Wednesday, 26 August 2009

A day of shame for Scotland

The justice secretary in Scotland's devolved government, one Kenny MacAskill, approved the release and return to Libya of a man convicted of taking part in the 21 December 1988 Lockerbie bombing, in which 270 people were murdered aboard a PanAm Boeing 747 and on the ground in and around the Scottish border village of Lockerbie.

MacAskill said he had made the decision on 'compassionate grounds', and had been assured that the arrival in Libya of the convicted terrorist Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi would be handled in a 'low-key and sensitive fashion.'


The compassionate grounds are that the terrorist is dying of prostate cancer and has only a few months to live. Both Scottish and, let it be remembered, US federal law have provisions enabling the release of convicted prisoners on these grounds. But surely the decision ought to take into account the compassion this terrorist showed to the 270 innocents who died a sudden and terrible death aboard PanAm Flght 103 and in Lockerbie as a result of his actions.

As for the promise of a 'low-key and sensitive' return home ceremony - this (broken) agreement, and recent revelations in the UK media suggest that the release of this terrorist was part of a complex and squalid deal between Libya and the British government (quite possibly with the knowledge and tacit blessing of the US government) to bring Libya back into the civilised community of nations, and within reach of UK and US oil companies eager to get their hands on Libya's petroleum reserves.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has maintained an eloquent and damning silence. This in turn suggests that he knew of and smiled upon the proposal to release the terrorist, and that he is happy to allow MacAskill to carry the blame for it.

Not only is this decision an insult to the Lockerbie victims, it is an insult to coalition troops currently fighting terrorism of a different flavour in Afghanistan. It offers no comfort to the families of the victims, it offers no reassurance to British soldiers that they are doing a worthwhile job, and it proclaims to terrorists and rogue states that in Britain principle and conscience have no value - only a price, which can be negotiated if necessary.

I am sickened by what the Holyrood government in Edinburgh has done, with the (to me) clear collusion of a Scottish prime minister of Britain, Gordon Brown.

I am a proud Scot and I grieve for my country.

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

One of the really interesting things...

....about my recent trip to France, just before the Le Bourget air show, was observing the interplay between different parts of the French Ministry of Defence and between these and the French defence industry.

The French defence ministry's Delegation Generale pour l'Armement (DGA) combines the functions of Australia's Defence Science & Technology Organisation (DSTO), its Capability Development Group (CDG) and its procurement agency, the Defence Materiel Organisation (DMO) it also fills the role carried out by the UK government's Defence Export Sales Organisation (DESO).

In Australia these functions reside in separate, and often widely separated, stove pipes. Their purposes and goals aren't well aligned, and there seems to be nobody except the current minister for Defence Personnel, Materiel and Science, Greg Combet, who has any responsibility for ensuring they work efficiently together.

The difference is stark: France's defence R&D, capability development and acquisition processes are integrated, and the whole adds up pretty much to the sum of its parts - not even the French would claim they've got it right. Australia's processes, by contrast, add up to considerably less than the sum of their parts. Frankly, if the Australian defence industry didn't exist it's hard to imagine this would make the slightest bit of difference to the way DSTO, CDG and the DMO do their business - and that's very sad. (in fact, if the defence industry didn't exist, I suspect there would be many in DSTO, CDG and the DMO who would be quite grateful.)

I asked Combet about the French approach recently. He acknowledged that Defence in Australia needs to streamline its processes without compromising the outcomes it's currently generating; he also pointed out that the French government owns considerable chunks of the French defence industry which in turn colours its approach towards capability development, procurement and industry development.

However, many observers I've spoken to feel that even though the Australian government doesn't own the means of defence production, and therefore can take a disinterested, rationalist view of the consequences of its capability development and acquisition decisions, it wouldn't be hard to achieve a better alignment between the various organisations charged with these functions. And it wouldn't be hard to achieve a closer alignment with Australia's defence industry without compromising the probity and integrity of these processes.

Wouldn't it be nice to think Australia's forthcoming defence industry policy statement (due out around the end of this year) could incorporate some of this thinking? Nice thought, but I won't be holding my breath.

Sorry for the long silence...

...but I've been a bit busy, and wrestling with the 'flu (not Swine 'flu, probably, but bad enough), and trying to balance work and study - more of which in future posts.

I was interested in Prometheus's response to my last post (OMG - that was way back in Feb - ouch!). There's still plenty for the JSF to prove and much of the burden of achievement lies ahead of the project, but as I've noted before the JSF project is like no other fighter project I've ever seen.

Prometheus wrote: "The stealthpart of the Raptor are still handmade in a special of LockMart. So we will see how the JSFs NextGen will be made." When I visited Lockheed Martin's Ft Worth factory in 2008 the group I was part of was shown the surface coating bays where the low-visibility coatings (invisible paint?) will be applied by hand and machine in what, for this type of technology, amounts to a mass production technique.

The game-breaking intent for the JSF program is to make a 5th generation stealth fighter as affordable to buy and operate as a 4th generation fighter. That puts the focus on production engineering as much as on designing and developing the warfighting capabilities of the aircraft. Developing and proving the manufacturing and assembly techniques, getting the supply chain to work to this new paradigm - that's hard work, but it's what's needed to challenge the traditional cost base for combat aircraft. And you couldn't even contemplate such a radical approach without a massive production program and the buy-in of the USAF, USN and US Marines. The Europeans between them don't buy enough of the jets they build to be able to capture these production economies, and the glacial progress of the Eurofighter program has pushed its costs to ridiculous levels.

The challenge for the Europeans is, somehow, to make their collaborative programs more efficient - that means getting several European governments to agree to bite the same bullet that the US government did when it embarked on the JSF program.