Britain at war

The BBC commented that there were not many of us in for the debate on Afghanistan yesterday. The truth was more of us went in than could speak, because once again the time allowed for the debate was too short. Those who did speak were limited to 6 or 8 minutes. I left it to colleagues who specialise in defence and who have visited Afghanistan.

It was a serious debate which abandoned party lines. There were several Conservatives strongly in favour of the war and the need to press it more vigorously. There were Labour MPs who disagreed with our presence there and felt we should get out as soon as possible as honourably as possible. Most MPs agreed we needed to provide the equipment needed, though there was more disagreement on party lines on whether that was currently being delivered.

It is now emerging that the UK has many helicopters that are not being committed to Afghanistan, whilst our troops in Afghanistan have access to far fewer helicopters than their US allies. The government is right to say that not all journeys can be made by air, and that some of the tragic deaths could not have been avoided by the presence of helicopters. The critics are right to say that the way to protect more troops more often against the latest Taliban tactic of bombs on roads is to fly more . After the bluster and spin, the government will probably get round to sending more helicopters. Why on earth don’t they change their line, say the Taliban tactics have evolved and as a result it is their priority to send more suitable transport to the troops and they are straining every sinew to do so? And then why don’t they do it?

This entry was posted in Blog. Bookmark the permalink. Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.

21 Comments

  1. Kevin Lohse
    Posted July 17, 2009 at 6:57 am | Permalink

    Dear John. There are operational aspects which, as far as I know, have not yet been acknowledged.

    In Oman, in the early 70’s we established forward positions across the enemy’s lines of communications which allowed for harrying the enemy far from his intended targets. These positions were supplied and maintained almost entirely by helicopters.

    Additionally, fighting patrols could be lifted to areas of enemy activity which would otherwise be inaccessible, and the virtue of surprise would reduce the enemies sense of security. An enhanced helicoptor lift capability would allow for the holding of ground which had been taken by the shedding of blood, instead of as happens too often, having to regroup far away from the battlefield and allow the enemy to regain the lost area. The effects of what is basically a defeat upon the local population can be readily imagined.

    • alan jutson
      Posted July 17, 2009 at 8:10 am | Permalink

      Kevin
      You make some very good points.
      Helicoptors are used for many types of different operations, and hence you need many types of different helicoptors if you are to support troops in the correct manner.

      The one common theme is that we need helicoptors which are fit for purpose in a desert type of environment.

      At the moment not only do we not have enough helicoptors full stop, we do not have enough of the right type.

      Some of the more recent helicoptors which have been sent out, are simply the wrong type for the environment.

      Helicoptors which are designed for sea combat are not a lot of use in the desert. Search and rescue types are perhaps ok for lifting casualties, but are not ideal for troop transport.

      As important as helicoptors are, the correct number of troops is also vital. It is absolutely pointless fighting to take new ground, only to have to give it back because you cannot hold onto what you have gained.

      The sooner we allow the Forces (who know what is happening on the ground) to run their own campaign, within a sensible political agreement the better.

      The other problem is that we are attempting to fight a War, with a peacetime budget.

      If you are expending millions of rounds of ammunition (as they have) are using rockets, grenades, shells, bombs, vehicles, aircraft and the like, then it has to be properly funded. That is the real financial cost of a war.

      This does not of course include the very personal cost of lives and injuries to personel on the ground.

      If you do not intend to fund a War properly, then do not start one !!!!

      • TrevorsDen
        Posted July 18, 2009 at 9:22 pm | Permalink

        I believe the altitude (at ground level) at which operations happen in Afghanistan has a bearing on helicopter types as well.

        • alan jutson
          Posted July 19, 2009 at 10:20 am | Permalink

          Trevor

          As does temperature 0- 50 degrees night – Day.

          Reason altitude plays a part I am told is “thinner air” you need helicopters with more powerful engines to take off with maximum load than you do at lower altitudes.

  2. alan jutson
    Posted July 17, 2009 at 7:08 am | Permalink

    Understand your sensible (better informed colleagues available) reason for not joining in the debate on defence matters in the House.

    I cannot understand why, with us at War, such little time is allowed for such debates, when Parliament is about to go on an 80 day holiday.

    What is more important, our troops fighting a War, or our MP’s going on Holiday.

    Same could be said of the financial crisis, and unemployment.

    Aware that the juggernaut of the Civil Service and many other State Departments are still working, but surely someone should be keeping their hand on the steering wheel and navigating.

    I see from the TV reports that the Defence Select Committee had about as much success at getting Brown to answer questions to them, as anybody else has.

    One is left to wonder if Mr Brown can actually answer any question put to him in his private life either.

    Boiled,Poached or Fried Gordon ?,
    Ah eggs, are they Free range, Barn or Battery bred,
    Free range I think !!.
    Ah, are they Free range in England, Scotland, Wales, Europe, or from somewhere else.
    They come from a supermarket !!.
    Ah, which one.
    Have they paid all of their Corporation Tax, Commercial rates, do they employ a green policy and do they employ people under the new deal.
    I have no idea !!
    Did we pay cash or did you use our credit card.
    I put it on your expenses !!.
    You did what.
    I put it on your expenses !!.
    But Ive told you before, only approved items can go on expenses.
    These eggs are approved, they have a little lion stamped on them !!.
    Oh Ok then, I will have a boiled duck egg please.
    We don’t have duck eggs only chicken eggs !!.
    Oh why no ducks…………………..
    ………..
    ………..
    Decisions, decisions my life is taken up with decisions.

    • jean baker
      Posted July 17, 2009 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

      Humorous, except for the deaths resulting from an ill planned, under equipped mission.

      Brown’s unwillingness/inability to answer simple pertinent questions with troop activity shows that, as far as he’s concerned, fightin in Afghanistan is a ‘political game’.

      For all we know, our men could be dying for the ‘socialists’ cause – lucrative PFI contracts to elected bodies who, in turn, contribute to Nulabor coffers. The £1 bn helicopter contract cost taxpayers 50% more than competitors and (reportedly) are not due for completion until 2013.

      All British public services are PFI exploited – such thinking is not likely to make armed combat an exception.

      • alan jutson
        Posted July 17, 2009 at 9:00 pm | Permalink

        Jean

        Yes I am as frustrated as you are with many Government ideals, and manipulation of statistics to suit their own ends, but just trying to lighten the mood a little on a serious subject.

        Unfortunately most political party’s will manipulate figures to suit, Labour are not alone.

        Suggest for detailed information on the helicopter situation, you look under Douglas Carswells blog of yesterday, where a fellow blogger gives a very detailed account of the situation, using the defence departments own published statistics.

        Mr Brown of course seems to have it wrong again, hence his reason for not answering any questions

        • jean baker
          Posted July 18, 2009 at 8:27 am | Permalink

          Hopefully, the ‘blogger’ will pass the ‘very detailed account of the situation, using the defence department’s own published statistics’ to Brown.

          Brown’s the equivalent of a pre-recorded android – Blair’s responsible for invading Iraq & Afghanistan under tenuous, implausible ‘reasons’.

          The party line, amid the usual media spin and manipulation, appears to be withdrawal from Afghanistan – reportedly unwinnable, shifting responsibility in the process to save face. You know, usual lack of honesty and transparency and hidden agendas ………..

          It may well, of course, suit Bliar’s ‘Presidential’ aims to wipe the Afghanistan slate clean – always been totally ‘self serving’ at taxpayers expense.

  3. DominicJ
    Posted July 17, 2009 at 7:29 am | Permalink

    The 4,000 US Marines who have recently arrived to pull our forces out of the brown stuff have 100 chinooks.
    Even with some designated for casualty extraction, thats enough for 1 helicopter place for 1 marine.

    We have 9,000 Soldiers and 10 chinooks. Even if we assume they’re all troop transports, we have 1 place for every 163-204 soldiers.

    As Kevin points out, with a couple of chinooks, a company can jump onto their helicopters, fly off, land anywhere, set up a perimeter and hold a piece of ground, like the route an enemy supply convoy is probably about to take. Landrovers, Vikings or even Challenger tanks cant do that, because they have to fight their way through.

    • TrevorsDen
      Posted July 18, 2009 at 9:53 pm | Permalink

      According to army-technology.com — over 1000 Chinooks have been build with at least 480 in use by the USA, who have ordered something over 100 more in 2008.

      It adds – “Chinooks are under licensed production by Agusta of Italy and Kawasaki in Japan. ” which begs the question as to why we could not build our own under licence as well, and why we did not think to done this years ago when our need ought to have become apparent.

      The RAF have 48, of which 8 are non-operational at the moment . So we have less than one tenth of the Chinoocks of the US Army. Is the US Army ten times the siz (ie 1 million srtrong) of ours? I think not.

      Wikipedia points out – “Boeing has delivered 48 F-model helicopters to the United States Army; on August 26, 2008, Boeing announced that the Army has signed a five year contract, worth over $4.8 billion for 191 more, plus 24 options” – so the USA are still buying Chinooks for all they are worth.

      Its interesting that the US Army names it helicopters after Red Indians (sorry Native Americans) – the wide ranging, raiding, quick movement of the red indian tribes clearly has a resonance lacking with Gordon Brown.

      When one looks at the herculean tasks performed by RAF Chinooks on a regular basis it beggars belief that we do not have double the force.

  4. jean baker
    Posted July 17, 2009 at 8:46 am | Permalink

    Dear John,

    Unlike the basis of The Falklands War, the ‘ruling party’s reasons for invading Iraq & Afghanistan remain tenuous and implausible – WMD’s and ‘keeping Britain’s streets safe’.

    The contract for the war zone helicopters was (reportedly) awarded to contractors whose costs were 50% higher than competitors and are taking far longer to build and complete.

    As this is of no help whatsoever to our troops (amid rumours of withdrawal), the ‘helicopter build’ has all the hallmarks of a profit focussed taxpayer funded PFI. These have become rife in all sectors over the past 12 years in which executives flourish and those on the ground floor count for nowt. Under equipped troops clearly ‘count for nowt’ as far as Nulabor is concerned.

    The helicopter fiasco alone shows the ruling party has not acted in the troops or taxpayers’ best interests; this leaves only ‘self interest’ and money being made.

    Money is definitely the root of all evil …………….

  5. Kit
    Posted July 17, 2009 at 9:26 am | Permalink

    There should have been howls of protest when it was discovered that we were using Apache attack helicopters to extract casualties from the battlefield. Why can’t we buy squadron of cheap Huey helicopters? If they are good enough for the Americans…

  6. Mike Stallard
    Posted July 17, 2009 at 11:58 am | Permalink

    I wonder which regiment Mr Brown served in as a young man? Perhaps someone could also tell me about the Minister of Defence”s war record? Maybe the Foreign Secretary was in the Royal Navy? Perhaps Harriet Harman was an Officer in the Women’s Royal Army Corps?

    • TrevorsDen
      Posted July 18, 2009 at 9:55 pm | Permalink

      It was the Son of the Manse Irregulars. Their motto being, ‘ Moral Compass … Moi?’

  7. Bill
    Posted July 17, 2009 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

    Mr Brown explained that you couldn’t just move helicopters to Afghanistan as they had to be adapted to the terrain and the altitude.
    Well we’ve been involved there for eight years and the current offensive didn’t come out of the blue presumably.
    So either the forward planning is faulty or the planning was in place, but the resources were not made available.
    If it’s a war it needs proper resourcing, but Mr Cameron doesn’t seem to be giving signals that he will ring fence the military, unlike foreign aid.

    On another front, what is the end game?

    Ms Harman said in a recent PMQ that there were more schools and hospitals now and the troops were making a difference, but we went on the premise of defeating the Taliban who were shielding Bin Laden to prevent future terror attacks on the west.
    The terrorists who struck in London were home grown.

    The way things seem to be panning out our involvement is without end.

    Sooner or later there will be a big re think, a sort of victory declared, with a lot of botching.

    • jean baker
      Posted July 17, 2009 at 8:38 pm | Permalink

      “Ms Harman said … that there were more schools and hospitals …”

      Is she saying the invasion is improving local amenities ? An insult to those who’ve given their lives fighting for Queen and country – whose shameless government is closing hospital departments and undermining education.

  8. Matthew Reynolds
    Posted July 17, 2009 at 8:20 pm | Permalink

    One idea does occur to me on the MOD budget. By using free market forces more in terms of procurement and by removing as many MOD civil servants you could redirect funds towards the front-line. That would be better value for money as taxpayers would want defense funds to go to kitting out our troops properly.

    What I cannot understand is why on earth give Child Benefit to those who don’t need it while fighting a War on Terror on a peacetime budget ? According to what I read in The Sunday Times ( I think the Sunday before the April 2009 Budget) you could save £7 billion by replacing Child Benefit with targeted payments for the poorest families. If you brought in my value for money reforms and that £7 billion p/a Child Benefit cut then the armed services would be better funded thus enabling us to fight terrorism far more effectively.

    By being honest with the voters about the need for sacrifices at a time characterised by terrorism and the need for drastic fiscal restraint the Tories could show that they where trustworthy. They could show that they where putting the national interest first by ending the underfunding of the armed services while paying for it in a responsible way.

    Defense spending should not be cut – it would be insane to take an ax to the MOD budget & a betrayal of our brave servicemen & women. Giving Child Benefit to those who don’t need it while our troops die due to lack of kit and too few helicopters is just mad & immoral. How about a common -sense solution like I outlined ?

    • Robert
      Posted July 19, 2009 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

      Guys – most of you are missing the point! It is not simply that there has not enough money! The MOD/Military have over teh last 20 odd years under both Tory and New Labour administrations have blown/wasted over GBP20bn on projects that have been cancelled. We continually want to reinvent the wheel, or have our own all singing and dancing toys! It is a fact that the Military hierarchy have stopped sensible off the shelf, cost effective, and most importantly military effective equipment from the international market place being purchased to support their own inter-service rivalries and grand projects. If you want some education on this, go to Defence of the Realm web-site. There is so much spin and counter-spin by both Government, the MOD and the Military and that I have some sympathy with those who can’t see the wood from the trees. To put in a nutshell, the Military top brass have made ‘selfish’ and disastrous decisions – FRES and the future Lynx to name but a couple, the MOD has been at the very least disingenuous and the Government have been guilty of not setting a clear objective and exit strategy.

  9. Adrian Peirson
    Posted July 17, 2009 at 8:30 pm | Permalink

    We could build a Mock Afghan Town over here, train their troops and police here and ship them out.
    we would then only need a minor presence over there.

    • TrevorsDen
      Posted July 18, 2009 at 10:01 pm | Permalink

      I think we already have several mock Afghan towns over here. So need to build any.
      I think parts of Britain are probably more dangerous than Baghdad or Kabul so they would make good training grounds.

    • alan jutson
      Posted July 19, 2009 at 10:30 am | Permalink

      Adrian

      Some of parts of our inner City’s look a bit like some buildings over there, from what I have seen.

      We probably have enough Afghan refugee’s here already to train, without going abroad.

      Seems we also have some who want to be in the Taliban, if Press reports are to be believed.

      So we perhaps could set up our own training for conflict here without even going abroad.

  • About John Redwood


    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, and graduated from Magdalen College Oxford. He is a Distinguished fellow of All Souls, Oxford. A businessman by background, he has set up an investment management business, was both executive and non executive chairman of a quoted industrial PLC, and chaired a manufacturing company with factories in Birmingham, Chicago, India and China. He is the MP for Wokingham, first elected in 1987.

  • John’s Books

  • Email Alerts

    You can sign up to receive John's blog posts by e-mail by entering your e-mail address in the box below.

    Enter your email address:

    Delivered by FeedBurner

    The e-mail service is powered by Google's FeedBurner service. Your information is not shared.

  • Map of Visitors

    Locations of visitors to this page