Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Our Army needs support, but it needs the RIGHT support

Writing in today's Telegraph, Jan Moir has her say on the state of our armed forces.

For some reason she decides that it makes sense to start her piece by lambasting the one part of the establishment which shows unerring support for the soldiers, sailors and airmen of our armed forces - royalty.

It was rather unfortunate that, on the day that five British soldiers were repatriated from Afghanistan in five wooden boxes, the country's most famous military recruit was prancing around Windsor Castle with plumes of heron and ostrich feathers on his head. It was hardly Lieutenant Wales's fault that he was made Most Noble Order of the Garter at this bleak juncture in our ongoing war with the Taliban.

Why should that be important? I don't know - maybe Ms Moir is a republican and just can't resist a bit of royal bashing at every opportunity, but the simple fact is that more members of the House of Windsor have fought in recent conflicts than members of the House of Commons. Moir rabbits on ....

Neither can he be blamed for his brother and his girlfriend's guffawing indiscretion at his flowing velvet robes or the sight of his granny buckling a garter on to his leg. It was nobody's finest hour. Yet this is Britain, after all. Weird, ancient rituals attended by ermine-clad croakers wearing rows of paste medals is what we do best. As a nation, we excel at the ceremonial. It is the nuts and bolts of khaki reality that causes us so much trouble.

It's true that we do excel at the ceremonial, but it is also true that we excel at the "nuts and bolts of khaki" too. When it comes to soldiering our soldiers are up there with the best - what they are not so good at is playing at social workers with a posse of human rights lawyers sitting on their shoulders like vultures waiting to pounce on the slightest indiscretion.

Anyway - having vented her spleen at our monarchy, Ms Moir appears mystified as to why our armed forces actually seem to like the royals.

Of course, few in the Armed Forces would or could object to this long-planned display of pomp. The general feeling within the ranks seems to be one of watery affection towards the Royal Family, who have always shown support, respect and understanding where the military is concerned.

She is right - few in the armed forces do object to the pomp and ceremony. Actually, most of them rather enjoy it. And the affection is far from watery - it tends to be genuine and sincere, born out of a love for country, tradition and British history. Concepts which progressives and republicans have a hard time getting a handle on.

Moir then gets to the crux of her issue.

After 10 years of Labour neglect, Gordon Brown is making all the right noises about the parlous state of our troops, both on and off the battlefield.

Oh really? For starters, the neglect of our troops goes back a lot longer than 10 years - but the idea that Brown is "making the right noises" is utterly ludicrous. Of course he is! He is a politician. It is what he does - he goes to the various "groups" and makes the right noises - whether it be Moslems in Bradford, single mothers in Cardiff or Middle England in Sevenoaks. That is what politicians do! If Ms Moir hasn't grasped that yet then one wonders quite why she is writing about politics.

Ms Moir also indulges in a spot of the world's favourite pastime - Bush bashing.

Brown, and particularly Bush, are past masters at parachuting themselves into war zones - not literally, of course - to pose for macho photographs with troops. Yet ask them to visit the military wards at Selly Oak hospital in Birmingham, or the American equivalent, and their response will be rather more muted.

Oh really? I guess she missed this. Or this. That's the thing with Bush baters - they never let facts get in the way of an opportunity to slate the current CinC of the US Armed Forces.

Moir then focuses the rest of her piece on how our injured soldiers are treated. She is right in as much as it is appalling - but it goes back a lot further than 10 years.

If our politicians were truly serious about doing something for our troops then they would be funding them appropriately and learning the lessons of our wars in Iraq and, particularly Afghanistan.

In particular the lessons learned about equipment, tactics and weapons. Why, for example, after seven years of war in Afghanistan, are our troops still short of IED/mine resistant patrol vehicles? Where are the medevac helicopters? What about close air support? (We rely heavily on the US to provide that and then moan at them when they make a mistake that ends in a friendly fire incident).

If Brown was serious about our armed forces then we'd be cancelling our Typhoon orders (average unit cost $122 million) and equipping our squadrons with A10 Thunderbolts (average unit cost $12 million). The biggest aerial threat we face is some loony trying to fly an Airbus into Canary wharf and we could don't need a Mach 2, state of the art, fly by wire, dogfight capable interceptor to deal with that.

What we do need are cheap, rugged, aircraft that can provide close air support to our troops on the battlefield with a high loiter and high survivability capability. It's not new. We learned the very same thing during WW2 where - once the Luftwaffe was all but eliminated - the value of the close air support aircraft was realised.

Our current enemies don't have an air force worthy of the name. Right now the RAF would be more use to the Army if they were equipped with the original Typhoon not the latest version.

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