Carrier Strike 2010 – Deeply Flawed and Immature

Giving evidence to the Public Accounts Committee today were Jon Thompson, Permanent Secretary, Bernard Gray, Chief of Defence Materiel and Air Marshal Stephen Hillier, Deputy Chief of Defence Staff, Military Capability, Ministry of Defence.

Watch it here, in full gory detail

Jon Thompson, who I think is very very under rated and a breath of fresh compared to what went before, made a fairly significant statement on the information on which the decision to switch to the F35C was made;

Deeply Flawed and Immature

Exactly, my point all along was the speed of the decision making, a decision that went against years of established staff work, was far too fast.

It seems now, the MoD have come to an agreement on this point, the decision was made far too quickly based on shoddy process.

Air Chief Marshall Hillier also confirmed something else that we discussed, the secrecy involved with the decision making process, bypassing the normal team involved and made by a little clique.

It is well worth watching in full, loads of interesting snippets that add to the debate

This is significant stuff, significant for the relationship between politicians, civil servants and the military

A sad tale indeed but with the reforms from Bernard Grey and Jon Thompson around project governance and decision making one can be forgiven a glimmer of optimism.


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Mike Edwards
Mike Edwards
May 21, 2013 9:18 am

The more we mess around with the aircraft the greater the delay. As it stands we are going to have a Carrier, built ready and sea-trialed with no Aircraft. So an aircraft Carriers primary weapon system is missing, resulting in it being a giant floating piece of propaganda. It’s big, it’s impressive but it doesn’t do what it says on the Tin.

They’ll stick some Merlins on it, and convince the media it’s good and useful. It will probably do some Non-Combatant Evacuation Operation using helicopters at some point in the decade before it gets Aircraft. All told it will age, have problems, be in dry-dock, a Spec-N will probably bounce it off a Sand Bank and it will become a bit of a Lame Duck. By 2030 it might actually be useful……Bearing in mind this from last week and it’s 2013 now, do we really think that we won’t be using drones by then?

The whole project was a disaster, and the primary people to blame are last 3-4 First Sea Lords. The culture of lets cut today, with the promise of Jam tomorrow. Unfortunately tomorrow did come, and now the economy is in trouble and budgets are slashed. We could have all seen the trend of the last 50 years, but no 1st Sea Lord was willing to be honest with the public and put his neck on the line, and potentially be forced to resign.

Today we see a hollow Royal Navy, no Fleet Air defence, 1 Assault Carrier posing as an Aircraft Carrier, an assualt ship in mothballs and not enough frigates and destroyers to do policing actions nevermind warfighting., no depth, no resilience and certainly no robustness. It is a Flotilla at best now, and the T23’s are coming to the end of their working lives.

Jackie Fisher would sack everyone above the rank of Commodore in the Modern RN, for letting the house go to ruin and not putting the needs of the Service first.

May 21, 2013 12:15 pm

Mike – please explain how any of the 3 to 4 preceding 1st Sealords /CinC Fleet are responsible for HMG monetary policy ? How were they supposed to be psychic and foresee the future of the UK economy ? How were they responsible for the last Labour Govt delaying the carrier programme adding billions to the cost ? How is the current 1SL / Joint Chiefs responsible for current HMG’s spending priorities ?

Technically we could have 3 “cat and traps” equipped QE class with 100 F18E/F/G but we would have to cut the aid and potentially other budgets to pay for this, and the 12 Type 45 to look after them – however this is outside of the service chiefs influence !

May 21, 2013 12:23 pm

Do three Lords as in “3 to 4 preceding 1st Sealords /CinC Fleet are responsible for HMG monetary policy ” sum up, in tenure, to one King?
– yes, I would look for the guilty somewhat higher up

Nicholas Drummond (The contributor formally known as Monty)

For all the F-35 doubters, this video shows the first vertical take-off for a production version. It won’t do this very often, because it burns too much fuel and cannot carry a significant amount of weapons. However, it is still very impressive. Another piece of good news is that the F-35A will now enter service a year earlier than expected, July 2016.

Mike Edwards
Mike Edwards
May 22, 2013 10:14 am

I blame the previous 1st Sea Lords on the basis of their collective failure to articulate the need, the short-termism of decisions and the myopic nature of their purview. The mistakes are myriad and diverse too many for this post.

1. When has a Government ever invested more in the Royal Navy, the trend has been downward for well over a century. They gave away ships for cuts willingly on the basis of building good will to build T45 and CVF. The concept of “Cut today, because we can get Jam tomorrow”.
2. Did any of them truly believe that the Government of the day or successive ones would deliver on promises?
3. Apart from Notable exceptions such as the VANGUARD Class SSBN, how many of these large Projects have come in on time and on budget? FRES, EUROFIGHTER, Dii,
4. The collective culture of optimism that CVF would be inservice by 2013 – 2015 with Aircraft??
5. The CVF has been a very long term project (Arguably back to the 1960’s with the CVA project) but really is the Modern Royal Navy in a position to operate a Wing of Aircraft from a Carrier round the clock? When will this capability be mature and robust enough, with procedures to actually achieve it.
6. The constant promises of Type 45, 12 Hulls, to 8 Hulls to 6 Hulls delivered.
7. The sales of Type 23’s in the Mid 2000’s? HMS NORFOLK etc.

Leadership of Government is fickle, Senior Military Officers cannot absolve themselves of the failures with the Military Industrial Complex by saying “It was HMG Monetary Policy!”. We’ve only had Austerity and the SDSR since 2010, there is a lost Decade from 2000 to 2010 where the Royal Navy decayed. The Army and Air Force hoovered up the lions share of resources, due to Iraq and Afghanistan. The Royal Marines and Fleet Air Arm and Medical services did sterling work, but the Surface fleet was left to rot.

There can be no excuses, A Captain is always responsible for the conduct of his ship, the 1st Sea Lord is responsible with the provision of Naval Forces for the Defence of the UK and it’s Interests. The failure to take on the Government effectively and articulate the requirements, and if necessary fight dirty in the newspapers is required, the Army is very good at this, and has a lot of MP’s from it’s ranks. The Navy much less so.

Blaming Politicians is far too easy, there has been a massive failure of Leadership at the MOD with regards to Surface Fleet for many years.

The Royal Navy is “one brick thick” one or two losses (Navigational Incidents, or loss of a vessel for other reasons) would cripple our ability to project power around the globe in accordance with our responsibilities.

If you are Head of the organisation, you are responsible.

John Hartley
John Hartley
May 22, 2013 6:33 pm

In the past we had some politicians who were clueless, but others had wartime experience & balanced them. No such senior politicians now. Senior public officials would also be clued up & gently enlighten an intelligence challeged minister. Chances are now that the senior public official will just aim for a quiet life & a gold plated pension. No making waves.
I did not see the committee as it would not play on my Victorian broadband. I suspect it was the usual mix of an aspiration which was fudged when it had to be paid for, passed along in the hope it would come right in the end.

May 22, 2013 7:50 pm

I don’t know who that guy in the middle was, but he seemed pretty handy in the managing of questions to avoid having to give difficult answers.

Enjoyed the fact that one MP had to keep cupping his hand to his ear so he could actually hear what was going on. You’d think on an MP’s salary he could afford a hearing aid.

Most worrying moment? Listening to the panel rebuff questions about Crowsnest if it didn’t matter, while giving the impression that Crowsnest is not considered by the MoD to be an important part of the overall Carrier package. 1982 is calling.

May 22, 2013 8:36 pm

Chris B said “1982 is calling”

Oh yes indeedy. :)

The Securocrat
May 27, 2013 2:20 pm

It will be easier to digest when the transcript comes out, and many of the points have been discussed here and elsewhere recently, after the publication of the NAO report on the carrier decision.

However, it’s striking how ignorant the committee is on a number of issues, though they do make some good points about assumptions.

Someone asks about the ‘unmanned version of the F-35’; they seem to have real trouble understanding the idea of an initial operating capability; one of them has a rant about carriers being completely useless and we wouldn’t have used them in any of our recent conflicts; they seem to think that F-35 and Crowsnest all come from the same pot of ‘carrier money’ so that if the F-35 cost goes up, we’ll buy fewer Crowsnest; they struggle to understand why there might be 100 people working on the carriers or Astute across Defence.

It goes on. I don’t expect them to be experts (at one point the Chair says something like ‘I know nothing about Defence’), and this is a difficult subject, but overall it’s a depressing example of the poor quality of Parliamentary scrutiny. It’s amazing that Jon Thompson and Bernard Gray are as patient as they are with some silly statements, and by comparison the Defence Committee appears much better.

The Securocrat
May 27, 2013 2:23 pm

The man in the middle was the Permanent Under Secretary, Jon Thompson (former Director General Finance at MOD). They weren’t saying Crowsnest isn’t important, but rather that it isn’t part of the definition for Carrier Strike being at its Initial Operating Capability. That’s something of a circular argument – ‘it isn’t part of’ IOC because we haven’t included it in IOC’, but it isn’t unusual either. It clearly places constraints in where we as the UK could use the carriers for the first year (Crowsnest itself is deployable just after 2020), and in what circumstances, but that’s what they explained; we will rely on allies, and accept that our own layered defences (land-based air, limited organic helicopters and ship-based radar) provide a less capable set of defences. So the proof will be if we face a serious threat, don’t have allies, and then choose to deploy anyway. As suggested above, that’s only happened once in the last 35 year. Plus, they have an idea of how they could scramble to meet that threat, and are considering how to accelerate the project.

This is what risk management looks when you have more requirements than resources. You try to treat risk where you identify it, rather than terminate it (which the committee rather blithely seemed to believe was possible in all cases). It’s the uncomfortable position we will find ourselves in for the next seven years – with the Spending Review being important for just how difficult for SDSR 2015 will find it it keep (or get) everything in balance.