Lions, Donkeys and Dinosaurs

While passing through an airport recently I picked up a copy of Lions, Donkeys and Dinosaurs: Waste and Blundering in the Military and have been enjoying it immensely. It caught my eye since I was familiar with the author, Lewis Page who writes for The Register on various matters military. Lewis, an ex-bomb disposal specialist, is not a gentleman shy of sharing his opinions and so I thought I'd give his book a shot.

If I were to sum up Lewis's top five hates as portrayed in the book, in descending order, they would have to be:

  1. The UK Ministry of Defence bureaucracy;
  2. BAE Systems, prime financial beneficiary of that bureaucracy;
  3. The Navy's choice of ships;
  4. Senior brass (brigadier level and up) in the Armed Services;
  5. The RAF's choice of planes.
The thesis that runs through the book is that BAE can't find its arse with its elbow, can't design a weapon system that a) works or b) addresses an actual need, and yet gets truckloads of cash shovelled in its direction in order to maintain a "domestic aircraft/ship/missile building ability". Looking at its track record with Nimrod MRA.4 where they redesigned a perfectly good aircraft with wings that couldn't lift it, and Tornado ADV where they turned a very good low-level fighter-bomber into an expensive inadequate air-to-air missile platform, that contention seems hard to deny.

A lot of what Lewis says makes good sense, even if you don't always agree with him. I disagree with his position on artillery and shore bombardment; he thinks that close air support is almost always the way to go compared to artillery because it's an easier logistical problem to get bombs to airfields rather than shells towards the front line, and because aircraft can strike deeper into enemy territory. However, the Israeli army was light on field artillery in 1973 because of that thinking and the Israeli air force who were supposed to be dropping the bombs hit an unexpected SAM barrier; aircraft are generally more vulnerable than mobile artillery.

Lewis contends that we'd be much better off dropping a lot of our domestic military production and buying off the shelf from the Americans; even when we do buy foreign, we insist on doing things ourselves and screwing it up. As an example he cites the UK Apache procurement where we actually went with an American design but insisted on building it ourselves (and changing the engines while we were at it). It was certainly an expensive way of keeping British jobs - by his calculations we could have given £1 million to each worker whose job was saved, bought Apaches off the shelf and still come out way ahead financially. The Chinook Mk.3 procurement fiasco is also mentioned; and, as Lewis points out, not a single person has lost their job because of it.

We clearly have way too many military top brass in the UK, compared to the actual fighting personnel that they command. Some form of cull seems way overdue. I'd go further than Lewis and insist that we evacuate MoD Abbey Wood from where military procurement is "run", bomb it to the ground and fire every single employee there, then restart from scratch.

1 comment:

  1. Lewis is more than just a writer there now. Pretty much the editor actually....


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