There are times when following the modern media that one feels like sighing deeply, ordering another G&T and hoping that salvation will eventually turn up. Today was one of those days. Reading the Daily Telegraph, the authors heart sank on reading an article which suggested that the British Army was considering scrapping the Apache Attack helicopter. This was bases on a public lecture by a senior member of the Apache helicopter force. (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/defence/9722347/British-Armys-fleet-of-Apache-helicopters-could-be-scrapped.html)
The gist of the article was that in 2017 the UK will find itself having to fund the technical support for the Apache AH64-D variant, as the US military will have moved to using the E variant. The result is that the Apache will req uire a capability update in order to remain sustainable alongside its US peers. Currently the MOD is considering its options on how to proceed with this upgrade, and that Ministers will take a decision shortly.
That aircraft require upgrades is not news, and in fact one only has to look across the entire UK military aircraft register to spot that pretty much every aircraft type has had extensive upgrades since entering service in order to remain relevant. The Tornado GR4 is light years removed from the Gr1 variant, despite being outwardly the same plane.
Its fairly common when putting staffwork together to put up a list of options on what can be done in a certain situation. For instance this may include ‘do nothing’, ‘delete the capability’ or ‘invest X amount’ or ‘invest Y amount’. This is absolutely standard practise, and is a very sensible thing to do. You can only make a considered decision on what to do if you have all the figures and facts in front of you.
The fact that a ‘delete Apache’ line has been raised would seem to suggest that people are looking at how much would be saved by not keeping it in service (although interestingly the article doesn’t show how much would need to be spent to mitigate the loss of capability). In reality the chances of Apache being deleted would seem to be very, very slim indeed in the current climate. It provides a unique capability, and one that could not easily be replicated by alternate means.
The article goes onto note that no final decisions on numbers have been taken – well this is hardly surprising, as until Ministers have taken a decision on their preferred course of action, its not really appropriate to come up with figures on what may, or may not, be upgraded.
What appears to have happened is that a journalist has seized on a legitimate comment by someone talking about the wide range of options that have to be considered, and then turned this into a ‘Apache is going to be scrapped’ story. This is an example where the MOD is being attacked for considering cuts, when in fact all that has happened is that Ministers have not yet taken a decision on what to do.
The final clincher is the strong quote from MOD clearly noting that Apache will remain in service. From what can be seen here, the Telegraph has published an entire story about the withdrawal of an aircraft type, when in fact withdrawal is not being considered, when no decisions have yet been taken and when the Department is clear that it wants Apache to remain in service.
Once again the author despairs about the lamentable standard of understanding of Defence matters in some areas. No one expects the entire nation to understand the subtleties of all aspects of defence, but equally this form of reporting is essentially scaremongering which seems to be built on totally misrepresenting a public speech, and then adding in some spin to meet the requirement to raise the blood pressure of the papers readership.
How can we have an intelligent debate about defence in the UK, when the media seem intent on misrepresenting even the most basic discussion on future defence options?