back to article Blighty's expensive Watchkeeper spy-drone in further delays

The troubled, extremely expensive Watchkeeper project intended to supply unmanned surveillance aircraft to the Royal Artillery has hit further technical delays. The first robot spyplanes should have been delivered in February - eight months later than the original contract called for - but they will now arrive "toward year's end …

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Silver badge

I think your mistaken in assuming that

defence procurement is about buying weapons and stuff.

Its about getting money to the right people without being too obvious about it.

Even the US has Brewsters Millions problems getting a toy plane to cost $7.5 million a pop.

I can buy off the shelf toys that would do most of the job for <$1000.

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Coat

Haha

Credit to Lewis, he must be reading these comments as his footnote did a pre-emptive strike on the arguments that will inevitably be trotted out against his Sky Warrior suggestion. (Justified arguments methinks, worthy of requiring rebuttal)

Two major flaws with your analysis Lewis:

1) The US will not allow any other country to use or support Sky Warrior except on their own terms. ITAR restrictions being one reason, the Americans wanting to keep their tech secret being another. The French and the Isrealis operate a very much less restrictive policy which pays off in the long term. The amount of red tape the US puts the UK MOD through negates any savings from buying them cheaper and yes we are talking millions of pounds in red tape it is that bad!

2) Your comparison of the per unit cost of Watchkeeper against SKy Warrior is complete bollocks. You have missed out the development costs (the US have spent billions in development across a range of systems), you have missed the fact that the US has a higher production run (high numbers lowers the unit costs) and I think the Watchkeeper contract includes support while the US costs are probably just the build costs. The UK would have to pay the US the per unit costs quoted for Sky Warrior (assuming the Yanks sell at that price) PLUS the support and upgrades.

It is not that rosy a deal as you paint. There is a reason why all the other countries in the world try to avoid buying American (Germans went Isreali, Italy went American and bitterly regretted it), it is prohibitive both in costs and restrictions. Oh and unarmed UAVs can carry more fuel/surveillance kit, another benefit. Let the things designed to go bang do the job, hmmm? Jack of all trades, master of none sort of thing...

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Anonymous Coward

Costs

While I agree with your first point your second is rather strange.

You point out that the development costs for Sky Warrior were huge but...well, they have already been paid for by the yanks. The Brits don't have to pay for the dev costs we are putting into the Watchkeeper....

So yes, Sky Warrior is probably more expensive overall but since Blighty isn't involved in the dev costs the cost TO US is lower than watchyamacallitkeeper

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FAIL

re. Haha

1) "The US will not allow any other country to use or support Sky Warrior except on their own terms."

If we have such a problem working with US suppliers, why are we developing the F35 with the USA? The USA has even provided us with ballistic missile systems (Polaris and Trident) for our own independent nuclear deterrent, why would they be more restrictive with a UAV?

2) "You have missed out the development costs"

That's the whole fucking point! The development costs have been covered by the early buyers (US government) so now the manufacturer can sell at a lower price and still make a profit.

"There is a reason why all the other countries in the world try to avoid buying American "

Like the seven countries that operate the F18, over twenty that operate Black Hawk helicopters (including Israel and China) and over sixty that operate C130 transport aircraft? This doesn't sound like "all the other countries in the world trying to avoid buying American ".

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Too many ACs!

Nope is HAS BEEN ASSUMED that the UK does not pay the development costs when the author touts the per unit cost that the Yanks expect to pay for their units. The Foreign Military Sales (FMS) case that the Yanks would use to sell this kit can have a development line in it and the US DOD is supposed to recover the costs of providing the kit to the foreign government, whether they include development is up to their discretion. The author has made the mistake of taking US per unit costs and assuming the UK will be paying that price which is like assuming I would buy someone's house for the price they paid for it before they even put it on the market! Also saying the Watchkeeper is a waste of money/over-priced is a pretty unfair if it turns out the UK has got something almost as good as the US systems, but paid a heck of a lot less to develop it. The UK can also sell Watchkeepers to export customers, they can't sell Reapers or Sky Warrier to anyone!

The UK has paid a significant contribution to the development of the JSF, hence they have quite a big say in what happens. The Tier 2 countries that did not inject this money in have considerably less influence. You cannot compare US co-operation with UAVs to that with Trident/Polaris. The latter is based on a treaty signed in the 50s and is completely unique. Buying UAVs or any other modern US kit is a commercial not treaty based relationship and so the rules (and how much the US will screw you for) are completely different.

My fault - I should have said other countries are trying to avoid buying US UAV/UCAV kit. Different people run the F-18/C-130 projects which were always intended to be sold abroad. You have to remember, different rules apply to different US programmes. The US want people to buy as many of their planes as possible, especially the non-combat kind as they operate in a competitive market against Airbus/Russians/Chinese etc. They do not want all and sundry buying their UAV tech where they are technology leaders. Close allies like the UK can buy, but they pay through the nose and don't have the right to do what they want with the kit.

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As has already been proved

The more you outsource all your capability to the cheapest foreign company

The less of an industry you have left

The less you can export

and the worse your balance of payments get.

(Oh and the deeper the **** you are in if you get in a war that your suppliers don't approve of. What would have happened in the Falklands if the British couldn't have bought more Sidewinders from the Yanks, and the Argentinians could have bought more Exocets from the French?)

Money spent in the UK recirculates in the UK

Money spent in the US doesn't.

For the last twenty years we've had oil to sell: its now running out. Exactly what will we have left to persuade food exporting countries to trade with us rather than China?

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Coat

If one of those theoretical £32k jobs for doing nothing for 5 years

comes up, may I be the first to put my name down for one?

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MrT
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I'll have...

... the next 5 - like many of us hereabouts, I'm sure i can squeeze a lot of nothing into a working week

;-)

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Economies of scale

War would be much more cost effective if every country would just agree to buy weapons from Google.

What could possibly go wrong?

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Flame

sums it up

" turf grab from the RAF, and second an armed Watchkeeper would offer fewer opportunities for directing in strikes from mainstream artillery units. Furthermore it would cast doubt on the raison d'etre of the Royal Artillery's Fire Shadow prowler-bomb ("loitering munition") project."

See should of merged the bloody lot and stop this petty infighting. Jobs for the boys isn't just in the supply chain.

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As clear as day

Whenever the cost of a product is such an obvious rip-off, does it denote a struggling and criminal administration in charge of delivery? And a lack of Intellectual Property to sustain their regimes. And such monumental overruns are just another form of quantitative easing to prop up the crooked Ponzi money system and its politicians.

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Anonymous Coward

A different UAV in the past.

I have seen a UAV contract in the past. What happened was that the contract was signed, and then a change was made to the sensor package. Then another change, meaning that the plane couldn't have it's own undercarriage and had to launch from a ramp and leave the undercarriage behind (to lift the extra weight!).

Then it got another sensor upgrade which meant that it had to land upside-down (!), and the engine needed an upgrade to lift it. Then another change, which also meant an aero package change to generate a bit more lift.

In the end, the thing was nothing like it started. In addition, it was nothing like it would have been if you started it with all the new requirements.

This is the kind of thing that pushes defence contract costs through the roof and deliveries into the next century.

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Silver badge

Unarmed?

What's that hanging hook doing there then? Lies and deception! It is obviously meant to rip the turbans off the Talibans heads and so expose them to the lethal rays of solar radiation. Or to upset and overturn their carts if they stop to take a leak on the edge of a cliff. Or to steal their washing if the Sigfried line is there...

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Thumb Down

RE: Unarmed?

"What's that hanging hook doing there then?....." It's to disperse any static charge that may have built-up on the drone in flight. Oh, were you making an attempt at humour? If I were the Taleban I'd be a lot more worried about the 155 mil shells that are likley to follow the arrival of a Watchkeeper.

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Guns

"shells that are likely to follow the arrival of a Watchkeeper"

Shells? Where would they find money for those? We can't have both the planes AND the guns, you must know that. Just look at the new Typhoons we've got - see? No guns!

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Silver badge

It's against the Geneva convention!

"It's to disperse any static charge that may have built-up on the drone in flight"

I am sure that electrocuting the enemy by electric discharges administered using fast flying dangling meat hooks is prohibited by the Geneva convention.

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Pirate

RE: It's against the Geneva convention!

Actually, no, the Geneva Convention does not cover electrical weapons on the battlefield. I can't burn you with phosphorous because that's just too nasty, but I can fry you with mains all day long, that's quite fine. Of course, should I be trying to extract info by torture, that's different, but just out-right frying you is perfectly acceptable. Ain't the World of political niceties a funny place!

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Boffin

RE: Guns

<slaps palm to forehead> No! The 155mm shells would be coming from the artillery pieces belonging to the RA, not RAF figthers. The gun that was supposed to be in the Typhoon was the 27mm Mauser. Having said that, the IAI boys are supposed to have demo'd Hermes with NATO-standard 14-inch wing pylons, so you could always stick one of the old 20mm Vulcan pods under each wing. But not a 155mm artillery piece.

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Silver badge

Virtual OmniScience, AI Special Forces Terrain for Perfect Team Players/Ab Fab Non-State Actors

Methinks, or if one is a Brit, one hopes and fully expects that Blighty's concentrating on RAW Excellence in the Field of Cyber Command and Communicative Computer Control for Remote Leadership of the Global Narrative with Media Tales following and launching IT Trails and AIMIssions.

It is certainly something which they will be competing against, and chasing after if their Cyber Security Operations Centre isn't up to scratch, for the want of ITs SMARTer NEUKlearer Weapons and HyperRadioProActive ProgramMING.

And those two paragraphs are directly targeted at the brightest in Thames House and the finest in Cheltenham, for surely they can do better than accept sub-prime ministerial leaderships and petty cabinet coup plots for nations' daily fix of information and intelligence, which has been somewhat considerably dumbed down of late, to catch the attention of the virtual retard rather than educate and entertain the masses with the pleasures and opportunities of the future.

[Quantum Communications BetaTest XSSXXXX 1103021630]

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Paris Hilton

@If one of those theoretical £32k jobs for doing nothing for 5 years #

Also to whoever would be looking to staff for these jobs, should they come up: I live in America and I can do that job for 32,000 USD per year. I already have my own sailboat for it (can send pictures).

Paris, obviously.

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Anonymous Coward

yes but one more thing....

..... i couldnt give a flying f**k who builds, designs or even dreams these things up what really pisses me off is that a company comes to the MOD and says,

"hay look look at this wonderful new toy i have"

and the MOD says hell yeah, we'll take some of those but we need it to do x y and z as well"

They say, "no bother bob it will probably take 5 years and cost around £500 million"

10 years later and and £1 billions over budget

"are you nearly there yet? been quite awhile now?"

"ah- nope, we had another technical difficulty, we'll need to charge you a few more million"

OR

MOD says we want new toy that does this..."who can do this, whos the cheapest and how long?"

business man says, yup, 5 years £500 million

another chap comes out with, aye wee man, ill have it done for a couple of pints and a pack of fags, done next year mate.

MOD - jobs yours mate, have a smoke on me whilst you get started

10 years later and £1 billion

MOD "are you nearly there yet? been quite awhile now?"

"ah- nope, we had a technical difficulty, we'll need to charge you a few more million"

Now obviously its a lot more complicated but essentially that is what is happening, if a company says they are going to do something for a price then they should do it for that price or they should have kept there mouths shut if they couldnt do it. we should be fining any company that keeps shafting us like that. If a contract is won based on a bid then its there fault for bidding too low, of course there will be small changes in price but any other company out there producting anything will be held acountable if they dont do what they said they would.

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Boffin

RE: yes but one more thing....

The problem is not the "technical difficulties" it is the difficulties derived from constant changes in requirements that are in turn due to changes in the situations our troops face and the tech coming into vogue. Five years ago the ability to find roadside bombs from the air was secondary to the ability to find Johnny Taleban running around the hills. Now we're a lot more concerned with the bombs, so we need different kit. I remember discussing the whole drones idea six years back with a guy from Lockheed Martin and he said the UK should have released a spec around a desired payload weight and volume, and then thought up different pallets of sensors to fit inside those measures after the basic drone was built. That would have made the whole drone more flexible fro re-use and development. As it is, we seem to be asking Thales to tailor the Watchkeeper to one set of sensors, then changing the sensors and starting the tailoring job all over again. As someone once said about the Sherman, good enough and available in numbers is a lot better than perfect but not here.

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@Matt Bryant

"remember discussing the whole drones idea six years back with a guy from Lockheed Martin and he said the UK should have released a spec around a desired payload weight and volume, and then thought up different pallets of sensors to fit inside those measures after the basic drone was built. "

More or less what was done with the SR71 (multi-decades of use) and the U2 (still flying in some versions).

<hyperbole mode>

Bloody hell what a concept. Develop a core platform that supplies certain services to a range of sensor packages.

Someday *all* UK defense systems might be developed like this*

Like that multi-purpose Scandinavian ship whose functions vary with what modules are loaded onto its mission deck in IIRC less than 2 hours.

</hyperbole mode>

* Yeah right.

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Good reasons not to buy US

NZ has a small fleet of surplus, obsolete Skyhawks. They could have been sold years ago to one of many nations or collectors who want obsolete miljets, but the US holds a power of veto and has refused all sales.

Hence they are having to be scrapped at non-insubstantial cost. If we'd bought French planes, none if this would have happened.

http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/politics/4149581/Skyhawk-giveaway-after-failed-sale

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Coat

@Rich 3

"NZ has a small fleet of surplus, obsolete Skyhawks. They could have been sold years ago to one of many nations or collectors who want obsolete miljets, but the US holds a power of veto and has refused all sales."

Staggering. Those planes are *old*.

I thought Peter Jackson had put in a bid for them?

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Jobs Halo

Maimed

So no weapons capability because of the fear of turf grab by the RAF.

Whoa! This is not the first time: the army need Blackhawk but it is "too big" for army flyers. The RAF has to fly it: RAF turf grab. So the army goes for something it can fly: Lynx Wildcat, a super compromise which cost £1.2bn and does not do the job. Been there. Got the T shirt. Got the overspend.

What is wrong with the services. "Service " is the wrong word, "bragging rights" is the correct phrase. They are completely mad, certifiable, woof woof barking. They are so full of self interest they do not give a sh*t about effective management or use of resources and they complain when programmes are cut. It is time for a single Ministry of Defence with an integrated strategy.

By the way is anyone interested in supplying mini copters? You to can have a go at another big undoable MOD purchase at http://www.publictenders.net/tender/95176.

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