Monday, 30 November 2009

Is Brown starting to lose his grip on reality?

I was quite amused to read this story with the stirring headline:

Find Osama Bin Laden, Gordon Brown urges Pakistan

Is the first reference GB has ever made to Bin Laden? I've not been able to find any but I certainly can't remember him talking about the chap in such direct terms before. Let's ignore for now the silly macho language of "taking out" (I assume he's suggesting assassination, rather than going on a date, but you never know) and see what he's talking about.

It appears that after several months of talking up the threat from "The Afghan/Pakistan Border Areas" Brown has noticed that we only have troops in the Afghanistan part of it. Well, about time the chaps on the other side pulled their weight! He presumably failed to notice the huge Pakistani offensive in the border regions some time ago.

Foreign Secretary David Miliband said Britain wanted Pakistan to "join us in upping our game" in tackling terrorism on its border with Afghanistan.

This is quite fun. We've just "upped our game" by sending an additional 500 troops out (at some point in the near future). Surely our partners in the T(he) W(ar) A(against) T(errorism) can step up and match our noble efforts? Well, for that recent offensive linked above the Pakistanis were able to mobilise 30,000 troops to fight the militants in the border areas.

How arrogant are this government that they believe that they are in a position to tell another country to "up their game" when the latter have thrown so much more effort at the problem?

Of course, this is not looking at the more general question of why do we want to be targeting the two leaders of Al-Qaeda in the first place? Luckily Gordon has some excellent points on that matter:

We want, after eight years, to see more progress in taking out these two people at the top of al-Qaeda, who have done so much damage and are clearly the brains behind many of the operations that have hit Britain"

Well, for over two of those eight years, Gordon Brown was our PM and if this was such a big deal, maybe he should have mentioned it somewhat sooner. Otherwise, he just sounds like someone flailing around for something to distract us all from the terrible situation we're in.

Still, lets ignore that and examine the quote more closely. I'll even assume that he knows something I don't about the volume of damage caused by these two men and just look at the last bit.

"Clearly the brains behind many of the operations that have hit Britain"

How many operations have "hit" Britain? Even including essential failures in the list, I can only think of three attacks that have actually "hit" Britain. The other 'attacks' I can think of don't actually seem to include any attacking.

  1. Tube/Bus Bombings Mk I
  2. Tube/Bus Bombings Mk II
  3. Car Squibs and Airport Ram Raiders

The last two didn't even do any real damage! The closest either 2 or 3 got to doing damage was setting themselves on fire and falling onto Smeaton's fist a few times.

Where are these "many" operations that "hit" Britain? Is Brown living in a fantasy bunker, with plaster falling from the ceiling as Terrorist bombs explode around him? The bloody IRA was a damn sight more effective than this!

The 7/7 bombing was horrific. It has been tentatively linked with Al-Qaeda. Khan apparently spent some time in Pakistan and an informant (who luckily claims to have been telling the truth) saw him at a training camp which itself was linked to Al-Qaeda.

Even assuming that attack was perfectly linked to Al-Qaeda, are we really supposed to believe that Bin Laden was sat in a cave in Pakistan discussing which Tube stations would make the best targets?

The point is that a well designed Terrorist network like Al-Qaeda is supposed to be will show almost no effect if you "take out" the person running it. Does anyone believe that any of the senior Al-Qaeda command structure has actually had a hand in anything outside of Pakistan recently?

Gordon is supposed to be an educated, intelligent man. He should certainly have educated, intelligent advisers. Why the sudden demand to kill an essentially valueless target? All he will achieve is pissing off one of the few countries who have actually been showing a position of strength to the militants.

Perhaps Gordon is slipping further into the traditional Fuhrer Bunker fantasy and has now started ordering around imaginary armies!

Congratulations to the Merlin force

Just a quick post to say congratulations to the Merlin Force in Afghanistan who are now operating and no doubt providing valuable support.

Whilst it'll still take some time to get the remaining 6 Merlins (assuming they've fixed the crashed one), it's good they're pushing ahead to get the ones in theatre up and running as soon as possible.

This does make me think that maybe they've worked so hard because more helicopters are so desperately needed, a fact understood by everyone except the government.

Friday, 27 November 2009

Why understanding climate science matters

It's been a pretty fun week for climate followers. We're in the run up to Copenhagen, where our elected and unelected leaders will decide what changes we should make to our economy (including sending climate reparations to poor countries).

We've also had had a "hack" into the CRU computers (although there is a small amount of circumstantial evidence to suggest it was a leak) exposing a range of emails along with a few small chunks of code.

At the same time, we've had recent stories talking about the disaster that will befoul us all if we don't make some serious adjustments to our lifestyle (Yes, that last link does advocate killing 30% of our livestock).

And we've had stories showing how some of the datasets used to back up the "unprecedented" warming has been "Artificially Adjusted" from a flat line.

Recently we've found out that Copenhagen probably won't get a result, so smaller groups of countries are getting together to make their own deals (such as the Commonwealth plus a few other countries over this weekend).

OK, as far as I see it, there are several camps. On one side we've got a bunch of people saying that the science is settled and if we don't make major changes to our way of life now, we'll be in trouble later. On the other we have some people disputing the maths behind the science and suggesting that it may be an idea until we can get a much better idea of what's actually happening before we commit ourselves to what is likely to be an extremely costly plan. And there's the many people in the middle who don't really care, but appear to lean towards scepticism.

Assuming the science is settled, as we've been told (not least by the BBC who decided that because of this, there's no reason to give both parties equal billing) then pretty much anyone should be able to reproduce a serious chunk of the work themselves. I'm not suggesting that everyone should be able to produce a seriously complex model describing the entire climate ecosystem, but we should certainly be able to look at a graph of CO2 and temperature and see clearly and visibly how they are linked.

At the moment pretty much every climate graph you see is either extremely long term (i.e. using the now discredited sediment and tree-core data) or from 1971. The latter is to hide the cooling period from 1940-1970 where CO2 increased and global temperatures dropped. We should be allowed to see all the information and make our own minds up.

The reason why the CRU data is vitally important is because they are the guys and girls who produce the Global Temperatures, both for recent years and historically. They produce the most critical part of the whole climate modelling. If this isn't right, nothing else will be.

I don't actually think the emails that have emerged are that important, despite the focus placed on them by the mainstream media. Sure, there's some bad wording but quite frankly, I wouldn't like my 'private' work emails to be publicly released. I'm sure I have used language that wouldn't show myself, or my work in the best possible light. The appearance of avoiding the FOI requests looks bad, but quite frankly has little impact on whether they're doing the right thing, despite making it hard to reproduce their work.

I actually found the code they've used to produce their global temperatures and the comments inside it much more interesting. There's actually a great file called HARRY_READ_ME.txt which appears to be describing the work done by some poor researcher as he tries to reproduce previous results and understand where they came from. It's fairly clear that someone with access to all the people, code and datasets used to produce the 'official' global temperatures (which I believe are available for pretty much anyone to have a look at) is pretty much unable to understand where these came from, when you look at the original 'raw' data from temperature monitoring stations. It appears that similar 'tricks' to that used in the New Zealand example linked above are being used on a global basis.

Basically, the database of global temperatures appears to have been built by discarding data that disagrees with the theory and enhancing the status of the data that does agree.

Why does this matter? If we can't even be sure that the historic temperatures we're using to drive our climate models are right, then we certainly can't be sure that the results of those models (Latest I've seen is 6 degrees of warming at the end of the century) are actually right. Hell, surely if the science was settled, we'd only have one model which matched historic results perfectly and was able to make predictions about coming years, which then come true.

The models we're using to make political and economic decisions at Copenhagen can't do this. Even CRU researchers admit that they are unable to explain the current 'decline in temperatures' with their modelling. This doesn't mean that their conclusions of massive global warming are wrong, it just doesn't mean that we've "proved" anything yet.

To my mind, we need to be pretty bloody sure before we gamble our future.

Disclosure: I am not a climate scientist. I am all for energy efficiency and where economically viable we should be using renewable energy. For a start, have you seen the torque of electrically driven vehicles? Energy efficiency is common sense, crippling our economy is not. For those suggesting that environmental policies could be economically advantageous, have a look here.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Is this how Labour tell the truth?

I'm looking at Ed Balls today. A few months ago he wanted to be chancellor. Surely a man who wants to be chancellor must have some grasp of figures.

I'm even going to ignore the various exam fiascoes that have gone on under his watch and have a look at what he's been doing recently (aside from ignoring emails from his Tory counterpart). I'm actually only going to focus on what he's said about the budget for schools. Should be an area he can be pretty clear about.

He has just stated today that he wants schools to save £750m through cutting back on heating. I assume that is because he needs to reduce his budget just like every other government department. Afterall, every second in October the country became another £4k in debt.

Well, less than two weeks ago, shortly before the Queen's Speech, he was reported demanding an increase in his budget of £2.6Bn. Perhaps he's been persuaded since then of the need for cuts, explaining his most recent pronouncement.

However, in September he said that he was going to cut the school's budget by £2Bn. Mostly through cutting the numbers of headteachers and other senior staff. You know, the people who hold schools together and pretty much the only people in the entire business who are actually responsible for their school's performance.

Then again, in June, he was spouting off about he was going to increase the school budget. Now I'm getting really confused.

In the space of six months this man has said he will increase, then cut, then increase, then cut the school budget. There's probably even more I've not been able to find with a quick search online.

There's a reason why both government and opposition need to be honest about their plans. It means we can weigh up which is the lesser evil and decide who to vote for.

Is this the level of honesty that Labour think the British people deserve?

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

F35 Operational Sovereignty Buggered

Today, a charming story comes across demonstrating the dangers of dealing with the Americans on Military procurement.

"US to withhold F-35 fighter software codes"

I was quite impressed a few years ago how the government made it pretty damn clear that the source codes to the software were required in order for us to continue with the F35 project. The Americans understood how important it was (afterall, we are a much higher tier partner than "Italy, the Netherlands, Turkey, Canada, Australia, Denmark and Norway" mentioned in the linked article). Well, a deal was done at the time and everything was happy.

However, less than three years later (which is of course nothing in terms of Defence programmes) the Americans have announced that they're going to screw us. It's clearly not enough for them to force us to buy American missiles to fire off the aircraft and charge us incredible amounts to have our missiles cleared for carriage on it (There was a fun rumour that the weapons bay is exactly a few mm less than needed to carry Meteor, just to make us buy more AMRAAM).

A few years back we bought eight Chinooks at great expense. We hadn't agreed as part of the contract that Boeing should give us access to the source codes (Does this sound familiar to anyone?). As a result they've been sitting in a hanger unable to fly since 2002. Afterall, it's not like we've got any need of helicopters at the moment...

This story shows how we then paid another £150m to down-grade the helicopters to the same spec as the rest in service with the RAF. At least they'll be doing something useful soon.

There is frequently a drive to buy into American procurement programmes in order to buy our kit. There's a lot of logic behind that with bulk discounts and similar economies of scale. However, it's clear that time and time again, stretching from the Quebec Agreement that where possible the Americans will do their best to fuck us over.

Well, what should we do about this? Simple. Cancel our F35 buy. Don't put it on hold, or "consider our options". Cancel it completely.

We are a Tier One partner in this project. We've helped design huge chunks of it. We've reinvented our concept of RVL to ensure that the B variant will actually bloody work. Fuck them, we won't need this aircraft for a hell of a long time, certainly long enough to procure something else if needed. Or in time, we return to the table with a far stronger negotiating position than our current one, which appears to be modeled on the girls in the kind of porn Harman wouldn't like.

It's about time this country sent a strong message about it's willingness to stand up to bullies, whether they're Somalian Pirates, or the world's largest Superpower.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Banks or Body Armour

Another day, another story about the government pumping more money into our Banking System.

Basically, Lloyds TSB are having a rights issue to raise money from existing shareholders. As the government owns a decent chunk of the shares another £5.7Bn of our money is heading into the black hole.

Well, I've thought of a new way of sizing this pile of cash. The new Osprey Assault Body Armour (and Mk 7 helmet) cost about £1,600 for each set (£16m contract for 10,000 sets).

So, with this particular bailout we could buy nearly 36 million sets of body armour, hilariously enough for every solider in Afghanistan to have one for every day of the year, with some left over for high days and holidays!

The military don't need as much cash as the banks are getting, but it would be nice if they could at least get the kit they need.

Monday, 23 November 2009

Tanks for the memories

I came across this story this morning.

MoD spent £149m on tanks unfit for service

Shit! That's quite a lot of money. Sure, it's only 1.3% of October's debt, but still a decent slug of cash.

OK, first point, it's not a big one but it's the kind of thing that pisses me off. This story is not talking about tanks. There's a pretty big difference between an extremely heavily armed and armoured fighting device and a battlefield taxi that on a good day can stop an AK47 round (as long as it's not armour piercing).

This is a tank:
This is what we're talking about in this article:Yes, they both have caterpillar tracks, but then so does this and as far as I can tell, no-one thinks this is a tank:

Anyway, we've clearly demonstrated that these particular journalists have minimal idea what they're talking about when it comes to Military Equipment.

However, that doesn't mean their article has no point. It is important that there is oversight of MoD spend, maybe this is a good example of it. Let's have a look at what the work done was.

Well, it looks like they're referring to work that was done to upgrade 900 of the rather venerable FV432 vehicles with newer engines and brakes. Some of the vehicles were also up-armoured to help out in Iraq. The contract was completed in 2006. It also sounds like this contract was completed in pretty good time. In my experience "9 months" from contract to delivery may in fact be a record for the MoD (and BAE come to think of it!).

In fact, BAE did such a good job (well, we'll assume so anyway) that they got another contract to upgrade 400 more FV430s. Well, £85m for the first, £70m for the second (It's actually worth noting the second contract costs slightly more per vehicle, but nothing too outrageous by MoD standards).

OK, so we've now found the money. All £155m of it. Ah, bugger, should probably throw in the extra £15m for support for the first 500 and we can assume another £12m for the last 400.

So, the MoD actually spent £182 upgrading and supporting these "tanks", not "£149m". Well, either the MoD is playing loose with FOIs again, or the Journos forgot to do any research. Actually, there's a third option where BAE were able to deliver for less than asked, but I think we can all agree that's unlikely!

So, we've shown that this story is riddled with inaccuracies. However, the general point may be absolutely right - that we can't use these vehicles in Afghanistan due to the lack of roads and excessive volume of IEDs. Well, these contracts were placed some time ago, when various people still believed that Afghanistan could be fought with old equipment (with small upgrades). Obviously with the current threat levels out there, these tin cans would provide nowhere near the protection needed.

OK, so we can't use them in theatre, so obviously all that money was wasted. And £182m could buy a decent chunk of two Chinooks, or something otherwise useful. We've spent something like £200k per vehicle to keep them running for another 15+ years, we've now got a useful and sensibly sized fleet of armoured vehicles for training and for some support roles.

Basically, what has happened is that we spent an extremely small pile of cash in buying something that proved to be bloody useful in one theatre but useless in Afghanistan. This piece of equipment may not be vital now (but I'll bet that the training is appreciated) but it will save lives in the future.

We will not always be in Afghanistan. These vehicles work in a lot of theatres, recently they were working in Iraq. We cannot judge every single piece of equipment on how good it is in Helmand!

Friday, 20 November 2009

Yesterday was a very bad day for Democracy

The EU has an estimated population of 499,794,855.

Last night 27 people voted for a new president. That's 0.0000054% of the population. That's not very democratic.

Well, how about we look at all the votes those 27 people have received when they were elected. Let's assume that we voted for them to make this choice (*cough* bullshit *cough*) and see how many of us chose them.
I've tried to get the best view possible of the number of people in each country who directly elected each leader (So, Gordon Brown was elected by 24,278 people, whereas Sarkozy was the first choice for 11,48,663 people).

In countries where the leader is merely the leader of the biggest party, I've taken the total number of votes for that party at the latest elections (which should massively overstate the actual number who directly voted for that character).

The details are at the bottom of this post. However, we can see that the 27 leaders of the EU, between them have the (roughly) direct support of 81,408,743 people. That feels pretty big. However, it corresponds to 16.3% of the total population. That's right, less than one in six of the EU even voted for the person who voted for our new President. Jan Fischer in the Czech Republic wasn't even elected, before becoming PM he was the head of the Czech Statistical Office.

We now have a democracy where the leaders of the EU between them are only directly supported by 16% of the population (and even if you included everyone who voted for Labour in the UK, you're still looking at a percentage of less than 20%).

If they had wanted to be democratic why not have an election? We're now in the terrifying situation where our politicians (with a mandate of less than one in six) are deciding who is going to be ruling us.

Yesterday was a very bad day for Democracy.

The curse of Jonah Brown - MkMCIV

Pop quiz hotshots:

Where did Gordon Brown stay on holiday this summer?
Which part of the UK has just had "staggering " floods?

The Curse of Jonah Brown striking again?

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Our record debt

I'd like to start by saying "Hi" to all the people who came here yesterday after being linked by Tory Bear.

Anyway, another month another story about record debt.

£11.42Bn this time. This is apparently the highest since records began (The phrase "No shit?" rapidly comes to mind).

Well, I for one am starting to get a little bemused by the sheer scale of these figures that are bandied around with alarming regularity. Let's have a look and see how big £11.42Bn really is.

This equates to £370 million pounds every day, or over £4000 every second. Yes, that's right. Every six seconds the country is more in debt to the tune of the Median UK salary. Hell, every 46 seconds we take out enough debt to pay for Gordon Brown for a year.

£11.42Bn could buy us at today's prices 473 tonnes of gold (approx 20% of the total global gold production last year)
We could buy near 240 million barrels of oil, or roughly 20 days worth of the entire Saudi Oil production.

Stocks and Shares
We could buy over a third of Tesco, or a controlling share in Unilever. Or the whole of Cadbury, BT or Rolls-Royce (and probably still have plenty of change left over to through a decent party).

Military Hardware
Well, it's one of my standard measures, so I'd best include it. £11.42Bn could buy us about 100 Chinook helicopters. It'd pay for a fleet of about 4 fully fitted out aircraft carriers. We could buy about ten Astute submarines.

With the current average house price, we could buy 57,100 of these, or enough to give one house to every two people in Cambridge.

Previous UK Debts
Just as a point of comparison, the debt in October 2008 was £130m. That was too much then, going up by nearly two orders of magnitude is utter insanity.
The amount we had to go cap-in-hand to the IMF for was £2.9Bn (in 1976 money). Now, unless my inflation estimates are way off, that's about £17Bn in current money.
Yes, that's right. Over the last two months Labour has borrowed much more money than we had to beg for last time they were in power.

Now here's a statement that you might find useful. Next year, when you're standing in the polling booth, every second that you spend making up your mind about where to put your cross, this government spends another £4000 of money the country doesn't have.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Labour PPB - Fighters and Believers - Depressing Messages

I've just seen the new Labour Party Political Broadcast (video below)

It's still got the ominous threat at the end.

It's still got Bevan and Bevin confused.
Lots of new shots of Brown with Children, Brown with Obama (x3), Brown with Mandela.

There's a whole new shot of a large TV screen by some banks, complete with the following messages - bought to you by this Labour Government:
Economy to slow this year despite rate cuts
Who fucked the economy? That's right - Labour.

Mortgage approvals slump to record lows
Who allowed asset prices to bubble helping to put us in the shit we're in? Labour again.

Bank's Sentance says weak pound aggravating inflation pressures

The pound has weakened about 20%, this is inflation we'll soon be importing. Under whose stewardship did this happen? Again it was Labour.

You'd think they'd at least remove these depressing messages from their own broadcasts!

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

UK troops die at nearly twice the rate of US troops

Just a quick thought:

  • UK Troops in Afghanistan - 9,500
  • US Troops in Afghanistan - 65,000
  • UK deaths to date - 234
  • US deaths to date- 920

I've assumed that both rotate troops into theatre at the same frequency and have been out there for the same time period (sure it's not exact, but it'll do).

The ratio between UK and US forces is 1:7 but the ratios of terminal casualties has been 1:4.

Does this seem right to you?

Merlins to Afghanistan

Whoops! Someone pranged one of our Merlins which we're sending (very slowly) out to Afghanistan. Full story here.

The one rule of Helicopter crashes, sorry "Hard Landings", is that you really really want the damn thing to stay upright. It looks like this fell over after hitting the ground, which is hardly ideal. Breaking both legs hardly sounds comfortable.

Still, good that our troops have been training hard in Hot, "High" and Dusty conditions and backs up this story nicely.

£43m has been spent in modifying these relatively new helicopters for the conditions in Afghanistan, including new blades. Well, this crash, sorry "Hard Landing", has blown one of those sets. Hope someone's got the insurance documents!

Still, you've got to be pleased that these are finally getting out to Afghanistan. Sure, this particular helicopter will take 8 weeks to be assembled in field (It might have been faster to just shift the Yeoville factory out there instead) and we're still only expecting six more airframes to go out there.

These 6 are an increase of 25% on the existing fleet, so using a combination of science and alchemy I can infer that there are currently 24 Helicopters in theatre, ranging from the few Chinooks we've got left that haven't been shot down (about 5) to a few Pumas and Sea Kings.

Excellent. Times have changed, we now have 30 helicopters in theatre, people have worked bloody hard to get this far (and I've got no doubt getting to this level has required superhuman performance on the part of everyone involved).

Another way of looking at this figure is to compare it to the total number of helicopters we own. Afterall, we can't be using all of them for training or Christmas Trees.

Well, according to the RAF, we have 48 Chinooks (of which 8 are the SAS versions and thus useless). Assuming we have written off the two we lost recently, we're still looking at 5 in theatre from a pool of 38. Do we really need to have 7 airframes sitting around somewhere just to keep 1 airframe useable?

We have 28 Merlins, 22 initial buy (which we seem to have lost somewhere) and 6 we bought recently off the Danish - does that number sound familiar to anyone?

Pumas: 33 in service vs. the few we've got out there.

The RAF actually has a pretty decently sized SH fleet. We should be able to provide a decent level of support to our men and women on the ground. However, we do not.

The reasons for this are almost certainly down to two factors. Training and Spare Parts. The first fuck-up lies firmly at the door of the service - they have focused on training pilots for FJ and not for the SH mission. The second is a clear symptom of the mismanagement at DE&S. We are unable to put this helicopters where they are because someone didn't negotiate the contract for support properly (Yes, I know they're flying more hours than expected, that just means whoever did the original estimate was a pillock).

This leads to the problem that everyone, including those at the MoD, has had to work to get this small number out to theatre with both hands tied behind their back. I'm impressed at the work done but seriously dismayed that it takes this much work to wind up a fleet of six airframes when we have over 100 available.

Monday, 16 November 2009

46% below average shocker!

I came across this story this morning. Just quoting the first two paragraphs gives us this gem:

"Many adults failed to discover their talents in the classroom because they were made to feel like failures at school, research suggested.
Almost half (46%) of adults said they were regarded as average or poor students, according to a poll of more than 2,000 people."

Well, it certainly shows that whoever put the findings of this survey together is clearly well into the bottom half of the population.

There's lots of other stats pulled from the research which are almost uniformly pointless. Take a gander at this little sequence (and bear in mind I'm pulling these off their press release)

"The findings show that of the 5% who said they were regarded as poor students, more than half (56%) ended up hating school, and feeling less confident (49%).
Half (53%) said they felt their school gave up on them, the survey found."

For one point, this shows that 41% of respondents thought they were considered to be average and more spectacularly that 54% of respondents thought that they were considered to be good. Far from discovering that people have been browbeaten at school, more than you would expect thought they were treated well.

Anyway, moving on from rubbishing the entire premise of the survey, lets look at that poor 5%. Half ended up hating school and half felt that their school gave up on them. Well, no shit! Unsurprisingly if a child is refusing to turn up from school, being generally unhelpful to the teachers, sooner or later their infinite patience will run dry.

Then at the bottom of the press release, we find the real reason behind all of this

"The poll was commissioned to mark the premiere of the new film We Are The People We've Been Waiting For.
The film, inspired by Lord Puttnam, looks at whether the current education system gives young people the opportunity to develop their talents properly."

Well, I'd bet that the film already knows what the results should be "Schools should make everyone feel like they are precious little flowers, so they can build their full potential". The research merely demonstrates that's pretty much bollocks.

Some people are thick, some children are little shits whose parents don't back up the teachers when they attempt to discipline them. Schools are a place of learning, if you are bad, or unable to do that, you're not going to enjoy it. Children should not be able to choose whether or not they "buy in" to the concept of schools. They are their to learn. Sometimes they should just shut the fuck up and get on with it (and that goes for the parents as well).

Friday, 13 November 2009

The Rules of Procurement

Well, this blog has been running for over a week now. It looks like my more defence-based posts are more popular than my politics rants. I'd like to say "Hi" to the people who've swung by from the MoD. Hope you don't know who I am!

Anyway, enough preamble. I've had a hunt around for an interesting Defence story today.

I found this story quite interesting. It's certainly a pretty damn clear example of how the UK isn't the only country that can't do procurement in a sensible manner.

This particular contract demonstrates lots of the age-old procurement problems, that affect all countries pretty much equally.

It shows how the cool, sexy stuff like new Ships, Fighter Jets and Missiles are fairly easy to procure. The boring, staid stuff that wins you wars like ISTAR, AAR and anything logistics based is mostly ignored and felt that it can be pushed to the right for as long as wanted. The US is using currently using Stratotankers. The last of these was delivered in 1965, making the youngest and shiniest of this fleet a mere 44 years old. Sure, they also fly a few of the bigger, newer (and presumably shinier) KC-10s, but these are nearly outnumbered 10-1 by the Stratotankers.

OK, so it's pretty clear that despite this being a pretty boring capability, it's increasingly becoming an urgently required piece of kit.

Most people reading this will probably know that this contract was already awarded back in 2008. The Northrop / Airbus system, offering lots of manufacturing done in the South of the US managed to fairly comprehensively beat the Boeing system, which offered lots of manufacturing in the North-West of the US.

Well, this throws up another universal law of procurement. You can't spend all your time thinking about which system is the best, you've got to weigh up the relevant work-share.

In this case there was another fun element. I'm sure you've already spotted the convenience of the timing of the last 'decision' and the relevant political leanings of the two areas chosen for each companies' work. Well, Boeing threw their toys out of the pram, The USAF responded (Screw You)in a surprisingly robust manner.

Rule: You can't rely on being based in the same country as the person making the decision, sometimes you'll be beaten by a cheaper foreign product.

Eventually the selection process was restarted. This was then stopped, by Gates, to give the incoming administration a chance to redesign the selection process however they wanted.

Another Rule: Politicians will always demand their say. They'll also make the whole process take too long and simultaneously be unable to make a decision.

Well, the contest has now been redesigned. The 800 requirements that existed before have been pared down. Now some aren't even mandatory. Whenever I wrote requirements, I made damn sure that you had to have a bloody good reason to bend any.

Let me pull a quote from that article: "Northrop has argued that the Air Force's decision to pare the requirements to 373 mandatory ones and 93 non-mandatory ones puts significant issues like the fuel offload rate for the airplanes on the same level with less serious issues like the water flow rate in on-board toilets."

We're now back exactly where we were earlier. Before Boeing were bitching about the USAF picking the bigger plane, now the other side are bitching about their strengths being ignored (at the same time I'm also ignoring the amusing story about how the USAF were basically expecting Boeing to offer a 777 derivative, rather than try and use this deal to keep the 767 production line open. Fuck me, by the time this is finished, we'll have 787 derivatives on offer!)

Rule: Stupidity is not confined to the Military

Sure, it would be fun to point and laugh at the Americans. Normally the saying goes "Fast, Cheap, Capable: Pick Two". However, as they've taken so much time to make this decision (and no doubt pissing more money up the wall in the process) they'll manage to get into a situation where they don't hit any of those basic points.

But there's no point laughing. Are our people and processes really any better?

Thursday, 12 November 2009

MoD PR and Mrs Bercow

I read this heartwarming story earlier, confirming how the government and the MoD are finally sorting out the endemic accommodation issues that plague the Armed Forces.

I particularly liked this quote from Trainee Logistician William Boyes

"It's quieter at night because you don't have the constant snoring of other people and we no longer have 24 people fighting for four washing machines, because there is one per eight."

Well, I can deal with some 17 year old kid making a fuck-up like that. But is someone being paid to push out pointless PR fluff like this and not being able to spot that 1 washing machine for 6 people is less people per machine than 1 washing machine for 8 people.

Ye gods!

In other news Mrs Bercow is standing as a Labour MP at the next election. That's a fucking surprise. The only reason he was selected was to piss off the Tories before they got in, as he was clearly sliding left as far as his wife could take him. Sure the rules say he has to be impartial and say nothing about his wife. I wonder how well the Public sector would take things if the female CEO of Goldman Sachs was married to the head of the FSA?

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

What the Tories should do about defence

OK, bear with me please. This is probably going to be a long post. The Tories sound like they have some good ideas about most of the difficulties they are going to inherit (such as new thoughts on the benefits structure, culling quangos, cutting the deficit). However, I've not heard much that's solid about defence. Sure, we've heard that they're willing to make cuts and that there will be a Strategic Defence Review (SDR) soon, but those are hardly solid policies.

Lets work out what the problems are.
  1. The Defence Budget is screwed. The Equipment plan is running far too hot (though it has been for some time).
  2. We've got the best part of 10,000 troops in Afghanistan. These guys are doing an incredibly difficult job and the lack of equipment suited for their task in that environment is getting them killed.
  3. The Royal Navy's size has been slashed since 1997, we've lost a third of our surface and subsurface combatants.
  4. The RAF haven't suffered as badly (to their eyes), losing ~1/5 of their fixed wing aircraft and gaining the important but catastrophically expensive Typhoon.
However, the one problem that over-rides all of these is that there is no money in the pot for defence. The Tories have committed to sustaining the NHS budget (which doubled under Labour. Can I have a show of hands of those who think the service is now twice as better as it was in 1997? No-one?! Strange that...) and more importantly, the country's balance sheet is fucked. We can't simply throw more money at Defence. And we can't even blame Labour for all of the cuts. Defence spending as a proportion of GDP fell mostly under the Tories (Of course, we can blame Labour for the shrinking GDP, but that's another story).

Let's try and envisage a near ideal world. Where everyone has almost everything they want. Well, who wants what?

  • The army want lots of soldiers, with plenty of support (helicopters, artillery, decent MRAPs to get them around, CAS)
  • The RN want their two nice shiny carriers. They should also want enough planes to fly off them and enough escorts to both keep the carriers safe and being doing something else useful. (Admittedly, they don't care about the last two but I'm going to assume they stop caring about the carriers to the exclusion of all else)
  • The RAF want lots of shiny fast aeroplanes they can use to show off to girls. They should also want a decent air-to-air refueling capability, plenty of logistics aircraft (C130s and up)
  • The MoD wants a nice big civilian staff so the PPS at the top can feel like he's got more power
  • Other things that would sure be useful: C4ISTAR in whatever form bloody works, Some form of nuclear deterrent (that actually does what it's supposed to), decent training budgets and enough fuel to keep everything running
Clearly not all of these can happen.

Right, I'm expecting someone reading this to say something along the lines of "But you've got to wait for the SDR, then we'll know what we need to do and we'll cut our cloth accordingly".

Well, to whoever said that, "Hi, Welcome to the blog, don't be daft"

SDRs are always a bottom up viewpoint. We decide what we can do, then lots of staff officers go ahead and work out scenarios that mean we've got exactly what we need. There's usually some cool stuff like "Go to a small island somewhere, drop off lots of troops and have plenty of aircover" but most of it will be wishywashy bollocks like "We want our armed forces to be a power for peace in the World and for flowers to grow wherever they go".

Basically, SDRs manage to be both bollocks and to push for just enough capability to do full scale expeditionary warfare from the sea.

At the moment, we have two schools of thought. One says that the Army should come first (afterall, they're the ones dying at the moment) and we should equip our armed forces for dusty places where ill-equipped men with beards are trying to kill us. The other says that we shouldn't plan for the "Last War" and should be building the best damn hi-tech equipment possible, just in case war starts with China. The SDR is more likely to lean towards this view-point than the former. Grunts just aren't sexy enough to get politicians excited.

Clearly both of these views are bollocks. Hopefully round about now, you're starting to realise why this is going to be a long piece. Pretty much every view on defence directly opposes another view. No-one can ever agree so nothing gets done. The three services bite and scratch each other for a slightly larger part of the ever-shrinking pie.

Hopefully the Tories will be smart (and strong) enough to be able to politically force the services to play nice together. In fact, my first recommendation would be to pick people for CAS, CNS, CGS and CDS who can work with the other services to a useful degree. It's entertaining that the military will need the Tories help to stop them getting shafted by the politicians but they've shown absolutely no capability to do it themselves. It doesn't actually matter which service does what, as long as the country has the capability it needs.

OK, we're going to need some money to play with. We're not going to be able to implement the suggestions in the Gray report without some cash and the equipment plan could do with an insertion of money now to stop everything else dying.

I'm actually with the Tories on this one, start by culling the civilian parts of the MoD. There's no way nearly 100,000 civvies are required to do those roles. Of course, this will require a strong and ballsy PPS, so good luck. However, this is not just doable, it's essential. To paraphrase someone famous "A Penny spent on defence that doesn't support the RAF, Royal Navy and The Army is a penny wasted". There is a hell of a lot being wasted in Main Building and elsewhere. Only one man has shown any chance of being even moderately capable in this field. Get Drayson in.

OK, hopefully we've now cut the civilian MoD down by about 25+%. Well, might as well share the pain. Redesign the promotional ranks in the services. We have far too many senior officers doing fuck all. We don't need to move all the way back to One Admiral per Fleet, but we currently have more Admirals than we have warships. I'm sure the case is the same in the Army and RAF. Dangle them a carrot - The Tories will sort out DE&S in exchange for serious cuts in senior ranks.

Excellent, we've now got some money to play with. Nowhere near enough to fix the equipment plan, of course, but perhaps enough to start making some decisions.

Trident replacement: I don't believe that a nuclear deterrent can work if it can be easily removed. However, I do believe a deterrent is essential. The arguments for Trident replacement usually include a few comments about keeping Submarine production in the UK (absolutely right, it's bloody hard to pick up skills once lost) and the general need for us to keep it to stay at the top table in the UN security council.

However, the costs bandied around for a full fleet of 3-4 Vanguard replacements (I don't like the idea of dropping below four due to the whole "whoops, we didn't have a boat at sea when they started threatening us") are pretty damn high. The obvious response has been to pack a small nuke warhead (we'll pick one off the yanks) into Storm Shadow and hope we've got a friendly airbase within a sensible distance of anyone we want to be able to deter. That clearly works, but not for an actual deterrent, making the exercise pointless.

It'd be cheaper to continue building more Asutes. We've cut the numbers of those anyway. We can build a larger fleet, continue not telling anyone where they are, buy a nuclearised Scalp-Navale / Tomahawk block IV and stick them on Asute. This can cut down on warhead numbers (for proliferation reasons) and save a bunch of cash. Whilst I'm aware that sticking a Scalp-Navale silo into an Asute would be tricky, these boats are modular, just build and stick an extra section in. All the benefits, lower costs.

Carriers - build both. We've already signed the contract and it'll keep the Scots and the Navy happy. Stick Sea Viper on them to give them both an ability to defend themselves without requiring half the fleet each. Look at buying some dirt cheap modular vessels like the Absalon class (~$250m each).

F35 - this is a tricky one, we've just announced we're only going to buy half the original order. I'd be tempted to cancel it entirely (aside from the three for evaluation, which we have to buy) and look at how much it'll cost to stick a steam generator into the Carriers. Then build some decent cats and buy an off-the-shelf naval AWACS plane. We all know the carriers will be ready before the F35 anyway, so put a note that you're going to buy those things at some point in the future (we're looking at least five years out before these damn things even float). Stick some Harriers on the carriers in the meantime and use them as somewhat sophisticated LHDs until we can afford cats and decent naval aircraft.

Ditch the A400M. It's pants, it's behind schedule and half of the reason for it was to carry FRES. Which is dead. And before it died was way to heavy to fit in anyway.

Somehow the C17 line is still running, offer to take a few of these off the Americans' hands. Haggle like crazy on the price (yes, Buy not Lease) and see if you can persuade them this is economic stimulus. Do not let the RAF change anything about them. They do not need to be anglofied, they work perfectly well in American trim.

Look at buying some more C130s. Don't let the RAF meddle in the design again.

Actually, have that as a new rule - No fucking meddling with designs. Plan it, design it, then build it. No constantly going back over the design over the years ahead driving costs up farther and farther. We all know why it happens. Some smart, ambitious, young officer turns up at DE&S. (S)He wants to make a name for himself. No-one will care if (s)he helps trim 1% off the cost of her/his project. (S)He's only there two/three years, there's no incentive to deliver anything in that time. But, if he can find a 'problem' with the specification as it stands.. (S)He can then be known as "That guy who figured out that our new MBT needed a GPMG pointing at 90 degrees to the main gun, to stop people flanking". Each of these adds up. The cost spirals, the 'problems' and 'needs' gets ever more ridiculous and someone dies because their piece of kit was delayed.

Fix DE&S. This should have been made abundantly clear earlier. Get some smart guys together (Drayson and his team?), give them incredible powers, cut the incredible amount of deadwood in that organisation. Ditch the siloing. If you're buying something, you have to go along and chat to the chap in charge of those sorts of things. He'll look at what we've already got, whether we can get most of what we need with that, what the other options are and how that will affect everyone else.

If it helps, make being a Procurement Officer a viable and worthwhile career for the military. Don't let them piss off after 2 years. Their name has to be permanently attached to that bit of kit.

Don't fall for PFI again. Airtanker was bloody stupid. We want tankers, so how about buying however many we need from the American procurement that's going on now. No matter how bad it is, it can't be worse than the Airtanker contract.

C4ISTAR is actually a pretty tricky one. Ditch MR4A, unless we can get a few more airframes for essentially nothing. Lots of UCAVs would be nice, but they all need Satcoms, which we barely have, despite our new shiny comsats up there. Taranis will be nice but is a long way out and doesn't quite fit the bill either. I'd basically suggest going cap in hand to the yanks and sticking a few more onto their production runs of Pred B or C. These aren't cheap, but they are bloody useful, at least when we're having to check the one road running from our FOB.

Basically, if there's one thing you can take from this: It is possible to keep our Defence capability without spending more. We just need to cut the bits which aren't working and focus on improving how we buy our kit.

Apologies for the length of this - I hope you're still reading and have had some good ideas as a result. I've presented this as a fait acompli of what should be done. In reality, it's no such thing. I just hope it can provide a bloody good start of what the Tories should be thinking about now. Let me know what you think!

Monday, 9 November 2009

How to bring up your kids

I've been having a quick flick through this (pdf) this morning, after being listening to a somewhat unusual event on the Today programme this morning.

The smooth talking chap and the strident angry woman (How is it that they always seem to have the same two people on no matter what the problem is?) were both agreeing with each other!

Whatever it was they were talking about must have been so fundamentally obvious that even these two diametrically opposed views were perfectly capable of agreeing. This had a chance of being interesting.

Part of this is due to the entertaining media coverage around this report (BBC: Tough love 'is good for children'. Guardian: How tough love breeds smart children). A habit of mine is to read the report and see if there are any interesting outcomes that don't make the media.

There's a nice graph (page 39) showing that the children bought up by their natural parents, who are married are twice as likely to be in the top quintile for "Child Outcomes" than those who have single parents. Amazingly (particularly with a sample size of 9,000 families, which means we can discount that as a reason) this ratio is even higher when comparing to married, step couples. There's a fun one conclusion from that - Divorce is bad for your kids, even worse is to shack up with someone else.

(Though it's worth noting, if you do get remarried, your kids are slightly less likely to end up in the bottom quintile. Swings and Roundabouts, right?)

I originally started this piece with the intention of either going on a lovely rant about how the media spin the results of serious research or how serious research is often mind-numbingly obvious and utterly pointless.

Well, I'm not going to do either of those. Sure the media have over simplified the report but they are journos afterall, and the report does seem to be obvious to anyone.

However, research like this is useful. It does serve a purpose. In a world of "Science backed Policy" (OK, OK, this lot are bad at it, but hopefully the next lot will be better!) we need evidence like this before we can make some decent policy.

This report makes two essential points.

  1. Bad Parents fuck up kids.
  2. Good Parenting is more important than wodges of cash, though the two are often correlated

Maybe people just shouldn't be allowed to breed until they're mentally, physically and economically capable of dealing with it?

Friday, 6 November 2009

Quote from CEO of RBS

The CEO of RBS just said on the Today programme something along the lines of:

"My job is to make sure that the government gets a return on its investment, think how many schools or hospitals we can buy then."

Or, you know we could just have spent the money on building schools and hospitals in the first bloody place and not pissed billions up the wall propping up an incompetent Scottish bank!

Thursday, 5 November 2009

QE: The Great White Hope

When QE kicked off, I remember that it was described as risky, noone knew whether it would work, but it was only £75Bn (1-2 entire Trident replacement programmes).

Today the BoW MPC has voted to increase QE to £200Bn (source). An increase of £25Bn (a mere 188 Chinooks then).

QE doesn't seem to be doing anything directly to help the economy. We're looking at at >3% fall in the GDP since it started. It doesn't seem to be doing anything to help the flow of credit (the vast majority seems to be locked into banks as capital). So why the hell are we extending it?

Well, every minute we're another £340k in debt.

Let me just check that figure, surely I've made a mistake in my calculations? Record borrowing in Sept was £14.8Bn (3 Aircraft Carriers). That's nearly £500m every single day. Fuck me!

That debt is going to be bloody expensive to pay off, even with our current AAA rating. If our rating falls, it'll get more expensive for us to get into debt. At the moment it's like we're borrowing on our authorised overdraft, if the rating falls, it'll be like borrowing off a credit card.

Up to now, the vast majority of QE has been spent buying government debt / gilts (I hear figures of 2% is spent on commercial paper, the rest UK gilts).

If the government are unable to sell their gilts, they'll have to expect their rating to fall. One of the mysteries of the last few months has been how we've managed to maintain a AAA rating when ramping debt up like a terminal cancer victim.

Simples. The BoE buys the debt, leaving a much smaller pie that has to be sold to real people. There's plenty of demand for the bits that are left, our debt rating stays high and the government can continue getting us into hock for the next three generations.

We're going to be completely fucked when the wheels come off. Bring on the election!

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Brown responds to the resign petition

I've been waiting for two weeks now for the Prime Minister to respond to this petition on the number 10 website.

I assumed that because it had been the largest open petition for some time and the 10th largest of all time there would be a well thought out and rounded response.

Well, we've now got a response. What could possibly have taken two weeks to create?

"The Prime Minister is completely focussed [sic - 2 weeks and no spell check?] on restoring the economy, getting people back to work and improving standards in public services. As the Prime Minister has consistently said, he is determined to build a stronger, fairer, better Britain for all." from here.

Are they fucking serious? Since this petition was created (22nd May I think) the following things have happened:

GDP has fallen by 3.5% - so much for 'restoring the economy'.
Unemployment has increased by 650 thousand - getting people back to work?! I'll agree that there is some increase of the public sector, but this can't seriously be the game-plan.

I'll agree with the sentiment that we want a 'stronger, fairer and better Britain'. If this was really what Brown wanted, rather than clinging to power with his fingernails, he should bloody resign. Like we asked him to six months ago.

House Prices - wtf?

Another week, another story about how house prices are rising once more. Disaster has been averted! We can all go out and spend the free money that's being built up in our property! Recession over!

Wait a minute, as I remember, when prices started falling, this was a correction that would return the prices to historic levels. Now the prices are going up, everyone seems to have assumed this has happened.

I decided to pull some data (admittedly from Nationwide, rather than the Halifax quoted in the story above) and see what the situation looked like.

This first graph shows the Nationwide Affordability index over the past 16 years. I've shown the figures for UK and London (which is probably a special case, possibly due to all the MPs owning the most expensive properties they can get us to pay for).

We can see pretty clearly that during the mid-90s the market corrected down to an index of 40/50 (It's also interesting that it's only since this time that the London market has had an index of roughly 10 more than the UK as a whole). This data only goes up to Q2 2009 but you can see where the market has started to turn. This looks pretty close to the long term average (which includes two peaks, and only one dip, but I couldn't be arsed to correct for that). Perhaps the market has managed to perfectly hit this average and will stay there forever. Boom and Bust abolished! I'm sure I've heard that before somewhere.

I would argue that in a rational world (and don't worry, I'm under no pretence we're in one of those!) that house prices need to fall a long way further. And if the previous graph didn't convince you, check this one out comparing the price paid by first-time buyers to their income.

This leads me to ask: Why are house prices rising?

The obvious explanation is to look at the FTSE 100 and assume that both are pricing in future inflation and a falling Sterling.
Whilst I'd agree that this is rational for the FTSE 100 and I can see the logic in pricing in future growth into current house prices, I can't see any avenues to future growth for house prices.

There will be a nasty day ahead when the BoE base rate rises. This will drive up the cost of mortgage payments (remember, BoE base rate was about 5% before all of the recent unpleasantness). Unemployment is and will continue to rise for some time and these people will be unable to afford this rise in their mortgage payments. More defaulted mortgages (which will piss off the banks, but they should have enough of our money to cover themselves now) and more houses on the market at increasingly fire-sale prices.
There is pain ahead in the housing market that will make the last two years look like a trip to the Seychelles. The depressing thing is that I'm pretty sure that this will be the least of our problems.
Time to start stocking up on canned food?

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Bank Bailout MkII

I'm continually amazed by the size of the bank bailout and how easily these massive sums of money have passed everyone by.

This link shows that the government has decided to dump another £39.2Bn into a couple of banks. That is a seriously staggering amount of money!

One of my pet habits is referring to large sums of government money in terms of things that are simpler to understand, such as Chinook helicopters, which are desperately needed by our troops in the sandpit. Looking at the recent Canadian deal, they were able to procure 15
brand new Chinooks (including 20+ years of support and maintenance) for $3.4Bn. We could have bought (and supported) 300 heavy lift helicopters for the 'price' of this single bank-bailout. (OK, OK, add on pilot and training costs and you're probably down to 100, but this would be a capability equivalent to anyone in the world).

I remember Brown standing up in the HoC talking about how the number of helicopters has increased by 60% in recent months. This was an increase of Chinooks from 5 to 8. Of this 8, 2 have been shot down recently, putting us nearly back where we started.

I understand fully the need for a liquid and sustainable banking sector, really I do. However, when Brown claims there is nothing more that can be done to help our troops, he has to be lying.

"A penny spent on defence is a penny wasted" - Gordon Brown

Time to put my money where my tusks are...

I have become an extremely angry walrus over the past few years. I've seen the same question come up time and time again across the various tubes of the interweb:

"Why is it that this country just seems to be shit at the moment?"

Well, I'm setting up this blog to try and do two things.

  1. Highlight the areas that I feel are particularly leading the country into the shit.
  2. Suggest what should be done differently.
If you're reading this, feel free to comment. I'm just one humble walrus, I have a feeling the country is so fucked we're going to need a lot of good ideas how to fix it again.