I like stories about Russian ingenuity. I know they're probably not true, but they really ought to be. NASA spent five years and forty million dollars, the story goes, developing a biro that would write in space. The Russians used pencils. That sort of thing.
The most recent is about indirect artillery fire - the sort in which the gunners fire hopefully into the air relying on their maths skills to predict where the shell will land. Thankfully the cerebral activity of gunner officers is usually augmented by forward spotters, who can report where the shell lands and instruct corrections. A hundred years ago, frail canvas biplanes would hover above no-man's land, or poor sods would be hoisted in balloons. Today we've spent millions developing highly skilled forward observers, trained special forces, equipped with high frequency burst radios, laser target designators and the like. The Russians use drones from eBay with go-pro cams.
Modern steels, unworn gun tubes and munitions assembled by sober workers are century old technologies easy to achieve today. Add simple electronic fire calculators and eBay drones and you have - or rather the Russians do - an indirect fire artillery capability that recently destroyed two Ukranian mechanised infantry battalions in the space of fifteen minutes.
Our generals are worried. Defence development in the UK is like the Great War; we fling another billion of public money into research and advance a few millimetres. Or not at all. Our ships are equipped with fire control systems that can track a cricket ball but not a Russian or Chinese boosted missile. We simply can't seem to produce the bangs for the bucks any more, whereas Russia, with the GDP of Italy, races ahead with advanced weapons and systems.
Service chiefs naturally call for more money in much the same way as they call for reinforcements. And I agree that more men, more ships and more tanks are better (the army now has more horses than tanks). But will throwing billions more at defence contractors produce results? It hasn't so far.
So here's a suggestion. For as long as I've known we've resisted Russian and Chinese spying on our miltech and hardware. Now is the time to turn the tables. Now that we want to make exactly the same leaps without doing the research - i.e. by stealing their secrets - we need to invest more in spies, invest more in bribing their scientists and call for the flower of English womanhood to volunteer itself to staff honey traps for Chinese generals. We should send a battalion of plane spotters to Ukraine, mount 'scientific' research expeditions, equip our trawlers with GCHQ spy gear. Any of which, I suspect, would pay greater dividends than throwing cash at the fatcats of our second rate defence companies.