Thursday, December 29, 2005

I Have A Very Bad Feeling About This...

We all know Defence procurement is an ongoing money inferno, but I've only now gritted my teeth to start exploring it properly.

First stop is the National Audit Office's Major Projects Report 2005. This examines MOD's top 20 equipment projects and reckons they will "meet Key User Requirements but at a cost of £29 billion, some 10 per cent higher than the expected cost at approval."

10%? Why, that's a trifling £3bn. Hardly worth recording. Hmm.

Closer inspection throws up some slightly more concerning items. First, the cost over-runs are in addition to delays totalling 375 months, or 31 years. If we'd had that kind of delay in 1940 the Spitfire wouldn't have arrived until after we'd got flared trousers.

Second, under increasing scrutiny, you can tell that the MOD is now playing some kind of numbers game: they keep down the headline over-run number by the simple expedient of ditching some of the specs. Thus the Future Joint Combat Aircraft had £659 million lopped off. We're not told why, so it may now be using leftover bits from the Austin Allegro: the lucky pilots will find out when they enter joint combat.

But the most alarming project is the Nimrod MRA4 (Maritime, Reconnaissance and Attack Mk 4). This mother is now 89 months behind schedule- seven and a half years- and seems to be costing upwards of £2bn. During the most recent year its cost ramped up by a further £215m, despite the fact that MOD cut the order from 18 to just 12.

What on earth's going on? Spyflight provides an intersting insight:

"The most controversial decision taken by BAe in their study to determine the design for the MRA4, was to refurbish and reuse the fuselages of a number of old Nimrods for the new aircraft.

A delay was caused when they tried to attach the new wing to the old fuselage. The old MR2 wings and fuselages were constructed before the days of CAD / CAM and were built in jigs and then mated by tradesmen hammering & filing the metal to fit as necessary – as a result each fuselage was slightly different, in some cases by up to 4 inches (!). Consequently, when a new wing designed on CADDS5 and manufactured with great precision was presented to the old fuselage, unsurprisingly it didn’t fit. It also probably didn’t help that the re-lifted fuselage was designed on a different CAD system, CATIA, and that the teams had used one fuselage to establish certain datum points and then discovered that the first fuselage they worked on was subtly different....etc, etc"

So the whole deal is being cobbled together from parts of old Nimrods, which as every plane spotter knows, were themselves cobbled together from old Comets, which as we also know were those "jetage" contraptions lashed together in haste so we could beat the Yanks, that then kept blowing up and plunging into the Med. And if we knew the truth, we'd probably discover the Comets were themselves built from bits of old Lancasters, maybe the Dambusters.

Makes you wonder how often we taxpayers are paying for the same bits of recycled kit over and over again.

Picture: Spyflight


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