Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The aircraft carrier debate & Australia moving 500 miles Westwards: Plus-ca-change

As part of my PhD research which was funded via a scholarship from funds made available by the Ministry of Defence I looked into the issues, theories and dynamics of strategic decision making applying my model and others to the latest available material from the archives of the Public Records Office.

At the time the latest materials concerned the 'Healey Reviews' of the mid 1960s which heralded a period of substantial British military and political disengagement from its 'East of Suez' commitments. One of the strongest threads running through the period was the battles between the armed services over resources and key programmes - of which the most contentious were the Royal Air Force's TSR-2 aircraft and the Royal Navy next generation aircraft carrier programme, known as CVA-01.

The CVA-01 was revolutionary, large and designed to support power projection for decades to come. The island (control tower) was offset so that aircraft could taxi around it. The displacement was substantial - and at a time of financial crisis - it was, like the TSR-2 too expensive.

Something had to go and the Royal Navy at least had a champion in terms of the first officer appointed to the new position of Chief of Defence Staff in the newly (April 1st, 1964) Ministry of Defence - Lord Mountbatten - the archtypal sailor.

To supplement the output of the archives - which includes various passionate memos to the Secretary of State from 1st Sea Lord and Chief of the Air Staff I studied the organisational directories of the time and identified two persons to interview. One was the Military Assistant to Lord Mountbatten, an aircraft carrier captain himself. The other was a junior civil servant working with the staff of CAS - whom would go on to become Permanent Under Secretary of the Department, Michael Quinlan.

At stake in the battle was the crucial issue - could aircraft (ie. TSR-2) conduct the missions using an air basing strategy of airfields around the world conduct the tasks of carrier-borne aviation ? Aircraft carriers, the air complement and logistics tail needed to support them was and remains in the current debates an expensive proposition. fields of concrete on land could prove a lot cheaper. The counter-arguments were many and of them several held great weight - which brings us to the urban legend at the heart of the mid-1960s defence reviews - that the Royal Air Force moved Australia 500 miles West to justify their strategy could obviate the requirement for investment in CVA-01 - with the consequence that the carrier programme should be cancelled in favour of investment in TSR-2.

My interviews sought to clarify this episode for research sake though also for my own curiousity. The Americans pushed strenuously for Britain to maintain forces East of Suez, even offering an aircraft carrier cheaply for the RN to use to keep them in the game - which in the archives was discounted 'due to inadequate messing [dining] arrangements'. Although my interview suggested that the configuration of arrestor wires might have been a greater factor at the operational level.

Mountbatten's MA was sprightly and still possessed strong memories of the event. He remembered clearly a presentation from CAS which looked somewhat odd to a man who has spent most of his life pouring over admiralty charts. Excusing himself from the presentation he pulled a map which showed that the type of projection being used by the RAF enabled Australia to conveniently fit into the flight peformance envelope of the TSR-2, thus justifying the strategy. The MA advised Mountbatten, pulling him out of the meeting on another pretext and the game was up.

Meeting Michael Quinlan during a visit to the Royal Military College of Science was, on reflection a great opportunity. I would like to think that I genuinely caught him off guard with him expecting me to ask a variety of questions concerning the 1990 options-for-change review, the personal dynamics of which were colourfully captured in Alan Clark's Diaries.

His view differed and a few weeks after meeting him a two page letter with a long quotation I was free to use in my research appeared. Sir Michael's view was that,

"In a genuine mistake, soon detected and rectified, an officer in the Air Staff based certain calculations about the capabilities of land-based air power on a figure some hundreds of miles too short for the distance between the Indian Ocean island of Aldabra - then under consideration for development as an air base - and a hypothetical operational area on the mainland of Africa. The episode (which later became, sometimes with embellishment. a treasured Royal Navy anecdote) was indignantly seized upon by the Naval Staff as evidence of Air Staff duplicity. This illustrates the level of feeling and tension which the review generated between the two Services".

So who was right ? Ultimately, and I might suggest that this be the real lesson, that inter-service rivalry delayed decisions being made before the resource constraints hammer really fell on the Ministry. CVA-01 was cancelled. TSR-2 was cancelled. The RAF proposed buying US F-111 swing-wing bombers - and that was cancelled too due to resources cuts and an IMF crisis.

Playing a very minor industrial role during the early stages of the CVF programme one can look back and see, post-SDSR, that delaying decision-making in a quest for the best military solution can risk ending up with a very compromised solution downstream. Years of prevarication I am sure are regretted from the corridors of the Ministry, to CINC Fleet Headquarters to industry balance sheets, ship building union offices and ultimately the communities of men and women simply trying to make a living.

The original in-service dates I remember for CVA-01 and CVA-02 were 2010 and 2012 respectively. Just to think that had the deadlines been held the SDSR would have been completed with one aircraft carrier having been recently or imminently launched by a senior member of the Royal Family with the newly elected administration in full attendance.

cest tragic. Should you wish to read in greater detail my own research into the defence policy battles of the mid 1960s I should like to point you to a copy of my PhD research at:

(Full copy of my PhD research thesis)

(A more concise version of the story published by the UK Defence Forum)

(A presentation to military students concerning TSR-2 versus CVA-01)

Technorati Tags:
, ,

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Editorial: Comment on the Guardian article, "Carriers without Harriers: budget cuts leave MoD with jump jet-shaped hole"

Editorial: Comment on the Guardian newspaper article, "Carriers without Harriers: budget cuts leave MoD with jump jet-shaped hole"
October 19th, 2010

The construction costs of a 3billion GBP aircraft carrier over 50 years = 60 million GBP per annum = approx. 1GBP per head of population.

Are we not at risk of getting this out of proportion HMG ? Is this more about 'squaring away' the Scottish Labour class by wounding a programme who final integration is due to occur in the past Prime Minister's constituency. Clearly the new Administration is not playing politics with defence...

Suggestions for employment of the CVF;

1. Launch helicopters to protect British Nationals abroad - does anyone remember the rescue of Brits in Lebanon the other year ? The vessel is three times bigger...

2. Disaster relief in the Commonwealth - imagine the capability to support an isolated community post hurricane / tsunami and so forth.

3. Pursue limited conflicts in support of British interests - Sierra Leone involved an auxiliary tanker as the sole ship on station - what difference the CVF could make...

4. Providing a deck for use by other coalition partners in support of operations in the national interest - far from home base partners will appreciate any 'flat-top' space for running missions from. At sea, invulnerable (except in all-out war with a substantial submarine equipped opponent).

5. A re-run of the Falkland islands campaign no-one would question the utility...

Additionally, what if the Government is being shrewd in its calculations - if the economy picks up will the second vessel still be sold or retained ? The CVA-01 programme was cancelled in the mid-1960s eliminating aircraft carriers - only for the RN to keep the programme going in the shape of the 'through-deck cruiser' which only now is being decommissioned.

Technorati Tags:
, , , ,

Editorial: Commentary on the unveiling of SDSR Resource outcomes

Editorial: Commentary on the unveiling of SDSR Resource outcomes
October 19th, 2010

Prime Minister David Cameron unveiled the outcome of the Spending Review for the Ministry of Defence in the United Kingdom earlier today.

A scorecard approach to the key points covered by the BBC News website runs as follows;

* "8% cut in real terms" - Does this exclude the MoD running over budget by approximately 10% ? If not, then the cuts are approximately 20% and this exercise represents political theatre.

* "RAF and RN numbers to be reduced" - For the RAF closing bases reduces headcount and is desirable - in the end aircraft availability is the only criteria for size. For the RN it is a little more problematic (as outlined below).

* "HMS Ark Royal will be decommissioned four years early" - The issue for the RN is how will they staff properly the new carrier(s) when they finally come down the slipway ? As usual there is more 'lust' in terms of wanting the capability than there is through-life management.

* "Surface fleet cut from 24 to 19" - A graph drawn for me a few years ago during a meeting a main building showed the trend in the fall of the Fleet since the 1960s - the logical outcome was a surface fleet of 16 - you read it here first ! The key question is how do you protect the carriers and replenishment vessels - with a couple of ships (best case) in dry-dock at a time seventeen ships covering 70% of the Earth's surface is challenging.

* Astute untouched - VERY good news as they will be key for special operations, surveillance and producing effect.

* "Trident delay" - Tolerable as long as the Astute drumbeat can be synchronised to ensure minimal loss of manufacturing skills (and pressure from the supply chain to maximise profit). The reduction in warheads is interesting and suggests cutting the numbers to fit a stretched Astute SSBN design. Vanguard has 16 missile tubes, each capable of carrying 8 warheads (under the START Treaty) implying each missile has 3 warheads. 40 warheads implies 10 tubes each with four warheads and associated shrinkage of the vessel's length (plus some simplification in terms of engineering and obviously, cost). That said Personally this Editor would favour stretching Astute acquisition using nuclear tipped Tomahawk TLAM missiles.

* Closure of RAF Kinloss and Nimrod to be retired - Sad news for the Scottish community - and no doubt the lack of Conservative support was an issue. Nimrod is technologically being outpaced by the likes of the Global Hawk UAV, and time needs to move on. Political pain around the tragic loss of a Nimrod in Afghanistan likely contributed to the decision to retire.

* Harrier retirement and Tornado part retirement - RAF should shed themselves of Tornado at a faster rate than Harrier. This move smacks of a play by the Air Marshals given Harrier is a joint force. Losing Harrier substantially ahead of JSF introduction will kill the skill level of the Fleet Air Arm operating from the new CVF. Very shortsighted from a joint perspective, good play by the perfidious Royal Air Force.

* Extra Chinook helicopters - Simply excellent news - bringing these to bear quickly is essential.

* reshaping the Army - the loss of 7,000 troops is obviously headline grabbing though difficulties with recruitment made the 100,000 target unobtainable. Rethinking the balance between 'ordinary' soldier and SF generation is crucial to ensuring UK usefulness to its Allies given numbers are simply not happening.

* The fall from six deployable brigades to five leaves only two brigades deployable (on the basis of a third in training, third on deployment, third preparing for Ops) - unless defence planners are treating the three Royal Marine Commandos as a sixth brigade - retaining their own independence in return for playing ball with the Army's deployment schedule ?

* MBT Tank and Heavy Artillery reductions - UK needs to retain skills for high intensity warfare even if it is not on the immediate horizon. A sensible move given the FRES programme was superceded by incremental acquisitions. Replacing Challenger is a big issue and how.

* Reductions in MOD civil servants - challenging insofar as the defence community is increasingly concentrated in areas which have little alternative employment - internal political manoeuvring is going to water this down unless the Government moves fast or keeps its eye on the ball.

Editorial: Comment on Robert Preston blog 'What a Carrier-on!'


Editorial: Comment on Robert Preston blog 'What a Carrier-on!'
October 19th, 2010

Economically the project, albeit at a high price, enables the UK warship building industry to carry on. As the Royal Navy shrinks and politicians prevaricate over a new generation of frigates to succeed the venerable Type-22 and Type-23 vessels so the need to keep skilled people from choosing alternate employment, say in McDonald's crucial.

Militarily, Peston misses the point. Did Peston realise how blogs and the internet would challenge print media ? probably not. The military establishment has many scenarios it plans for - though more often or not predicting the timing of a scenario being realised or the exact location is impossible.

What is constant is geography - the Earth is 70% water and the remaining 30% is split up into societies - some of whom may be less friendly to UK interests on occasion. The ability to have a flat surface from which to conduct operations in support of strategic needs is essential. Also essential, though more problematic is what to fly off the decks of these vessels. Unmanned vehicles may largely surpass Joint Strike Fighter far quicker than many imagine.

Politically, the JSF could be too expensive unless substantial economic recovery occurs. 'Marinising JSF' as the former Chairman of its UK manufacturer BAE Systems suggests, could be too bitter a pill to swallow after the expensive and drawn out EFA procurement. As far as the contracts go for the carriers, Eurofighter provided the model - a cast iron contract to lock in whimsical politicians - which can backfire when the background environment changes.

Plus ca change.

Technorati Tags:
, , ,

Editorial: Termination of the UK Defence Training Review (DTR) - Justice belatedly served

Editorial: Termination of the UK Defence Training Review (DTR) - Justice belatedly served
October 19th, 2010

Today it was announced in the House of Commons that the DTR programme was cancelled (please see previous posting).

At the time it was highly innapropriate for HMG to choose a bidder in which owned a financial stake. The Metrix consortium, majority owned by QinetiQ (with a Carlyle Group minority interest) chased a programme to provide training for vehicle drivers, cooks etc. Hardly the forte of a commercial organisation pitching itself as the bastion of British defence science.

Split into two packages, arguably the second was a bone to keep the appearance of competition and result in many pounds spent by bidding teams for a foregone conclusion.

Red Dragon, the DARA aircraft repair facility at St. Athan in South Wales was a real beneficiary of the Wales Labour Party political caucus, who probably like Scotland have no love for the Conservative Government - which is now being repaid in spades....

Termination of the UK Defence Training Review (DTR) Programme

Termination of the Defence Training Review
October 19, 2010

The termination of the Defence Training Rationalisation (DTR) project and the Metrix Consortium's appointment as preferred bidder has been announced by Defence Secretary Dr Liam Fox today, 19 October 2010.

The DTR project intended to combine the technical and engineering training for the Royal Navy, Army and Royal Air Force on a single site at St Athan in South Wales.

In a written ministerial statement to Parliament today, Dr Fox said:

"The Metrix Consortium was appointed as preferred bidder in January 2007 subject to it developing an affordable and value for money contract proposal.

"Given the significance of this project and the opportunity to provide a world-class training facility, the Ministry of Defence has worked tirelessly to deliver this project.

"However, it is now clear that Metrix cannot deliver an affordable, commercially-robust proposal within the prescribed period and it has therefore been necessary to terminate the DTR procurement and Metrix's appointment as preferred bidder.

"Technical training, collocated on as few sites as possible, remains in our view the best solution for our Armed Forces. Equally, St Athan was previously chosen as the best location on which to collocate that training for good reasons, and we still hope to base our future defence training solution there.

"We will however now carry out some work before finalising the best way ahead; including to confirm both our training and estates requirement, and the best way to structure the solution that will meet them.

"To ensure momentum is not lost, work on the alternative options will begin as soon as possible and we hope to be able to announce our future plans in the spring."

Training will continue to be delivered at current training locations as it would have done under the original PFI (Private Finance Initiative) proposal. These sites are: Arborfield, Blandford, Bordon, Cosford, Cranwell, Digby, Fareham (Collingwood), Gosport (Sultan) and St Athan.

Technorati Tags:

Monday, October 18, 2010

UK SDSR Defence Review outcomes - arithmetic - 8% or 18% ?

UK SDSR Defence Review outcomes - a matter of arithmetic ?
Monday 18th October, 2010

There is much being trailed as to the release today by Prime Minister David Cameron as to the outcome of the review of resources devoted to the Ministry of Defence. Traditionally the Conservative Party are keen to be seen as strong and safe on defence and foreign policy. In an environment where substantial cuts are being made across government showing a grip on the issues, especially for a new administration is key.

Which probably explains why the Departmental minister has been sidelined by No.10 which has taken strong control (through the Cabinet Office) of the defence review process. press sources are already trailing the following adjustments to UK force structure;

* Retirement of the VSTOL Harrier (known as the AV-8B by the US) jump jet (CityAM)
* Retirement of HMS Ark Royal (Aircraft carrier and flagship of the Royal Navy) (BBC)
* Reductions to the strength of the British Army of the order of two brigades (7,000 troops) (CityAM)

The consensus which appears to have been trailed to the UK media and which seems uncontested by the Opposition is that cuts to the budget will amount to some 7-8% versus some 20% in other Government Departments (excluding health).

Given that insiders acknowledge off-the-record that the MOD budget has been running some 10% beyond its resource level this would imply a 10.0 + 8.0% = 18.0% reduction.

Hence the need for the PM to lead this announcement. What this means for UK 'Grand Strategy' remains to be seen as the National Security Strategy (NSS) seems to be headlining on the threat to UK global interests from cyber attack.