Thursday, July 17, 2008

Response to Financial Times article, “America’s air force misses the target”

With regard to John Gapper’s article, “America’s air force misses the target” Published in today’s Financial Times, the article really misses the point and exposes a lack of appreciation of defence procurement processes.

During the Second World War, when for example some 40% of British GDP was devoted to the defence effort, new equipment could go from the drawing board to the front line in a matter of months. Witness the plethora of fighter and bomber aircraft developed during the conflict.

In the late 1950s, the British Master General of the Ordnance bemoaned the fact that it was taking upwards of 2 years to get equipment into production.

A combination of sustained peacetime, a static foe during the Cold War and evolution of the services sector in Western societies has led to defence engineering and manufacture becoming increasingly specialised. The “peace dividend” of the early 1990s was a further nail in the coffin for the industry and for fast defence acquisition.

The average time from concept to in-service is nearer two decades, bringing us to the issue of the F-22. Would anyone have bet their stock portfolio or home in 1988 as to the world of 2008 ? A world pre-internet, cell phone was a novelty, Big Bang had just happened in London, Russia was seen as the big enemy, UAV’s were model aircraft.

The world is complex and whilst trends can be discerned, on the whole the system is unpredictable. In addition, equipment built many years ago finds itself being used for different applications with success beyond the ideas of designers and procurers - take the BAE Systems Nimrod aircraft now being used for airborne command and control, The canberra aircraft served for 50 years.

The F-22 will definitely have its day in the sun, and most certainly could not be built at a whim, when storm clouds finally gather.

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