A lot of words and a few tears have been spilt over the lamentable lack of common sense that seems to be being displayed in the ongoing defence cutbacks. Like, how the RN and RAF kept it's favourite toys - and screwed the Ark Royal and Harriers.
Which makes no sense to me at all - and I'm mindful of our history. This is our Fourth Afghan War, with no end in sight. Should we take grim comfort in the fact we have lost less this time than in the 1842 Massacre of Elphinstone's Army, when 12,000 civilian refugees and 4,500 regular troops were killed during a retreat from Kabul.
Nobody has ever won in Afghanistan - but there are plenty of losers, including us.
Back to recent days, and a letter to the Times, a model of brevity, which made the following unanswerable points:
Harrier could still use Kandahar runway if half of it were blocked by Taleban action; can use any make-shift landing site; has a response time of less than 10 minutes, as against 30 [for the Tornado]; performs better in hot weather; requires fewer ground crew; and has better availability.
Harrier can deliver close air support of ground forces anywhere from the existing carriers ... [it] has nearly twice as many airframes provided with precision-guided ground attack capability [as Tornado]; will not require a further £1.4 billion to re-engine in 2014; and can remain in service until 2023 without significant investment.
The existing Tornado force will cost, over 10 years, seven times as much to keep in service as Harrier. The decision to axe the entire Harrier force is strategically and financially perverse.The letter was signed by former Royal Marine Major-General Julian Thompson, who should be the best-known of the signatories. Thompson commanded the UK's Commando brigade, mostly made up of Marines (reinforced for the occasion by troops from the Parachute Regiment) during the Falklands campaign, when it acted as the primary unit in the victorious land fighting.
Now comes the news that the 22 new Chinooks promised for 2012-13 have not even been ordered yet, and if they are ever ordered, it will only be 12 of them. Our troops contribution to this saving is to carry on travelling by road and getting blown up by IEDs on a regular basis.
On Monday, in response to a Parliamentary question, Minister for Defence Equipment Support and Technology Peter Luff said that the order could not be confirmed "until the current planning round is settled". Which smells like an expediency for something.
So - the parts of the armed forces that are most heavily involved in front-line action (or were capable of it) are being starved of equipment, while the RAF keeps its near-obsolete bombers, the Navy keeps its strategically-irrelevant frigates and destroyers, and the Army keeps its tanks in Germany.
But what if this all part of a carefully-crafted Cunning Plan from the MoD? (As cunning as a fox who's just been appointed Professor of Cunning at Oxford University).
As in - we can't loose face by simply retreating. That's politically unacceptable. But what happens if we go to the Allied Forces planning meetings and say something like .."of course we'd like to help, but we've got no equipment that's of any use at all. Not quite sure how that happened. Sorry NATO-colleagues, hope you can do the job instead?"
Carry on, chaps! We'll all be home by Christmas!
Posted by Keith MacDonald 12:47:27 PM