Monday, 14 January 2013

Another military entanglement

BBC News reports:

An RAF C17 cargo plane has arrived at a Paris airbase to help French military efforts to contain rebels in Mali.

The first of two planes will load up with French armoured vehicles and other equipment before flying to the West African state on Monday.

A second C17 is due to arrive on Sunday evening. No UK troops would be deployed in a combat role, Downing Street said.

France has attacked Islamist militants in Mali in recent days, to support the Malian government.

The first plane flew from RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire to the Evreux airbase where it will be loaded with French armoured vehicles and other equipment before flying to Bamako. It will make just one trip.

The second C17 will shuttle between Mali and France for the next few days.

You might ask what business we have in this conflict, and whether this will all really be settled in "a matter of weeks".  You might also wonder if "no UK troops" is the whole truth, or if special forces are already involved.  And you might think it strange that we're supporting a fight against Islamists in this part of Africa, after having facilitated Islamist takeovers in the euphemistically named 'Arab Spring'.

But there's another aspect to this story that's worth highlighting.  Note that it's a pair of C-17s we've deployed.  According to the BBC,

The C17 has a much greater lifting capacity than the aircraft the French use, the BBC's Hugh Schofield in Paris said.

A helpful side-bar elaborates:

  • The RAF has flown C17s since 2001 and now has eight, with No 99 Squadron at RAF Brize Norton providing the crews
  • The UK's biggest transport aircraft, also used by the US, Australian and Canadian air force, and the Qataris
  • Used for transporting troops and equipment, they can fit helicopters and armoured vehicles, carrying up to some 77,000 kg
  • In Afghanistan, used for transporting troops and equipment in and out of Helmand and casualty evacuation from the field hospital at Camp Bastion
  • They can take off and land on short airfields, meaning they can be used in remoter places or on very basic runways
  • This help for France is part of "pooling and sharing" increasingly scarce military resources, following a defence treaty signed by both countries

All this is very interesting, because I remember an article from Lewis Page about the UK purchasing an inferior Airbus alternative to the C-17:
So we can take it that in fact the A400M costs significantly more than £130m per plane. The UK has been able to acquire much bigger, faster, longer-ranging C-17 Globemasters from the US in recent years for acquisition costs of £70m at most*. A Globemaster carries more than twice what an A400M can and costs half what an A400M does: it is four times better value for money.
why on Earth didn't the A400M get cut in the recent Defence bloodbath? We could have bought 25 Globemasters instead, thus obtaining more than twice as much lift, and still saved ourselves something on the order of £2bn - enough to keep the Harrier jumpjet fleet going for several years, for instance.

The A400M project was colourfully described ...
A peer and former defence minister has described the A400M military transport plane - which is being bought by the cash-strapped UK armed forces for a secret but outrageous amount of money - as a "Euro-wanking make-work project" in the written Parliamentary record.

The straight talk came from Lord Gilbert, who held various ministerial portfolios in the 1970s - including a defence one - and did another spell in the MoD as a peer in the first years of the Blair government. Last week he made the following remarks in the House of Lords:
I regard the decision on the A400M as the most bone-stupid in the 40 years that I have been at one end or other of this building. It is an absolutely idiotic decision. We have a military airlift fleet of C-17s and C-130s. We have total interoperability with the United States... six or seven countries altogether will be flying the A400M. Flying the C130, which it is intended to replace, are 60 countries, with 2,600 or so C130Js currently being used. That is the interoperability that we are losing...

Why on earth are we doing this? I once described this rather vulgarly as a Euro-wanking make-work project and I do not resile from that. I hope that this time Hansard will leave that in and not take it out. It was in the next day's version but Hansard funked it and took it out of the Bound Volume. I hope that this is all on the record.
Lord Gilbert concludes:
I can tell your Lordships why we are buying the A400M because I want to pay special tribute this afternoon to the defence Minister of France, who is our new best ally in Europe...

Monsieur Morin said at a news conference on Friday.

"Giving it up would have meant Europe saying it wanted to be dependent on the United States in military transport".

How pathetic. We are spending hundreds of millions of pounds on a plane just to make sure that nobody thinks we are dependent on the United States for military transport.

We must laugh rather than cry. After billions of taxpayers' pounds and euros have been squandered on inferior tech, the French seek assistance from our venerable C-17s.

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