Feeds

Antique Nimrod subhunters scrapped – THANK GOODNESS!

World's biggest vintage aircraft club finally shut down

The Essential Guide to IT Transformation

Comment The UK press is bursting with indignation today as the process of scrapping the Nimrod MRA4 submarine-hunting aircraft begins. But in fact the four planes now being broken up were a financial and engineering disaster. Had they gone into service they would have become a terrible, cripplingly expensive millstone around the neck of the Ministry of Defence. We are much, much better off without them.

The Nimrod MRA4 on the ground. Credit: BAE Systems

This plane cost us more than two Space Shuttles – and would have cost a lot, lot more if we'd kept it.

Certainly not everyone agrees. We can forget leader-writers fulminating idiotically about Russian submarines and world-beating British engineering: some more serious people have entered the fray. A group of former senior officers writes to the nation that "a massive gap in British security has opened".

But one should note that the signatories – including the air marshals one would naturally expect to find condemning cuts to the RAF, but also the admiral and general who won the Falklands war – don't actually state that they think the Nimrod itself should have been saved. They write:

The vulnerability of sea lanes, unpredictable overseas crises and traditional surface and submarine opposition will continue to demand versatile, responsive aircraft ...

Other countries are actually seeking to reinforce their maritime patrol capacity, with the new Boeing 737 P8A a strong contender ...

It is not perverse to suggest that the gap left by broken Nimrods should be readdressed.

What the ex-brasshats are bemoaning is the UK's loss of long-range maritime patrol aircraft in general, not the Nimrod MRA4 in particular. They're wise to draw this distinction, as the MRA4 project has now achieved the unwelcome distinction of producing the most expensive aircraft ever made: with a reported £4.1bn spent, just one is airworthy.

By comparison, a new Space Shuttle would cost about £1.75bn at current rates if it were built today1. Even the staggeringly expensive B-2 nuclear Stealth bombers only cost £1.3bn apiece.

Our sole flying Nimrod MRA4 (pictured above) has wound up costing us no less than £4.1bn – and it is not even a new aircraft. All the MRA4s are refurbished and re-equipped Nimrod MR2s, which had already been purchased by the RAF long ago at inflated prices.

Even if the project had continued as planned, we would have received just nine refurbished Nimrods in total for our £4bn-odd – each of them would have cost almost half a billion pounds plus what was paid for it in the first place. One should note that this would have represented a more-than-quadrupling of the original "fixed price" agreed per plane by the last Tory government when it kicked off the programme back in the 1990s. Given the project's disastrous history of cost and time overruns, there's no reason to believe than the latest estimates would be any more accurate that the ones which preceded them - we'd probably have wound up spending at least the purchase price of a new fleet of NASA space shuttles to get our nine antisubmarine planes.

The air marshals and generals do well to mention the Boeing P-8, as it shows what an antisubmarine plane of the Nimrod type ought to cost: India is buying P-8s for £160m each at the moment, well under one-third of what we were set to pay for our MRA4s. And the P-8, using sensors, computers and so on selected recently rather than back in the 1990s will be much more capable as well.

"These planes [the Nimrods] are no longer state of the art. Cheaper alternatives are emerging," says Keith Hayward, head of research at the Royal Aeronautical Society, talking to the BBC.

And make no mistake, scrapping the Nimrods will save money – a lot of money. Support and maintenance of a normal military aircraft can be expected to cost two to three times the acquisition price over its service life – and the Nimrod was far from normal.

In fact, the MRA4s would have been the last nine De Havilland Comet airliner airframes left flying in the world. The Comet, designed in the 1940s, failed commercially and went out of airline service many decades ago – and since then large aircraft have no longer been made in the UK.

The Nimrod/Comet is so old that it belongs to a lost era of manufacturing: this is the main reason why the MRA4 project was so horrifically late and over budget. The planes supplied for upgrading by the RAF had significant differences in size and shape – they had been essentially coach-built, bodged together with the blueprints used more as a guide than followed with any accuracy in the modern sense. Trying to rebuild, re-equip and re-engine them, with no real idea what the physical dimensions and internal layout of any given plane actually were, was a technical nightmare.

The Essential Guide to IT Transformation

More from The Register

next story
Just TWO climate committee MPs contradict IPCC: The two with SCIENCE degrees
'Greenhouse effect is real, but as for the rest of it ...'
'Blow it up': Plods pop round for chat with Commonwealth Games tweeter
You'd better not be talking about the council's housing plans
Arrr: Freetard-bothering Digital Economy Act tied up, thrown in the hold
Ministry of Fun confirms: Yes, we're busy doing nothing
Help yourself to anyone's photos FOR FREE, suggests UK.gov
Copyright law reforms will keep m'learned friends busy
Apple smacked with privacy sueball over Location Services
Class action launched on behalf of 100 million iPhone owners
Adam Afriyie MP: Smart meters are NOT so smart
Mega-costly gas 'n' 'leccy totting-up tech not worth it - Tory MP
Yes, Australia's government SHOULD store comms metadata
Not because it's a good idea but because it already operates the infrastructure and processes to do it well
prev story

Whitepapers

Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.
Why and how to choose the right cloud vendor
The benefits of cloud-based storage in your processes. Eliminate onsite, disk-based backup and archiving in favor of cloud-based data protection.
The Essential Guide to IT Transformation
ServiceNow discusses three IT transformations that can help CIO's automate IT services to transform IT and the enterprise.
Maximize storage efficiency across the enterprise
The HP StoreOnce backup solution offers highly flexible, centrally managed, and highly efficient data protection for any enterprise.