Grand Unified Theory of Multinational Procurement
Once upon a time some clever chaps in MoD (PE) decided to test a theory. It had the right feel to it and went something like this:
If one nation can design, develop, produce and maintain a weapon system for £X then the total cost for 'n' nations would increase by the root of the number of nations. For example, for two nations to the total project would be 1.7 time more expensive. And there's a nice 'but' here – they would share the bill which meant they would actually get the weapon system for half of the total. In other words they'd get it for %70 of the original solo-nation procurement (cost 1.4X). Tempting. Increase that to three nations and the total cost would be 3^0.5 or 1.7 times the cost shared which equals %58 of the single-nation cost. Even more tempting.
Extend the theory to four nations and they'd each share the total cost of twice the original or %50 each. The more the merrier because no single nation was responsible for the overall project costs and they'd all get part of a very expensive result at a good discount.
What they didn't expect was that government and industrial management and bureaucracy costs for each nation would increase steeply because of the complex multi-national relationships most and differing work practises. Each company would use its own standards methods, standards and work practises but English would be 'the Language' for everything; they'd need more committees and more complex management to deal with the three other nations. Why care – they'd still be paid and, with no single nation in charge, they couldn’t be told how to do things. With hundreds of companies involved came many hundreds of methods. Remember, there was no leading design authority. At the time it was not thought important – like buying a Sony TV for use with a Panasonic PVR.
The technical requirements were far from ideal – vague and poorly often worded but perfectly well understood by each company in their own context and so there was no end of confusion. It was clear the requirements had needed a re-write at a more 'atomic' (non reducible) standard. Fair enough but it didn't happen until after contracts had been let and of course everyone wanted more money to adopt the re-written requirements.
A central authority was necessary to make sure the bits came together correctly but the companies were often reluctant to divulge their rationale for the way they did things. This resulted in countless disagreements and a fair amount of bullying.
How on earth did the ISS turn into a successful project with more than 20 nations and world-wide input get off the ground? Answers on the back of a postcard please.
Eurofighter is still a very good weapon system, it's a pity it's been smothered and strangled – a bit like the rest of the UK I suppose.