I had not, as mentioned in my final pre Royal International Air Tattoo (RIAT) commentary piece last Wednesday, intended to write again until after the week long Farnborough International Airshow had finished. Cheered and boosted by what was an absolutely brilliant RIAT event, the best that I can ever recall in the many that I have attended, I find that that other very significant events that have taken place over the past few hours require that that I should make some minimal comment.
For a change, the two main events that have occurred today are both extremely positive. One involves confirmation by HM Government of serious and much needed UK defence capability acquisition and the other, the ruthlessly efficient manner that the Tory Party has chosen its new leader and that in my view, will not only lead to there being a new Prime Minister in No 10 Downing Street by late Wednesday afternoon, but also removal of much uncertainty that could have prevailed throughout the remaining summer months.
First a word on important defence acquisition that the Current Government chose to hold back so that it could be announced today at Farnborough International. Although I had known of the likelihood of such an announcement for the past three weeks it was, in these somewhat uncertain political times in the UK, with great relief that when the outgoing Prime Minister David Cameron, accompanied by Secretary of State for Defence, Michael Fallon, confirmed Monday that deals to acquire nine Boeing P-8 Poseidon Maritime Patrol Aircraft (MPA) together with a separate $2.3bn deal to secure 50 Apache AH 64E attack helicopters from Boeing had been agreed and signed. Both deals had taken a very long time and an enormous amount of hard work on the part of the MOD plus other sections of the UK Government and Boeing to achieve. All those involved in the various sections of Government, both in the UK and also in the US, and particularly those within Boeing Defence UK, are deserving of much praise for their patience, determination and hard work. For UK defence Monday was a very good day.
For the record the new P-8 Poseidon aircraft will be based at RAF Lossiemouth in Scotland and these will play a vital role in protecting the UK’s nuclear deterrent together with the UK’s two new aircraft carriers and other ISR requirements. Able to locate and track hostile submarines, and enhance the wider UK maritime Search and Rescue (SAR) capability the P-8, which I have had the pleasure of seeing in-build at two Boeing facilities in the US and have also had the very recent pleasure of spending time looking at the detailed capability we are acquiring with our own Royal Air Force ‘Seedcorn’ crews at the US Navy base at Jacksonville, Florida, all that I am left to say on this is that in my view the UK will be getting will not only be the capability it needs but also that with 400 personnel involved and who will be based at RAF Lossiemouth that this will eventually bring additional economic benefits to Scotland and the wider UK. The procurement announcement of P-8 Poseidon for the Royal Air Force this morning is also very timely in that it coincided almost exactly with the timing of handover of duties as Chief of the Air Staff by Air Chief Marshal Sir Andrew Pulford to Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Hillier.
The fifty latest generation AH-64E Apache Helicopters that will now be acquired for the British Army are a significant enhancement on the existing fleet of AH-64D Apache helicopters currently in use with the British Army. To be eventually flown by Army Air Corps pilots from the Joint Helicopter Command, they will continue to give the British Army the edge over any future adversaries. The AH 64E model of the Apache helicopter can also carry more weapons and is I believe more fuel efficient than predecessor capability, allowing the aircraft to also operate in more demanding conditions for longer.
Boeing also announced a long term partnering agreement initiative which will include 2,000 new jobs being created in the UK, an intent to build a new P-8 Poseidon operational support and training base facility at RAF Lossiemouth, to increase the amount of capital investment in the UK and to ensure that UK suppliers receive additional bidding opportunities on Boeing programmes plus enhanced support to improve competitiveness. Boeing will also sign the Aerospace Growth Partnership Supply Chain Competitive charter and make the UK its base for defence exports in Europe and the Middle East. In addition Boeing has confirmed that it will increase its contribution to the security, policing, cyber, information technology and space sectors in the UK, including joining the Security and Resilience Growth Partnership and that the company intends to establish a presence in the fast growing UK space sector during this year. Specific initiatives confirmed include working with QinetiQ and other partners to demonstrate a world leading enhancement to the QinetiQ 5 metre wind tunnel and new joint projects with Rolls-Royce on propulsion systems.
This being my 25th Farnborough International it was when I finally arrived good to be back although it is unfortunate that I have to report that the logistical arrangements that allow visitors to this very important trade show event were badly let down by there being no available bus transport available at the rail station. The bus queue stretched for miles and there was not a single bus in sight. Many chose to walk the mile long journey and I am told that the traffic in much of the area was gridlocked. Much to my surprise on final arrival ‘A’ Gate to collect my pass I found that I was then able to walk into the show without being questioned at all, there being absolutely no security check whatsoever.
To make matters worse and due to a very heavy rain storm that led those in authority to decide to temporarily disrupt power supplies to the stands and chalets the show was then closed a whole two hours earlier than it might otherwise have done. Not surprisingly, in still pouring rain, visitors who were forced to leave found that as closure took place much earlier than planned there was too little bus transport available. This is not what visitors or exhibitors to an international trade show event expect. All day the road within the showground were blocked solid with cars and golf carts carrying people and the smell of diesel and other fumes was positively horrible. I note that Farnborough International management had told us over the past year that they had invested in making the show even better than it had been in the past. Well, as I walked around all that I can say is that I found little if any evidence that much had changed from two years ago. Certainly, if there has been investment at Farnborough over the past two years today’s unfortunate events expose that this has not been in the antiquated infrastructure.
New Pilot at Number 10
I am of course grateful that timing of the momentous events late Monday morning and that as a consequence will lead to Theresa May going to Buckingham Palace to kiss hands with Her Majesty the Queen and being asked to form a new Government did at least allow Mr. Cameron to continue with plans made late last week for him to come to Farnborough and announce the two defence deals mentioned above.
Say what you will about David Cameron but the conclusion must be that he was master of his own destiny. Mr. Cameron’s brilliant House of Commons performances will, just as those of his former Foreign Secretary and former Tory Leader Lord Hague of Richmond are, will be much missed but although press and media would have continued to hound him had he not done so, his decision to call a referendum on our European Union membership was his real downfall.
Theresa May is the right person for the job of being the next Prime Minister and I wish her well. I welcome her appointment even more because it removes so much of the dangerous uncertainty that could have caused so much further damage and loss of confidence through the summer months. Brexit is, as she says, Brexit and she has no alternative but to get on with that particular job as a priority whilst at the same time making decisions that will affect all of our futures. She must also instil confidence in a nation of doubters with a message that we can work our way through untested waters and achieve a new middle way.
As I say, I wish her very well and I just have a feeling that she has all that it takes to prove doubters that they are wrong.
CHW (London 11th July 2016)
Howard Wheeldon FRAeS