the other: "the other half". We also get "tuition fees", "disability benefit", "one hospital" and so on. Against that, what have we to show for our down payment of £8 million, plus all the rest of the money being poured down the drain?

Cameron has made a serious miscalculation here – and so have the grubbly little MPs who have rushed to support him. Either we are broke, and we must cut spending to the quick - including defence spending - or we are swimming in cash and have plenty to spare for something that isn't directly our problem. They really can't have it both ways.

If they now want to tell us that we must tighten our belts even further, just so that little Dave can enjoy his ego trip, they are likely to meet with a less than sympathetic response - and instructions which are biologically impossible to carry out.

But there is another element here. Throughout the Arab world, people are losing their fear. You never know, this might just catch on here, and our masters might regret taking us for granted. We didn't ask them to go to war, we haven't given them our permission - we didn't even vote for them as a government - and we are certainly not happy about having to pay for it.

Even our masters can only treat us with this level of contempt for so long, before we've finally had enough of them. This has brought us a whole lot closer.