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This is a super important topic and one that is really crucial to address. I am amazed that the MOD doesn’t read its history books and see fit to get its act together on this. Otherwise the Enemy could steam up the channel with impunity to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Channel dash of the German battle cruisers in 1942.
To forget history is to see it repeated.

Jag Patel

In considering the available options on how to fill the capability gap identified in this article, it is as well to bear in mind the Government’s latest thinking on defence procurement.

The Government has recently revised its defence procurement policy to consider buying, as its first and foremost priority, new military equipment for the Armed Forces which automatically falls in the off-the-shelf category – specifically because an off-the-shelf equipment is a fully engineered and supported technical solution which satisfies the key user requirements at no additional cost or risk to the Exchequer, that is to say, it does not require any user-specified modifications or related development work laden with risk to be performed upon it.

The reason, which it will not admit to in public, why the Government has moved away from its long-standing procurement policy of buying equipment designed to a tailored technical specification requirement set by the military customer is because, it is no longer confident in the ability of its own people to identify, manage and control technical risks inherent in a starting-point for the technical solution that requires development work to be performed upon it – which has been the cause of persistent delays and cost overruns on equipment acquisition programmes for as long anyone can remember.

This disastrous situation has come about because it does not possess the capability in the form of intelligent and experienced procurement officials who have an adequate understanding of what it takes (in terms of skill types, funding, tools, processes, materials, scheduled work plan, inter-business contractual agreements etc.) to advance an immature technical solution from its existing condition, to a point where it will satisfy the technical specification requirement, within a Private Sector setting driven by the profit motive. Consequently, they are unable to discriminate between the truth and blatant lies propagated by Contractors. The harsh reality is that these people have no business acumen – on account of not having spent a single day of their lives in the Private Sector.

Nor is the existing defence procurement process (which has evolved over the years) conducive towards delivering equipment to the Armed Forces which is fit for purpose, adequately sustained in-service and constitutes value for money through-life, because it has been tampered with by Defence Contractors (most notably the Select Few) who have skewed it decisively in their favour, at every turn.

The Government’s considered assessment is that it is unlikely to accumulate an in-house capability of the desired quality and numbers anytime soon, certainly not in the foreseeable future. It has also been realistic and concluded that it is nigh on impossible to reconstitute the existing, flawed procurement process alongside the tough 2015 Spending Review commitments to be fulfilled in this Parliament, further complicated by the Brexit vote – hence its preference for the off-the-shelf option.

Ironically, one of the most spectacular benefits to be derived from buying off-the-shelf equipment is that the leadership at MoD will be freed from its burdensome responsibility of having to upskill its existing procurement staff to a level comparable with that exhibited by counterparts in industry, because this type of acquisition is relatively straightforward and can even be undertaken by mediocre post holders – not least, because it is devoid of any hidden financial, technical or schedule risks.

If anyone has any doubt about the determination of this Government to press ahead with considering the off-the-shelf solution as its first option, then they should look no further than its decision to buy the standard Boeing P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft to plug the capability gap left behind by the cancellation of Nimrod MRA4. Settling on the choice of the P-8A Poseidon means that these aircraft cannot be refuelled in-flight by the RAF’s Voyager tanker planes to extend their range and endurance on-station, because the former are fitted with the flying-boom receptacle whereas the latter are equipped with the probe-and-drogue system – making them entirely incompatible. The Government has taken a lot of flak from informed commentators and endured negative publicity in the press and media for this serious operational deficiency – nevertheless, it has decided to go ahead with the purchase.

Whereas the Government would want to look at indigenous suppliers as the first port of call for entirely good reasons, the undeniable fact of the matter is that, after decades of unwavering support lavished upon them by political parties of all persuasions, none of the them are able to offer suitable off-the-shelf equipment because they simply haven’t got any – not least, because they have not been innovating at all, and have consequently become seriously uncompetitive, both in the domestic market as well as in export markets.

So what impact does this policy shift have on Defence Contractors’ business prospects in the years ahead?

UK-based military equipment manufacturers who do not possess desirable off-the-shelf equipment and are in the business of developing & building weapons platforms, are most likely to be adversely affected by this adjustment in defence procurement policy. To counter haemorrhaging their domestic market share to similarly positioned players from the US and elsewhere, UK-based Defence Contractors have little choice but to increase their competitiveness significantly, by first selling their products in the international marketplace – on price, superior technical performance, timely delivery & without bribing public officials via intermediaries – and then re-entering the domestic market with fully developed products rebranded as off-the-shelf offerings, to satisfy UK Government needs, just as the Americans have done.

It is believed that some 20 percent of the equipment procurement budget is currently being spent on buying off-the-shelf equipment. This slice is only set to increase, as more and more projects which involve significant development work are side-lined in favour of off-the-shelf purchases.
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Nail hit.

The treasury can’t have any confidence in the MoD’s abilities after decades of bungling, hence it appears that they are looking to circumvent them.

Take the Treasury lead Parker’s report. Rather than being embraced it was downgraded to an independent report, published late and no doubt being buried as we speak.

Meanwhile Bae Systems shelve plans to upgrade the capabilities of their Clyde yards.

Whatever clusterf*** emerges we can only be guaranteed of one thing, namely that no-one will be held responsible.

Chris Jones

Thanks for the informed reply, an interesting read.

I may be showing some naivety here but with regards the P8, how hard would it be to retrofit the appropriate refuelling equipment once they arrive in the UK. As an engineer it seems to my mind that it shouldn’t prove too difficult to accomplish, but maybe I’m being foolishly optimistic here?

Graeme Chidgey

The money would be better spent just adding booms to the voyagers, that way we can refuel the C-17s and Rivet Joint aswell as p-8.

Chris Jones

Interesting point Graeme, I hadn’t thought of those two. Your option would seem to make more sense!


it would be possible to integrate the missile Lockheed in Sylver vertical launch system?

Lars Larsen

Possible in theory, but not in practice as it’s a rather costly affair. LRASM is planned to eventually come with a canister launch option that can be mounted where the harpoon canisters was /are located on the T-45s


Also do we really want to eat into the limited number of launch tubes available on the Type 45? 48 tubes was ok when we expected to get 12 of them, but seems a bit restricted when we only have 6.

David Billinge

One should also be aware that when the F-35B enters service and reaches IOC they will only have ASRAAM and AMRAAM capability along with the availability to drop Paveway which will mean the ultra expensive F-35 will be within hostile SAM environment The are serious issues here that need addressing also after the end of next month the Lynx will have been retired the Lynx is currently the only platform of delivering Sea Skua Sea Benom and Martlet are not due to reach IOC until 2020. A. See not only for retaining Tornados and the Lynx. Was it not 12 & 617 who ran Maritime Strike after Looseimouth


They’ve got to start with something! The last time I checked F-35B is planned to receive a penetration version of Paveway IV, Meteor and SPEAR 3 during the course of Block 4. SPEAR 3 will probably have an inherent anti-ship capability, though the warhead is smaller than ideal the ability to launch 8 of them from the internal bays will go some way to make up for that.


It is a sad fact that such a discussion is actually needed here. What are our politicians doing? Defence of the UK is at the heart of this topic, and they can offer no reassurance that this gap is being covered.
The LRASM is a no-brainer.

Bloke down the pub

Would the Spear 4 modifications to Storm Shadow be enough to give it an anti-ship capability?


To my way of thinking it isn’t surprising that the fixed wing Maritime strike capability is in disarray. I believe maritime deserves specialization. I can’t fully understand why UK continues its unique tradition of splitting the responsibility between the Fleet Air Arm and RAF. It took the whole of WW2 to fix the shambles of Maritime at very considerable cost in lives. Why do we find ourselves in the same situation today?
It’s not good enough and will never be sorted until the Navy controls the Maritime. UK sits in the middle of the sea with overseas responsibilities, yet twice the UK has got it wrong.


The article was interesting and making some good points but to be brutally honest went off the rails into fantasy land when you suggested integrating LRASM onto the Tornado GR4, extending the types service life and getting the RN to financially support extending the GR4 service life!

What planet are you on, sorry to sound blunt but that is CRAZY!

Firstly the RAF no-longer trains WSO for GR4, they have just closed the OCU for the type and the aircraft is rapidly approaching OSD. The MOD, RAF and RN are not going to waste money on prolonging its service life when there are more pressing draws on the budget like inducting the F-35B, P-8a, upgrading Typhoon, getting the QE class into service and building Type-26/31!

The reality is this is a calculated risk, a capability gap that can be easily filled, other countries are paying to integrate anti ship missiles onto F-35B, P-8a and by the looks of it Typhoon. That means we can save the money and if a crisis comes up where we need the capability a quick UOR, hardware purchase, Software drop and accelerated trials program away from having a missile to deploy on those aircraft!

Putting an Anti Ship missile is not by any measure smart procurement….

If there is spare money (and there isn’t) it is better spent putting a boom on Voyager, getting CEC into the fleet and maybe even an MV-22 purchase but not keeping GR4 going to provide a capability that can be easily filled in an emergency via UOR!

Sorry tough love but it had to be said!

David Stephen

That’s not how UOR is supposed to work. If it was then we could just build aircraft or ship shells and fill then via UOR with whatever was needed at the time. The option of UOR is for when a circumstance arises that the service concerned could not see coming. Since the RN can quite clearly see the need but have decided to gap the cabability in favour of spending the funds elsewhere it would be disingenuous at best and an abuse of the system and taxpayer to operate this way. You are correct on GR4 there is little life left and money could be better used as you suggest but CEC is not going to happen. The costs involved are just too much. At around £50 million per ship you are talking £800 million to equip the two CVFs and 14 destroyers/frigates and that’s just the hardware. We would need some sort of test programme to properly integrate the system properly. An osprey purchase would be the best option operationally. A purchase would only need to be ten or twelve aircraft to allow refuelling of F35B and COD on the carriers and a small trading OCU flight but again cost would seem to be a problem. The V-22 costs anywhere from £30 million to £50 million a pop (depending on your source) so a dozen could cost between £500 to £700 million, then you need a new trading pipeline and spares. All things considered the best use of what little money we have is probably best used to fix the refuelling issue and or add the 16 MK41 vls to the Type 45s while they are having the engine fix applied.


It looks like our NAVY is now no more than a waste of money, as it has no real strike capability of any kind other than nuclear, and that is doubtful unless the USA also agrees.
How did we get into such a mess!
Looks like we might as well scrap the lot, and be like Switzerland.


How about upgrading all the HAWKs in our inventory and using a squadron or two for QRA, MARITIME etc
Giving them the latest Anti ship missile and BVR Air to Air missile at time of standing up.
This would also take pressure of the Typhoon Sqns