back to article Most expensive RAF aircraft ever takes to the skies

The most expensive aircraft ever built for the British armed forces, a painstakingly-restored De Havilland Comet airliner outfitted as an anti-submarine patrol plane, has made its first flight. The Nimrod MRA4 on the ground. Credit: BAE Systems The 1940s* aeroplane that WOULD NOT DIE. The Nimrod MRA4 programme was initiated …

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WTF?

Unbefuckinglievable

OK. I admin it. Not unbelievable at all.

Just some vestigial naivety getting it's voice heard before the jaded cynicism kicks in.

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Nimrod

They could not have chosen a better name for this.

(I'm of course aware of the mythical figure)

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What would you expect...

.. from an Aircraft named after one of the most cruel men (mentioned in Koran,Bible and Jewish text) from history.

Wikipedia:

".. In rabbinical writings up to the present, he is almost invariably referred to as "Nimrod the Evil"(Hebrew: נמרוד הרשע‎), and to Muslims he is "Nimrod al-Jabbar" (The Tyrant or Thug)."

Who chose the name?

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Usual anti-british bias...

Glad to see the usual anti-british / anti-RAF bias being maintained here...

Whilst the current martime threat to the UK may be non-existant, surely an in-depth defence capability means being able to deal with unexpected threats, not just those we face today. Always being backwards looking to what threats we *think* are around the corner is why our forces never had the right kit in either the Falklands or virtually any other conflict since.

And I believe the comms and intelligence kit in the MRA4 will enable it to do a *lot* more than simply just acting as a sub-hunter.

Cost-overruns and the incompetence of the government in almost any military procurement shouldn't hide the fact that the MRA4 will be the most-capable such platform in the world. The P8 is equally based on a 40+ year old airliner (737) and has the disadvantage that a single engine problem will render it unusable and have to return to base. The Nimrod was always built to be able to loiter on two engines alone, only needing all four for climb and cruise.

And would those Rivet Joint platforms that the MoD apparently wishes to buy be the very same as the RC-135 Rivet Joint used by the USAF? Last I checked this shares the same lineage as the Boeing 707, which, to be fair, is a good three or four years newer than the Comet :)

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"Instead the ministry is looking to buy...

...US "Rivet Joint" planes for this job."

Sorry, and that's meant to be good news how exactly? Rivet Joint's about as tired as the R1 and doesn't even match that for capability. I refer you to http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/article3296568.ece , and note that the RC135's based on a Boeing 707 airframe from 1954 - although you're remarkably silent on that as compared to your continued whining about the Nimrod's Comet heritage. Basically, for all your gloating, you're supporting a reduction in capability now and a withering on the vine later for an extremely important asset and skillset.

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Lewis Page

Pretty sound article; not like the really bad rants from the same author; this seems almost balanced and logical.

So - what are the reasons it's not been cancelled ? Would it cost more to cancel than proceed ? Portillo isn't in the shadow cabinet so why aren't the Tories all over the government ?

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Grenade

Cancelling is not an option

Lewis, unless MoD bureaucrats are better negotiators than the ones we have over here (wherever here is), and after reading your articles I doubt they are, then cancelling a contract will be more expensive due to contractual penalties than simply having the bloody things built.

I remember when I was doing my service, there was a large Vax in the next room, going to be rigged up as an elint system. It was one or two years from delivery. The cost was rumoured to be around 20m. At that time, it was beyond doubt that it was never going to be needed, in fact it probably was going to be dismantled as soon as it was finished, but it still had to be completed since this was the cheaper option. Madness...

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WTF?

Nostalgia or British Pride?

I mean, sure the concept of keeping a 50+ year-old bird in the air isn't all that unheard of here in the states--B52 most notably--but umm yeah, a Comet?? Correct me if I'm wrong, but wasn't this pioneer of the jet age the same plane that had a catastrophic vibration problem that killed the Comet as a commercial airliner? And they're still flying?? I will concede that the Comet is one pretty plane, but if it was having major planes-falling-out-of-the-sky-issues back in the 50's, why are they STILL in the air and not in a museum? Ok, MoD is having a perpetuating blonde-moment with this--pretty but dumb. A wee bit of pride doing a bang up job keeping the blinders on.

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All this really tells us

is that the people who negotiate contracts for BAe are much, much better at it than the people who negotiate for the gummint.

When you consider that on the one hand you have a group of motivated, commercially aware individuals who are, no doubt, being paid nice big commissions for bringing in a contract of this size - and presumably have the knack of turning a fixed-price job into cost-plus or T&M by the simple expedient of knowing there will be a slew of changes required: and costing each one additionally.

On the other, you have a group of indifferent bureaucrats who are merely spending other people's money.

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Flame

Nimrod? Give me strength!

I worked for GEC in the days of Nimrod AEW. That's 25 years ago! It was a crap airframe then (way too small for the kit, which is why the RAF finally got to buy AWACS) & it's a crap airframe now.

Still, I'm sure that the ministers involved will get nice BAe directorships out of it while the taxpayer AND the armed forces get shafted. Again.

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WTF?

Oh! Pleeease paint the nose-cone YELLOW!!

Look! Up in the sky. . . It's a bird.. It's a plane.. No, It's BOTH!

So, I'm guessing that one of the set designers for original 50s Buck Rogers television series was the chief consultant on this project?

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WTF?

B737

I'm sorry, but comparing that the B737 airframe to the Comet is a bloody stupid thing to say.

Although it might have first flown a "mere" 20 years after Comet, this was an inter-stellar technology leap at this formative time in civil aviation. Whilst the Comet program quite literally crashed and burned a VERY long time ago, the B737 has been in continuous production ever since it first flew making it the single most produced airliner in history. There are an estimated 1,250 IN THE AIR at any given moment in time.

Chalk and cheese, dear boy. Chalk and cheese.

(Keep up the good work Lewis)

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All Nimrods do is hunt subs????????

The Nimrod MR2 is the most capable Long range SAR platform on the planet. It can be on scene in half the time of a P-3/Atlantique based solution and loiter for a hell of a long time in search patterns. If I was stuck on a rubber ring in the middle of the Atlantic, It's the thing I would be praying for. I do enjoy most of the reg articles, but am getting a bit fed up with the pseudo political ranting about defence issues, of which the writers clearly don't fully grasp.

Get some decent defence reporters (or at least a copy of the Observers Book of Aircraft) or stick to the amusing defence articles!

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Big Brother

@lots of you

Many of you complaining about anti-UK or anti-RAF bias are overlooking the salient point in this:-

Almost ANY decision made by MOD procurement in the last God-knows-how-many-years has resulted in military hardware which is always years overdue, invariably four or five times original cost estimates, and generally ineffective at doing the job for which it's intended.

No-one is anti-UK or anti-RAF or anti-any other branch of the services, BUT.....

Should one ot two MOD procurement retards be charged with sabotage, taken out & shot (but not with guns or ammo they had procured). pour encourager les autres, then maybe our Armed Forces might suddenly begin to receive effective equipment in a timely manner and at fair cost. - Oh, and whilst you're at it, include a charge of treason against a certain sanctimonious, parsimonious, one-eyed mental patient who has aways shown contempt for the military, unless he can bask in their reflected glory. He ain't worth a used latrine...

No doubt his Chekists will arrive soon...

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Its a nice looking plane.

Any chance of some V-bomers with new kit any time soon?

I do wonder why they don't base the stuff on a modern Civilian jet?, I mean if you started to base your 'next one' on say the fancy new air bus, you could throw in extened range fule tanks, and have room to crew to sleep for 24h/7..., a pool table....

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@SharkNose

"Usual anti-British bias"?

Crap.

I'd challenge you, or anybody else, to find anything here to commend - its anti-MOD purchasing policy, anti- (past) Government policy, and a criticism of stupidity and waste.

Certainly not 'anti-British bias' unless you perceive the above traits something to be proud of.

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why the obsession with knackered old airframes

Because I did hear that 4th or 5th hand Jumbos were going for <£30k in the middle east.

Very poor fuel economy (hence grossly uneconomic for commercial flight). Airframe over hours (no probs for MoD they'll be Crown Immune). But bags of room and 4 engines.

Or you could use an equivalent old knackered airbus of similar vintage.

But

None of them have the full length unpressurised weapon and sonar buoy bay underneath. Unless its a specific ASW version of course.

But God what a waste of money keeping something so actually old (not the design the actual hardware) flying.

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Nice and balanced

The usual anti-british military tripe I seem to always read on here. What SharkNose said.

Oh, and the point of the Nimrod isn't to hunt out submarines, it's to defend the UK's nuclear deterrent, which finding submarines just happens to be part of.

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Happy

But isn't it a beauty?

No comment is required

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Not really a Comet

It's true the Nimrod was based on the Comet, but it was designed around the Comet 4 airframe which has precious little in common with the original 1949 Comet prototype. The Comet 4 first flew in 1958 which makes it younger than the American alternative.

Oh and its a much better looking plane.

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Alert

The Daily Mail would be proud Lewis

Most of us read El Reg for that clever insight that isn't available from most news sources, here we see the sort of uninformed bile that is readily available from most tabliods.

A few things that Lewis and the commentards might like to consider:

- While Lewis may be obsessed with current operations, the military have to think about maintaining capabilities not currently required (such as sub hunting). This is the sort of narrow minded obsession with current operations that leads to important capabilities being neglected, never to be restored because the cash ends up in the NHS instead.

- With the steady proliferation of ultra quiet diesel electric subs (quieter than a nuke) sub hunting will almost certainly be required at some point in the future.

- If you're going to make ridiculous price comparisons trying to take account of inflation, the cost of Endeavor would be £1.8 billion today.

- The Indians are buying the export version of the P-8, as we would have to as well. A nicely castrated version with significantly less capability than the MRA4. To obtain the full fat version would require us to buy into the development program at vast cost.

- Rolls Royce Deutschland is owned entirely by Rolls Royce and the engines were pulled off an existing production line. Is Lewis suggesting we should have spent more cash to adapt the aircraft to a engine actually produced in the UK rather than simply produced by a company based in the UK?

Of the whole article, the line "it should be obvious that maritime patrol aircraft aren't going to be a critically important counter-insurgency tool" is without doubt the most revealing. Perhaps Lewis would like to consider:

- A Nimrod with a camera is not the same as a UAV with a camera. UAVs fail for two reasons. Firstly the bandwidth requirements eat into already limited budgets that are better used elsewhere. Seconly people on the ground are required to interpret the UAV results in some form of ground station, Nimrod has the staff on board analyzing results real time in direct communication with the ground, providing a far more effective system than the UAV ever can.

- The Nimrod provides Link 16 comms, UAVs don't.

- The Nimrod is fitted with a Searchwater radar, which is the best radar in theater for tracking small insurgent targets.

Still, don't let fact get in the way of a good rant eh?

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Nice and balanced

Not anti-british military, anti-MoD which is always a worthy cause.

For the cost of one of these giant flying white elephants the RAF could double its Chinook fleet, which is a hell of lot more useful than AEW platform in the desert. Hell MoD can't even supply the right camo for Helmand and its spunking money on something that probably won't work right anyway .

@SharkNose

P8 is based on new 737-800 airframes which is 10 year old design, the nimrod has 40 year old airframe based on a design from the 1940s

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Anonymous Coward

Merde!

The French get the last laugh; MR2 sounds like Merde.

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I can't help it..

..it's so beautiful

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dl

@Chris Pasiuk

The Comets problem wasn't vibration. It was the nice big square windows it originally came with and the pressurised cabin.

Metal fatigue at the corners of the windows led to the hull ripping apart in mid air.

Once they eventually figured it out they put in smaller rounder windows.

But it was too late for the Comets reputation by then.

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FAIL

Oh, it's Lewis again...

...enough said...

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Anonymous Coward

Nimrod...

Maybe it should be renamed the "Numb-Rod".

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Paris Hilton

9 Nimrods

3.5 Space shuttles

or ...

1 night in Paris

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Black Helicopters

Your tax dollars (or Pounds) at work

I had never realized that the aptly-named Nimrod was based on the Comet airframe. Isn't that kind of like basing the U.S. Army's latest utility vehicle on the Chevy Corvair or the Ford Pinto??

Black stealth helicopter because the U.N. seems to be able to somehow buy them in bulk and on the cheap

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Badgers

not quite the same as...

So Rolls Royce buy a German commercial engine supplier and people moan,

its not the same as having a Royal Family called Saxe-Coburg and having them chaneg thier name to Windsor is it! Quite the reverese!

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Anonymous Coward

40 Year Old AirFrame?

Surely these airframes are newly manufactured. An old design with updates is actually how most "modern" airframe are designed. Incremental improvements are made over time.

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el reg is loosing credability when it comes to defense articles

It seem's that the only reason the register publishes defense articles these day's is to bait the "bloody government" / "why dont we just buy form the americans" readership.

It's important that the UK take defense into our own hands. For fucks sake in other articles we read here (Gary Mckinnon for example) all we here is how to UK should stop bowing to the americans, but no, when it comes to defense procurement then that's what you all want.

I do accept that the UK gov do appear tp be paying far too much but that is "far too much" money being pumped back into our economy. The gov make a lot of it back in tax anyway. If we were paying foreign firms this kind of money then i would worry but we're not.

so there.

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Pirate

Look at it this way

You really couldn't do much sub-hunting with 3 1/2 Space Shuttles, now could you? Be honest!

It is a pretty plane though. Very art-deco looking.

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Stop

@Chris Pasiuk

Someone else has already answered this, but I just wanted to fill in some details.

The original Comet was designed with big square windows that were too close together. The design would cope with the pressurisation of normal operation without a problem, but ground testing called for the pressure differential between inside and out to be exaggerated (essentially for the jet to be over-pressured). This resulted in work hardening that made the metal around the corners of the windows more brittle than would normally be expected (similar would probably have happened after lengthy service so it was probably fortunate the problem was discovered through over-pressurisation before many hulls were in service). Then during normal operation the corners of the windows would start cracking, and the whole side of the aircraft would "unzip" along the tops of the windows causing a major structural failure and crash.

The side piece from a crashed Nimrod showing the unzipped windows is on display at Whittle Hall, RAF College Cranwell for new Engineering Officers in the RAF to look at. The Comet was redesigned to have smaller round windows spaced further apart and was then fine, unfortunately the reputation of it was destroyed and it never became commercially viable. Despite this, the Comet 4 (the redesigned version) flew for 30 years with Civilian airlines and the last recorded flight of a Comet is from 1997.

The Nimrod has an interesting safety record. There are 3 fatal flights in its history. One where both pilots died after a 3 engine failure following a birdstrike - all the remaining crew got out. There was a crash at an airshow, and a crash on operations in Afghanistan. Overall it has been a pretty successful aircraft, and it's ability to loiter on 2 engines in operational areas has made it very popular since it can stay on patrol for an extremely long period of time - very useful when patrolling areas like the Falklands.

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Go

B-52 could be in service for 100 Year according to USAF Proposals!

No its not wacko-day....

The washington post highlights a renewal program and a End of Life paper by USAF that could see the B-52 BUF fly until 2050, effectively 100 years after it entered service!

Latest upgrade for B-52 (As proposed in reprot below from 2000)

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A38995-2004Jun13.html

Original report available for purchase here

http://www.stormingmedia.us/21/2171/A217193.html

also, lets not forget there are still are fair few DC-3 flying out there in commericial use, probably some still hanging on to military service (we will over look Battle of Britian memorial Flight, for now!)

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Black Helicopters

How many...

...Vulcans could you restore for that kind of money, eh? Or maybe refurbish a Space Shuttle or something and have NASA rent them back.

I say we should be spending these amounts of money on that Alan Bond, Reaction Engines stuff instead of this kind of BAE pork. At least we'd get something remotely innovative out of it.

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Anonymous Coward

Anti-terrorism and the Olympics

So you don't think anti-submarine plane is essential to a war in landlocked Afghanistan?

Here they are paying for a state of the art towed sonar submarine to image the harbor seabed as security for the 2010 winter olympics. Which are being held 60miles inland and 3000ft up a ****ing mountain.

Just in case - Al Queda intends to target the luge final as a symbol of Zionism, and they decide to do it from a submarine 60miles away, and they have the submarine in place 6months in advance then VANOC are ready"

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FAIL

So what makes this different

From any other piece of government waste with your tax money? They seem to not be able to figure out ways to throw it away fast enough.

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Unhappy

Oh my my my...

It is a pretty plane.. I'm of the persuasion that the MOD need to re-launch the Vulcan, The newly beautified Comet and a couple of old Spits.. Ya might not win any wars but then, who would want to fight a country with such a beautiful collection of old planes..

Could be worse guys.. Here in Ireland we've gone backwards.. in 1955 we took delivery of some extraordinarily gorgeous De Hav Vampires.. With, and get this, JET ENGINES!! Now, our entire air corp is propellor driven except our government transport Lears.. The old Fouga's have been dumped in the skip :(

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Ah..

So that'll be the plane I saw flying overhead when I came out of Asda the other week.

All I can say is it looked stunning and very menacing in black flying low :)

FYI it looked like it was heading towards Warton - a BAe site.

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Be honest Lewis

This is you every time you find out something about the MOD's latest spending ideas isn't it?

http://img27.imageshack.us/img27/2364/ffffuuuu.jpg

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Joke

Never learn from history do you?

Oh yes Lewis, lets scrap the lot eh? Put the money into a war in Afghanistan that is none of our business and is of no STRATEGIC importance. No threat from Russian Submarines? well perhaps not now, and thank God Russia is such a stable country, oh its not really is it? and of course no one else has or is building submarines, are they? The Chinese are not, or the Iranians, and besides a silent killer like a diesel electric could hardly transit half way around the globe could it? Oh wait a minute, both Nuclear and Diesel Electrics can do that, as we did in the Falklands war.

Twice in this nations history have we been brought to the brink of defeat by submarines. So now is the time to scrap a capability in terms of training and equipment that we can instantly resurrect when things change unexpectedly overseas and throw that money into an un-winable war in Afghanistan where colonel blimp and his chums are fighting the Taliban or is it the Afghan population, trying to kill as many of the invaders as they can?

Lewis knows the cost of everything and the value of nothing (sorry oscar). We have an anti-submarine capability that is the envy of the world, or was last time I talked to some merkins.

Joke Alert as the article is one.

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Journalist's now ready to run MoD

Thank goodness this journalist has given taxpayers his precious time and advice to "save the day" on mis-guided RAF expenditures. From the tone of his article, he obviously knows much more about how to run Britain's military than they themselves do!

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FAIL

A modern definition

nimrod, n: Informal - A person regarded as silly, foolish, or stupid.

A fitting name for the end result of this project.

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Anonymous Coward

Yawn, same old ignorant argument from Lewis

"The combat theatre is different now, these were designed for cold war era combat!!!!!1111"

That argument is tiresome Lewis, particularly as it's at worst an outright fallacious, or at best, short sighted argument.

Combat theatres are constantly changing, new large vehicular kit takes a long time to bring in to service. Just because the kit isn't overly useful for the combat theatre we're seeing at the date of commissioning doesn't mean it wont be valid for the theatre in 2, 5, 10, 20, possibly even 30 years time - the kind of lifetime of this kind of kit, much as with the Eurofighter, so fucking what if we're not doing air combat now, can you really guarantee we wont be doing it with say Iran, Venezuela or North Korea in the next 20 years?

I don't disagree that the MoD's inability to acquisition kit at reasonable prices is absolutely shocking, and much of the rest of what you say is true.

But really, can you stop parroting in every single one of your articles the suggestion that the kit isn't 100% useful for what we're doing right at this moment? It's stupid. Following your path, we'd spend 5 years acquisitioning the alternative kit you suggest, buying unmanned drones or such instead (and yes, 5 years is reasonable- this kit isn't just sitting on shelves in warehouses, it has to be designed and built and built to fit British military infrastructure specifications etc.) then at the end of that 5 years, we'd be like, oh, Afghanistan is done now, we've got a bunch of fucking useless drones that are great for finding goat herders in mountains but fuck all to find North Korean subs, and more importantly, nothing big enough to fit North Korean sub finding kit inside- I know, let's buy some sub-hunting aircraft, in the 5 - 10 years it takes to get them built we could be back in Afghanistan with no need for sub-hunters!

I've been fortunate enough to visit the hangers of a national aeronautical research institute, and much of the research aircraft they have are 50s era, do they care? No, because they're a decent size, they've upgraded the engines and various other components, but most importantly - they can butcher them as need be and have them ready for different roles in no time at all - my friend who was showing me round pointed out how they'd turned around one of their larger aircraft for hurricane research over the South-South Western USA to instruments designed to try and find mass graves in as little as 3 weeks.

It's about having the capability to change on the fly, not buying purpose built aircraft for each job that wont be ready until they're already obsolete and following that pointless cycle.

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IT Angle

Hang on

Instead of berating the Nimrod for being an ancient design, lets all knock the B-52, after it was designed and built in the 50's and with further upgrades will still be flying in the 50's ... 2050's

But I digress

BAE systems had a fixed price for this Nimrod upgrade program of 2.2 billion, and yet now the the MOD says the cost will be 3.6 billion.

Whos fault is that?

The aircraft?

Bet it would take the same amount to build and fiddle the kit into any aircraft

The techs who do the work?

But they are paid the same to bash bits of Comet around as twist bits of old Boeings about.

Lets blame Roll royce for sourcing the engines from Germany (as someone pointed out Rolls Royce germany)

How about blaming the right people eg the f**kwit MoD officials who did'nt say no when BAE wanted to bump the price up

<BAE> " you know those planes we promised to upgrade for 2.2 billion, well the price is 3.6 billion now"

<MoD> "Ok no problem and thanks for the brown envelope"

Correct answer

<MoD> "Your problem mate, 2.2 is all you are getting and we want our planes built or we'll see you at the high court"

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FAIL

So by Lewis' reasoning

in Peacetime we'd just disband the Army and sell everything off as it's all clearly useless?

No. We should maintain a capability to fight any foe at any time. Yes it's expensive, but having things like this means there's not an easy way to launch a massive attack against us. And if anyone did try it we could retaliate.

Saying that, the MOD's procurement people really should be sacked and replaced by people who can keep things reasonably close to a budget. The process should be:

* Figure out what you want and need.

* Design around these wants and needs.

* Test these designs to make sure they do what you want

* Modify based on feedback from test

* Test again

* [repeat until no modifications required]

* Procure however many of what you want at an agreed price.

If they can't produce what they're contracted to produce at a price they quoted then that should be their problem. It works for industry, why couldn't it work for the MoD?

so FAIL for Lewis and FAIL for MoD procurement.

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Lovely

Its a gorgeous looking aircraft....and compared to the money pissed away on the Shining White Edifice (NHS) thats a drop in the ocean!

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FAIL

Fishhead reflex?

Yeah, we know, Lewis, you and the rest of the Navy just can't stand seeing any other part of the forces spend any money. Face it, using Afghansitan to beat Nimrod with isn't very smart, seeing as Nimrod is at least involved in the conflict, whereas those sub-hunter frigates you mentioned aren't doing much, and to try and dress up your anti-RAF bias by claiming you'd like to see the money spent on frontline troops is just hypocritical. Yes, it is a very expensive product, but at least it is finally here and available, and until there is a viable alternative (really long-range maritime patrol drones?), kit like the Nimrod will be necessary for a while yet.

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RE:40 Year Old AirFrame?

NO they are not newly manufactured airframes. They are using the old once "£2.2bn to rebuild, rearm and upgrade the RAF's fleet of 21 Nimrod MR2s, "

Please DO read the article before commenting.

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