The F35 and MoD Credibility

I have been writing about Project CVF since I started running my ill-educated mouth off on the pages of Think Defence (bloody hell, is it really 4 years ago) and I can’t remember a time when the Daily Mail esque words of national disgrace have been apt, but if the recent article in the Telegraph about CVF is true then quite simply, those words apply.

Never in the field of human conflict has so much embarrassment been caused to so many by so few.

It has been obvious to me for some time that the commodity the MoD lacks the most is credibility.

Credibility with politicians, credibility with the Treasury, credibility with the media and last but by no means least, credibility with service personnel

Incompetence and your common or garden fuckwittery are closely associated with the senior staff, the decision makers, at the MoD, in fact, the MoD is so closely associated with incompetence that no one is actually surprised when it can’t even get buying ladders right. What chance do they have with aircraft, ships and vehicles when at every turn, there is a banana skin?

Can we blame the media for taking the easy line, Treasury officials for being openly scornful of MoD project accounting, the National Audit Office for copying and pasting the forward to their Major Project Reports from the last one and everyone else to just shrugging their shoulders when the latest hugely expensive cock up is revealed?

If any project, and there are many others, absolutely typifies the MoD’s complete and utter lack of credibility, it is the CVF/JCA omnishambles.

One of my other major bugbears is that our national defence and security strategy has become equipment centric, the armed forces are not seen in the context of how they contribute to national defence, promotion of our interests or values, but by how many FRES Scouts ‘feel right’ or whether the extra range of the F35C makes us second only to the US Navy.

Instead of putting equipment into the rightful context of a national strategy we put equipment at the top of the agenda and write our strategy around it, tail wagging dog. I have even heard people genuinely talk about whose turn it is now, the Royal Air Force have had their turn with the Typhoon so the Fleet Air Arm should have a gazillion F35C’s.

This obsession with prestige major equipment projects, combined with the MoD’s general lack of credibility on all things financial combine to form a toxic brew.

Like some witch, crouching over a bubbling cauldron the final recipe in the potion is not eye of newt but a good stiff measure of inter service politics.

The clearest threat to the UK’s strategic interests is this combination, transnational terrorists and rogue dictators are mere amateurs when compared with inter service politics and execution incompetence.

When the National Security Strategy was published post the last election it talked about terrorism, regional instability and cyber-attacks but it singularly failed to recognise the obvious, that the squabbling children that are the defence decision makers in this country are working hard every day to undermine our defence posture and represent the highest risk!

I must not be alone in thinking this, the massed ranks of the mainstream media are surely on the case?

Unfortunately not, they are also sleeping on the job.

Journalists default to the position that everything in uniform equals good and politician or civil servant equals bad.

It is easy to talk of seat polishing bureaucrats or heartless penny pinching politicians because it fits the lazy brained journalistic narrative but it is far from the truth. In a world dominated by the 24×7 news cycle, the lack of meaningful analysis in the mainstream media, because we all seemingly have the attention span of a Goldfish, is a real tragedy.

Instead of actually seeing through the issues they peddle their tittle tattle and woefully inadequate analysis, cats and flaps indeed.

Even the august body that is RUSI can’t get the basics right, as their latest piece on CVF shows.

Without anyone holding the MoD decision makers to account nothing will change.

What role do they play except being a mouthpiece for the leak of the day, carefully released from one faction or another within the MoD, services and industry?

If not the MoD and media then we must be able to rely on politicians to inject some hard nosed reality.

Sadly not

Although we have all had harsh words for them, I am generally more sympathetic to Secretaries of State for Defence than one might imagine, the MoD is a tough gig because it’s poor reputation and, as above, complete lack of credibility make every decision a difficult one. They also know that no matter what they do, any casualty or apparent ill treatment of service personnel or their families will be front page news.

There have been complete Hoons in the hot seat of course but Robertson, Hutton, Ainsworth and Fox all struck me as being decent sorts with a genuine affection for the armed forces.

Despite their best intentions though, they have always operated in a vacuum where the lack of an underlying and coherent national security strategy means they have become vulnerable to a dazzling onslaught from vested interests wearing gold braid and sharp suits, the service chiefs and industry.

How can we be a ‘proper’ nation without these symbols of national pride they ask, but whilst signing the investment approvals they never seem to actually ask two very simple questions, can we afford it and if we think we can, what are we going to not buy instead.

A lack of strategy, feeble politicians, a woeful media, the defence industry lobby, service politics, execution incompetence and a fixation on major equipment projects have all combined to completely and utterly destroy the MoD’s credibility.

If there were any illustration of just how broken the MoD is, it is the Urgent Operational Request or UOR, the scale of which should serve as an illustration of exactly what I am talking about.

When you see UOR’s at multiple levels, across all three services and in such a massive volume, alarm bells should be ringing loud and clear across Whitehall and the media.

It is important to draw a distinction between the performance of the MoD in getting UOR’s out of the door and the need to do so in the first place.

But not once have I seen any criticism of the need for such an extensive UOR programme to cover gaping holes in the equipment programme where the vast majority of the gaps they fill are entirely predictable.

Politicians and the media take some sort of perverse pride in how bloody clever we are at getting life-saving kit into the hands of our brave boys but never ask why it wasn’t there in the first place.

The simple reason is all the money has and continues to be allocated to large projects, all fur coat and no knickers.

The Treasury, who cover the cost of the vast UOR programme from its reserve whilst simultaneously funding one of the largest defence budgets in the world have started to realise (if they hadn’t already) that the MoD is absolutely taking the piss.

Every operation we learn the same tired old lessons, not enough personal equipment, not enough transport, not enough ISTAR but instead of actually doing something with the lessons learned reports the MoD reverts to type, back to the sweet shop and the fizzy delights thereof.

An equipment plan dominated by CVF, JCA, FRES and all the other acronyms means the shaft of the spear is neglected so when it comes to being used it is brittle, not at all robust and needs expensive bodging to patch it up until the next time.

But surely there is simply not enough money in the defence budget?

Another easy line to take is if we can afford to give aid to India then surely we can afford just another couple of billion for the MoD, everything will be OK with just that much.

I know exactly how much money is in the defence budget; don’t need an annual report or Treasury estimate, the amount is this;

Never enough

This is why we have the annual orgy of incompetence called the Planning Round.

Time for a fizzy sweet based analogy!

If anyone has any kids they will know exactly what I mean with this one, buying pick and mix sweets used to be on weight but now most shops have a fixed price paper cup that one fills with cola bottles, smarties, fizzy boot laces and candy bananas (my favourite)

Naturally, one tries to fill the fixed volume fixed price cup with as many tooth rotters as possible, pressing down on the lid and wedging as much as possible into it, rushing to the check out before the contents expand and pop the lid off!

That cup is the defence budget and the cola bottles and assorted fizzy sweets are the major projects.

To anyone except those in the MoD it is obvious that two things happen.

First, the cup varies in size at the margins and second, the things inside the cup change shape.

Because the sweets are stuffed so tight any change in volume of sweets or cup will combine to pop the lid off and back to the rows of sweets we must go, empty them all out and start again.

The big sweets go back in first; these are our favourite sacred cow shaped ones.

But what if they don’t quite fit?

Thus starts the depressing cascade of short term delaying, reducing specifications and cancelling projects that conspire to deliver such shockingly poor value for money from our not inconsiderable defence budget.

Not finished with the fizzy sweet analogy but this brings me to CVF and JCA.

CVF and JCA was always too big for the bargain basement cup, everyone knew it, even those involved with the project, but vanity, hubris and plain old fuckwittery took over.

No one was prepared to face reality, have the balls to fish into the bottom of the cup and put it back on the shelf with all the other sweet delights.

The reason for this was because the other kids also had their own big sweets that they also wanted to wedge into the cup so everyone agreed they would support the others big sweets staying in.

There would be leaking and spinning to the press if one sweet was threatening the rightful place of the other but essentially, the big sweets stayed in.

Those bigger kids in the defence industry would also be skulking around, offering directorships and encouraging everyone to keep filling the cup. They could play the long game, knowing full well that a subtle word here or there could see their sweet favoured over the other with the promise of future business class travel and ‘marketing’ jobs for the big players.

Even our friends wanted a say in what sweets we picked, cheeky buggers.


Being crammed full of big sweets, the cup no longer had any room for smaller but more nutritious delights such as transport, logistics, training, basic equipment and spares.

So whilst the children in the MoD played their games, bickered with each other, measured themselves against other nations and generally spent the defence budget on sugary sweets, something else happened.

Real capabilities were beggared, hence the UOR programme.

There was always going to be a reckoning and whilst the current government would have us all believe they are cutting back on black holes, deficits and public spending the reality tells a very different picture.

Something different did happen at the last SDSR though; someone has the bottle to call out the MoD and industry.

If Dr Liam Fox can be thanked for one thing it is this.

He looked at the bulging pot of sweets and said, hang on lads

The problem with the good Doctor was, he got out manoeuvred by a cunning defence industry and seeing the writing on the wall, the service chiefs abandoned their cozy agreements about supporting each others major projects and went to full on stab each other in the back mode.

Service politics at its corrosive worst meant the SDSR turned into a last minute, salami slicing, short term and incoherent shambles

Adaptable Britain my big fat arse

Whatever the strengths and weaknesses of Dr Liam Fox, first and foremost, he is a politician. The SDSR was always going to be a tough sell and the mythical budget black hole, which even today, no one outside the MoD has seen the breakdown of, simply wasn’t going to be enough.

Something big was needed, something David Cameron could beat the Labour Party around the head with.

A swift one-two was formulated to demonstrate how tough and macho the new Government was, remember all that talk of sacred cows and making tough decisions?

Nimrod MRA4 was the quick jab.

Forgetting about its Conservative roots, the Labour Party had failed to get a grip, so that was the first quick dig, Labour incompetence left us without a choice.

Next came CVF

Now that has a special political value to the Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties and this is what makes it so totemic. There are a number of reasons, first, it is easily understood, second it was one of Tony Blair’s ‘liberal intervention’ projects but more importantly than anything else, it was being built in Scotland because Gordon Brown said so. Given the enmity that existed between David Cameron and Gordon Brown pre-election it was obvious CVF would not come out of the SDSR unscathed.

The RAF and RN knew this and knew it absolutely full well.

And so Operation Left Hook was started, a ‘fudge’ here, a spot of dodgy accounting there and hey presto, the plan for switching to the F35C was borne.

It ticked all the boxes.

The RAF and RN get a ‘proper’ carrier and longer range stealthy super jet, the government get something to batter the previous government with.

Cue House of Commons jibes about the Labour Party picking the wrong jet that flies less distance, is more expensive and carries fewer bombs. Nice and easy to understand and difficult to counter, three simple things that make the previous Government look incompetent and provides a fig leaf for the other cuts.

Remember, politics in everything defence.

No one cares about the number of soldiers cut by the way, remember, its equipment that gets in the papers because it is more easily understood by the dim witted hacks in the lobby and the nice but dim MP’s with their PPE degrees and old school ties.

The service decision makers, spotting a chance for more shiny toys became willing accomplices. Shoving decisions about converting the second carrier into the future was a classic short term decision ringed with a strategy characterised by one word, hope.

So everyone was happy, better equipment secured, convenient political brickbats to throw at the previous government and a handy set of media friendly soundbites readily available provide a cover for the other decisions (Harrier, MRA4, Sentinel etc).

The usual talking heads were wheeled out, articles written, RUSI conferences attended and mutual back slapping commenced. Everyone focussed on the extra range, payload, having Hawkeye replace the E3 Sentry, getting back into the big league, talking about out how we invented carrier aviation and of course, we are an island you know.

Everyone spent a lot of time describing how we should not sell or mothball the second carrier but failed to recognise that the very reason it was destined for the disposal agency was because of that switch on the F35.

Not a single newspaper reporter, blogger, think tank or politician questioned the decision on F35 or if they did, it was very muted.


Except one, me


I have been absolutely consistent in my opinion looking at the issue with a wide angle lens, F35B would be cheaper when taken in the round.

Which brings us up to date, the latest rumours, smoke signs and innuendo seemed to have pointed to a decision to reverse the choice of F35C. As conversion and other costs ballooned the financial benefits of the F35B became clearer and Phil Hammond was said to favour a reversion.

The usual leaky sieve MoD displayed a sharply honed knack for seeding the media with the appropriate rumours and all of a sudden the smart money was back on the F35B.

I happen to think this would be common sense decision that keeps things at a realistic level without stripping the rest of the armed forces of badly needed money and have said so repeatedly but what do I know?


I also note with a wry smile that the most strident advocates of the F35C, because of its extra performance, prestige, interoperability, lower maintenance costs and all their other ‘points’ are now so casually having a bout of collective amnesia about what they said.


Sensing the financially driven change the service lobby ‘machine’ kicked into gear, some more overt than others but there is no doubt in my mind that neither the RAF nor RN grown-ups actually want the F35B, this being possibly the best reason for forcing it upon them.

Articles have been written and papers circulated to shape the battlefield so to speak.

Part of this shaping is the Telegraph revealing that the US navy have weighed in to the debate, writing a letter to the MoD (at the behest of those vested interests no doubt) saying that the conversion costs will be half what we think.

This is the same Department of Defence that has bought the world the Future Combat System, cheap Littoral Combat Ships and affordable F35’s. When exactly has the DoD or MoD said something will be a pound or dollar and it been 50 pence or cents?

Forgive me a dose of cynicism.

Of course it is in the interests of the US Navy to have CVF able to operate the F35C; that much is obvious, but despite the US facing towards the Pacific and expecting Europe to pick up the slack in its overseas adventures CVF/JCA has to be in Great Britain’s best interests, no one else.

The Telegraph reported that MoD’s cost estimate for conversion was £1.8 billion but we don’t know what this actually entailed, did it include the extra crew needed or cost of developing an AAR capability needed for F35C operations for example?

The letter from the Secretary of the US Navy indicated that the cost for the launch and recovery equipment would be £458 million with other defence experts (yeah, I know) estimating that conversion would cost an additional £400million, nice round numbers are always suspect aren’t they?

£858million seems a long way from the reported £1.8billion estimate but are we looking at apples and apples, there are so many other variables to take into consideration, did that include one or two for example.

The letter has apparently thrown the proverbial cat amongst the pigeons, leading to David Cameron ordering a Treasury led investigation with a resultant delay in the announcement.

There was an announcement due on Monday, where everyone expected the decision on reversion to STOVL would be detailed but on Friday, this was cancelled; the letter from the USN being the catalyst for another look at the numbers.

If ever one needed an illustration of how little faith politicians have in the MoD it is this. One letter from a foreign power casting doubts on the MoD’s costings and all of sudden we are back to square one.

For once, the MoD may have been erring on the side of caution, putting a degree of risk into the calculation and making a realistic estimate that has room for variance.

With my pick and mix analogy, having a cup with a bit more room in it to compensate for the cup and sweets changing size.

Phil Hammond is no fool, he strikes me as being extremely ‘nose down’ competent, exactly the sort of Defence Secretary we need because he realises Champagne tastes and Brown Ale budgets are a recipe for zero credibility, something the MoD needs more than anything else.

This part of the Telegraph article struck me as the most significant;

“They want to ensure that the information the British Government is working from is accurate because currently that quite clearly is not the case,” said a Whitehall source.

Although it provides grist to the mill I despise with a passion ‘Whitehall sources’ because they betray the trust that the nation puts in them, quite clearly they are spinning against the MoD, running to the US Navy for help because Mummy (Spreadsheet Phil) is taking away their sweets.

If I was Phil Hammond I would be having several interviews without coffee on Monday morning and battering those ‘sources’ all over Whitehall’s car park, who the fuck do they think they are. I hope he sharpens his pencil and stabs the disloyal fuckers in the eye with it.

Sorry about the brief ranty interlude there!

We have excellent relations with the US Navy, US Marines, Air Force and Army; long may that continue but one of the huge strategic mistakes the UK has made over the last couple of decades is our slavish, embarrassing, forelock tugging and needy subservience to the USA.

There is no argument that CVF with cats and traps and F35C’s on the deck is the best military option when taken in isolation, no argument whatsoever.

But at what cost to the rest of our capabilities?

That is the key question.

We don’t have the same deep pockets as the US Navy and have to make sure we strive for balance across all three services without being blinded by the easy allure of those fizzy sweets.

This is what Phil Hammond realises, it has nothing to do with range, bomb load, whether we invented the steam catapult, whether the US or French can land their aircraft on the deck of CVF, how it fits in with doctrine or the emerging concepts of Carrier Enabled Power Projection

These are irrelevant.

The decision on CVF and JCA is about nothing more than credibility, the ability of the MoD to live within its means without indulging in fantasy procurement and then having to run cap in hand to the Treasury with an Urgent Operational Requirement every time there is a whiff of gun smoke.

Blogs and Internet forums are often criticised for indulging in fantasy fleets but it strikes me that the biggest proponents of the art of fantasy fleets are the professionals.

So if the most economic and balanced capability is CVF with the F35C then so be it, if it is F35B then equally, great, maybe the best answer is an F18, Rafale, Sea Typhoon or Sea Gripen?

I have my own view, the F35B, but it is one amongst many and based on zero intimate knowledge!

But in making the decision I hope we ask those tough questions and answer with an honest reply.

For a department that so desperately needs to establish some measure of credibility there will be no more second chances.

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March 25, 2012 1:37 pm

Nice one, TD. There’s also a piece of thinking that starts with what we as a nation intend to do with all of our forces. That should predate any equipment thinking.

I know for a fact it was not done before the CVF was decided upon. I can find nothing to say it was done later, and by the time of SDSR it was a done deal.

Major projects seem to have a “pass” on this sort of thinking. Not just CVF, I include FRES in that. FRES instead went straight to the fantasy requirements stage after only minuscule reflection on what and where we would use it.

March 25, 2012 1:42 pm

TL; DR :)

What about credibility with us the public?

It is a cock up. But we are where we are. I don’t see it getting better. The only thing that can save the MoD is proper war or a decent clear and present danger to the UK and even though I think China and even a loose Islamic coalition on the southern and eastern end of the Med could be that danger they are a long way off. Perhaps a war for resources might sharpen public interest, who knows? With the NHS bimbling along and education in a similar state perhaps we are expecting too much of the MoD? Perhaps it is similar to a Saturday afternoon during the season when I am the best coach the Tigers have never had? That is to say it is easy to criticise from the side lines.

March 25, 2012 2:16 pm

Do agree, strategic thinking, aka “What you want to do militarily as a nation” should be the first step to equipment planning as you and James mentioned.

An old lecturer of mine once said: “It doesn’t matter how hard you run or how long you run, if you’re running in the wrong direction, you’re just wasting your effort.” How is this important? Without a strategic direction, equipment procurement will simply go all over the place without a fixed direction of what you want the equipment to do.

March 25, 2012 2:19 pm

How the mighty have fallen. M.O.D and Government don’t seem to know what the hell is going on so the U.S have stepped in and told the lapdog what is going to happen:

Reverting to jump jets for both of them would not help American military planners, who want to be able to base a squadron of their own jets on a British carrier.
Separate accommodation is being built on board HMS Prince of Wales with communications facilities that would be for “US Eyes Only”.

In other words, do as your told, we want it this way and we don’t care that we’re not the ones paying for it.

Surely we don’t need to spend 50 billion a year on defence to be this pathetic

March 25, 2012 2:23 pm

We have spent close to 30 years attempting to get a supersonic fighter bomber that loses next to nothing in capability compared to conventional jets but can land vertically and on top offers unparalled istar capability in an a/c of its size. I think we have as near as damned done it with f35b why we want to give it up now I don’t know.

The f35 in the us has suffered as much leaking as cvf, force cutting has in the uk. Why people pedalling there agendas in the media because they’ve been over ruled in private. This in my view is corrosive and will taint the considered and frank reviews of programs/equipment if people think every review is going to be leaked and it’s generally only bit leaked not everything and only way to stop it is find them and sack them publicaly who ever they are regardless of rank.

As for the costs I wonder if someone in mod has decided you need two ships for a capability because if you take the us figures and double it you get close to that 1.8b figure quoted.

March 25, 2012 2:39 pm

I see your sweets and raise you football.

If we look at the worlds aircraft carriers in footballing terms. Thats real football not the American type.

The US Navy are Man Utd in the Premier League
France also with fixed wing aircraft are in the Championship.
Spain, Italy, India with STOVL are Division 1.
While we at present with only a helicopter capability are at the bottom Division 2.

Now not only are we intending to join the Premier League but with an all 5th Generation aircraft fleet we are attempting to get to the top of that league bypassing all those in between in one go. Whats wrong with taking it a step at a time. Gain promotion to the Championship with Rafael/F/A-18/Sea Grippen. Then when we have secured our place, move into the big league with F35. Another forum suggests that buying F/A-18 instead of F35 saves £10 Billion. Even if we doubt the figures there should be a huge saving.

I am sick to death of the MoD throwing money away when we could but a similar capability off the shelf. Nimord AEW and MRA4, FRES etc. The only ray of light recently if the order from Korea of the RFAs new tankers, just perhaps someone at Mod is getting a grip on things.

March 25, 2012 3:08 pm


Yes to every word an paragraph of your article.

I expect the Carrier junkies will crawl out of their pits soon with

‘Yes but we NEEEEEED cvf So fuck everything else’.

Or the no less stupid, but even more unrealistic

‘Yes but we NEEEED cvf, WASAWPYK. and we can afford 2 with all the bells and whistles if only those cowardly politicos would cut…..’ (insert politcal prejudice here.

The F35 program is discussed in these halls, almost entirely in CVF context, and the program, as you say rivals ony CVF in its incompetence.

‘If wishes were horses beggers would ride’

CVF/F35 is now THE major danger to UK defence posture for the next 20 years, it wil suck us dry and leave us with nothing; and that is even if it works, (which it won’t).

There that feels better.

March 25, 2012 3:10 pm

“Everyone spent a lot of time describing how we should not sell or mothball the second carrier but failed to recognise that the very reason it was destined for the disposal agency was because of that switch on the F35. I have been absolutely consistent in my opinion looking at the issue with a wide angle lens, F35B would be cheaper when taken in the round.”

You did support keeping just one tho…………

March 25, 2012 3:17 pm


On a more reasoned note.

Everything you have said above supports my point about the numbers game. we will soon be down to less that 30 real combat ships, in major part because of Nellie and Dumbo and F35. With less than 30 combat ships we can defend Portsmouth/solent. And that is about it.

I do not understand why anyone who thinks in terms of British Naval power can want the elephants as lilkey to enter service the waste of rescources involved, is staggering, we coulkd have had out 12 T45 (and more importasntly the support structures for them etc, if we had not gone in for elephant keeping instead.

March 25, 2012 3:20 pm

@ TD – I agree with so much of what you say. However this problem is nothing new. TSR 2 and CV01 were just as big a f**ck up as JCA and CVF. How many UOR’s did the Army need in WWII or WWI or even the Napoleonic wars? Our military has always been like this. If I look abroad I see just as many f**k up’s if not more. Look at the French with CGD. Look at the USA with LCS, JSF, F22 etc etc. It’s endemic in all militaries across the world.
Looking at our military it seems clear to me that the quality of our officer corps is a major issue and has been for centuries. It seems incredible to me that some-one can enroll at Sand Hurst with fewer A- levels than it takes to go to the worst university in the country. Do we really feel that someone (especially someone who benefited from going to Eton, Harrow etc.) who was able to achieve this low level of academic attainment will after 20 years or running around on Salisbury plain be automatically qualified to manage a £10 – £20 billion procurement project.
I am not saying academics are the be all and end all but there is an old saying, garbage in garbage out.
I really think we also need to get rid of the public school boy mentality that seems to pervade at the higher echelons of the armed forces. Many of my impressions of officers of all three services have been of individuals far more interested in tradition and sacred cows than radical thought about how best to do the job.
My radical suggestion would be to scrap the concept of commissions and direct entry to officer training. If you want to be an officer you start as a private, new entry or AC. Why can’t a corporal with a degree in aeronautical engineering fly a Typhoon? Is a guy with 15 years of experience as a soldier more or less capable of managing a platoon than a 21 year old with 12 months of officers training under his belt?
We should also right into all ranks of the military’s contracts that they are never allowed to work for a defence contractor after leaving MOD employment.
I don’t think we would see an overnight turn around in the MOD but we may eventually see an improvement. I want the chief of the defence staff to be the best soldier, sailor or airmen we have not the best old boy from harrow.
The strength of our armed forces has always been the determination, discipline and good old common sense of the apparent lower ranks. In 300 years of being one of the preeminent military powers on earth how many officers have really distinguished themselves since Wellington and Nelson? Yet we always got the job done time and time again. It’s these qualities that we really need at the top of the military.

March 25, 2012 3:21 pm

I do not agree with the thought that if only it was not for CVF, JCA or FRES we would have proper ladders, body armor or patrol vehicles. Most of the UOR’s have come not from a lack of budget but from a lack of foresight or proper planning. If it was not new toys they were pissing money up the wall on it would be too many ships, men or planes. The RN desperately needed 36 Escorts to guard the UK in 1998 but today 19 is fine? The RAF must have 300 combat aircraft even though it never send’s more than 20 to an operation? Don’t even mention a British Army with less than 100,000 men. It seems amazing to me that the exact number of men required to keep the United Kingdom safe and sound has been 100,000 give or take for 200 years irrespective of the size of the threat we faced or the level of technological improvement.
Budgets are irrelevant. The US has 10 times our budget and has just as many ships and planes lacking spare parts. Its patrol vehicles were just as crap as ours were. It has all our problems just more units. Obviously with such large budget’s they can afford more toys than we can but if the US had tried to commit as similar percentage to its air force to Libya as the UK and France did they would have had just as many problems with tankers as we did.

March 25, 2012 3:28 pm

‘We should also right into all ranks of the military’s contracts that they are never allowed to work for a defence contractor after leaving MOD employment.’

It wouldn’t solve any problems and would unenforceable.

March 25, 2012 3:34 pm

@ TD – I totally agree with your comments about our relationship with the USA. It makes me cringe every time a British politician goes to Washington because I know that we will have endless speculation by the media about “how special the special relationship is” with endless analysis about the gift the US president gives or how he shakes hands with the British PM.
It makes me sick that one of the world’s strongest military and economic powers, a country which faces zero in the way of credible threats could be so self-obsessed about its military relations with another country.
Anyone with actual knowledge of the situation knows that we have never been closer to the USA at any time since 1945. Yet the questioning of our relationship has never been harder. Since 2001 the tables have been turned. The USA needs the UK far more than the reverse. Yet our Politicians seem more subservient than ever.
The UK really is the only thing holding NATO together. We are the only nation that can and will make meaningful contributions to US operations.
We desperately need to come up with foreign and security policies that do not leave us subservient but make us real partners. Not just with the USA but with the rest of Europe and the rising super powers.

March 25, 2012 3:36 pm

martin @3:20 I don’t think Sandhurst, is a huge problem, if you look at the last few army commanders they all have gone through Para Company and or SAS selection. That makes sure the wheat gets separated from the chaff.

But in a similar thread why do you have to be an officer to fly in the RN and RAF while in the army other ranks if only senior NCO’s are selected.

March 25, 2012 3:39 pm

Pay and better conditions/terms of service.

March 25, 2012 3:41 pm

@ Jim

“Now not only are we intending to join the Premier League but with an all 5th Generation aircraft fleet we are attempting to get to the top of that league bypassing all those in between in one go. Whats wrong with taking it a step at a time. Gain promotion to the Championship with Rafael/F/A-18/Sea Grippen. Then when we have secured our place, move into the big league with F35. Another forum suggests that buying F/A-18 instead of F35 saves £10 Billion. Even if we doubt the figures there should be a huge saving”.

I don’t think nay one can suggest that we are unable to operate at the premier leauge level. We just don’t have the money to do it. Buying F18 or Rafale then progressing to F35 is just going to mean we have even less money. I don’t see how this would help?

March 25, 2012 3:43 pm


I do not disagree, with much of what you say.

Thay is in the most part the problem.

Quantity has a quality all of it’s own’

We are trying with things like CVF and Fres, to have

‘The best in the wrold for our boys’

(Cue Land of hope and glory wrapping of speakers in Union flag etc).

Anyone who opposes (insert project under discussion) is then by definition a traitor; who does not support ‘our’ troops or sailors or whatever.

Numbers count, If our airforce was twice the size in terms of combat aircraft, it could have dealt with Libya with quick change of step.

Why was it not twice the size? – Becuase it ‘Had’ to have typhoon rather than F18.

Why? Becuse Typhoon is better.

We ‘have to have Nellie and Dumbo.


Becuse Nellie and dumbo will be better than say 3 modified Juan Carlos.

T45 is better than f100

Chally 2 is better than say lepoard or Abrams.

All true but, in persuit of ‘best’ on a very limited budget; you eventually run down the numbers to the point of them being useless.

That is inexorable logic of persuing a high status, expensive hightech policy on a real terms decreasing budget.

One peice of fun to be had is goading carrier junkies by asking them how many more service escirts would they sacrifice to keep the elephants?

Down to 4 t45, 6 t26?

likewise when we are down to 50 opporational Chally2’s are they worth the candle keeping?

We need deployable numbers to make it worth while deploying.

March 25, 2012 3:47 pm

Its all about learning to walk before running. We have not done cat and trap aircraft carriers since the 1970S. LM are supposed to have quoted £1.7 Billion to equip F35 with a AAR capability. Just how many F/1A-18 does that buy that can do the job, and also provide us with a secondary fighter/strike aircraft. What happens in 10 years when the F35 fleet is grounded because of cracks in the wing or similar we then have 1/2 carriers with no aircraft to fly off them. Lets face it even the USN is not going to an all F35 fleet.

March 25, 2012 3:49 pm

@ Jim

martin @3:20 I don’t think Sandhurst, is a huge problem, if you look at the last few army commanders they all have gone through Para Company and or SAS selection. That makes sure the wheat gets separated from the chaff.

But in a similar thread why do you have to be an officer to fly in the RN and RAF while in the army other ranks if only senior NCO’s are selected.

No Idea? Given that half the famour few were NCO’s it makes little sense to me.

The Mintcake Maker
The Mintcake Maker
March 25, 2012 3:49 pm

@ TD

Interesting post boss

@ All

I was just wondering, since the MoD has such a credibility issue why couldn’t we go back to the way the forces used to be run. This would make more senesce especially since, the heads of the armed forces are supposed to be having more control over their own budgets.

So why can’t we have a vastly smaller MoD, more akin to its functions in the 40s and 50s and bring back the three services properly.

So the new smaller MoD would contain:
-The National Security Council: to generate policy and “vision for the forces, this included spreading the budget between the 3 services

– The Chiefs of Staff Committee: to allowed joint planning and communication between the services

– R&D: all R&D to be run through MoD

– Veterans and welfare of forces personnel

– Any other jointery/very civil services heavy tasks

Then we would, re-establish the War Office, the Air Ministry and the Admiralty, who would be responsible for procurement for their own equipment and day-to-day running. However there would need to be some sort of mechanism in place to prevent different programs that share many of the same requirements running at the same time as this would waste money.

As for joint operations we already have PJHQ so thats that base covered.

^ Is probably just a load of mad ramblings

March 25, 2012 3:52 pm

@ martin

‘Given that half the famour few were NCO’s it makes little sense to me.’

Like I said it’s to do with pay and retention. Rank and pay are connected to responsibility.

March 25, 2012 3:59 pm

Why can’t you just give people flight pay irrespective of rank.

The Mintcake Maker
The Mintcake Maker
March 25, 2012 4:01 pm

I should also add by having the 3 services separate they can be more independent and in theory (and I stress “in theory”), there should be less back stabbing because each service can spend their money how they like. This also makes them more accountable, if the sh*t does hit the fan we can offer UOR’s however when the dust settles we know which big wigs heads need to role for not having the right equipment in place

March 25, 2012 4:02 pm

I think the problem with buying off the shelf as far as the government is concerned, is that it does not create jobs for the UK population and also the fact they would get it in the ear about the UK losing the ability to make said vehicles/ships going forward.

There are benefits to buying off the shelf but there are also benefits to designing and building your own gear.
Getting your decision right on which option to take for the different projects seems to be the hard part

March 25, 2012 4:03 pm

Already do, but it’s not really a great deal. When your up against the civilian airlines trying to get your people it’s not enough. Retention bonuses are currently 100k for some flight crew. Flying pay isn’t pensionable either.

March 25, 2012 4:05 pm

Sorry to break into this conversation, but it seems to me that if you don’t have two aircraft carriers with catapults, you will be locked into your choice of aircrafts, it will be able take off from your aircraft carriers as F35B, whereas with catapults you are free to choose any aircraft like Super Hornet, Rafale if you will, I’m neither a soldier or a strategist, I’m like Gaby, I’m an amateur. If the americans want to pay you catapults, why not ?

March 25, 2012 4:11 pm


Your not wrong, but how about a middle ground.

How about Juan Carlos modified and built in UK?

How about f18 built in UK (after all if we built 240 odd it should not costy THAT much more).

Even in the Uk we shoudl be able to buld a Kalashnikov for a 10th the price of SA80.

etc etc.

Peter Elliott
March 25, 2012 4:16 pm


Why buy F18 to be your fuel truck? Buy a flexible turboprop or slow jet instead. Use it for AAR, MPA, ISTAR etc etc. Cheap as chips compared to a Fast Jet, and able to lift twice as much fuel per airframe so you save on hanger space too. Cost reduction and force multiplication all in one hit.

“£1.7 Billion to equip F35 with a AAR capability”

March 25, 2012 4:17 pm

Talking about money each service receives, I hear that it’s very unbalanced with the army receiving over 50% of the defence budget, is that true and if so, do people think it’s wise considering that we are an island nation? I would have thought most of the money or at least the biggest % should go into sub’s and ships

March 25, 2012 4:19 pm

Re Joint procurement.

The Smart Acquistion programme set up in 2000 (I’ll try to keep a straight face as I type that) was meant to have one over-riding principle, which on paper was and is still good:

Joint decision making on programme funding, through a Joint Staff, leading to Joint capabilities being procured for the most realistic balance across Defence, and holistically across all the Lines of Deveopment

(there’s some paraphrasing there, but you get the gist)

For a while, it actually worked. I recall as an SO2 then getting involved in arguing the toss about whether such and such an ISTAR gap in capability was best met by a UAV, a new sensor on an existing air platform, or a new manned platform. Arguing for and against the proposition were staff from all three services, and some scientists from dstl. Weirdly, my vote was for a new sensor on PR Canberras which were still in service then, to then transfer with the PR role to Tornado in 4 years. So at least originally, in my experience, people from all three services took pains to make it work.

But, reality and politics intruded. Particularly among the very expensive programmes, the single service chiefs have very firm views on what is good for their own service, and they are not going to let an outbreak of jointer among SO2-1 star level result in the perceived diminution of their service. I recall very distinctly being invited to ACGS’s office to be told the Army’s party line before going into a balance of capability scoring exercise. ACGS of course was very clean hands – it was his MA who told me what to do, with the faint air of ACGS taking a dim view of my career prospects if I fouled up. Others of all 3 services reported similar “advice”. It was a problem that got more and more obvious as resources got tighter over the noughties.

I worked for a while in the Defence industry and could also observe politics at play, chiefly in the DIS which mandated certain companies were to be awarded the lion’s share of contracts, to keep capability in the country. That may be a good thing, but it also sometimes mandates an ineffective solution when there is a better/cheaper/faster solution in the US (I’m thinking of some missiles here). Of course, the worst example was the CVF contract, which was nakedly political to keep northern and Scottish shipyards going. Again, maybe not a bad idea in industrial terms, but it completely skews the original intentions of Smart Acquisition.

March 25, 2012 4:23 pm

@ Frenchie, I suppose that would be a consideration although I don’t think they would be planning on changing the F35B for a long time once they had it and by the time they were thinking about changing it they might be looking at a new carrier anyway.

March 25, 2012 4:32 pm

Yes I think the middle ground off the shelf licence built works quite well, the apache seems to be a nice balance but I think it requires getting companies to agree to build items in the UK (which they don’t always want to do) and also you lose the right to sell vehicles/planes/ships to other countries. I think it’s all a bit of a balancing act.

March 25, 2012 4:37 pm

@ James

‘I recall as an SO2 then getting involved in arguing the toss about whether such and such an ISTAR gap in capability was best met by a UAV, a new sensor on an existing air platform, or a new manned platform. Arguing for and against the proposition were staff from all three services, and some scientists from dstl. Weirdly, my vote was for a new sensor on PR Canberras which were still in service then, to then transfer with the PR role to Tornado in 4 years.’

Was that the raptor pod?

The Oncoming Storm
The Oncoming Storm
March 25, 2012 4:41 pm

I think the real blame for this cock up lies with the Blair and Brown governments as much as with civil service and top brass incompetence. In truth do we really need a 65,000 ton CV? If we want to resume CATOBAR ops then a CdG sized ship would have been sufficient, the other big mistake was to link CVF together with the F-35, we should have gone with either the Super Hornet or Rafale M that are significantly cheaper and left open the option of buying a squadron of F-35C’s at a later date to deal with high value targets. But sadly we didn’t.

I don’t blame Fox or Hammond, yet, I think they’ve tried to make the best of an awful mess, time will tell if they are successful in their efforts!

Peter Elliott
March 25, 2012 4:42 pm


I reckon the reason why all armed forces worldwide seem to be prone to these problems is that you need different skills sets between wartime and peacetime leaders.

The selection, training and development of junior service personnel is generally focussed around their war fighting skills. In wartime the best of these rise to the top, without necessarily acquiring the spohisticated budgetry, procurement and managerial skills need in the peace.

In peacetime we do try and pick the best managerial talent, but we are still picking from a pool that was originally selected for their war fighting attributes.

The result is we never get managerial skills comparable to the best civilian CEOs, plus when a big war does come around the military skills of the incumbent top brass are often found to be lacking.

The top British military leaders of WW2 were Montgomery, Alexander, Alanbrooke, Slim & Cunningham. None were in senior jobs at the start of the war. A lot of dead wood had to be cleared away before they got hold of the top jobs between them.

Montgomery never got to grips with the role of CIGS after the war. Slim did better. Alanbrooke was probably the best allrounder but never got to test his skills in either a big wartime operational command or as a peactime CIGS.

The American general of the last decade has been Petraus. Look how long it took before the Pentagon started listening to and promoting him over his more managerial and political peers. It will be fascinating to see how he goes at the CIA.

Another intersting case is Fisher. He was reckoned to be only a mediocre sea admiral, but proved to be one of the best peacetime managers, procurers and political streetfighters we have ever had. Beatie was a poor fighting Admiral but did a fair job of running the RN in the 1920s at a time of heavy cuts and inter service rivalry.

Going even further back Wellington was a brilliant army commander, a rubbish Commander in Chief and a pretty average Prime Minsiter.

Very very few of them turn out to be good at both fighting and managing, so we count ourselves lucky when we get someone who can do one or the other well.

March 25, 2012 4:57 pm

@ James

On a tangent, but as our expert in the field of green battle buses could the FRES problem have just been solved by an afternoon flicking Janes’ and saying we want 250 of that 8×8 and 250 of say Bronco (just an example before somebody starts discussing the merits of the ruddy vehicle I am not saying it is the optimal solution) and a year or so testing? (Ignore chuffing airportability too.) Are mountains made out of mole hills for the sake of creating work in procurement?

March 25, 2012 5:02 pm

@ The Oncoming Storm

We can blame blair and brown till the cows come home. However most of the under f**k ups in the past decade were stared by the last Torie government, T45, Astute, MRA4 and the mother of all Typhoon were all enacted before they came to power. CVF being 40,000 tonnes or 65,000 tonnes would make little difference. Its not the shops or even BAE thast the problem its the constant f**king around that causes the over runs. Only in the MOD world does it make sense to pay £ 1 billion to delay something by one year rather than just finishing it on time and letting it sit at the dockside for a year. Just like paying BAE money not to build an 8th Astute when they could have ordered on for the same price.

March 25, 2012 5:03 pm

@ Peter E re Jacky Fisher

Much the same could be so of Lord Louis Mountbatten. Crap captain, crap CinC, but absolutely wonderful technical reformer of the navy. Without him we wouldn’t have got our SSNs so soon. Mountbatten couldn’t stand Fisher as he reckoned Fisher stabbed his father in the back. But in so many ways career wise so similar.

March 25, 2012 5:07 pm

@ James – I could not agree more. I can partly understand the need to go with new home grown tech in some fields such as SSN and even fast jets. But when looking for battle wagons with such a wide choice of proven of the shelf kit from around the world surley the FRES debacle should never have happened. Its all good and well going on about commonality to save cost but trying to get one vehicle to perform every task in the army just sounds like a fools eran.

March 25, 2012 5:13 pm

Hell’uva rant, boss!

I would subscribe to most of your points.

Too bad the final outcome will not be decided in Whitehall but in Washington, because one or even two variants of the JCA are under heavy fire and threat of cancellation. The Bravo is the most likely candidate. How can one tell, which is the more secure solution at this point?

(If we had retained our Harriers we could have delayed our final decision up to 2018 or even 2020. Now, we can well end up with nothing in hands.)

We still have no numbers of F-35s to be procured. The ultimate cost difference between B and C is also still unclear. How can one tell which will be the cheaper solution, apart from MoD voodoo-economics?

Finally, we will issue UORs as long as we buy one-trick-ponies, who have to be turned into multi-role assets. CVF/JCA is IMO a notable exception from this pattern.

“If ever one needed an illustration of how little faith politicians have in the MoD it is this. One letter from a foreign power casting doubts on the MoD’s costings and all of sudden we are back to square one.”

It should be noted, that the foreign power issuing this letter builds aircraft carriers costing around $12b without aircraft, once destined to cost $6.5b!

Peter Elliott
March 25, 2012 5:13 pm

One British leader who combined managerial and military success was Oliver Cromwell.

So alarming did the British find the experience of religiously oriented military dictatorship that politicians of all parties have worked like crazy to stop another one coming along ever since.

That touches on something very fundemental: the British will tolerate cock-up-by-committee because a true union of military and governmental efficiency is actually a very scary thing for a democratic society to contemplate.

March 25, 2012 5:16 pm


I’ve got to fundamentally disagree with you about Dave B being cheaper in the round. Lifecycle costs of Dave C are much lower (on the order to 25% I think), and when coupled with the greater capability, means we have to buy a lot less of them to achieve the same affect as we would with Dave B. Simples.

The major point you’ve missed is that this has been known for a decade and the “fuckwits” as you put it, decided to carry on with Dave B and now we’re in a massive contracting mess when CVF should have been CATOBAR to begin with.

A big problem is who is responsible, and how do you make them responsible? The Chiefs sit on the top level MoD planning board with the ministers and shuffle the jigsaw pieces around to get the right picture and right cost (or try to). Even though these are the people mostly responsible for the decisions sacking them achieves nothing because they’ve reached the top and are going to retire in another few years anyway (and then move into Industry advisor mode). I haven’t a clue how to solve things.

March 25, 2012 5:20 pm


no not RAPTOR. I’ve Googled its’ service acronym and nothing comes up, so as far as I’m concerned that’s the way the MoD want it.

March 25, 2012 5:24 pm

“Only in the MOD world does it make sense to pay £ 1 billion to delay something by one year rather than just finishing it on time and letting it sit at the dockside for a year.”

It’s called ‘savings’. Wonder if a single accountant in public service could spell the original meaning of the word!?

Ace Rimmer
March 25, 2012 6:29 pm

As ever, late to the party….

Jim, I’d like to bet good money on your ‘ten years time time with cracks in the wings’ comment about the F-35.

When I first heard of the major re-design of all variants because the F-35B was too heavy, airframe cracking and distortion immediately sprung to mind. Have any official sources mentioned anything regarding a reduction in airframe fatigue life? I remember back in the early nineties reading a Royal Aeronautical Society magazine article about the cracking of early Block F-16A’s because they were designed purely as fighters and not bomb-droppers. Until an economical repair solution transpired, I believe the threat of scrapping hung over a large proportion of the F-16A fleet.

Are we going to see the same trait with the F-35 fleet, or with hindsight should we have gove for a markedly different design on the F-35B only?

March 25, 2012 6:43 pm

@ James
No problem.

March 25, 2012 6:53 pm

The main changes to save weight of the f35b was a result of returning the weapons bays back to the original spec eg shorter than the other too this allowed the structure internally to support the stovl system be made much more simple and more load efficient coupled with reducing the weapons weight on 4 pylons reducting the structural requirement. This a/c was designed as a bomber from the begining and has been tested as such. Typhoon had a similar weight attack done on it too. Infact every a/c currently flying has had fatgiue cracking found and fixed even after they’ve been in service for some time and so i doubt this one will be any different.

March 25, 2012 7:05 pm

Did anyone read the letter as capping the cost of the purchase of kit (effectively underwritten by the USN, I am sure they have ways and means with the supplier as they are the only “other” customer) and telling the UK only worry about the cost of modifications to the build?

RE “It should be noted, that the foreign power issuing this letter builds aircraft carriers costing around $12b without aircraft, once destined to cost $6.5b!”

Brian Black
Brian Black
March 25, 2012 7:07 pm

The government doesn’t know whether it’s flipping or flopping. The reaction to this letter is just another indication of the lack of real forward planning, despite the multi-million pound reviews and assessments that we keep paying for.

If the Americans are convinced that EMALS and AAG will cost us far less than they think, perhaps they’d be willing to underwrite any cost overrun on conversion. I’m very suspicious; they have a clear interest in us taking the first of this deck gear – greatly reduces the risk and potential cost growth for their own over-budget carrier programme.

March 25, 2012 7:17 pm

Hi BB,

What are the news on the delay with their first EMALS carrier? RE “interest in us taking the first of this deck gear – greatly reduces the risk and potential cost growth for their own over-budget carrier programme.”

Interesting about the cost growth, as if you take a long view (several decades) only missile and carrier programmes have broadly hit their cost targets, most other types having been way over
– but then again, EMALS is probably the biggest technology change in carriers since nuclear propulsion came along

March 25, 2012 7:18 pm

forgot to type “US” in front of programmes

March 25, 2012 7:22 pm

Fantasy Aircraft – Figures from the Internet:

See Table 2.


F35B = 300 (291.7) Million USD.


(See Telegraph 400 to 1 Billion USD per ship to fit CATOBAR, also bigger engines required for still air ?).

F35C = 240 (235.8) Million USD.
F/A 18 E/F = 60 Million USD.
Rafale M = 100 (91) Million.

Life time costs proportionate to purchase price, but with coating F35 are particularly expensive.

Choose your budget or ships and fleet of aircraft upto 40 aircraft per ship.

Current Budget 6 x f35B = 1.8 Billion USD.

Brian Black
Brian Black
March 25, 2012 7:28 pm

The (frankly incredible) 1.7Bn cost of tying up a valuable F35 in an A-to-A refueling role was mentioned above. I wonder how far 1.7 billion quid would go in developing a new Greyhound from the new improved E2 fuselage; particularly if we shared the cost with France and the USA, the other likely interested parties. Wouldn’t that fill the tanker role? And provide COD and an improved platform for the (currently intended) Merlin’s ASaC kit too.

March 25, 2012 7:30 pm

Wow. Does someone feel better now? Ranting is good for the soul I think. Couldn’t agree more with the general gist of what you said.

@ X

“On a tangent, but as our expert in the field of green battle buses could the FRES problem have just been solved by an afternoon flicking Janes’ and saying we want 250 of that 8×8 and 250 of say Bronco (just an example before somebody starts discussing the merits of the ruddy vehicle I am not saying it is the optimal solution) and a year or so testing? (Ignore chuffing airportability too.) Are mountains made out of mole hills for the sake of creating work in procurement?”

I think me and you have discussed this before. Find a bunch of NCO’s with plenty of relevant experience, from the various branches that will have to deal with the vehicles (including REME etc). Give them all the candidates. Give them a big playground to play in. Let them figure it out.

Within reason…

Brian Black
Brian Black
March 25, 2012 7:48 pm

Hi, ACC. The RUSI article, linked in the earlier thread, was the first I had read about the Royal Navy getting the first operational EMALS, rather than the second. I haven’t seen anything else that refers to that change.
That change though, will increase risk in our own programme – should we stick with Lightning-C. Assuming that change is correct, there are possibly more unknowns and greater risk associated with a conventional aircraft than F35B – despite what the Telegraph article above says, which is possibly referring to the B’s recent probationary period.

Peter Elliott
March 25, 2012 7:55 pm


Having looked into a number of aircraft the basic weight, speed and fuselage characteristics of the EADS C-295 look the most suitable for developing into a carrier ‘combat enabler’.

It would need ‘navalisation’: folding wings, tail redesigned to lose about 1.5m of height, and a strengthened undercarriage and tailhook. Ideally also integration of JPALS for carrier approach. Service ceiling is 7,620m: better than Merlin, equal to V-22, but not quite up to E2.

It already has: low minimum speed for carrier approach, ability to lift 9,250kg on 5 pallets and a rear cargo ramp. Palletised mission systems exist the MPA role, and it has hard points for ASuW munitions. An AEW&C version exists as vapourware. In the AAR role it would do the work of two Super Hornets and for COD it lifts about twice what a C2 does.

Of course you can’t have it without a CATOBAR carrier – although most of the mission systems described above could also be put onto a V-22 Osprey which is STOVL.

Fat Bloke on Tour
Fat Bloke on Tour
March 25, 2012 7:55 pm

While things might be terrible at the MOD regarding VFM and contractor management I thinks are scandalous at the DOD.

The LPD sage shows how bad things have got.
LM getting both the next gen fighters has become the nightmare it always promised to be.

A to A refuelling – $1.7bill to develop – LM is just having a laugh.
£452 mill for two cats and a arrestors wire system – Having a laugh.
Just where is the money going?
90m long contraption – looking at £2mill per metre.

Ike got it right – 50 years later and they are the giant vampire squid sucking the defence budget dry.

March 25, 2012 8:03 pm

Chris B.

Not enough info in Janes to get the answers that you want. A good amount of key information is glossed over by the basic data.
On top of that, the year’s testing is the costly bit.

Not that the current method is necessarily the best or even good, but choosing out of a brochure isn’t necessarily better.

Brian Black
Brian Black
March 25, 2012 8:05 pm

TD, I haven’t got the foggiest idea which variant we’ll go for.
Personally, I would have gone for B from the start – a fantastic increase in capability over Harrier (and a couple of smaller ships too – I wonder how much the dockyard work and dredging Portsmouth harbour to accomodate the QEs has cost). From where we were not so long ago, the plan to fit cats-n-traps to the second QE seemed the best plan – just suck up the costs for conversion like a man, and don’t worry about the other ship not having cats, as it would be years before we’d have the capacity to use both anyway. Now, with uncertainty with EMALS, I’m plumping for B as the lower risk option – but I’ve no clue what will actually happen.

Peter Elliott
March 25, 2012 8:11 pm


The Americans, the Navy and the RAF all want the “C” and I think they will get it. Two identical carriers alternating is the only cost effective arrnagement for crewing and I think they will get that as well.

My guess is Cameron has already made the call in principle: its now a question of what Hammond and Osbourne take out of the sweetie cup to pay for it.

The Americans have also frowned on the 82,000 man army, and I do not think politically they can cut brigades while Afghanistan is still on.

For me the most rampant cost inflation is in Fast Jets and so the savings will come from reducing the overall establishment with both early retirements and fewer new purchases.

T1 Typoon and Tornado will both go. Airframe hours will be the public excuse. There will then be a ‘Fast Jet Gap’ with late tranche Typhoon the only platform in service between 2015 and 2020. F35C will then come but maybe on a 1 in 1 out basis with whatever has high airframe hours at that date.

March 25, 2012 8:15 pm

@ Chris B

Guilty as charged. More looking for a variation on a theme. All these arms companies spend zillions producing equipment that meets a requirement that is common to many forces. And the MoD spends a few more zillion defining its own requirements only to find out it is defining what has already been defined! Wanted I wanted to know off James the Red Trouser is does anybody within the MoD actually look what’s available first or does it all start from a blank sheet? And if it does start from a blank sheet is it done for a good reason or is it done to keep procurement staff in work? Take FRES I can’t tell one blasted 8×8 from another. They all take similar troop numbers; troops one hopes that are of a similar size. They have similar engines and transmissions and so similar performance. They all can mount similar weapons. They are all of a similar weight and volume; so many troops and machinery need so much armour and so on. Physics alone dictates that I suppose. And similar must be true for everything from rifles to artillery, and from No 1 uniforms to foul weather gear and a whole host of other stuff. All I want to know is how much notice is taken of what is going on outside the MoD.

March 25, 2012 8:19 pm

TD said “, jungle drums are beating out C C C”

Sorry but your jungle drums transmit on a different frequency to ours. We will have a compatible system in about two years time when we have decided on whether zebra or impala hide is better.

@ Mr fred

Don’t take the “Janes'” bit too literally eh?

March 25, 2012 8:23 pm

Well we do have a team at pax river were both are being tested. So the team will have a gd view of both I’m a bit surprised the pm didn’t head down for a look see when he in Washington recently. The politics of changing maybe to difficult to go back. The pentagon should be giving a new costing to congress shortly so maybe we could give nao a classified briefing on cost and let them come down on the cheapest capability with least risk without giving the actual cost to the public. I’d be going for the b though.

Brian Black
Brian Black
March 25, 2012 8:29 pm

Peter, we could easily get by through the Tornado to Lightning gap; I think you’re right that they will go, and as soon as they’re out of Afghanistan.

Looking at the recent behaviour of the French -undercutting SAAB for the Swiss deal, and 25 per cent under the Indian Typhoon package- they seem to be desperate to export Rafale at any cost. That should put the UK in an incredibly strong negotiating position if we wanted an alternative to Lightning-C. If the government had any balls, they could have Sarkozy sucking them right now.

March 25, 2012 8:29 pm

Janes give bare facts and figures, there is a lot of things that are not covered in technical specs. As an example, X rifle might be the better than Y rifle on paper, but in use, their “small quirks” can be totally different, eg 20% jamming rate not mentioned, designed for an 8 armed octopus, parts that break if you look at it wrong, parts supplier closed down etc. All these won’t be on Janes, just the numbers.

March 25, 2012 8:35 pm

Chris B,

I’m half with you on the wisdom of experienced NCOs, half not against you but observing there’s so much more to consider.

We’ve actually already got the experienced NCOs views plugged into the selection process via ATDU, ITDU, and the other Development Units (i.e. Sappers, Signals run something similar although call it something else, etc). ATDU for example were integral to the spastically named “Trials of Truth” that FRES ran for the UV competition. An old Regt mate of mine was CO ATDU at the time and told me it was very rigorous, and they paid close attention to what they were being told. Long may that continue, say I.

However, there’s an awful lot more to consider that I do not believe would be fair or appropriate to have SNCOs evaluate. Software coding and risk, for example. Strategic deployability and trade offs between tactical tracks vs operational wheels. Industrial offset arrangements. Through life training and repair costs. Ripple effects on trade training for REME. Is Nexter a better long term supplier than GD? Integration of Bowman with the French variant of the central data bus, which is nearly but not quite MilStd. Is a 43T vehicle operable on over 75% of European road networks? What about on African road networks? What proportion of engagements will take place in C3 terrain at over 1500m, and therefore is a 40mm main weapon preferable to a 25mm weapon? Is it better to have wading capability to 0.8m or 1.2m, and if so, which operational scenarios do you sacrifice for choosing the lighter weight of 0.8m capability?

I’m certainly not saying that NCOs cannot have a view on those sort of questions, nor that (reverse) only officers can. However, officers are trained in staff appointments to develop the sort of thinking that recognises these as being important questions, prioritising them, and getting the right sort of expertise which may well come from dstl or QQ or industry to input expert advice at the right time.

I wish it was as simple as opening up Janes and picking the wagon of choice. It took me a year of FRES ISTAR variant staff work before I felt confident enough to recommend Stryker with a 20mm sniper cannon and co-mounted 40mm AGL, and ten years later that is still my recommendation.

March 25, 2012 8:42 pm


Usually you’ve got a whole set of requirements to write beforehand. What the equipment needs to do, what it has to interface with, where is it going to operate. Some really basic questions fleshed out into a likely 100+ page document. Ask for proposals and even amongst the very similar 8x8s you can narrow down to a few candidates. Then go away and do some analysis about which will perform best in the scenarios you’ve come up with. All lots of weighting factors for training, disposal, fuel cost etc. and you’ve got the options with a number of ratings that can then be used to find the most cost/effective option.

Or how it’s meant to work anyway.

In the end the process has taken years, spent tens or hundreds or millions, and you’ve probably ended up with an option that works brilliantly for your OA scenarios but then the the world changes and you’re left with an inflexible option and an expensive modification bill.

March 25, 2012 8:44 pm

…. along with a truly brilliant ISTAR suite. Goes without saying. We also developed a concept for “mini-mast” as a quick and dirty and cheap retrofittable. 3 metre extension, battery powered for silence. World class optics, small LRF, true (corrected) compass bearing, stadiametric graticule with mildots on the vertical scale. If necessary, drive off quickly with it mounted. We reckoned we could keep the sensor package under 5 kilos, and a base 3 inch metal telescope / top 2 inch gave it enough rigidity to resist wind and wobble. Less than 10 kilos all up, biggish shoebox size and runs off 28v. 95% of vertical obstacles to view in any European environment are less than 6m tall, so the 2metre height of turret plus 4metre extension was the sweet spot.

March 25, 2012 8:47 pm

typo line 2. 4 metre extension, not 3 metre.

March 25, 2012 8:49 pm


you are not per chance the Richard Hannay of DEC ISTAR 98-2000?

March 25, 2012 8:55 pm


I’m afraid I was thinking more along the lines of Major General Richard Hannay of WWI vintage…

March 25, 2012 9:12 pm

oh well. There was a chance. the RH I knew retired to set up a nursery school in Clapham with his Mrs – a deliberate choice to exit defence life it seemed. Still, he was / is a clear thinker. I have not run across him in the last dozen years, hope all is well with him.

March 25, 2012 9:15 pm

Stryker for anything FRES? I’d be very interested to know what your reasoning behind that is. Fundamentally, AIUI, it is a superficially modified and overloaded Piranha III.

For “Janes”, substitute “publicly available information” or even “vendor supplied information”

March 25, 2012 9:27 pm

Mr Fred,

no no, not “anything FRES”. For a start I didn’t work on the UV part of the programme, although was aware of developments there. Specifically FRES ISTAR as it was then called, FRES SV now.

Yes, it comes from the Piranha family, although I’d take issue with “superficially modified and overloaded”. It was in dev at the time, and like all wagons in dev had technical risks and a whole series of Rumsfeldian known/unknowns. But in reality GD and the US Army got it working well, largely because it dove-tailed with the new “Stryker Brigade” concept that had a whole lot of political heft and budget in 2000-2004. Note that there are now around 8 or 10 variants of Stryker in all sorts of configurations. We then were only looking at the recce wagon.

March 25, 2012 9:42 pm

It is a modified Piranha III. While “superficial” may be a little bit harsh, it is not entirely inaccurate either.

My understanding, admittedly limited by being based on publicly available information, is that Stryker would not be particularly technically suitable for any FRES vehicle (the “anything FRES” comment)

March 25, 2012 9:52 pm

Mr Fred,

your understanding based on publicly available information was not shared by the trials teams in 2000-2004, but what did they know? The reality is that the requirements ran away with themselves. A failure of leadership within the procurement domain. We’ve now gone from a much-supported 8×8 to a double the weight tracked vehicle that is at best partially supported, and in any case not likely to be in service for another 5-7 years.

I once attended a presentation at HQ LAND at which the first slide put up was the single sentence “Hey, Abbey Wood desk warriors, haven’t you ever heard of Pareto”? Quite right too, although there was some minor fallout with a complaint from the ABW team. Nobbers, mostly.

The original ISD for FRES ISTAR was 2010.

Fat Bloke on Tour
Fat Bloke on Tour
March 25, 2012 10:13 pm

James @ 8.35

Blow it out yer erse.
Are you some sort of Edwardian throwback?
You need “chaps” to do all the thinking, the men just need to do trade.

What is the going rate into

Two dodgy A levels – with the Art teacher providing you with very close support to get you through your History of Art – aka cartoons for beginners – coursework.

Add in the current “All must win prizes” attitude where every simple improvement must be lauded as if cold fusion had been cracked and you have a smug military establishment talking to itself as the world and the enemy pass them buy.

The more I get to understand the current modern military the more it looks like a make work scheme for the thick end of the private school output who don’t want to work in an office – just yet.

Fat Bloke on Tour
Fat Bloke on Tour
March 25, 2012 10:15 pm

Missing word – Sandhurst.
Going rate is two dodgy A levels.

March 25, 2012 10:27 pm

@ TD

After the Biscuit Fund debacle you want me to comment on nutty and goffers? No jolly fear see my relief.

(We still haven’t found the stealth biscuit barrel. Any info gladly recived.)


The time to complain is when he starts to call us the “other ranks”. Saying that I was wardroom guest member on more than few occasions. Personally I preferred to dine with the senior rates…..

March 25, 2012 10:30 pm


Unfortunately the foam bananas have got to be kept whole and so can’t be crushed. Fizzy cola bottles are pretty much just gelatin and so you can squeeze loads of them in. Personally I prefer the taste of fizzy cola bottles, but I’m awfully tempted by jelly squirms as they preserve the taste but can be wound into the cup to maximise volume usage.

March 25, 2012 10:32 pm

What people should realise is that the MOD selection process for new cost estimators and analysts starts with an assessment of whether the applicant will be a good civil servant.

Ability, training or specific competence in costing is completely irrelevant, they presume that they already know all about costs and will educate the new entrant.

That’s why Bernard Gray has said its route and branch change that’s needed – they will never be any good at costing while the HR function is run by the MOD……….. Only as a GOCO can competent costing professionals be put in place.

Until the old guard are rendered powerless the useless will induct the useless, with no come back, no sanction and all the usual perks

March 25, 2012 10:34 pm

FBoT, pray tell your background that leaves you to see what others cannot?

Lord Jim
Lord Jim
March 25, 2012 10:39 pm

My turn for a rant.

One of the corner stones of the MoD skrew up was the creation of the DPA monolith called Abbey Wood. For any one who doesn’t know this was the headquarters of the Defence Procurement Agency and was part of the migration of many MoD departments from London to the far end of the M4 corridor where many senior Sercive and Civilian mandarins bought lovely houses in the country.

At this time the MoD was establishing both the DPA and DLO with an aim at having a far more joined up and efficient procurement and support structure in place for equipmet. DPA develpoed and purchased the kit and when mature DLO took over responsibility for in service support. Things went pear shapped almost immediately when IPTs in the DPA refused to transfer to DLO sites on their programmes maturity stating all sorts of reasons, the majority of which had nothing to do with the actual programme but more to do with moving home, school etc. Therefore the DLO began to stagnate as existing platforms retired it shrank and DPA expanded with new projects. Eventually after further reorganisation and after numerous name changes, what was left of the DLO has been relocated to be next to Abbey Wood.

This is the opposite of what should have happened. The DPA never had any idea of what was required to actually operate and support a platform and never got the cost anywhere near right. Spares were never ordered in the quantities required and many developmental programmes have suffered delays through the DPA’s underestimations regarding cost. It has always been good and ideas but crap in implementing them. The DPA was always where Politicians came to discuss things as that was where the headlines were. The DLO had to deal with the Shit that resulted and often had its budget reduced to coever overspeands at the DPA those these were ofter disguised as moritoriums rater than cuts but the impact was the same, especially on the frontline where shortages were common of everything from nuts to engines.

Regarding UORs, these have been part of management plans for years. Systems are brought on line often with out warfighting kit because it isn’t needed in peacetime. Our leaders decision to commit UK forces to a number of operation over the past two decades has shown this up but it has been spun as a positive rather than a lack of investment. We couldn’t have fought any of the conflicts from 1982 to present day without using NATO and or US stock of ammunition for example and do people remember to problems we had trying to use ammo bought from Pakistan in Afghanistan!

Though it will never happen, Defence needs to be handled very differently from other Governmental departments like health and education. We are asking men and women to put their lives on the line at the Governments discression. Tis funds and other resources need to be driven by nedd rather than accounts. However the need is decised by Governemnt and so things need to start with a review of what our foreigh policy is and what part our armed forces are required to play in it. There has to be a firm link between Governmental aspirations and the ability of aor armed forces to carry them out and this need to be laid down in law with ministers accountable to the law.

As for keeping the books balanced, the aims and only realy aims should be to have kit fit for purpose and best value for money. Job creation should have no bearing at all. IF for political reasong politicians decide that jobs are a priority then they must accept any cost implication and the knock on effects and if that means an increase in funding or a lowering of aspiations fine, but their must be an end to smoke and mirrors. Defence and the lives involved are far too important to be a political football

March 25, 2012 10:57 pm


if the F-35 is causing this much consternation then cancel the bloody thing and move on.

the US won’t cry, the UK won’t cry and it’ll help settle the defense situation.

sounds like a win win to me. heck you could even bolster the new friendship with France by buying Rafales.

win win win.

’nuff said. just do it … and move on.

March 25, 2012 10:58 pm

I think people are taking the comments X made about Janes a little literally. The discussion we had in the past was not “give a group of soldiers a copy of Janes and then order what they pick out of the catalogue”!!

The discussion – if I remember it rightly – went much more along the lines of bringing together a number of test vehicles from anyone that wanted to compete for the deal.

Then put together a team of SNCO from the Infantry (presuming we’re including FRES UV now), recce, perhaps the armoured lads as well, RLC, REME, Royal Engineers, artillery, anyone that might have to work with the vehicle on at least a semi-regular basis.

These plucky gents would then subject the vehicles to their own, self devised testing regime covering exercises, trials etc, etc. Putting the vehicles through their paces and studying every conceivable angle from an operational standpoint, in a vigorous “end user test”.

The second part (as hinted at by my “within reason…” earlier) would involve the things that James covered regarding electronic architectures etc. The primary driver for selecting the vehicle would go to the SNCO’s decision. Perhaps unsuitable candidates (for industrial or compatibility reasons) could be eliminated before the test vehicles were turned over for the end user test?

John Hartley
John Hartley
March 25, 2012 10:58 pm

Ok TD , you had your rant, my turn now.
Rant 1.
I want major equipment programmes to go to the Parliamentary defence committee at the start, not wait for them to get into trouble. Let them call witnesses from the MoD, Treasury, Foreign Office, DTI or whatever its called this week, the military, think tanks & even some commentators. Make sure we have ordered the right kit, in the right numbers, to the right spec, by the most cost effective means, then stiff penalties if the Treasury tries to back out or industry delivers a duff product.
Rant 2
Stategic planning. I still say the 1998 SDR came up with the minimum credible global mobile plan for UK armed forces. Shame Gordon never funded it. If the DfID budget went to defence, the 1998 SDR would be funded in full.
Rant 3.
The MoD cannot afford another billion plus write off of taxpayers money. No major order will get political clearance if we write off QE/PoW. After MRA4 as well, major MoD orders will be too toxic. So the forces would only get penny packets of UOR kit. Not good.
Rant 4.
We are where we are. Simplest fix, QE gets 12 F-35B + helos to be a sea control/assault carrier, while PoW gets 23 F-35C + cats/traps to be our strike carrier. RN gets flexible air support, no bad headlines, honour all round. We build 10% of F-35 , we do not build F-18 or Rafale. British jobs for British workers, remember.

Right, off to lie in a darkened room.
I may be some time.

March 25, 2012 11:04 pm

@ FBOT 2213,

Why don’t you tell me why it is that the very large number of technical considerations which I illustrate form part of the working, educational or life experience of any single person? Why don’t you tell me what bit it is about my acknowledgement of the role of experienced NCOs in aspects of procurement that you disagree with? Why don’t you tell me what is wrong with the notion that staff officers are specifically trained to marshall and coordinate developing answers to complex questions?

And while you are at it, you might adopt a civil tone and open-minded manner.

March 25, 2012 11:07 pm


and if your answer is more of the same abuse, don’t bother. You stick to answering questions about double skegs on hulls, and I won’t bother you. I wouldn’t expect you to venture into questions on AFVs. We’ll both be happy, and TD won’t need to wade in.

March 25, 2012 11:30 pm

@ Chris B

Thanks for that.

@ All

Coming from an IT background, and when I say IT I don’t mean PCs I mean big boxes, I appreciate that testing has to be done and methodologies followed. But we can’t say the system isn’t working on one hand and then rush to its defence when those on the outside start to ask why things are so. I also have a fair understanding of procurement processes. There are two lessons I have taken to heart. One you ignore your user base at your peril hence the “RSM working party” idea. Two if you are the one handing over the millions (or billions) you are in the driving seat; it is up to your procurement team to win the deal not for the vendor to present a deal. Let say my plucky team of RSMs and friends decide that vehicle A is the best but vehicle B is being offered in a slightly better package YOU DON’T GO FOR OPTION B YOU GET YOUR BODS TO SQUEEZE OPTION A FOR THE DEAL THEY WANT BECAUSE YOU ARE THE ONES WITH THE MONEY. As for all the other stuff like wading depths, road availability surely that stuff these days will be available in an expert system? Looking at those 8x8s there seems to be little difference between any of them; they all being pushed at the same market and so will need similar capabilities to be competitive. The only way I could select one from another is if I was an expert in mechanised soldiery or if I knew what was like to exchange a powerpack at night in the rain in the middle of field. I appreciate there maybe some subtleties I am missing but I can’t see how it takes £500million and God knows how many years not to buy a vehicle. I don’t think it is the staff, I think it is the system that is broken. Of course MoD processes bought us the mega deal of the century FSTA so………….

Fat Bloke on Tour
Fat Bloke on Tour
March 25, 2012 11:38 pm

James @ ….

My comments were based on the tone and content of your post.

Your tone was patronising in the extreme.
Your content was marginally more acceptable but only just.

Now a little factoid to put your mind at rest.

My background is Mech Eng and my experience is mainly automotive.
However I have some CV experience and I am into various commercial diesels.
Consequently naval stuff is a hobby, AFVs is closer to my day job.

Now that is out the way, how is FRES progressing?
They really do know how to spend the money but what are they delivering?

However if you want to move beyond 70’s Austrian lash ups then I may be able to help with a spot of concept generation. There are a number of commercial technologies and platforms out there that may have o lot of mileage in a military context.

Fat Bloke on Tour
Fat Bloke on Tour
March 25, 2012 11:47 pm

Apologies to all fans of Swiss AFVs out there.
Got a bit mixed up, it is a Swiss 70’s lash up.

March 26, 2012 12:12 am

Fundamental issue: CVF is 65,000 tonnes and 36 jets of Great British engineering… ok. There will be two. ONLY TWO.

That is not what I call any measure of flexibility.

March 26, 2012 12:13 am


my tone was not patronising in the extreme, apart from in your head.

Reread my post to note the many acknowledgements, qualifiers and indications of complexity that is real life.

And don’t be so chippy.

March 26, 2012 12:14 am

i read it in great detail TD.

but i can’t help but feel more than a bit of frustration. i tire of the endless debates about the F-35.

i know that you have stated that the F-35B was the way to go…i get that.

but many others have stated that they should cancel the program and buy anything offered except the F-35.

i say go for it.

i mean seriously.

this is tiresome.

its ruining British credibility.

and to be honest i would rather have a credible British military that is second tier (when it comes to aircraft…i have no doubt British Infantry will always be 1st rate) than a first rate one that is going through this much turmoil.

if canceling the F-35 brings a bit of calm to the situation then i for one would be happy.

March 26, 2012 12:17 am


Sorry. Ahem. I think that’s my phone ringing. I better just… go… answer that.

March 26, 2012 12:28 am

I’m not sure if this has had an airing before on TD, or if it is new news, but the Mail appears to have uncovered a £600M refit/upgrade cost of the Harriers in the last few years vs a £112M sale price to USMC:

March 26, 2012 12:57 am

@james: I note they have a picture of a Sea Harrier :-(

We all know the reason for the withdrawal and sale in double quick time: the MOD wanted to ensure that the decision could not be revisited. It’s hardly news

Aussie Johnno
Aussie Johnno
March 26, 2012 2:40 am

Does anyone know if the F-35C has been able to take a wire yet? Last heard they were fitting a revised hook tip and beefing up the extension jack/damper to try and keep the hook in contact with the deck.
On the CVF, your worst case is that you pick the F-35C and match it with a cut price EMALS installation. One rather than two catapults or a reduced charging rate.
From what I read late April is the decision date now.

March 26, 2012 3:36 am

If the Colonials want us to buy the C version so bad, could we not press them to “loan” us the kits or do we not think they could push that past congress? (I don’t think they could).

March 26, 2012 4:27 am

Am I the only one who thinks that if it will cost £1.8 billion to convert F35C for AAR that we would be better spending the money on a purchase of F18. We could buy 45 F18 EF for this price. If we call the F18 the JCA and put them all in FAA hands then we could still purchase the F35C as a replacement for Tornado FOAS in the 2020’s. The F18’s could provide CAP for the carrier as well as CAS for the Marines. With 40 Aircraft we should be able to deploy a squadron of 12 on one carrier. If we are in any type of major operation we could deploy a second squadron of 12 F35C’s operated by the RAF. We could further also deploy a squadron of 12 USN F35C or F18 if the situation called for it. God only knows what actual production F35C’s will cost but if we guessed a price of £100 million each we could make the entire purchase of 80 aircraft for £5.4 billion. We would remove allot of the risk and cost of the JCA program, remove the need for self-development of AAR capability, remove the need to have combined FAA and RAF squadrons and we would lightly end up with a better all round solution.
I know there would be additional costs of operating a mixed fleet of aircraft. However surely commonality only goes so far to making savings. We would also be presented with the opportunity to share training and support costs with the USN. If the carrier conversion cost is £850 million its not inconceivable to find this type of money post 2020 for conversion of the second carrier as a hot spare.

March 26, 2012 4:57 am

I think F35 in any form is a very significant aircraft for the UK. Lest forget for a second it will likely be the most significant export product in British history. It’s likely going to be the last manned fast jet ever produced. It will be the only 5th generation aircraft we will be able to procure. We can keep going on about the costs of fast jest and the lack of basic kit in the Army. However fast jets win wars. We can’t expect our current fleets to fly forever. We need to buy something new in the next decade or else get out of the defence business all-together. The future will be UCAS. However I have no doubt when that future arrives it will be just as expensive and controversial as Typhoon and JCA have been.
While the MOD does need a very large dose of reality we also need to acknowledge that while the current economic climate is grim today it will not always be the case. Much of the JCA/FOAS requirement and purchase can be done post 2020 when the prices may not be so bad and the budget not so stretched. I don’t like the concept of kicking the can down the road but some-times when things are bad it’s the only option i.e in WWII when we had 240% debt to GDP. Was it not worth the cost? We have to avoid making a hasty decision today that will affect our military structure for the next 30 – 40 years.
That being said I think the choice between B or C has to come down to simple cost. Both will be very capable and far better than what they replaced. This entire debacle could have been avoided if the government made a simple statement in the SDSR.
“Due to concerns about increased cost and possible cancelation by the USA of the F35 B the MOD will launch a £30 million feasibility study into converting one or both the Queen Elizabeth Class carriers to operate the conventional F35 C model. Given the importance of this project it seems wise to have a contingency plan should the B version of the fighter be canceled. The review will be complted intime for PR 12 were we will make a final announcement on aircraft selection based on the available data at the time”.
In essence this is exactly what has happened it’s just the constant need for spinning and leaking that has made us all look like as**oles.

Aussie Johnno
Aussie Johnno
March 26, 2012 7:28 am

I simply don’t believe that the F-35 will be the last manned fighter. UCAS is a striker not a defender under any likely development. That makes it a single role aircraft even if the software can be made to work dependably. If you want to control your airspace you need manned aircraft. You only have to look at how operating costs have crashed and burned Global Hawk to see the likely end point of UCAS.

Brian Black
Brian Black
March 26, 2012 7:36 am

I would agree, Martin. The government would not look quite so foolish and disorganized now if they had used a more measured tone when they decided to look again at the C option, instead of using the opportunity to take a swipe at the previous bunch.
Personal and political embarrassment will feed into the current decision; might be why the government was quick to jump on this letter from the USN – I wonder if someone in the gov’t or MoD solicited this letter. Certainly not the way to conduct defence planning.

March 26, 2012 8:05 am

@TD, good post and I share you concern with how much influence the US can exert over such a key sovereign matter. I just wish we would have a government with some balls for once.

My overriding opinion on the CVF programme is that the worst case scenario is if we end up with a single all singing and dancing vessel and the other is either sold or left to rot.

I still believe there will be fudge on the menu with a short term buy of F35B (small in number @20) and then a commitment to “cats and traps” and F35C either in time for (yet another) delayed launch of PoW (a.k.a Ark Royal). At this point the F35Bs will either be sold to the USMC or the Italians / Spanish / Australians.

Brian Black
Brian Black
March 26, 2012 8:09 am

If the situation is genuinely that we spent 80m on a feasibility study for cats-n-traps, only to be surprised by a letter from the US Navy landing on the doormat of number 10 telling us how much everything should cost, then perhaps someone should go to prison – someone’s taken an awful lot of money for us to still not have a clue on the price tag.
And ditto, if someone from the Cameron camp has solicited this letter in order to justify spending a billion quid in order to avoid the PM having to eat his words on the F35B. Seems to be misappropriation somewhere.

Glen Towler
Glen Towler
March 26, 2012 8:10 am

It looks like the UK Mod is stuck with carriers they can’t afford so I do think that the F35 is a white elephant and that MoD would be better off buying F18 Super Hornet tried and tested and off the shelf. Low risk and at a lower cost ticks all the boxes the only problem is arrestor gear the new carriers are not designed for them. But I guess the money saved on not buying F35 should pay for that . Course could just scrap trident I not anti nukes but why do need them with America having so many already and who would be crazy enough to use them in the UK government ?

March 26, 2012 8:24 am

@ TD – you may be right about f35 b choice. I don’t care which we get I just want the decision made and an end to the farce. I can see the benefits of both solutions. I just wish I had 80 million to do s study and get some real answers on costs ;-)

March 26, 2012 8:35 am

@ aj fighter design studies take decades and to my knowledge there is not a single running study for a manned system I’n the west past f35.I agree that ucas may not cut it which means f35 is even more important. It may be a bomb truck but super maneuverability dedicated a2a fighers like ef and f 22 have proven rather un useful unto now.

March 26, 2012 8:46 am

If I was PM I would be asking “If we do do a double switch (back to cats and traps) – what can the US give us in return?”. How about lending us some F18s so we can delay our F35 purchase? Plus something the Army would dearly love?

Wooden Wonder
Wooden Wonder
March 26, 2012 8:47 am

Is this the death knell of F35B in all colours?


CVF was supposedly designed ‘for not with’ cats and traps…so why does is conversion so costly?

March 26, 2012 9:22 am

: yes, a few F18C/D’s on a ten year lease would be nice. But to be honest, given how long it will take to convert the existing CVF, I would settle for 30 AV8BPlus. They can be in service in a 1.5 years: we don’t sit in a vacuum where our potential enemies just sit around while we have arguments about which superjet to buy. Carrier air is something we actually need :-(

March 26, 2012 9:22 am

Hi LJ, a very good and interesting account (again) about defence procurement and logistics background

Just wondering about this “We couldn’t have fought any of the conflicts from 1982 to present day without using NATO and or US stock of ammunition for example ”
– the value of things that go ‘bang’ is £ 39 bn on the books (the ready to use no-impairment figure, as for not needing work or even disposal, is something like 22 bn); I further assume that nuclear warheads are not part of this figure
– so do we stock the wrong kind of things then?

March 26, 2012 9:28 am

…and we postpone cats and traps until 2020, when both EMALS and F35C should be considerably more mature

March 26, 2012 9:45 am

I’m coming late to this party due to moving, but I wanted to say that I think this is an absolutely cracking article.

The problem we have in the military is we recruit people, and select and train them to be junior leaders – at its most fundamental, Sandhurst is about teaching a 21 year old to persuade a bunch of older seasoned cyncial gents to run towards gunfire and inflict violence.

What Sandhurts does not do, and what is so sorely lacking in the long haul is the realisation that with very few exceptions, by senior SO2 you need to have put managers into position where you from that point on have to deliver strategic leadership and management and oversee billions of pounds of expenditure.

I dont buy for one moment the idea that staff course prepares you for this -Shrivenham is seen by all I know who have attended as an up to 12 month jolly and death by powerpoint combined. No matter what people say, its hard to not draw the conclusion that the military excel at delivering leadership at a junior level, but only through chance and good fortune get good management at higher levels.

The reality is that the best managers and delivery folks will have left early on, seduced by the better career prospects in the private sector – why at SO2 level stay in if you will cap out at OF5 or 1*, when you could leave and go into industry on an OF5 salary in short order?

I’d almost argue that what is needed is the move to ditching staff college and instead sending most officers on an MBA or other course. Outside of a few ‘punchy’ command appointments, the reality of posts at SO1 level and above could arguably be seen as delivery or finance or project management. why not pay to give our people the proper skills, instead of a year of powerpoints with tired old blackadder goes forth clips and out of date information?

We are approaching the point where a two tier armed force is required – the fighters, and the supporters. Perhaps a genuinely revolutionary system of privatising all but the direct command jobs is needed, and instead hand over control of all support, planning and procurement to civilians.

How one can be an impartial observer in the planning round process is beyond me – you almost need to hand it to a neutral body, allow the armed forces to provide input, and then hand the results back to the forces with the directive to ‘implement’…

March 26, 2012 9:52 am

@jim30: what an excellent idea, and not just for the supporters. After all, a lot of those equipment decisions will be taken by the fighters anyway, best get them educated now. Staff could be something you take after your MBA.

The only issue I see is officer retention. Perhaps we could offer a bonus payable after the first posting post MBA and staff?

March 26, 2012 10:01 am

“CVF was supposedly designed ‘for not with’ cats and traps…so why does is conversion so costly?”

I can’t remember when EMALS whatever was suggested but you would have thought in 65k tons there would have been blanked off voids left for a pair of steam generators? And arrestor gear apparatus isn’t exactly modest in its dimensions either…

March 26, 2012 10:17 am

@ Jim30

I agree. Still say it is the “system” aka the politics and not the uniformed desk warrior. This discussion isn’t for me whether aircraft carriers are bad or which variant of F35 we buy it is about politics screwing the project over. And when I say politics I don’t mean civilian MoD bods who are dumped on as much as the uniformed bods.

March 26, 2012 10:20 am

This maybe several months out of date but maybe why the chiefs and defsec propose going back to the b it may not be all about the conversion costs.

March 26, 2012 10:31 am

@mark: makes sense. STOVL launch and recovery involves lower speeds, so less rotor around to interfere with helicopter ops

March 26, 2012 10:38 am

Don’t we have an official secrets act? Could we or should we use such an act to close down the spin machine. It dose no one any good and it is surly damaging our national security.

March 26, 2012 10:42 am

Hi Jim30,

RE “what is needed is the move to ditching staff college and instead sending most officers on an MBA or other course”
– I think there must be a balance, so I would not second the first part above
– thereby “most” would also be deleted from the second part. Having said that, I’ve been to a couple of Wharton ExecEd courses (post-MBA, but aimed at practice, not a PhD)and on average 10 % of the class consisted of serving personnel, from different services – not just from one in particular. Also the WalMart heir was there, he hardly “needs” to go to school, but sees the value of it

March 26, 2012 10:43 am

You select for leadership. Train for management. The Army does the first as well as could be expected. It seems as blokes go up the chain the structural pressures become and more diluted with strategy and policy and even excellent leaders and managers become powerless against the ebb and flow of a whole mishmash of forces.

Is this just the reality of trying to drive programmes that are lasting up to 25 years? Or put another way, how can a programme work well when the person who will head it at fruition hasn’t even begun their military career yet, goes through 5 Parliaments and about 20 Ministers and on average at least one or two recessions and a constant change of government and strategic and world outlooks and events.

It just cannot happen.

Programmes need to be more focused, shorter, FAR less ambitious and we have to accept the capability loss as the price for actually having something.

Humans just can’t beat that system.

March 26, 2012 10:44 am

“Don’t we have an official secrets act?”

I couldn’t possibly comment. :)

March 26, 2012 10:45 am

: I suspect we need more sunlight here, not less. Deterrence in this day and age via obscurity is likely to fail :-(

March 26, 2012 10:51 am


while I’d largely agree with you on the year of powerpoint that is Shrivenham, there are a couple of qualifiers:

Most (not all) officers go on to a further year of staff training after the technical year. That year includes political context as to how the MoD derives its’ priorities and budgetary training. The combination of the 2 years should equip an SO2 to take his or her place on a Joint staff in MB, ABW or PJHQ.

Those officers posted to ABW or MB in the procurement domain do not manage projects, instead they tend to focus on the requirements areas (ABW) or budgetary area (MB). Military project / programme managers tend to be SO1 or more senior on their second or third tour in ABW.

I’m not sure what project management training is given to the civil service in ABW. I’ve come across some very good ones and some very poor ones.

March 26, 2012 10:58 am

thanks Mark,

A good link.
– all of the informed buddy-buddy discussion we’ve had here…was based on what?
– with the time between now and the article, the swap of the third aircraft has been resolved

I think the USN tried to mix helo and catapult operations, but soon concluded that when on a large scale they are better kept on separate hulls, to be able to initiate ops simultaneously

Anyway, hearing about the preferred AAR method in March – can’t wait!

Fat Bloke on Tour
Fat Bloke on Tour
March 26, 2012 10:59 am

Mark @ 10.20

Why don’t we just put a roof on MARS 2 and do the helo stuff from there?
500 extra bodies @ 40ft2 per body crush load would be lost on a ship of that size.
Why don’t we get all VFM and do a bigger and better Ocean?

If we run with 2 or 3 flat tops then it offer some camouflage to the QEx2?

Finally crap names for carriers.
QE / PoW are for real fighting ships not aircraft service stations.

And no nonsense about them being “capital ships” that was appeasement propaganda to try and hide the fact that we didn’t have the industrial base to build battleships as fast as the Germans.

Also stop the AR fetish, what about Eagle / Hermes / Africa / Malta?
There were other carriers out there and some of these could actually handle damage control and counter flooding.

The AR the Titanic of aircraft carriers.

Fat Bloke on Tour
Fat Bloke on Tour
March 26, 2012 11:04 am

TD @ 10.53

That is just churnalism.
MOD PR driven rent-a-quote to fill papers.
Not having a go at the guy who did the flying but what did it really tell us?

Nothing more than the “all must win prizes” attitude is alive and well on the Forces / MOD.

paul g
March 26, 2012 11:07 am

pink shrimps blow cola bottles out of the water, that is all

March 26, 2012 11:23 am


Thats a gd question I haven’t seen the buddy cost anywhere other than on this thread. But I’d bet theyd integrate the hornet pod onto one of the f35s wet stations you need to clear the pod and receiver a/c approachs.

The us marines have shown for years the benefit of having fastjet and helicopters integrated together. And we look at our last campaign in Libya we had helicopters on ocean some in Malta and jets in Italy. We could have put all them together on a cvf of the coast with all the benefits of intel gathering communication dare I say joint operations base sea it’s for this reason cvf is the size it is to allow ease of air operations. Cvfs crew with the b version is practically the same as our current carriers so they shouldn’t be more expensive to run than the ones we have now only we get a considerable capabilty increase.

March 26, 2012 11:26 am

@ paul g

I prefer the chocolate stuff; the white mice, the chocolate buttons with hundreds and thousands on them etc.

March 26, 2012 11:39 am

Gawd!!!!!! We can’t even agree what nutty to buy. Who are we then to comment on MoD procurement?

March 26, 2012 11:48 am

I’m sorry ‘nutty’ isn’t computing.

March 26, 2012 11:59 am

Hi Mark,

Yes “The us marines have shown for years the benefit of having fastjet and helicopters integrated together” but not involving catapults in the mix

RE “Cvfs crew with the b version is practically the same as our current carriers ”
– yep, with so much more capability
– but, even more intrestingly, if you take the CdG manning and do that number tonne-for-tonne for CVF, you will get 3-4 times the planned number (I would guess that nuclear propulsion is not manpower intensive). Of course you can only compare directly, if the size of the airwing is standardised

March 26, 2012 12:05 pm

@ anyone:
This is a stupid question but, can a light “transport” STOL aircraft take off from a ramp? (something that could take ISTAR, AWACS, Fuel, MPA and light transport)

On another note I still think the F35 is a silly a/c as were only getting ~50. This means we can’t afford to lose one as they cost ~150 mil isn’t it. ;)

March 26, 2012 12:12 pm

Well… not sure on the STOL and ramp.

Seem to remember a very old concept called JATO. :)

Peter Elliott
March 26, 2012 12:13 pm


I expect some of them could – although they would need to use the full length of the deck and probably not carrying a full load.

More of an issue is the landing – approach speed is still around 150km/h and carrying any kind of cargo it would be a pretty dangerous operation without arresting wires.

You would also need to clear the whole deck for every launch and landing, messing up all sorts of other tasks and slowing down sortie generation rates.

Overall I suggest it would be more of a demonstration ‘stunt’ than a viable way or working – especially when a STOVL platfrom like Osprey exists that could do what you need without the hassle.

“can a light “transport” STOL aircraft take off from a ramp?”