Friday, May 20, 2011

Report by the NAO on MOD Armoured Vehicle Procurement

The National Audit Office (NAO) has produced a report (20th May 2011) on The Cost Effective Delivery of Armoured Vehicle Capability. The NAO press release although couched in unemotional language, is damning of the Ministry of Defence (MOD) standard procurement process for Armoured Vehicles.
This is the key part of the Press Release dealing with the Standard Procurement Process:

The suspension and cancellation of a number of key armoured vehicle projects since the 1998 defence review has resulted in the Armed Forces facing a significant shortage in the principal armoured vehicles they require, until at least 2024-2025.

Today's National Audit Office report found that the Department's standard acquisition process has been undermined by a combination of over-ambitious requirements and unstable financial planning. Despite the commitment of considerable resources, since 1998, the MOD has received only a fraction of the armoured vehicles it has set out to buy through its standard acquisition process.

The Department's reluctance to compromise in setting technologically demanding requirements under its standard acquisition process has put the timely and cost-effective delivery of the equipment at risk. Unwieldy procurement processes have not coped well with rapid changes to equipment requirements in the light of operational experience, resulting in a number of armoured vehicle projects being delayed or abandoned.

Armoured Vehicle projects have also suffered from unstable budgets and continual changes to financial plans. As the NAO reported in its Strategic Financial Management of the Defence Budget report, the cycle of unrealistic planning followed by cost overruns has led to a need to find additional short-term savings on a regular basis. Spending to date includes £321 million on cancelled or suspended projects and a further £397 million funding on-going, but delayed, projects. Without significant additional investment sustained over time, the Department will have a shortfall in the armoured vehicles it says it needs until at least 2024-2025.

I am reminded of some of the comments and conclusions of the Review of Acquisition for the Secretary of State for Defence by Bernard Gray on the 15th October 2009 - For those without the time to read through the near 300 Page report should check out some of the other links on the MOD - Review of Acquisition Page.

Returning to the new NAO Report, it does have some 'nicer' things to say about the MOD's handling of Urgent Operational Requirements:

To address shortfalls in equipment for current operations, such as in Afghanistan, the Department has placed greater reliance on the Urgent Operational Requirements (UORs) since 2003, at an additional cost of £2.8 billion. This has been more successful and has significantly improved protection levels for UK forces against today's threats. The UOR process is not a sustainable substitute for the standard acquisition process. While some UOR vehicles may be taken into the core fleet, the Department does not expect these vehicles to offer a long-term solution to its armoured vehicle needs.

The 'more successful' phrase might, I feel be disputed, certainly Richard North when he was covering the UOR purchases in his Defence of the Realm Blog would probably disagree. My view is the rash of 'panic' buying by the MOD did eventually meet operational requirements, but the process was expensive in both in British Casualties and Financially enormous.

The Government's initial reaction to the report was given by Defence Equipment minister Peter Luff a Career Politician with no Defence Experience prior to him appointment as a minister, who said:
"The report highlighted serious flaws in the process left by the previous Labour government.We are absolutely committed to a funded and realistic defence equipment programme to ensure our Armed Forces are properly equipped and taxpayers get value for money," he said. "Given the disastrous state of the department's finances we inherited, this change will take time."

Whilst it is true that the previous Labour Government on Defence Policy in general and Defence Procurement in particular was very poor, the same can be said of all previous Governments, Conservative, or Labour going back as far as the 1960's.
When this is coupled with the culture that exists in the MOD, also stretching back into the 1960's it is surprising the British Armed Services ever get the right equipment, almost never on time and never at the budgeted cost.

Sadly this NAO Report after the initial Media furore dies down and some temporary discomfort for some Officials in the MOD, being asked difficult questions, will like other Similar Reports be quietly ignored.

NAO The Cost Effective Delivery of Armoured Vehicle Capability Report Links:
Press Release
Full Report -
The Cost Effective Delivery of Armoured Vehicle Capability -  PDF (730kb)
Executive Summary

Media Reaction to the Report:

BBC-Armed forces 'face vehicle shortages until 2025'
Guardian -Auditor attacks chaos in equipping British troops
Independent -Afghan war 'to leave UK short of armour'
Mail Online -MoD 'cost lives' by wasting £718m on vehicles never builtMirror -Troops 'face shortage of vehicles'
Reuters -Army faces armoured vehicles shortage - watchdog
Sky News -UK Forces' Vehicle Shortage 'Costs Millions'

Specialist Media:
Defence Viewpoints - NAO slams UK armoured vehicle procurement

Related Posts in this Blog:
Cormorant Communications System - Lame Duck in a War Zone
Lost Before It Started - A Defence of the Realm Series
Nimrod exposes contempt for Armed Forces

Monday, May 09, 2011

Celebrities, The Media , Privacy, Rumour and the fallout.

Once confined to a certain type of Publication, all areas of the media now have an insatiable need for, and an addiction to Celebrity news, gossip, or rumour. A need so great, that in some cases they appear to have made someone a Celebrity, just so they can report on them.

A large number of celebrities have used this insatiable need, to form a symbiotic relationship with the Media to enhance, extend, or rejuvenate their careers and in some cases made considerable money from doing so.

The result is that in the eyes of the Media, a Celebrity regardless of whether they actively court the media, or not, does not have the right to separate their private and public lives, if it sells Newspapers, Magazines, or fills a broadcast News slot.

Every action has a reaction and the result is a law designed to protect Children and other Special Cases against being named in the Media, is being used to protect rich Celebrities from having their indiscretions revealed. As usual a Law drafted by Lawyers, has been perverted by Lawyers to enrich themselves and as a by product, protect their clients.

Unless the a criminal law is being broken (or in the case of Politicians, National security compromised), I have little or no interest in the indiscretions of those in Public Life, but the effect of, what I see as the misuse of the Super Injunction did irritate me.

My irritation was increased as in some of these cases there is an element of; 'It's the rich wot gets the pleasure. It's the poor wot gets the blame', where the Celebrity's privacy is protected, but the other person involved is not. As they are not rich enough to obtain their own Super Injunction, the media focus on them. So they are 'named and shamed' but the Celebrity remains hidden behind a legal screen.

What has finally pushed my irritation level to the point of writing this has been how, in the absence of facts about who is protected, malicious rumours and gossip, over Social Networks and Blogs,( on servers outside UK Jurisdiction) have gained a following at the expense of People who have not obtained an injunction and apparently having nothing to hide, but have been forced to use both the Mainstream Media and the same Social Networks that falsely named them, to defend themselves.

The law can do nothing to protect those falsely accused and ironically can also do nothing if someone who is protected by a Super Injunction is named!
So a law that was passed for good reasons, but since perverted by Lawyers, has now due social networks and blogs outside British Jurisdiction, not only being subverted, but has resulted in people being falsely accused of using it. My late Father used to say the Law is an Ass, but I suspect he would, if still alive replace I s with an r and append an e.

Monday, May 02, 2011

The death of Osama Bin Laden, but not of al-Qaeda

Due the evolution of the al-Qaeda, the death of Osama Bin Laden although hugely symbolic and a psychological shock, especially to the 'terminally deluded' who actually carry out atrocities, is not, sadly the death knell of the al-Qaeda.

This is due to al-Qaeda having evolved into initially a 'franchise' and now with the exception of the core group, more into a purely a brand name, used by groups loosely affiliated, rather than being directed by central a strategy. Even the al-Qaeda ideology package has been modified by these groups to suit local circumstances and due to rise of sectarian difference, the 'value' of the al-Qaeda brand has also declined with certain Groups distancing themselves from their al-Qaeda connections. What has not changed is that across the board these groups ideology is still the same mixture of hate, corrupted religious beliefs coupled with a nihilistic agenda (What I find strange and frankly worrying is that so many otherwise intelligent people can believe in an ideology that would have been considered extreme even in the 12th AD).

The remaining senior members of what formed the core of al-Qaeda have in relative terms, only a small number of terrorists under their direct control but still have influence, albeit declining, with some affiliates This does not mean this core group isn't still extremely dangerous. Although none of them has the profile, or charisma to replace Bin Laden, they are to some extent revered in their own right and it would make the world a better place if they could join their leader in hell as soon as possible..

It is almost certain that all groups using the al-Qaeda Brand and even those that due recent differences have distanced themselves from their al-Qaeda inspired roots will attempt revenge attacks. Indeed some have already announced their intention to do so. Whilst any successful attack will cause death, suffering and grief, what concerns me most is those groups who have learned the lessons of careful planning, have the money and human resources to attempt revenge on a single major attack on a high profile target and to whom 'revenge is a dish best eaten cold' makes sense.

However what may, or may not happen in the following days and weeks, the World is a better place for the death of this evil man and I can only commend the Intelligence operation and subsequent US Special Forces action that resulted in his death. It is already apparent that this took years of hard and often frustrating Intelligence work and I suspect at times carried out at high risk by individual agents, culminating a 40 minute fire fight as US Navy SEALS attacked the Compound. Whatever recognition the US gives those involved the rest of us should also give them our thanks and congratulations on a job well done.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

Fotopic - Amateur Photographer Magazine gets on the Case

Amateur Photographer Magazine has been active in trying to discover why the Fotopic Photo Site has disappeared from the Web and the result of their investigation is three articles by Chris Cheesman:
I suggest that the above are read in order..

Other Links:
An up to date Wikipedia Page on Fotopic
The Fotopic User Group (Google Groups)

Fotopic Related Posts in this Blog
Fotopic - Gone and this time forever? 25th March 2011

A series of Posts on this Blog from 2009:
4th Jan 2009:
Fotopic Disappears - followed by a Deafening Silence
5th Jan 2009: Fotopic Disappears - But the Silence is broken:
5th Jan 2009: Fotopic Reappears

Friday, March 25, 2011

Fotopic - Gone and this time forever?

Fotopic Servers have disappeared (again), unlike the major outage in January 2009, this time it appears this is terminal and Fotopic will be history. Companies do fail and their Websites disappear overnight and this is just part of business life. So is the case of Fotopic different?

In business terms not really, but as a Photo Sharing site started back in 2001 it developed a loyal following and by 2007 was hosting over 76,400,000 Images, with Members across the world. The outage in 2009 seriously dented confidence, not just because it happened, but the poor customer service in telling Members what was going on.

Although never a member of Fotopic, several of my Friends are/were members and through them I am aware of others. They all spent considerable effort over many years putting together interesting Photo Galleries, many of which attracted considerable numbers of repeat visitors. Because of the amount of work that had been put into creating their Galleries, they stayed with Fotopic, even though the site owners seemed to unwilling to communicate with the Member Base.

But over the last 12 Months the situation further deteriorated , with frequent drop outs, lack of development  and even poorer than usual communications from the site owners. So there has been a 'drift' to other services, but this all takes time and again considerable effort and on the 8th March 2011, time ran out when Fotopic, without warning went dark!

No information has been received at time of writing from the Site Owners: Snappy Designs Ltd, who in turn are part of the ANY-Web Group

Even Businesses that fail at least try to communicate the fact to their Customers, but even to the end it appears Snappy Designs treated the Members of Fotopic with contempt.

An up to date Wikipedia Page on Fotopic
The Fotopic User Group (Google Groups)

A series of Posts on this Blog from 2009:
4th Jan 2009:
Fotopic Disappears - followed by a Deafening Silence
5th Jan 2009: Fotopic Disappears - But the Silence is broken:
5th Jan 2009: Fotopic Reappears

Friday, March 04, 2011

Mexicana's False Dawn

The plan for Mexicana to restart at least some operations has 'sputtered to a halt' as PC Capital (described as a 'tiny boutique investment firm') which was chosen by a judge-appointed mediator in November as the best option to bring Mexicana back to life, has failed to attract investors!

Whilst the Unions finally accepted the reality that there would be massive Job Cuts if the Airline was to be restarted, potential investors have been unable to raise sufficient funds, in part due to severance pay costs and Union demands on Salaries. But these form only element of the estimated $8000 Million USD Debt restructuring that would be required to relaunch (a sum which daily increases). The result Mexicana once more slips back into the Darkness of a Company in the limbo between bankrupt and liquidated. Every day that passes means that Mexicana's hopes of a relaunch lessen, if this was the last attempt to get Mexicana flying again it would be a sad end for one of the oldest and often one of the most innovative carriers in Latin America.

Mexicana unsuccessfully tries to relaunch from Reuters

The previous posts in the Blog on Mexicana
05th August 2010 - Will Mexicana Survive?
25th August 2010 - Bringing Mexicana Back from the Brink - Step 1
31st August 2010 - Mexicana - Two Steps back and Teetering
12 November 2010 -A Brief Update on Mexicana
13 December 2010: - Another Brief Update on Mexicana

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

BBC - Royal Society praises Scots education system

See the Article here: Royal Society praises Scots education system.
My only comment is what took them so long (if I have a minor criticism of the system is Scotland is it does tend to teach Scottish, rather than British History).

The Dutch have changed on Energy - The UK should do the Same

The Dutch have been major supporters of Green Energy and during the lead up to the Kyoto Agreement took to chivvying other EU States to a near 'bullying; level. Now the Dutch Government has not so much modified its Green view of Energy, but written an entirely new Energy Policy, which has Green Elements, but has taken a pragmatic cost based view of how to meet the energy needs of the Country now and in the future.

How the average Dutch citizen view the change of direction I won't attempt to guess, but I suspect the EU Commission will be upset (possibly enraged). So what are the changes? In summary the major points are:

  • Abandoning EU-wide target of producing 20 per cent of its domestic power from renewables.
  • Slashing the Subsidies for wind and solar power from €4bn annual subsidy, it will be slashed to €1.5bn.
  • Sanctioning the building of new Nuclear Plants, the first in 40 years.
With 20/20 Hindsight there has been at least one indication that policy change was on the way. The country's only nuclear plant (built in 1973) was initially scheduled for closure in 2003. At the time this decision was taken was a high point of the European (except France) policy of abandoning Nuclear Power Plants. The planned closure date was allowed to creep past the deadline and in 2006 was given an operating extension to 2034, plus the decision not build any new plants was reversed, but not actually giving even a tentative go ahead for new ones. But to some extent this can be seen to be in line with the Kyoto Protocol Agreement (adopted way back in 1997 but only coming into force in 2005) on reducing Green House Gases as Nuclear Power Plants, don't add these to the atmosphere.

So going back to Nuclear Power is one thing, but why the reversal on Solar and Wind Power?
The answer is, it appears simple they don't deliver on a cost effective basis. The cost of subsidising them, now and in the future, compared with their contribution to the country's energy requirements makes even less sense than going back to Nuclear. The Dutch haven't abandoned renewable energy, but have taken a view of what is cost effective and productive versus what is Green, expensive, inefficient and doesn't deliver.

So how does this affect the UK. Well as those who know me are aware I ceased my membership to Green Peace UK over their anti-nuclear power stance (one of the co-founders of Green Peace now views Nuclear Power as an essential element in the future - 40 years too late). As with Transport, the UK (unlike France) has never had a long term energy strategy that would gradually evolve over decades implementing a consistent approach to the country's energy requirements using a mix of Nuclear, 'Clean Coal' and Renewables, including something the Dutch cannot unitise, large scale Hydro Electric generation as in the Highlands. Plus the use of Wind Turbines where both sensible and effective (after all the first UK Wind Turbine went into operation on the Orkney Islands in 1951) and finally Wave Power (Solar is hardly something we in the UK could sensibly rely on, even less than the Dutch).  But instead successive UK Governments have played with Energy Planning based on purely political expediency rather than thinking beyond the next general election, or in some cases by-election. As with Transport, the lack of a cohesive Energy Policy is an indictment of the incompetence of generations of Politicians from the mid-1950's.

So where now for the UK?
Firstly follow the Dutch lead and abandon the EU target for renewables
Secondly have a cross party standing committee of cabinet and shadow cabinet members but including other parties with elected MPs. The 'Political Committee to be advised by a Technical Committee of Experts on Energy Planning, Generation, Production, Distribution and just as importantly Research (Fusion, Oil/Gas Extraction, etc), covering not just electrical power, but coal, oil and gas. To produce and Energy Master Plan to provide a cohesive Energy Policy starting in the near term but extending several decades into the future. Once the Master Plan has been formulated, the Political and Technical Committees will oversee its implementation and continue to evolve the Master Plan as circumstances and energy requirements change and technology improves.
This approach minimises 'Energy being a Political Football' and looks at what the Nation requires not what Politician think might keep them in Power. Although Parliament, will need to vote on some of the requirements of the Master Plan and its implementation as Policy, these votes should be viewed as of National, not Party importance.