NEW LABOUR–STILL KICKING BAE SYSTEMS AND THE UK DEFENCE INDUSTRY IN THE TEETH?
By Howard Wheeldon
15 Mar 10. Not content with willingly attempting to give regulatory control of the UK banking industry away to our competitors – the result of which could potentially kill off thousands of what one high ranking supporter of the ‘New Labour’ called ‘unnecessary UK banking industry jobs’ it seems that the government is also determined to kill off thousands of UK based defence industry jobs as well! In what appears to have been a deliberate and time sensitive leak to a very well heeled financial newspaper it seems that the government has ‘decided’ that US based General Dynamics with its untried and unproven ASCOD-2 vehicle as opposed to BAE Systems with its already battle proven CV90 was to be awarded the initial block 1 batch of up to 750 (the Scout, Repair, Recovery and Protected Mobility variant stage) armoured vehicles (part of the proposed and already long delayed Future Rapid Effects System (FRES) family of military combat vehicles). Official confirmation might come as early as this week we are told. Maybe but then again and particularly given the nature of the government beast plus that we are talking here about spending money on defence – something that is abhorrent to Gordon Brown – it may also be a good idea not to take this particular government leak for granted!
Included in the leak was also that the crucially important and urgently needed Warrior armoured personnel carrier upgrade program would again be put back by at least another year despite BAE Systems having put £50m investment into de-risking the programme and demonstrating the MTIP FRES demonstrator on the back of funding concerns. This particular part of the leak is as appalling as it is believable. So, it might on first sight appear that the government was, just ahead of an election and in what most would regard as an absolute stronghold of New Labour is prepared to see thousands of jobs at the former Vickers tank factory at Newcastle –upon Tyne thrown to the wall? Why is it that I think not? OK, so I am taking a bit of a gamble in here and readily admit that I could be wrong is seeing more into this particular press leak than some others. But on the very basis of best product for the mission and that in the case of BAE Systems there are so many UK based jobs involved plus events in the US this past week that show protectionism is not only alive and well but positively thriving there is in my view at least absolutely no reason why BAE Systems should not be awarded the first stage of FRES.
Perhaps though and before we take this deliberate press ‘leak’ for granted we might dig just a little deeper into what might also lay behind reasons for this rather surprising let alone strange leak:
Try this for one possible scenario: Rather than spin and then subsequently announce what most had been led to believe awarding a contract intention for between 600 and 750 FRES vehicles sometime later this week my guess is that given the current MoD funding status and budget shortfall and given the unlikely prospect that any part of the long delayed FRES requirement would likely be based on an Afghanistan type UOR (Urgent Operational Requirement) that for the government to agree a contract of this size before the election and, more importantly, before the result of the upcoming Strategic Defence Review would be very unlikely. OK, the government could order now and cancel later – even completely reversing the decision of who it awarded the contract too perhaps. More likely though is that to save its own skin slip the potential of an award being made to the most unlikely candidate out, let the arguments and angst commence and then blame the cries from the so called loser as reason enough to delay!
And another on the same theme perhaps: It seems to me that with the government knowing that if GD was to be awarded a contract of this size with a product that had not