Monday, 14 May 2012

The worst kind of corporatism

Reading the BBC's coverage of the F-35 debacle, all you see is some tedious political point-scoring:
The government has changed its mind over the type of fighter planes it is ordering for the Royal Navy's new aircraft carrier. ... The cost of the U-turn is likely to be about £100m ... Labour said it was an "omnishambles" which risked "international ridicule".
They can talk!

The coverage from Lewis Page at The Register is rather more insightful:
It's well known that the F-35B will cost a lot more to buy and more to run than the F-35C catapult version: and it's also well known that the main cost of aircraft carriers is not the ships but the planes. So, right out of the gate, we can see that this is a foolish decision. In fact it's a lot worse than it seems, as the contest in real life was not between the F-35B and the F-35C: it was between the F-35B and - for the immediate future - one or another cheap, powerful, modern carrier jet already in service. This would most most likely have been the F-18 Hornet as used by the US Navy and many other air forces around the globe, but possibly the French Rafale instead of or alongside Hornets. 
I'm not a military expert, but this analysis makes sense to me. It seems like yet another inexplicable decision from the MoD.
once we had some F-18s we would seldom bother using our Eurofighters and Tornados, and we would surely rethink our current plans to massively upgrade them. We might in fact, if we were smart, reconsider having them at all. And this would be terrible news for the company which has those fat service contracts under which those planes are run, the company which built the British parts of them: namely BAE Systems plc. ... A catapult carrier in the Royal Navy, then, is something that BAE Systems passionately does not want to see happen.
Important, then, that such vested interests are kept well clear of the decision making process.
The "fact" that has changed, we are told, is that the cost of putting catapults into HMS Prince of Wales is now thought to be enormously more than had been estimated - it has increased by as much as ten times over, to perhaps £2bn, pushing up the cost of the carrier project by a third or a half. ...
And it is pretty well impossible to avoid noticing that the lead contractor on the carriers - the company which gets to set the price of fitting them with catapults - is ... (drum roll) ... none other than BAE Systems plc, the company which stands to lose many, many billions if the Royal Navy gets catapult ships any time soon.
This is the worst kind of corporatism. The government has only two essential functions: maintaining law and order at home, and defending against foreign aggression. A combination of incompetence and corruption has allowed our defensive capabilities to be fatally undermined. To protect our territory, we must now rely on assistance from the likes of France. Which I'm sure suits some people just fine.

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