In Afghanistan, the most expensive comms-relay and camera plane ever
No again. The new combat computer architecture is by Boeing, in fact, not BAE. The electronic-warfare fit is from Israel. Most of the MRA4's weapons will be from America. Its engines will have "Rolls Royce" stamped proudly upon them, but will in fact come from Germany.
So we're paying almost triple market rate for largely foreign kit integrated into a historical chassis. And it won't have escaped most readers that the threat the old Nimrod MR2s were built to fight - the Soviet submarine fleet - is nowadays simply not an issue. There are still a handful of Russian subs left operational, but the Red Army is no longer in any position to invade Western Europe. The critical need to secure the North Atlantic NATO supply lines is gone.
Sure, a few of the existing Nimrod MR2s (and much more so, the three specially equipped electronic-intelligence birds, the Nimrod R1s**) have been doing useful work over Afghanistan. But for the MR2 this has mainly been a matter of relaying ground radio communications between units separated by mountains. A few MR2s have been fitted with an electro-optical camera turret for use as high-flying spyeyes, too - the MRA4s will all carry a Northrop Grumman "Nighthunter" set for this sort of work.
But you don't pay the best part of a billion dollars per bird for comms relay and basic aerial spyeye capability, not unless you're insane. A cheap unmanned drone able to do such things costs no more than £10-20m, even with the MoD buying. The mere fact that MR2s have been, and MRA4s will be, able to make themselves marginally useful above Afghanistan doesn't mean they're worth what they cost - not in money or in lives.
There can't be any doubt that we should simply cancel the whole project right now. The price of an equivalent number of P-8s would be recouped very quickly indeed through lower running costs. And actually, we might very well give some thought to simply not having subhunter planes for a while - it's hardly top of the priority list right now, and we've recently bought loads of incredibly expensive anti-submarine helicopters and frigate sonars which will do just fine if any enemy subs should actually appear.
Cash freed up by not having maritime patrol planes for a while would let us put some more troops on the ground in Afghanistan - we have the people in uniform already, the manpower cap there is primarily a matter of money - and maybe make some progress in the war we started 8 years ago. Or we could pay our troops decently, or look after the injured better.
But there seems to be zero chance of anything common-sense like that happening. This is largely due to the very successful obfuscation by the RAF of just how relatively little - considering the massive costs in money and lives - the Nimrods have actually been contributing in Afghanistan. It doesn't take away from the hard work and sacrifice of the crews to say that: it should be obvious that maritime patrol aircraft aren't going to be a critically important counter-insurgency tool. Once again, operational security ("can't tell you what they're doing old boy, frightfully secret") has been used as a cloak for empire-building, or in this case empire-preservation.
"It's just wonderful to see this aircraft take to the skies," enthused BAE's Steve Timms last week.
Not if you're a British taxpayer or serviceman, it isn't. ®
*The de Havilland Comet first flew in 1949.
**A Nimrod R1 elint plane is hugely more relevant and useful than either an MR2 or MRA4. Fortunately, the MoD seem to be resisting BAE's plan to replace the aged R1s with more specially-pimped Comet relics at colossal and unnecessary cost. Instead the ministry is looking to buy US "Rivet Joint" planes for this job.
The best way to spend the money...
...would be to bring our troops home from Afghanistan NOW. After all, they're supposed to be a 'defence' force, hence the name of the ministry - Ministry of Defence. Instead they're being used as an offence and occupation force.
Not only would this ultimately save us billions of pounds, but it would also make Britain safer overall and reduce the likelihood of Afghans and Pakistanis resorting to extremist measures against us in a vain attempt to rid their lands of our imperialistic terror and menace.
State-sponsored terrorism is still terrorism after all when the people you're fighting are part of the civilian population (which the 'Taleban' are) of a foreign sovereign nation you've illegally invaded.
Every Afghan and Pakistani civilian killed in our war of terror is another victim of a war crime, and another mark on the charge sheet of those responsible for our 'defence' force being there.
Let's stop spending so much money on killing other people and instead invest it something productive which will help to further our species' advancement and survival.
Lewis is a clown
"a painstakingly-restored De Havilland Comet."
By that same logic a 2009 Porsche 911 is just a painstakingly restored 1950s VW Beetle.
A FLKA (Funny Looking King Air) can do the FLIR/FMV part of Nimrod's role quite well, but can't do the same spectrum of Afghan roles (a King Air laden with kit has two operators only, limiting what it can do, it can't carry the same comms gear, it can't fly high enough, it can't locate enemy signals as well (aerial configuration), it can't carry the same ESM and it can't offer the same radar surveillance capabilities).
And it certainly can't do the Nimrod's other roles, and for as long as we're a maritime nation, and for as long as we have SLBMs, them we need those capabilities.