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Problems of Weapons Procurement

November 20, 2009

Much of the difficulties replacing worn-out stocks of weapons lately has been blamed on our ongoing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Nowhere is this clearly revealed than with the British military, specifically in the RAF, as Strategypage points out:

Facing large budget cuts, the British Royal Air Force (RAF) is reducing its personnel strength by 25 percent (10,000 airmen) and closing five of 19 air bases. It will retire most of its Cold War era Harrier and Tornado aircraft early, and reduce flying hours. This is all brought about by growing problems with the national budget, which result in sharp cuts to defense spending. It’s not a sudden problem. Budgets have been shrinking since the Cold War ended in 1991. But they keep getting smaller, and many air forces have not adapted to the post Cold War conditions. This has caused other problems.
Earlier this year, it was revealed that the Royal Air Force was suffering from shortages of more than just helicopters, spare parts, and pilots. The entire force was facing a massive shortage of manpower in all its branches…

The ongoing operations in Afghanistan and Iraq are, unsurprisingly, the primary culprits of this shortage.

This last sentence is mostly true, but also not the whole story. All militaries at some point must be involved in war, and at seem point tired, worn out equipment must be replaced. To me our current problems in the West has less to do with any particular wars, but our practice of building only very capable high tech weapons which are hard to replace in any numbers. They have become “exquisite”.

In other words, what we might consider an attribute of creating militaries where our soldiers “never have to fight fair” has actually become a millstone because the insurgents and Third World powers can replace their stocks far quicker and easier. In contrast, our weapons designed for quick and easy conflicts where the enemy theoretically will be overwhelmed with minimal losses on our side, doesn’t work so well in conflicts that last for years, even decades. They have adapated to our way of thinking, while we continue business as usual.

Actually these ongoing wars have been a wakeup call, shaking us out of our post Cold War lethargy into a new era of conflict, where different tools are required.  Yet, it is not so new but a natural cycle of conflict, for those of you who know history.

 I will discuss the subject more the first of the week, offering possible solutions.

19 Comments leave one →
  1. m.ridgard permalink
    November 24, 2009 10:18 am

    Graham Strouse,
    I have read your article twice now and still can’t decide whether it’s tongue in cheek or serious,or perhaps a bit of both.
    You are either a person of great foresight or a flagrant opportunist,who in seeing the balance of power begining to shift has decided that it’s time the U.S.A. was seen globaly as more of a partner than a pedagogue.
    I think in the first instance your remarks in regard to Canada and the U.K. could be construed as rather condescending by those countrys.
    Canada you need as a guardian to the north and is becoming increasingly important due to global warming opening up it’s northern territories and the increasing claims being made by other countries on it’s natural resources.
    Canada may have a small military in comparison with the U.S.A but please remember that like the U.K. they punch well above their weight.
    Although they don’t get the publicity they are one of the mainstays of our efforts in afghanistan and have taken a proportionately high number of casualties.
    In regards to the U.K. and it’s ‘diminishing naval power’, whilst we are facing very serious cutbacks we can still field a decent fleet though admittedly not in the numbers we once used too.
    In the type 23 frigate we have one of the best ASW assets in the world,our type 45 destroyers when fully worked up will be an asset many navy’s would like to have.
    We are building two state of the art aircraft carriers commensurate with our needs and our capacity to man and fight them.
    Our amphibious force is the best in europe with the most experience.
    Enough said on that.
    Your remarks in regards to Japan,South Korea and Germany are naive to say the least. At least one of these countries and probably two would not be to sorry to see a lessening of American influence,to be quite frank you have served your purpose and built them up to their former power. They can now get along without your economic aid and in the case of Germany since the end of the cold war can get along without your comfort blanket.
    Different perhaps with S/Korea and Japan who need to keep you onside due to developments in that party of the world.
    Venezuela,forget it they don’t like you and your record in south america isn’t too good.
    You would be well advised to stick with friends you already have,friendship based on short term monetary policies will not be to your advantage.

  2. Graham Strouse permalink
    November 23, 2009 11:38 pm

    @tangosix,

    I think you’re onto something but you might want to consider some different ideas for force alignment. I would suggest, for instance, for the US that a hemispherical alliance might be in order. We have common interests with both Mexico & Canada for instance. There are plenty of Spanish speakers in the US (I have 5 years & I can almost find the bathroom in Guadalajara, but I suspect that is more my own deficiency in language skills then anything else at play). Canada has a small, but competent military & they’re well-versed in ASW. Mexico deals with drug-lords & asymmetric terrorism at several levels & they know a lot more about Central & South American politics then we do. Even Venezuela might be an ally of convenience. They have oil & not incidentally, a growing diesel-electric submarine force. Better to be friendly, methinks. Limited ties with Japan & South Korea make sense as does alliance with Germany. Hey, we already have bases there & these are strategically important regions. Israel is a crucial ally in the middle-east & Jordan might be courted. The UK, frankly, may be diminishing in naval power but has tremendous experience with anti-terror ops.

    Yes, it’s messy & we need to prioritize & localize our needs & cohere them to allies which meet these specific needs. And of course we must reciprocate.

    China, btw, might be an ace in the hole. If any nation is more anxious about North Korean craziness (and Russia), it’s China. Also, along with Japan, they own 44% of US Treasury Bonds. So some sort of cooperative efforts would be wise.

    It’s not all about shared values. It’s shared needs as well. And these can overlap & contradict at times, I’m afraid.

  3. Mike Burleson permalink*
    November 21, 2009 4:37 pm

    Lee said “When JimD wrote an article a few years ago about sealift which was full of errors I contacted him about it with corrections, he refused to change it”

    He’s a bit stubborn. I wrote for him briefly several years back and quickly decided this wasn’t for me and started my own blog instead.

  4. leesea permalink
    November 21, 2009 3:33 pm

    “…Strategypage which I would suggest is not the most reliable of sources.”
    He is right StrategyPage is NOT that reliable or accurate, their is a lot of opinion and misinformation in their articles.

    When JimD wrote an article a few years ago about sealift which was full of errors I contacted him about it with corrections, he refused to change it. That is when I stooped posting on their forums.

  5. m.ridgard permalink
    November 21, 2009 8:41 am

    Mike, you say ‘lets say you are right about the RAF story’ I was not claiming to be right or wrong, I was refering to a statement put out by the MOD if you doubt the veracity of this statement so be it.
    In respect of high tech arms the T45 destroyer is I admitt a prime example of a step to far,in the end the RN have accepted into service a vessel which is ‘fitted for but not with’ many of its weapons systems.
    This was done just to get the vessels into RN service and worry about upgrading with systems such as Tomahawk,harpoon and a decent CIWS at a later date when funding becomes available.
    Perhaps though with the ‘future surface combattant’ in its early planning stage there appears to be some signs that a slightly less sophisticated multi purpose vessel will morph out of the T45.
    They are also seriously considering CAMM as a succesor to the current ‘sea wolf’ for local area defence and also to replace the army ‘Rapier’ air defence system,therefore having a common missile for both services cutting costs and logistics enormously.
    A small start but surely a move in the right direction.

  6. Mike Burleson permalink*
    November 21, 2009 6:24 am

    Folks,
    Getting back to weapon’s procurement, many Western militaries, and I only use Britain as an example because her media is most vocal, are choosing extinction rather than change. As Alex 2.0 remarks about the declining RAF numbers, they are choosing decline when low cost, off the shelf options are easier to build and easy on the budget. Most are fearful that low tech, low cost weapons will make them lose the next war, even though they are losing anyway when they can’t build adequate numbers of equipment even for the brush fire wars we most often fight.

    I am convinced the low cost, low tech arms, coupled with newer smart weapons will stop this decline in our forces, and restore sanity to procurement. Of course, it is up to each country to choose if they want decline, but it is not inevitable or necessary. If they tell you there are no choices, that all their high value projects must be “too big to fail”, this is bull. There are other choices and they have been arouund for decades, as we constantly post alternatives on this blog. All of our ideas might not work but how can we know if we don’t try, while surely the way we going is certain demise?

  7. November 21, 2009 3:40 am

    Hello D. E. Reddick,

    it is not unfair to suggest that the northern European monarchies have more in common with eachother than with the rest of Europe.
    However,military independence and political independence go hand in hand.
    The integration of European defence capabilities is an inherent part of the creation of a single European state:

    http://www.consilium.europa.eu/showPage.aspx?id=261&lang=EN

    European integration is the source of a great deal of politcal conflict between those who wish to maintain their nations independence and those who wish to create a European superstate.
    This is particularly the case in the United Kingdom where all three main political parties have refused to hold the promised referendum on the Lisbon Treaty.
    A referendum in the United Kingdom would almost certainly reject further European integration.

    tangosix.

  8. November 21, 2009 2:38 am

    Hello Mike Burleson,

    from the comments on this thread:

    https://newwars.wordpress.com/2009/11/15/breaking-britain-may-sell-new-carrier-to-india/#comments

    tangosix said:

    “The United Kingdom will soon be having a defence review.
    As part of that review,the services consider all options available to them along the lines of “If the budget is cut by £X,000 Million,we would have to cut Y capability.”.
    These are not plans but options which are being considered.
    They are frequently leaked to the press who then run stories,such as those you are reading,as if these options were real plans.
    These stories then spread like wildfire through the media and internet.
    Just because other media outlets are reporting the rumours they read elsewhere does not make the rumour any more than a rumour.”

    And:

    here is a working link to the Ministry of Defence blog:

    http://www.blogs.mod.uk/

    Here are the appropriate extracts from that blog:

    “RAF and Planning Round 2010

    The Sunday Times has reported that ‘Air Force chiefs are preparing to cut 10,000 staff – a quarter of their manpower – and close up to five large air bases’.

    The MOD undertakes Planning Rounds to ensure that our plans to deliver Defence capability are sound and that resources are allocated in line with Defence priorities. The Planning Round is used routinely to examine a range of proposals, both to enhance investment in certain areas and to reduce levels of investment in areas of lower priority.

    Planning Round 2010, which is currently underway, seeks to rebalance the programme to reflect current priorities and residual pressures on the Defence Budget. There are a number of pressures which the MOD, like other organisations, has to take into account; they include a weak Sterling, and increased utility costs. Importantly, the work will also ensure that top priority is given to achieving success on operations in Afghanistan and tough decisions will have to be taken to ensure that this is the case.

    As is usual in this type of work a wide range of options are being considered in Planning Round 2010. No decisions have yet been taken. It would therefore be premature to speculate about specific measures.”

    Much of the content of the internet consists of people who don’t know what they are talking about repeating the words of people who don’t know what they are talking about as Strategypage has just demonstrated.

    In the next six months or so,the United Kingdom will have both a general election and a defence review.
    How can anyone know what the future holds for the armed forces when they don’t know which party will be in government then,let alone what the conclusions of their defence review will be?

    Mike Burleson said:

    “Much of the difficulties replacing worn-out stocks of weapons lately has been blamed on our ongoing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Nowhere is this clearly revealed than with the British military, specifically in the RAF, as Strategypage points out.”

    The problems the Royal Air Force is having are nothing to do with Iraq and Afghanistan.
    Funding for those conflicts is in addition to the rest of the defence budget.

    The Royal Air Force’s problems have been caused by the Royal Air Force itself and it’s incompetent aircraft procurement dating back many decades (and not just fast jets either).

    Twenty years ago when the Royal Air Force began planning the current aircraft procurements,British fast jet strength was over 800 aircraft.
    A number more than sufficient to justify the rapid and cost effective domestic development and manufacture of a new combat aircraft type to replace the whole fast jet fleet.

    However,as usual the paroquial interests of elements of the armed forces got in the way of what was best for the armed forces and the nation as a whole.
    The result being that the Royal Air Force decided to replace it’s fast jet fleet with three seperate aircraft types:Agile Combat Aircraft (now the Typhoon);what eventually became Future Joint Combat Aircraft (now the F-35 Lightning II) and what was to have been Future Offensive Air System (a bomber now cancelled due to cost growth on the other two aircraft projects).

    Note how those three aircraft types mirror the old Bomber Command,Fighter Command,Tactical Air Force structure of the Second World War Royal Air Force which was perpetuated till recent times through Strike Command,Royal Air Force Germany and Number 1 Group,Number 2 Group and Number 11 Group.

    The decision to buy three different fast jets aircraft meant that domestic design and manufacture was not economically viable due to the small numbers of each type required.
    Agile Combat Aircraft became the multinational European Combat Aircraft,later Typhoon,resulting in massive time delays and cost increases.

    Future Joint Combat Aircraft became the F-35,a cheap mass produced American aircraft,expected to cost half as much as the Typhoon.
    Which due to being one of the worst thought out aircraft programmes in history and due to exchange rate fluctuations may cost twice as much as the “expensive” Typhoon.

    With all the money wasted on those two,the third aircraft had to be cancelled.

    The many thousands of millions of pounds poured down the drain due to the Royal Air Force’s complete disregard of the basic industrial factors inherent designing and manufacturing aircraft are the real reason the Royal Air Force cannot now afford to buy the aircraft it wants.

    One of the great ironies of this sorry saga is that at the time the Royal Air Force decided it needed seperate fast jet fleets for use on land and sea,it was operating three carrier capable aircraft (Harrier,Phantom and Buccaneer)and a fourth (Jaguar) which was originally intended for carrier use but was not up to the task (you will never guess whose fault that was!).

    Lest the above be seen as an anti Royal Air Force rant,I should point out that the British Army (note not the Royal Army!) and the Royal Navy are also afflicted by the “Why buy one platform when you can buy three?” attitude.
    Both also suffer the consequences of that appproach.

    Strategypage said:

    “Earlier this year, it was revealed that the Royal Air Force was suffering from shortages of more than just helicopters, spare parts, and pilots. The entire force was facing a massive shortage of manpower in all its branches…

    The ongoing operations in Afghanistan and Iraq are, unsurprisingly, the primary culprits of this shortage.”

    While Strategypage seems to think the Royal Air Force is having a manpower shortage,the Royal Air Force doesn’t seem to agree:

    “The strength of UK Regular Forces (trained and untrained) has increased rapidly over the last three months due to growth in the Army and Royal Air Force untrained strengths (Table 2).

    Intake has continued to rise in each of the three Services, most significantly in the Royal Air Force and outflow has fallen in both the Army and RAF (Table 3).

    Voluntary Outflow rate has decreased in both the Naval Service and the Royal Air Force (Table 4).

    Royal Air Force: At 1 April 2009 the trained strength was 39,660 against a requirement of 41,310. The deficit was 1,660. The trained strength has decreased by 960 (2.4%) from the 1 April 2008 strength of 40,620.

    Royal Air Force: At 1 April 2009 the total strength of the Regular Forces was 43,570 of which 39,250 were trained and 4,310 were untrained. The total strength has increased by 180 (0.4%) from the 1 April 2008 strength of 43,390.

    Royal Air Force: Intake in the 12 months to 31 March 2009 increased 45.4% from 2,930 during financial year 2007/08 to 4,260 in the 12 months to 31 March 2009. During the same period outflow decreased 14.0% from 5,020 to 4,320.”

    The above is based on figures dated April 1st 2009 from this report:

    http://www.dasa.mod.uk/applications/newWeb/www/apps/publications/pubViewFile.php?content=310.11&date=2009-06-11&type=html&PublishTime=09:30:00

    Also see the Royal Air Force website,here:

    http://www.raf.mod.uk/news/archive.cfm?storyid=873F972F-1143-EC82-2E12107E59656B87

    More recent figures dated 10th November 2009 can be found here:

    http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200809/cmhansrd/cm091110/text/91110w0012.htm#09111070002037

    As all those figures are entirely normal for the United Kingdom’s armed forces,this “manpower crisis” appears to be yet another media myth.

    It is worth noting that lots of stories like this always seem to appear in the British press whenever there is a defence spending round imminent.

    tangosix.

  9. D. E. Reddick permalink
    November 20, 2009 11:46 pm

    Tangosix,

    Touche’, sir.

    But really, I was simply attempting to provoke some out-of-the-box thinking regarding real problems that are being encountered by our allies across the pond. And then, there is the BeNeLux economic block consisting of Belgium, The Netherlands, and Luxembourg. There are some limited precedents in existence.

    If northwestern European democracies (especially the monarchical sorts) are to maintain a presence on the world scene, they may be forced to combine forces just to preserve some semblence of what they recently or currently possess.

    France and Germany have formed combined ground forces. Lithuania, Poland, and Ukraine intend to establish a shared brigade-sized force amongst their three armies. Why not the several countries whose shores abut the North Sea? All of them are members of NATO and it would not be impossible for them to integrate into a single armed forces structure. Again, it’s just an idea by which current problems might be fixed.

  10. November 20, 2009 11:16 pm

    Hello D. E. Reddick,

    Given the obvious monetary and manpower problems being experienced by the armed forces of the United States, then perhaps it’s time to think about doing something radically different as a means to help maintain force levels in the US and nearby, allied nations.

    The United States is a Republic. Around the Pacific are four other republics:Korea;Vietnam;Taiwan;Mexico. Maybe it’s time to combine resources and form a Pacific Ocean-centric Republican Navy, Republican Air Force, and Republican Army composed of the forces of these five nations. Place all forces under a single command structure and rationalize futures plans & acquisitions.

    Now, I realize that nationalistic feelings and linguistic differences could easily derail such an institution. Let’s see, just the diversity of languages involved would present a daunting issue to overcome (English,Korean,Chinese,Vietnamese,Spanish [what languages might I have forgotten?]). And just the internal divisions of the US with States having a separate political status casts doubts on the continued integrity of the presently constituted US. And there’s the split cultural and linguistic nature of the United States where English, Hispanics (Spanish-speakers), and Arabic-speakers all reside within the same political entity.

    Many problems would have to be overcome to make something so seemingly hare-brained come into fruition. So, it’s just a crazy sort of idea to float about for critical commentary. But then, could anyone imagine the presently developing US political entity in 1739 or 1745?

    tangosix.

  11. D. E. Reddick permalink
    November 20, 2009 8:20 pm

    Given the obvious monetary and manpower problems being experienced by the armed forces of Great Britain, then perhaps it’s time to think about doing something radically different as a means to help maintain force levels in the UK and nearby, allied nations.

    Great Britain is a monarchy. Across the North Sea are four other monarchies: Belgium; The Netherlands; Denmark; and Norway. Maybe it’s time to combine resources and form a North Sea-centric Royal Navy, Royal Air Force, and Royal Army composed of the forces of these five nations. Place all forces under a single command structure and rationalize futures plans & acquisitions.

    Now, I realize that nationalistic feelings and linguistic differences could easily derail such an institution. Let’s see, just the diversity of languages involved would present a daunting issue to overcome (English, Welsh, Scots Gaelic, French, Dutch, German, Frisian, Danish, Norwegian [what languages might I have forgotten?]). And just the internal divisions of the UK with Scotland slowly edging towards a separate political status casts doubts on the continued integrity of the presently constituted UK. And there’s the split cultural and linguistic nature of Belgium where Flemish, Walloon (French-speakers), and German-speakers all reside within the same political entity.

    Many problems would have to be overcome to make something so seemingly hare-brained come into fruition. So, it’s just a crazy sort of idea to float about for critical commentary. But then, could anyone imagine the presently developing EU political entity in 1939 or 1945?

  12. - Alex 2.0 permalink
    November 20, 2009 7:09 pm

    Less than 20 years ago the RAF was 90,000 strong, the RN 65,000 and the Army 140,000 now the figures are about 42,000 RAF, 36,000 RN and 100,000 Army. take from that what you will

    -Alex

  13. James Daly permalink
    November 20, 2009 4:54 pm

    A lot of these reports might be speculation, but it is pretty clear that after the general election next spring all three UK armed services are going to be under a lot of pressure when it comes to the strategic defence review.

    Out of the three services the RAF has historically been the slowest to adapt and evolve to changing needs. At a time when we are short of helicopters for Afghanistan the RAF brass seem more concerned with sexy fast jets, possibly because air defence is the RAF’s preserve and it has always been fiercely proud of its independence.

    One commentator in the British press recently suggested that the RAF dream of ‘spitfires over the white cliffs of Dover’ and Cold War style air defence rather than less glamorous but vital tasks.

  14. Mike Burleson permalink*
    November 20, 2009 4:16 pm

    Michael wrote “Once again someone trying to make a story out of speculation,this time it’s Strategypage which I would suggest is not the most reliable of sources.”

    Strategypage not reliable? These guys are famous authors, soldiers, and military strategists! Dunnigan, Austin Bay, Al Nofi.

    Anyway, lets say you are right about the RAF story. This doesn’t explain the ongoing procurement difficulties plaguing Western militaries, and the mass decline of the military air industry, notably in the USA, who can’t build tankers and probably never again build bombers (only 21 in 20+years). The end of tank production, British FRES program, the international JSF. I could go on but even those coming “in time and on budget” like the DDG-1000 (3 instead of 30) are purchased in far fewer numbers than originally planned, F-22 Raptor-180 instead of 300+, Type 45 destroyer 6 instead of 12, ect…

    The only major procurement ongoing in large numbers are with UAVs, light armored vehicles, small warships, and conventional submarines. All of these we insist are the future for obvious reasons.

    On second thought we will probably get back to replacing our Cold War high tech, high price goodies right after the Middle East wars are over and the troops come home, and we have no need for all these cheap but good weaponry. Just you wait, and wait, and wait…

  15. November 20, 2009 2:33 pm

    To show the ‘humour’ of the Brits here is another salvo in the ongoing war started by a now retired Chief of RAF: From letters page of (London) Daily Telegraph.

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/lette….efficient.h tml

    Abolish the Royal Air Force to make the Services more efficient

    SIR – During my Royal Navy service I trained and flew with the RAF on many occasions. At squadron level, their expertise, commitment and bravery was as impressive as any of their contemporaries in the other services.

    But it remains the view of many RAF aircrew that, despite the rigorous scrutiny of annual efficiency reviews, the bloated higher command structures and stultifying bureaucracy – especially when compared to the Royal Navy and Army –remain intact and hinder the achievement of their aircrews’ potential.

    Sir Glenn’s proposal neglects other equally radical and potentially cost- effective solutions in a naive and transparent attempt to forward the interests of the RAF.

    He is soon to be put out to grass and I hope that his successor will take a more balanced view. Absorbing the roles of the RAF, its aircraft, and the people required to fly and service them, into the Royal Navy and the Army would bring huge cost-savings while offering much improved co-operation and integration.

    The resulting two armed services, with their embedded air-power expertise, would allow a reduction of around 20,000 people, and provide the 10 per cent savings in defence, which I believe are to be expected throughout the public sector.

    Rear Admiral Scott Lidbetter RN (ret’d) London SW1

  16. November 20, 2009 2:29 pm

    Agree about ‘silly season’. The British media are notorious for publishing misleading information (to sensationalise stories to sell newspapers). They remain unapologetic – most ‘native’ readers understand this conceit. Here is the original ‘story’ (note ‘plans’ has not connection to ‘the RAF actually doing anything’):

    RAF plans huge cuts in aircraft and stations Michael Smith

    http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/article6917297.ece

    AIR FORCE chiefs are preparing to cut 10,000 staff — a quarter of their manpower — and close up to five large air stations.

    The plans will reduce the RAF’s strength to 31,000 personnel over the next five years, little more than half the level during the recent Iraq conflict and seriously diminishing its capability of fighting another conventional war.

    It also intends to retire the majority of its Harrier and Tornado jets early, leaving it with about 80 fewer aircraft by 2025. The cuts are part of a package prepared for the 2010 annual spending round.

    They are designed to pre-empt the savage cuts expected as part of the strategic defence review promised by whichever party wins power in next year’s general election.

    A senior RAF officer said the plans were designed to save “significant amounts of money, measured in billions of pounds a year” rather than having them forced on the service by the review…..

  17. m.ridgard permalink
    November 20, 2009 2:23 pm

    Mike,
    Once again someone trying to make a story out of speculation,this time it’s strategypage which I would suggest is not the most reliable of sources.
    I would once more direct you to http://www.blogs.mod.uk defence in the media,and the article dated 16th Nov 2009.
    This is in reply to another ‘story’ from the Sunday times which strategypage quotes from.
    It really is getting to be silly season.

  18. Marcase permalink
    November 20, 2009 12:51 pm

    Interesting to see this lack of manpower numbers. Holland has for the first time in decades a manning level of nearly 97% and rising (fulltime professionals), mainly due to the economic crisis. This should surely be the case for the UK as well, where the drop in civilian jobs should automatically make government (defense) jobs extra appealing.

    The previous UK government had a particularly uninterested treasurer who had ambivalent feelings towards defence, to say the least. I fear that the decisions made then are having an impact now, exaggerated by the current economic down-turn.

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