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Of Tabloid Defence Disinformation! By Howard Wheeldon, FRAeS, Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd.




One hardly need go all the way to Russia to find a mass of disinformation that is being continually served up to the British public. Take the defence related article in a ‘newspaper’ that goes under the title of ‘The Star’ that I spotted earlier this morning whilst surfing the Internet and that does its level best to demean the quite excellent work done by Royal Air Force personnel and all those that supported them in the Syria chemical weapons facilities attack that took place during the early hours of Saturday morning. It goes something along the following lines:

“The UK’s “depressing” fleet of out-of-date ships and ageing fighter jets consigned it to a support role in the operation. As a result, the USA and France headed the assault on Bashar al-Assad’s weapons facilities alone. It led to claims Britain has seriously weakened its ability to defend itself just as the threat of a conflict with Russia grows.

British forces fired just eight missiles out of 105 used last week to punish Syrian dictator Assad for the chemical attack in Douma which killed 75. The Royal Navy destroyer HMS Duncan was moved away from the attack zone as French ship the Languedoc fired at Syrian targets. 

Britain’s £1billion vessel has a space on its deck where a cruise missile launcher should be but it was axed to save cash, and new frigates which are able to fire the missiles are not due at sea until at least 2025.

State-of-the-art French Rafale jets also fired a barrage of missiles into Syria. They were protected en route by a squadron of Mirage 2000s armed with air-to-air missiles. A military insider said: “It was America and France’s show. We were very much second fiddle “and that’s down to the fact we weren’t as capable as them.”

Britain’s eight missiles were launched from dated Tornado jets, which have been used since 1979 and will soon be retired. Four more-modern Typhoon jets protected them, but the newer planes cannot fire cruise missiles after cost cutting measures halted their upgrade several years ago.

As a result of the cutbacks, the UK’s once world-leading armed forces were reduced to an intelligence-gathering role, supporting France and the US with maps and surveillance. In December, Britain had no major warships deployed on operations beyond home waters for the first time in living memory. The “unprecedented” situation again raised concerns the fleet is too small, and Britain is no longer a naval power”.

I almost feel guilty myself of bringing it to your attention and giving it even more publicity. It is quite disgraceful and makes no allowance of how allies work together and make use of their best strengths. I am not for one moment denying that we have been underspending on defence for decades or that we now need to spend a lot more on defence. But I dislike pandered disinformation pretending to be fact.

Of course, if you got this far I can almost hear you saying that much of what has been written is probably right. And yes, some of it is correct of course and it is certainly true to suggest that the Royal Navy is short of surface fighting ship capacity and also that the MOD was behind the curve investing and readying Typhoon for the full air to ground role. Thankfully that work is now being done and maybe more about this later.

First though allow me to dispel the myth about out-of-date-ships by saying very clearly that in comparison to the majority of our allies the UK doesn’t have a problem with ageing or out-of-date ship capability. True, it might not have nearly enough of them or sub-surface capability come to that and it may well have serious skills and manpower shortages not to mention serious problems with propulsion systems capacity on the Type 45.

Whilst the latter is now on the way to being sorted, it is worth noting that the specific problems suffered and that led to Type 45 capability (six ships in total) being laid up for various periods of time can be placed on a decision taken near 30 years ago by the MOD to go into a partnership with French and US partners in order to design a new type of electric propulsion system. When it appeared that the predominantly US designed system failed to work sufficiently well France and later, the US pulled out of the project leaving the UK, in this case Rolls-Royce, to attempt to pick up the pieces. To make matters even worse, against advice the MOD halved the amount of propulsion system testing time allowed. The rest is history.

Back to the specific article highlighted. Decisions relating to how the specific attack on chemical weapons sites would have been undertaken in Syria on Saturday and by which partner nation would have been taken on the basis of available capability and its location.

To the best of my knowledge, there was never any intention to use HMS Duncan as the article implies and nor would this have been necessary.  In this case, it was always going to be UK air power that would be used and on that basis, the four Royal Air Force Tornado GR4’s used to deploy Strom Shadow weapons and that were supported by four Typhoon aircraft in order to provide air-to-air protection capability can only be described as being formidable capability for the mission.

For the article to suggest that because the Tornado GR4 crews only fired eight missiles out of the 105 that were reported to have been fired in total by the three NATO partner nations confirm to me if nothing else that the author has absolutely no comprehension at all of the awesome power that the Storm Shadow weapon provides.

Next is the now rather boring suggestion that the Tornado is an ageing fighter and that it was consigned to a support role in the Syria operation? Really! I used the word yesterday and I will use it again today – Bunkum!

The point is that despite the age of the airframe and the limited hours that remain available, Tornado GR4 capability remains awesome. Yes, the aircraft is due to go out of service at the end of March next year but rest assured that right up until that date when Typhoon is due to take over as the lead multi-role capability Tornado will continue to do what it has done so well over the 38 years since the first entered service with the Royal Air Force. Indeed, let no one say that with its Litening 111 and RAPTOR (Reconnaissance Airborne Pod TORnado), capacity for up to 5 Raytheon UK built Paveway 1V smart weapons plus 2 x MBDA built Stormshadow cruise missiles plus two variants of the Dual Mode Seeker (DMS) Brimstone, up to nine Alarm  Mk2 (Air Launched Anti-Radiation Missile) missiles and ASRAAM short range air-to-air missile together with Infra-Red (IR) and Radio Frequency (RF0 countermeasures, that this capability is anything other than awesome. As someone once said, military aircraft capability is never better than the day it is retired.

So, just as the article also claims that the ‘state of the art’ Rafale jets used by the French on Saturday protected by a squadron of Mirage 2000 jets (the latter by the way are quite probably rather a lot older than the RAF Tornado GR4 aircraft used) for air-to-air protection (OK, so we did the exercise the other way round meaning our newest Typhoon jets acted in the air to-air protection role) it is quite wrong to suggest that “we were very much second fiddle” and that our capability “was not as good” as that of the French and US. By the way, in regard of intelligence gathering, as in any deployment involved several nations, each supports the other.

True, I need not have written this piece in the way that I have at all as quite probably the number of people who might or actually did read the Star article could be counted on one hand.

Finally and as promised, let me remind that work under the title of Project Centurion and which BAE Systems is charged with ensuring a seamless transition of weapons carrying and firing capability from existing Tornado GR4 capability to RAF Typhoon aircraft is well into the operational testing and evaluation phase. Trials and testing o Typhoon of the MBDA built ‘Meteor’ beyond visual range air to air and ‘Storm Shadow’ deep attack air-to-ground missile software systems and MBDA Brimstone air-to-surface missile releases have been going on for some considerable time. The active radar guided Meteor will bring an extreme ‘beyond visual range’ air to air capability to Typhoon and it has been specifically designed to provide multi-shot capability against long range, moving targets such as fast jet capability, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles and Cruise Missiles in dense electronic warfare environments. When fitted with Storm Shadow Typhoon will have a stand-off air to surface [ground] capability that will enhance its ability against well-defended infrastructure targets.

CHW (London – 16th April 2018)

Howard Wheeldon FRAeS

Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd,

M: +44 7710 779785

Skype: chwheeldon



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