Published recently is the Public Accounts Committee 59th report, the subject being The Cost Effective Delivery of an Armoured Vehicle Capability.
Click here to read.
Under the previous Chair (Edward Leigh MP), the PAC had a formidable reputation but since Margaret Hodge took over it is finding that reputation a little harder to live up to. Its previous defence related report, on project CVF, was cut through with many inaccuracies and dubious statements, hardy the incisive and ruthlessly effective as reports of old were.
So, it is with some interest that I looked at this report, the subject of which should be a an open goal with a goal mouth that is 200 feet wide. The MoD’s attempts at defining and delivering a coherent armoured vehicle programme over the last 20 years have been woeful to say the least and let us not in any way make light of the fact that this inability to bring into service modern and relevant vehicles without resorting to urgent operational requirements has cost many service personnel their lives or limbs, it is not an abstract concept but although it probably doesn’t need saying, it is very real.
Reading the oral evidence is always more interesting than the final report and this is no different but what seems painfully evident is that the chair is straight off the mark with ignorant questions and develops a combative attitude straight away.
There also seemed to be some confusion about who was attending from the MoD and why.
This is incredulous, these are vitally important matters; accountability to the people through their elected representatives might be an inconvenience to the MoD but it is fundamentally important that both parties approach this from a position of cooperation, not some sort of ‘grilling’ or to be treated as a platform for grandstanding or word games.
Evidently, both parties need to work on making sure the sessions are well informed and attended, relevant personnel and not cut short by parliamentary business.
This nonsense would not be tolerated in any business so why when discussing multi billion pound programmes that contribute to the defence of the UK and protection of service personnel should it be tolerated.
Maybe before they start blaming each other, the MoD and PAC should ask themselves if they are doing everything they can, I doubt somehow, the answer would be yes.
The Chair then put forward what I thought was a pretty simple proposition that is well accepted by almost everyone, that the lack of appropriate vehicles cost lives.
This was met with what seemed a collective feet shuffling exercise.
This simply beggars belief and perhaps cuts to the heart of much of what is wrong with the MoD, an inability to admit failing, be frank, reflective and recognise that mistakes and poor decisions have been made.
It might sound trite, but recognising there is a problem is the first step on the road to recovery. Arrogance and self denial will simply mean more dead and limbless service personnel in the future.
Ursula Brennan then waded in with a classic quote about people being killed whilst the MoD was shilly shallying, again, living in abject and utter denial of the reality.
If there is one person on the PAC who can cut through the bullshit it is Richard Bacon MP, read the evidence from Q24 where he repeatedly asks who at the MoD has paid the price for the failings. Despite multiple attempts at avoiding the question when all three from the MoD know the answer is not a single person, Mr Bacon pressed the point.
Again what is obvious is that no one has paid any sort of price because obviously the MoD does not think anyone needs to pay the price.
The next line is about needing UOR vehicles that were an appropriate response to specific threats and specific environmental conditions.
I find this line from the MoD to be rather annoying actually because it paints the IED and hot weather as some sort of magical new things that we could not have possibly predicted, hot weather, I mean come on.
The reason I find this defence frankly nonsensical is two-fold;
One, the British Army has been fighting in harsh climates for hundreds of years and especially in hot climates. I wonder if they see the irony in complaining about extremes of heat and dust when in Afghanistan elements of the Desert Rats have been struggling with vehicles that could not cope with either. We are constantly reminded that one of the reasons anything vaguely defence related is so expensive is because it has to operate in environmental extremes and have defence standards to make sure they can.
Second, the IED is, contrary to the MoD’s blinkered view, not new. The British Army has been dealing with mines and roadside bombs for decades. Off route mines with explosively formed penetrating fragments have been available and in service equally for decades, the IRA even used them. In Bosnia we developed extensive route proving and clearance techniques and specifically modified blast protected vehicles to deal with TM6 mines, mines with explosively formed penetrators. The very same vehicles were sold and turned up in Afghanistan with Estonian forces where they were used alongside our Land Rover derivatives. To say they the deployment of IED’s by an asymmetric enemy force came as a surprise is equally inexplicable, surely all that was needed was a trip to the library at Shrivenham where extensive materials on Namibia, Rhodesia and Afghanistan could be signed out, many of which would provide ample information on which to avoid being surprised by.
I don’t want to get into the specifics of Snatch, WMIK and Vector and fully appreciate the need for smaller vehicles but that is not the point.
Let us not pretend that we could have not have predicted or reacted quicker because both are plainly wrong and a little less self-denial would go a long way.
Whilst we may applaud the UOR process the scale of them is a fundamental admission of failure to equip and adequately plan for likely eventualities.
It seems to me that despite the perception that the RN and RAF have somehow ‘lost’ in recent defence reviews quite the opposite has happened, with the Army and especially, its vehicle programme, being victim of deep cuts.
Of course making those cuts even worse is the MoD’s inability to step outside military fashion and make its mind up.
The conclusions and recommendations of the report boil down to ‘do try harder next time’ and in all fairness there are some reason for optimism, GVA, Foxhound and other programmes seem to be breaking free of the TRACER/MRAV/FRES debacles and delivering capabilities.
Quick message to the PAC, go and read a few books.
There was also a supplementary note that might be of interest on Chinook costs…
The unit production cost for the aircraft is £34 million at 2011 economic conditions including engines and those items purchased by MOD outside the Boeing prime contract (of which £27 million is the recurring cost of each aircraft alone at 2011 economic conditions). These figures have, due to commercial sensitivities, been rounded to the nearest million pounds.
So there you go, £34m apiece