History Spot: Case Studies in Defence Procurement

Yes, it’s my avatar for a reason. The De Havilland Mosquito was the most accurate bomber of the first half of World War II, with the lowest ordinance expenditure per target, the lowest loss rate and the highest kill probability. It could race in at treetop level for precision work, or soar above anti-aircraft fire while heavier bombers were slaughtered in droves. When the RAF needed to take out a particular wall of a prison to free French resistance fighters, they used the Mosquito.

But that was not all. The Mosquito, as the fastest aircraft in the world at its introduction, was ideal for conversion as a fighter, night fighter, fighter bomber, U-boat killer and numerous other roles. It combined heavy armament with high speed and needed no escort. The wooden airframe was as strong as contemporary metal airframes, but much lighter, and it avoided drawing on critical war supplies and skilled labour- any cabinetmaker could help produce a Mosquito. It was in many ways the most perfect military procurement program in history, made all the more so by the fact that Geoffrey De Havilland designed the aircraft in the face of Air Ministry skepticism and forced the RAF to recognise its merits. The only flaw in the program was that many more weren’t built, and that a serious update was not funded until the end of the war. This was the Hornet, one of the highest-performing piston-engine fighters ever made.

Here are two documentaries on the aircraft that made Hermann Goering “turn green and yellow with envy.”

Less celebrated but certainly a spiritual successor to the Mosquito philosophy, the Douglas Skyhawk was the backbone of US carrier striking power for many years. It is an attack aircraft that has been used as a fighter and an aggressor trainer, and continues to serve in other air forces.

Despised by Tacair jocks in the US Air Force for decades, the A-10 “Warthog” stands alone as the most effective close support aircraft ever conceived. Designed to be everything that fast jets are not- slow enough for accurate targeting, a stable gun platform, rugged and extremely well-armoured, the A-10 has proven its ability to soak up damage and still fly home, to support troops with accurate fire in situations where other fixed-wing aircraft would risk friendly fire, and above all to destroy massed columns of tanks. And that is exactly why the US Air Force tries to give the job of this cheap, effective little aircraft away to expensive and vulnerable fast jets every five years- they don’t like any aircraft whose job is to support the Army.