back to article BAE puffs troubled submarines, Spanish export order

BAE Systems, the UK's principal arms firm, is having a good media week in its submarine-building incarnation. Firstly, the troubled Astute-class project is finally getting some positive press, though it's hard to see why. The BBC notes that three Astute boats are now at different stages of construction and "a huge, red neon …

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Things you didn't know...

"The first two boat sets will be fully welded and completed in Barrow. The last two will be partly assembled and welded in Barrow, with final welding set to take place in Navantia's facilities in Cartagena with support from BAE Systems Solutions as required," according to BAE."

There's such a thing as a flat-pack submarine?

Cool.

I just hope they remember to include an Allen key ($30,000 in Pentagon dollars).

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Yawn

"BAE has suggested that the US assistance was purely a matter of sorting out issues with CAD software, but if this is true it seems odd that an American submarine builder and not a CAD specialist was consulted."

Not very. "CAD software", even if it starts out as something relatively generic, will often be heavily modified with custom tools and add-ins which are specific to a particular industry or application; and that modification will often be carried out in-house by the end-user company. A CAD company may not actually know very much about what specific tools are required for design and construction of a nuclear sub; Electric Boat very probably do, and very probably have either in-house developers, or contractors who deal with that very thing. It's not at all surprising therefore that another company in exactly the same field would contract for some of their staff to perform similar modifications to their own systems.

"Or, just perhaps, one might say that expertise will be actually be transferred from Connecticut to Spain, with BAE acting as middleman and taking a hefty commission."

Sorry, but that's pure nonsense; the expertise/assistance from Groton is in the area of design tools, the work being gradually transferred to Spain is assembly, and only final assembly at that. All that's happening is that the first tranche of boats will be wholly assembled in Barrow (presumably with Navantia staff looking on), while the last tranche will have final assembly carried out in Cartagena AFTER partial assembly and welding in Barrow.

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Anonymous Coward

What isn't said ...

... is far more interesting.

ElReg is happy to berate the government etc when they go out and spend oodles of cash on some moving target IT system - I'd be extremely surprised if this wasn't a similar situation.

When I worked in "the yard" (as the place is still known locally) I used to describe my job thus :

The Ministry will decide that they need a certain piece of equipment and will write a specification for it - being careful to be as vague as possible so that they can't be 'wrong' in the future.

We look at the spec, and together with what we know about their needs and submarines, will write a detailed spec.

This spec is sent out to tender, and the tenders analysed taking regard of whetehr we believe the potential contractor is capable and whether their cost and timescales are credible.

The Ministry will then order from the cheapest quote ! In the modern days of 'prime contractor' and all that, it's probably the company that orders it now.

The contractor will write their own spec, and this will go back and forth a few times. This process is repeated as things get more and more detailed. Needless to say, when you buy on price, the end price is unlikely to reflect the initial tender - so many individual bits will go up in price, as will the man hours spent sorting out the mess.

Eventually, a box (or multiple boxes) will be delivered to the yard - all painted the same standard colour (which is probably classified so I won't say what !)

If we are VERY lucky, it will do what the Ministry wanted and not what they wrote. But if it doesn't, then the Ministry can use the vagueness of their original spec to re-interpret what they asked for to make it the contractors fault.

If we are VERY VERY lucky, the Ministry haven't totally changed their mind in the meantime !

Changing software during the project is costly. Changing you mind during the build of a submarine is even more so - especially if you then have to redesign the metalwork and rebuild bits of it. I would be incredibly surprised if this hasn't happened.

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Psychologists in the board room!

One thing from the BBC article that you haven't mentioned is that BAE got into such a mess that they called in psychologists to help sort out their management process! Apparently a psychologist is still present at every board meeting.

I think I need to tell Scott Adams about that one.

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Yarr!

I'm originally from Barrow, nice place...............

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Tom
Silver badge

Just another Rubber Ducky for the bathtub.

Quite a large rubber ducky to be sure, but a rubber ducky just the same. Everyone wants one, and they cost a few £££ ($$$) each. Where do I sign up? Why not build a cruse ship and just have the stuff below decks hidden from view. It might make money on the side.

All in all they are "really neat" devices, but us Americans know how to build such things (and have the budget for them!). Some things are best left to "experts".

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who's in the boardroom?

never been in a board meeting with a psychologist, but i have been in meetings with a few psychopaths though...Not too sure which would be worst !!

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Anonymous Coward

Atomic Rubber Ducky

>> Some things are best left to "experts"

Whether you're an expert in a field isn't usually the point. For example, the British scientists and engineers back in the days of the nuclear arms race successfully put together a bomb which was (and I believe still is) vastly superior to the American design - but this was scrapped in favour of the American version which the UK uses to this day.

It all comes down to political clout in the end. That and vast amounts of money, which when you have majority vote on the board of the world bank usually isn't much of a problem.

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