Monday, December 04, 2006

Don't throw me into that...

So Mike Turner, CEO of BAE SYSTEMS, and friends are moaning about being investigated by the Serious Fraud Office over the Al-Yamamah kickbacks. They are claiming that thousands of jobs are at stake if the Saudis pull out of their order for Eurofighters, and therefore the government ought to quietly call off the SFO and give them a free pass. God knows I've been critical enough of BAE before, but this is mendacious.

Right. BAE will not build any more Eurofighters as a result of the Saudi deal. The planes for Saudi are the ones the RAF decided it didn't need, Tranche 2 of the original order. They could flog them elsewhere. Much of the cost is already paid, largely from the public purse.

But the Al-Yamamah contracts - the guns-for-oil deals - are more complicated than that. Al-Yamamah 1 and 2 included, essentially, a turnkey air force. Not only would BAE deliver fighters, and bombers, it would provide training aircraft. Not only that, it would provide flying instructors to teach Saudi pilots to fly them. Not only that, but some of the work would be done in Saudi Arabia, and the necessary technical experts would be supplied. Not only that, but Saudi maintenance personnel would be trained.

Another detail of the contracts is that they were signed between the governments of the UK and KSA, with BAE being a mere contractor to the MOD. Now, one trick in this is that if the civilian flying instructors - grizzled veterans in reality - employed by BAE quit, the UK must fill the gap with RAF officers on secondment, at the public charge. Presumably similar arrangements apply for other trades.

Since 2003, many of the instructors - not men who are easily scared - quit and left the Magic Kingdom, for fear can guess. They were replaced. Please, King Abdullah, don't throw me into that not-training-your-air-force-at-my-expense patch.

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