The Major is still fuming over D Browne's shameful decision to keep the RAF's decrepit Nimrods flying (see many previous blogs, eg here).
There's no doubt it is shameful, but as I told the Major, in reality, Browne is boxed in. The boys in Helmand must have a spy in the sky, and the new replacement Nimrod is running seven years late.
Well yes, he said. Yes. But who's fault is that? He proceeded to tell me.
According to his friend from the Royal Aircraft Establishment (RIP- now part of QinetiQ), when the Nimrod MRA4 project was given the go-ahead in 1996, it was against the strong wishes of the RAF and the MOD procurement team.
After a four-year competition to find a replacement for the old Nimrod (the one that's still flying), they'd opted for a new version of the Lockheed Orion, the world's most successful maritime reconnaisance aircraft. In fact they'd more or less told Lockheed and their UK partner GEC that they'd won (eg see this 1995 NY Times report).
But then the professionals got over-ruled. For some reason, the politicians decided that BAE's Nimrod bid was preferable.
Exactly what happened is unclear.
One possibility is that the politicos wanted to safeguard British jobs. But all the competing bids involved a mix of British and US product. Nimrod uses much US kit, and according to a Flight International report from May 1996, "the Lockheed Martin Tactical Systems (UK) bid promises that 70% of the contract value will be bedded directly in UK firms participating on the programme". So not much to choose there, and the Lockheed project also offered much stronger export prospects for the British participants.
Another, more plausible, suggestion is that having lost, BAE came back with a stunning price cut of around £500m- about 25% of the contract total. And against the background of perpetual budget squeeze, it did the trick.
Of course, as night follows day, we could all have predicted what happened next. Once BAE had got the contract, the price spiralled. The contract was later renegotiated, and the number of planes slashed from 21 to 12. So whereas we started at £2bn for 21 planes- £95m each- we're currently on £3.5bn for 12 aircraft- £290m each. That's a price increase of 205%.
Another stroke of genius from the Simple Shopper.
Except of course, in this version of events, it wasn't the Shopper himself. It was his political masters.
And who were they?
The Defence Secretary was one Michael Denzil Xavier Portillo. Who later became a non-executive director of BAE.
PS See here for a nicely balanced account of BAE's other lobbying activities.
Pic: Penguin Food