Friday, 24 September 2010

Note To Max Hastings

Max Hastings is a journalist and war correspondent.

He is particularly well known for his reporting during the Faklands War of 1982.

Yesterday,this article by Max Hastings was published in the Financial Times.

There are a number of points he raises in the article which are worth commenting on.

(Max Hastings comments will henceforth be in bold itallics.)

"No one doubts the credibility of Israel’s nuclear capability, for instance, and it does not cost £20bn."

Israel's nuclear capability is designed to deter attack from it's neighbouring countries.

All of these neighbours are in close proximity to Israel and incapable of preventing Israeli incursions into their airspace by missiles or aircraft.

They are also lacking in nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them.

Consequently,Israel does not have to worry about it's nuclear detterent being wiped out in a nuclear first strike.

It can also have a high degree of confidence in it's own nuclear attack getting through.

Thus Israel's nuclear deterrent is adequate and effective.

The United Kingdom's strategic nuclear weapons are designed to deter aggression from distant countries such as Russia and China.

Other,"lesser threats",such as Pakistan and North Korea do not have nuclear missiles capable of hitting the United Kingdom and consequently there is little need to deter them except,perhaps,in defence of deployed conventional forces.

Russia and China do have the means to deliver a nuclear first strike against the United Kingdom.

They are also geographically dispersed and far from the United Kingdom.

In addition they possess advanced air defence systems capable of defeating an attack by manned aircraft or cruise missiles.

A nuclear deterrent based on manned aircraft or cruise missiles can offer no guarantee of penetrating such defences and consequently cannot provide an effective deterrent.

The particularly long range of Trident allows a single submarine to provide coverage against a number of distant and geographically dispersed threats.

The short range of a cruise missile based system would dictate the need to keep a larger number of submarines on patrol as a boat within range of Moscow would not be able to attack Beijing.

Furthermore these vessels would have to patrol in shallow confined waters such as the Barents Sea and South China Sea where they are far easier to detect and destroy than in the depths of the Atlantic.

The cost of buying and operating a larger submarine fleet,the vulnerability of those vessels in their patrol areas and the ineffectiveness of their delivery system suggest the cruise missile submarine based deterrent is not a credible alternative to a strategic ballistic submarine based system.

Cruise missiles delivered by aircraft would not be practical either.
The United Kingdom does not have any strategic bombers,no country is selling such aircraft and developing one from scratch would cost far more than replacing Trident.

 Due to the vast distances involved,problems with overfly rights and basing rights for tanker aircraft and the possibility of interception,a bomber based system could not be relied upon even if it were affordable.

If the United Kingdom wishes to retain it's own strategic nuclear deterrent in an era of global nuclear proliferation,there appears to be only one cost effective means of doing so,by replacing the Vanguard class submarines and their Trident missiles.

On the subject of aircraft carriers Max Hastings said:

"The worst strategic argument for persevering with the Royal Navy’s two aircraft carriers is fear of the political consequences of cancellation for northern shipyards."

The strategic consequences of the United Kingdom losing it's warship building capability is that it will never again be able to wage war in the interests of the British taxpayer.

Foreign built ships like the French FREMM class frigates and the American Burke class destroyers cost far more than their British equivalents and none of that money is clawed back in taxes to the treasury.

Without a warship building industry Britain could not afford a navy.

Without a navy to transport and protect the army,the army cannot be deployed.

Unless we only use the army in support of operations by countries which can provide naval power,like the United States.

But it would be difficult to justify the £13,700 Million (Page 96, Ministry of Defence Annual Report and Accounts 2009/2010) a year army budget on the basis that we need it to subsidise American foreign policy.

If the armed forces cannot operate independently in the interests of the taxpayers who pay their wages then there is no reason for the taxpayer to pay for them.

"Mr Fox is resigned to axing at least half the planned order of US F-35 aircraft to fly off the ships."

This is a thoroughly sensible decision,Britain has long had far too many land based combat aircraft which have barely been used in 65 years.

During Operation Granby in 1990 the United Kingdom deployed only 99 out of a fleet of 850 combat aircraft.

British combat aircraft based in the Gulf played no part in the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001,most combat sorties in that conflict being flown from American aircraft carriers (French and Italian carriers also took part and a British helicopter carrier conducted an amphibious assault,see picture above).

During the more recent operation Telic,the invasion of Iraq in 2003,Britain deployed only 66 out of a fleet of about 450 aircraft.

In 2009,the Royal Air Force had just 8 combat aircraft in Afghanistan,out of a fleet of 330.

In contrast Britain has frequently suffered from a lack of carrier based aircraft as Max Hastings should be well aware.

Unfortunately Britain is comitted to purchasing 160 land based Typhoons when it needs less than 100 land based combat aircraft for domestic air defence.

It would make no sense buying more than 70 F35s until the first Typhoons start to retire.

This represents a reduction of about one third in the size of the combat aircraft fleet compared to 2009,saving approximately £1,500 Million a year according to recent reports.

The carrier based F35Cs will also require less aerial refuelling than land based aircraft which will allow the £600 Million a year Future Strategic Tanker Aircraft project to be reduced by half or more.

 "But if Britain buys only 70 or fewer, the Royal Navy would be capable of deploying less than a dozen of these – yes, less than a dozen – afloat at any one time."

Max Hastings will remember the Falklands War,he was there after all.

He may not remember that in 1982 the Royal Navy had just 34 Sea Harriers,28 of which took part in the Falklands War.

That is 82% of the Sea Harrier fleet engaged in combat operations.

If the Royal Navy were to deploy the same percentage of a 70 strong fleet of F35s it would have 58 aircraft in combat - almost enough for two carrier wings.

In contrast,the Royal Air Force deployed just 66 combat aircraft during the recent invasion of Iraq in 2003,out of a fleet of 450.

The Royal Air Force has never had more than 15% of it's combat aircraft deployed on operations at any time in the 65 years since 1945.

The fact that Britain has had up to 82% of it's carrier aircraft in combat over the last 65 years but has had only 15% of it's land based aircraft  in combat over the same period clearly indicates an inappropriate balance in the combat aircraft fleet.

In every major warfighting operation the United Kingdom has been involved in since 1945 carrier aircraft have also generated far more sorties per aircraft per day than land based aircraft of the Royal Air Force.

More sorties per aircraft per day means you need fewer aircraft to deliver the same effect on the enemy.

During the Iraq invasion U.S.S. Kitty Hawk generated twice as many sorties per aircraft per day as the land based aircraft of the Royal Air Force.

The Royal Navy has a long history of generating equally high sortie rates in combat.

During the Suez Crisis in 1956,the Fleet Air Arm's carrier based aircraft flew twice as many sorties per aircraft per day as their land based Royal Air Force counterparts.

A single Queen Elizabeth class carrier with 36 F35Cs could generate as many daily sorties as the Royal Air Force managed with 66 combat aircraft in 2003.

This higher productivity of carrier aircraft allows Britain to significantly reduce the number of combat aircraft it must keep in service.

The savings which this reduction permits are many times the annualised cost of a pair of aircraft carriers.

"To achieve this, the navy’s entire amphibious capability will disappear, together with ageing destroyers and frigates."

It is rather odd that the blame for the shrinking size of the Royal Navy is constantly blamed on the aircraft carriers - the only procurement program which can save us £1,800 Million a year.

Particularly as with an annualised lifecycle cost of about £200 Million,the new aircraft carriers are one of the cheapest items in the Royal Navy's budget (Page 96,Defence Annual Report and Accounts 2009-2010).

Even General Dannatt acknowledges how cheap the Queen Elizabeth class carriers are.

Of course,the amphibious fleet would be little more than a sitting duck without aircraft carriers to protect it and provide close air support to it's ground troops.

Unlike aircraft carriers,those "ageing destroyers and frigates" have been of limited use in Iraq and Afghanistan,or the Falklands,Suez and Korea for that matter.

Which does not mean that surface combatants are not needed,just that they are far less useful than aircraft carriers and should be a lower financial priority.

 "Some planners suggest a compromise based on cancelling the carriers, but ordering a substantial number of corvettes – small warships suited to anti-piracy and anti-drug patrols – from the yards now committed to the carriers."

If these "planners" are in the employ of the Ministry of Defence might I suggest that the Defence Secretary Liam Fox could save the taxpayer a great deal of money by sacking them immediately.

This is exactly the sort of "planning" which created the financial crisis the Ministry of Defence is in today.

The sort of planning which increased the cost of the new aircraft carriers by £674 Million by delaying them.

Why were they delayed?

The Ministry of Defence was short of money at the time,possibly due to the £400Million it had previously wasted by delaying the Astute class submarines.

Why were they delayed?

Because the Ministry of Defence was short of money,possibly due to wasting literally thousands of millions of pounds of taxpayers money every year by following the suggestions of "planners".

The quickest way to save money in defence is by sacking those responsible for it's grotesquely inefficient "planning",to quote the National Audit Office report Strategic Financial Management of the Defence Budget:
"The NAO Major Projects Report 2009 highlighted the Department’s decision to delay the introduction into service of the Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carriers by up to two years.

This saved the Department £450 million over the first four years, but subsequently added £1,124 million (a net increase of £674 million).

A similar decision was made to delay the Astute Class submarines by an average of nine months.

This saved the Department £139 million in the short term, but subsequently added £539 million (a net increase of £400 million)."

According to Page 23 of Defence Equipment 2010 the following was not included in the aforementioned £674 Million increase in the cost of the new aircraft carriers:

"CDM confirmed to us that the figure of £674 million did not include the cost of running on the existing carrier capability.

 According to NAO data, it also did not include the £234 million cost of additional capital charges."

These "planners" are suggesting that all of the thousands of millions of pounds invested in the carriers be wasted so that we may buy small ships which we have no requirement for to perform tasks which are of little importance.

These "planners" suggest that aircraft carriers can be replaced by corvettes,small warships used by navies which must operate in confined waters.

Corvettes tend to be small vessels of low endurance but heavily armed and hence far from cheap,the very opposite of what is required for anti-piracy and anti-drug patrols.

The purpose of an aircraft carrier is to provide airpower.

Due to a surface ship's limited sensor horizon and the fact that air power is inversely proportional to the range at which it is applied,the aircraft carrier is the only reliable way to protect ships from air attack and the cheapest way to deliver air power during expeditionary warfighting.

These "planners" then are proposing that we be unable to protect our ships from air attack in a world where supersonic anti-ship missiles are proliferating.

These "planners" are also proposing that we should not provide air power in the most cost effective manner,from a carrier's deck.

Given that providing air power from a land base is far more expensive,and consequently not economically viable,perhaps they think the British Army does not need so much air support,after all,it will not be seeing much combat if it can't deploy once the ships carrying it's equipment have been sunk by supersonic anti-ship missiles.

"Sir Mark Stanhope, the first sea lord, opposes corvettes on the grounds they could not operate in North Atlantic winter weather. But his critics point out their plausible tasks lie in warm inshore waters."

It is easy to understand why the First Sea Lord would consider corvettes to be unsuitable for the Royal Navy,their poor seakeeping,range and endurance would render them next to useless for many of the roles which the Royal Navy performs.

It is difficult to see what "plausible tasks" the Royal Navy needs to perform in "warm inshore waters",except perhaps in the Northern Gulf for the time being.

It is even harder to see what water being warm has got to do with Mark Stanhope's objections to corvettes,temperature is not the problem,seakeeping is.

To quote D.K. Brown in on Page 56 of “Future British Surface Fleet”:

“It is widely believed, incorrectly, that waters close to the land are sheltered and so are safer, but even in the English Channel high winds and seas are not uncommon.

The 50-year wave height is 20 meters almost to the Isle of Wight, with a corresponding wind speed of 30 m/s.

Many inshore disasters have shown the danger of underestimating coastal areas, such as the breaking in half of the French torpedo Boat Branlebas off Dartmouth in World War II.”

“Accounts of wartime corvette operations are filled with examples of ships effectively out of action due to the mountainous seas, but such things rarely occur in accounts of the larger frigates, which operated in much the same areas”

The First Sea Lord might like to point out to his critics that corvettes fall short in 9 of the 10 critical attributes of a surface combatant listed by Dr.Robert Dahlsjo on Page 63 of this document:

"1. endurance : the ability to operate at sea for an extended time without replenishment or service.

2. seakeeping : the ability to operate in or transit rough waters while maintaining not only safety, but also operational effectiveness.

3. versatility : the ability to solve several different tasks in differing circumstances.

4. adaptability : the ability to reconfigure the ship’s capabilities in order to meet changing circumstances.

5. air defense : not only for self-defense, but also for local area defense.

6. interoperability : including C3I and replenishment at sea.

7. survivability : being able to take a hit from a RPG or even a SSM, without undue casualties and while remaining not only afloat but also able to operate.

8. crew comfort : quite important during extended deployments, especially with an all-volunteer crew.

9. free spaces : for additional elements, functions or equipment.

10. embarked helicopter : at least one medium-sized helo."

"An essential point is that if Trident, the carriers and some F-35s survive the defence review, a yawning budgetary gulf remains, even after the RAF loses most of its Harrier and Tornado force."

The size of the "budgetary gulf" depends on how much the budget is going to be cut by and how overspent the equipment programme is.

Neither of those figures is very clear.

Nor is it clear whether these cuts will include the £5,000 Million a year we will save by withdrawing from Afghanistan by 2014.

What is very clear is that the fixed wing and rotary wing aircraft fleets can be cut by approximately 40% without adversely affecting our combat capabilities.

Such a cut is likely to save £2-3,000 Million a year or more.

In addition,Bernard Grey (Review of Aquisition for the Secretary of State for Defence) made it clear that bad management of the equipment programme is costing £1-2,000 Million a year:

"The result is that programmes take significantly longer than originally estimated,because the Department cannot afford to build them at the originally planned rate.

 They also cost more than they would otherwise,
because the overhead and working capital costs of keeping teams within
industry and the MoD working on programmes for a much longer period
soaks up additional cash.

 The MoD also has to bear significant costs in
running on old equipment because the new equipment is not yet ready for

Across a large range of programmes, this study found that the average
programme overruns by 80% or c.5 years from the time specified at initial
approval through to in service dates.

The average increase in cost of these
programmes is 40% or c.£300m.

This study also estimates that the “frictional costs” to the Department of this systematic delay are in the range £900m - £2.2bn pa."

When one factors in cuts to poorly thought out procurements such as the Future Rapid Effects System (F.R.E.S.),eliminating the overly beaurocratic organisational structures,thinning out the overly heavy officer corps and some very minor cuts to the less neccessary elements of the forces,a 10% cut to the defence budget does not look like anything to worry about.

 "Ministers recognise the army’s infantry numbers cannot be substantially cut as long as Britain is fighting in Afghanistan."

One would hope that ministers would not cut the infantry while we are engaged in combat in Afghanistan,or even after we leave.

Unfortunately that is exactly what the last government did do,cutting 4 infantry battalions while the forces were failing to establish people control in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Historically governments have vastly expanded the size of the infantry in wartime usually resulting in a military victory.

In Iraq and Afghanistan,the government has cut the size of the infantry,arguably resulting in military defeat in both cases.

"Army chiefs accept the loss of substantial tank and artillery capabilities, which seem irrelevant in the new world."

As the world is moving into a new age of artillery and heavy armour is the only practical means of seizing  and holding ground in a high threat environment,one would hope that the Army chiefs would reconsider that position.

It would be far better to lose a capability which is overlapped by many other systems,than to lose those capabilities which cannot be replicated by other means.

Going to someone else's country and seizing control of their ground is an inherently high threat activity.

It is also an integral part of expeditionary land warfare and a role which can only be performed by heavy cavalry formations.

 "But no one in the Ministry of Defence doubts that, if the carriers and Trident replacement go ahead, troop numbers will be drastically cut after withdrawal from Afghanistan by 2015."

The carriers and the replacement for Trident will between them have an annualised lifecycle cost of about £1,200 Million a year.

Out of an annual core defence budget of about £37,000 Million a year.

The waste in the procurement budget alone exceeds the cost of both the strategic nuclear deterrent and the Queen Elizabeth class carriers.

In fact,the £1,800 Million a year reduction in spending on fast jets and air refuelling tankers which will result from the new carriers entering service far exceeds the cost of both the carriers and the new strategic deterrent.

Still,let us not let these facts get in the way of the argument that the army's £13,700 Million a year budget is going to be slashed because of the navy's new £200 Million a year aircraft carriers.

"In other words, the regiments gain only a stay of execution. There is no possibility of funding even a 90,000- strong army – 10,000 down on present strength – within budgetary limitations."

It has been suggested that £400 Million a year can be saved by shedding excess officers from the armed forces.

If the Financial Times' figures are correct reducing the number of officers to 1 in 7 from the current 1 in 5 would eliminate 10,000 officers posts without any cuts to frontline forces.

Bernard Grey has said that there may be more than £2,000 Million a year in waste within the equipment budget alone.

It is possible to save another £2-3,000 Million a year by cutting the aircraft fleets by about 40% overall.

Even more money can be saved by cancelling poorly thought out procurements like Future Rapid Effects System (F.R.E.S.).

Given all these potential savings,do we really need worry about massive cuts to the army?

"The initial challenge is to save £37bn by 2020, merely to meet unfunded obligations accepted by the last government. If the Treasury is implacable in insisting on large savings to help address the public spending deficit, then the forces’ future is bleak indeed."

These unfunded obligations are in themselves one of the most interesting aspects of the entire defence debate.

They relate entirely to the equipment budget.

To quote the Defence Secretary Liam Fox in Parliament on the 13th of September 2010:

"Before the Labour party lectures the coalition Government about the financial implications that we face, it might want to remember that with a defence budget of some £35 billion a year, it has left behind an overspend in the equipment programme of £38 billion by 2020, with which we are going to have to deal."

On what basis was this £38,000 Million figure calculated?

According to The Major Projects Reporst 2009 by the National Audit Office (N.A.O.):

"The size of the gap is highly sensitive to the budget growth assumptions used.

 If the Defence budget remained constant in real terms, and using the Department’s forecast for defence inflation of 2.7 per cent, the gap would now be £6 billion over the ten years.

 If, as is possible given the general economic position, there was no increase in the defence budget in cash terms over the same ten year period, the gap would rise to £36 billion."

Which means that the overspend is only £6,000 Million if the budget rises in line with inflation and the equipment programme is not cut.

But if the equipment programme is not cut and the budget does not rise in line with inflation we have a £36,000 Million overspend.

In effect,keeping the budget constant in cash terms over the next 10 years equates to an additional £30,000 Million cut in real terms.

Which raises an interesting question about forthcoming budget cuts.

If the defence budget is cut by 10%,does that mean an immediate 10% cut followed by increases in line with inflation thereafter or a 10% cut followed by 10 years of a constant budget in cash terms?

Only in the latter case would we see the £72,000 Million of cuts which have been mentioned recently.

It could also mean minor annual cuts in cash terms to produce a 10% cut in real terms by 2015.

Without knowing the profile of the expected cuts it is difficult to get even a remote idea of how severe their effect will be.

But it is important to understand that the figures ranging from £35,000 Million to £38,000 Million which we see consist of approximately £6,000 Million worth of equipment overspend over the next 10 years and £30,000 Million worth of expected real terms cuts to the budget.

That core £6,000 Million overspend is just as interesting.

There is little mention of it in the House of Commons Defence Committee's report Defence Equipment 2009.

But it is mentioned in The Major Projects Report 2009 by the N.A.O.,(principally on Page 22 but also not the correction on Page 3).

How did a £6,000 Million materialise betwee the publicationDefence Committee report in February 2009 and the publication of the N.A.O. report in December 2009?

The Defence Committee would be very interested to know the answer to that question.

To quote the House of Commons Defence Committee's report Defence Equipment 2010:

"The evidence suggests that at the time that MoD witnesses gave evidence to our
Defence Equipment 2009 inquiry, the MoD was in the process of taking steps to
manage a funding gap of £21 billion.

 Witness denials at that time of the existence of
such a gap now appear disingenuous.

 The Minister for Defence Equipment and Support told us he could not provide any information about how the gap was reduced to £6 billion, nor the proportion of expenditure which was merely postponed beyond the planning period.

 When we pressed in writing for further details, the MoD provided little extra information.

 We reject the MoD’s arguments for refusing to disclose the measures it took in order to reduce the funding gap to £6 billion.

 We cannot fulfil our scrutiny role if the MoD refuses to provide such
information about its activities."

It is not difficult to see why the Defence Committee was so angry,to quote page 33 of their report (I strongly urge you to read the whole of this section of the report):

"In our Defence Equipment 2009 Report we noted that many defence commentators had
raised concerns that the equipment plan was underfunded.

RUSI Acquisition Focus had reported in RUSI Defence Systems Spring 2007 that :

“The equipment plan has been estimated as underfunded by some £15 billion or more over its ten-year period”.

In oral evidence last year, CDM (Chief of Defence Materiel General Sir Kevin O'Donoghue) told us that he was unable to estimate the size of any funding gap,and described the RUSI figures as:

 “a tad ill-informed”.

 The Minister for Defence Equipment and Support (Quentin Davies) told us that

“the equipment programme is an affordable programme.

 We have had to make an adjustment about exactly the pace with which we are bringing certain things forward and …some of the priorities are being increased and others set back a bit”.

At a conference in April 2009, he was recorded as saying:
"The idea of a defence deficit of £15 billion or £10 billion or £20 billion—think of a number and double it—is fantasy.
 There is no such deficit.

 That figure has no relevance to any reality at all and I am the man who ought to know.""

In summary,first the Ministry of Defence told the Defence Committee that there was no overspend.

Whilst at the same time they were trying to deal with a £21,000 Million overspend which they had probably just not noticed up until that point,it is only £21,000 Million after all....

Then the £21,000 Million overspend was turned into a mere £6,000 Million overspend using skills which had clearly been learnt from King Midas to eliminate £15,000 Million from the equipment plan.

Until the National Audit Office decided There was actually going to be a £36,000 Million overspend (not counting the £15,000 Million overspend which had mysteriously disappeared) as the defence budget was likely to be frozen in cash terms for the next 10 years.

Then it was realised that the defence budget was likely to be cut by at least 10% which meant the overspend might actually be £72,000 Million.

Well,possibly,anyway,sort of,it depends.

"Mr Cameron appears to recognise the need for Britain to retain a substantial army, if it is to play any meaningful role in operations with allies abroad against rogue state or non-state enemies, or as peacekeepers."

Maintaining a substantial army is important if the British armed forces are to serve the interests of the British people.

Which is the only reason why the army exists.

However,if that army is maintained at the expense of being able to operate independently of  other nations then it is capable only of supporting other nation's foreign policy at the expense of the British taxpayer.

It is difficult to see any reason why the British taxpayer would wish to see their money spent in that way.

"The logic is strong in favour of axing the £15bn carrier programme, delaying the Trident replacement and planning for a lower-specification deterrent."

The carriers are costing £5,200 Million not the £15 Billion which Max Hastings states.

If he wishes to add in the cost of the carrier air wing,he should perhaps note that that 70 strong F35 fleet will be replacing nearly three times as many land based Harriers and Tornados and also reducing the number of tanker aircraft.

Resulting in an annual saving of about £1,800 Million a year.

Which is 9 times the annualised cost of the two aircraft carriers.

Would it be better if we made that saving by cutting £1,600 Million from the army's budget instead of by building aircraft carriers?

Given the difficult current financial circumstances it is difficult to see any logic in cancelling a program which saves so much money.


Chuck Hill said...

Why did you remove it? It was good. There something to be said for getting there "firstest."

Perfection being the enemy of good enough.

tangosix said...

Hello Chuck Hill,

Blogger froze whenever I tried to edit the HTML,I had to remove it to get it to work again.

It is also randomly changing things whenever I edit.

Which means I have to edit again.

Which means it randomly changes things again!

I think it is a bit longer than Blogger can handle.

If I can't complete it,it may have to be split into parts.