back to article UK getting ready to go it alone on Galileo

The UK is about to press the big red button on its own satellite navigation system as an agreement for access to the EU’s Galileo programme looks more and more unlikely. Following hot on the heels of the release of papers detailing the customs and tax implications of a no-deal Brexit come reports that the UK Treasury has …

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  1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    That is going to be one hell of an expensive failure

    So let's see, what is the UK Gov history on hardware accomplishments ?

    Oh yeah, they built a new aircraft carrier, but forgot the catapults.

    Yep, great indicator of confidence there. They'll send up GPS satellites and forget the communication system, or something like that.

    This is the start of a looong popcorn era.

    1. Pen-y-gors Silver badge

      Re: That is going to be one hell of an expensive failure

      Is their hardware history better or worse than their software history?

      1. Roj Blake Silver badge

        Re: Is their hardware history better or worse than their software history?

        Yes.

        1. AMBxx Silver badge

          Re: Is their hardware history better or worse than their software history?

          Oddly, if you look at our history BEFORE we joined the EEC, it was a lot better. Jump Jet, Hovercraft, transistor etc etc.

          Going forward, nobody can really know, but it's up to the likes of us.

          1. Lars Silver badge
            Happy

            Re: Is their hardware history better or worse than their software history?

            "transistor etc etc".

            Julius Edgar Lilienfeld* patented a field-effect transistor in 1926[1] but it was not possible to actually construct a working device at that time. The first practically implemented device was a point-contact transistor invented in 1947 by American physicists John Bardeen, Walter Brattain, and William Shockley....

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transistor

            *a Jewish Austro-Hungarian-born German-American physicist and electronic engineer, credited with the first patents on the field-effect transistor (FET) (1925) and electrolytic capacitor (1931). Because of his failure to publish articles in learned journals and because high-purity semiconductor materials were not available yet, his FET patent never achieved fame, causing confusion for later inventors.

            Also read about the Jump Jet.

            1. steamnut

              Re: Is their hardware history better or worse than their software history?

              But we did invent the Jet engine that the jump jet uses and then promptly gave the Americans the details for free. Oh, don't forget the magnetron (radar) and the digital computer; although we crushed the evidence and put all of details under top secret for a stupid length of time so the Americans commercialised them before us.

              In fact, going back in history, more was achieved by private entrepreneurs and inventors (Cockroft, Mitchell, Watt, Bolton, Parsons, Brindley, Stephenson, Newcomen, Trevithick ) than by Governments. Maybe we should encourage more entrepreneurs with better tax breaks?

              As for Gallileo, do we really need it anyway?

              1. Tigra 07 Silver badge

                Re: Is their hardware history better or worse than their software history?

                "But we did invent the Jet engine that the jump jet uses and then promptly gave the Americans the details for free"

                We had no choice. In exchange for American help during WW2 we had to sign over large swathes of advanced technology for free. They profited heavily from the war while we were left in debt for decades.

                1. Anonymous Coward
                  Anonymous Coward

                  Re: Is their hardware history better or worse than their software history?

                  "They profited heavily from the war while we were left in debt for decades."

                  Yeah, but we won.

                  Didn't we? We won?

                  1. Anonymous Coward
                    Anonymous Coward

                    Re: Is their hardware history better or worse than their software history?

                    assuredly not, just look out your windows if you're in England.

                    Those who fought your Wars have been betrayed.

                    Anywhoos, before community standards rake me over the coals...

                  2. Ken Hagan Gold badge

                    Re: Is their hardware history better or worse than their software history?

                    "Didn't we? We won?"

                    Google for pictures of Germany or Japan in autumn 1945. They definitely lost.

                    Whether we, or any of our allies could reasonably be said to have won is left as a philosophical exercise for the reader.

                  3. gypsythief
                    Joke

                    Re: Yeah, but we won.

                    It's an oldie, but a goody...

                    "Didn't we? We won?":

                    The European Commission has announced an agreement whereby English will be the official language of the EU, rather than German, which was the other contender. Her Majesty's Government conceded that English spelling had room for improvement and has therefore accepted a five-year phasing in of "Euro-English".

                    In the first year, "s" will replace the soft "c". Sertainly, this will make sivil servants jump for joy. The hard "c" will be dropped in favour of the "k", Which should klear up some konfusion and allow one key less on keyboards.

                    There will be growing publik enthusiasm in the sekond year, when the troublesome "ph" will be replaced with "f", making words like "fotograf" 20% shorter.

                    In the third year, publik akseptanse of the new spelling kan be expekted to reach the stage where more komplikated changes are possible. Governments will enkourage the removal of double letters which have always ben a deterent to akurate speling. Also, al wil agre that the horible mes of the silent "e" is disgrasful.

                    By the fourth yer, peopl wil be reseptiv to steps such as replasing "th" with "z" and "w" with "v".

                    During ze fifz yer, ze unesesary "o" kan be dropd from vords kontaining "ou" and similar changes vud of kors be aplid to ozer kombinations of leters. After zis fifz yer, ve vil hav a reli sensibl riten styl. Zer vil be no mor trubls or difikultis and everivun vil find it ezi to understand ech ozer. ZE DREM VIL FINALI COM TRU!

                    (With all due apologies to all the lovely German folks, especially those who brewed the bier I'm now drinking...:)

                  4. Alan Brown Silver badge

                    Re: Is their hardware history better or worse than their software history?

                    >> "They profited heavily from the war while we were left in debt for decades."

                    > Yeah, but we won.

                    The USA put shitloads of money into _all_ the european countries after WW2. The UK actually got more under the Marshall plan than Germany or France did, but its politicians chose to piss most of it against the nearest wall instead of spending it wisely.

                    Funnily enough they did the same thing with 1970s oil and gas income.

                    1. werdsmith Silver badge

                      Re: Is their hardware history better or worse than their software history?

                      The USA put shitloads of money into _all_ the european countries after WW2. The UK actually got more under the Marshall plan than Germany or France did.

                      I would be very happy to give you £2000 to fix your leaky roof now if you will replay me a £billion over the next 60 years and promise to conform to all my political requirements.

                2. Anonymous Coward
                  Anonymous Coward

                  Re: Is their hardware history better or worse than their software history?

                  We had no choice. In exchange for American help during WW2 we had to sign over large swathes of advanced technology for free.

                  ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

                  If it brought you supplies, allied troops, planes and ships, food, oil, armaments, ammunition, all in enormous quantities... which it did... then it was hardly giving technology away for free.

                3. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

                  Re: Is their hardware history better or worse than their software history?

                  "We had no choice. In exchange for American help during WW2 we had to sign over large swathes of advanced technology for free. They profited heavily from the war while we were left in debt for decades."

                  Under threat of invasion, huge amounts of UK science stuff was sent to the Americans and a lot of people still here who had that knowledge were unknowingly under threat of death from our own side if/when the German invasion happened. It was a sort of last resort, burn the bridges plan.

              2. phuzz Silver badge

                Re: Is their hardware history better or worse than their software history?

                But we did invent the Jet engine that the jump jet uses and then promptly gave the Americans the details for free.

                I'm guessing you're talking about the Bristol Siddeley (later Rolls Royce) Pegasus as used in the Harrier/AV-8A, which which was licensed (presumably for a lot of money) to Pratt & Whitney, so they could build them for the US version of the Harrier (also sold for money). According to Wikipedia though P&W never built any though, so they were all built by RR instead.

                So no, we didn't 'promptly' give the Americans anything, there was a quite a few years between the first flights of the Kestrel/P.1127 (early 1960's) and collaboration with the US (1970s). There's also no evidence that the license was 'for free'.

                The Harrier and it's engine are actually a rare success story in selling aircraft to the US military, which historically tends to only buy domestic models.

                (That said, by the end of production of the Harrier, it was being built by Boeing and BAE, both of whom are multinational companies and it's tricky to assign knowledge to a particular country.)

                1. Steve Todd

                  Re: Is their hardware history better or worse than their software history?

                  @phuzz - think before then. The original jet engine, patented and developed by Frank Whittle, was basically handed for free to the US (they paid a flat $1M for total rights IIRC).

                  1. LDS Silver badge

                    "they paid a flat $1M for total rights IIRC"

                    What fools. They could have had German jet engines designs for free a little later...

                    Meanwhile UK really gave Stalin designs and engines for free...

                    1. Steve Todd

                      Re: "they paid a flat $1M for total rights IIRC"

                      @LDS - The German designs of the time were beyond their metallurgy to build reliably. They needed a full overhaul about every 50 hours. The Whittle type (centrifugal rather than axial compressors) would last 3 times longer.

                      1. LDS Silver badge

                        "The German designs of the time were beyond their metallurgy to build reliably."

                        Still, they became operative before any allied plane - and axial compressors were more useful, and became the standard for most modern jet engines. British axial compress designs had more troubles.

                        More than metallurgy - German one was quite advanced-, it was the scarcity of essential components for advanced alloys to require the use of less lasting materials for mass production.

                  2. phuzz Silver badge

                    Re: Is their hardware history better or worse than their software history?

                    The original jet engine
                    So not the one in the jumpjet then?

                    Don't be mad about selling it to the US (they at least paid, and given the circumstances that wasn't bad), be mad about Rolls Royce straight up giving 40 Nene turbojet engines (plus blueprints) to Russia, after extracting a promise that they would be used for evaluation, and definitely not for military purposes.

                    Of course, within four years the Nene had been reverse engineered to produce the RD-45 (later the VK-1) and was powering the MiG-15.

                    (Later on it was reverse engineered a second time by the Chinese to produce the Wopen WP-5. Which all sounds terrible, but it's not like reverse engineering a jet engine is easy, just easier than having to design one yourself).

                  3. Anonymous Coward
                    Anonymous Coward

                    Re: Is their hardware history better or worse than their software history?

                    The original jet engine, patented and developed by Frank Whittle

                    Was this while reading the French patent from nine years earlier? Just as well he wasn't too close to the Norwegian engine from twenty seven years earlier or he might have been distracted by its noise.

                  4. Alan Brown Silver badge

                    Re: Is their hardware history better or worse than their software history?

                    "The original jet engine, patented and developed by Frank Whittle, was basically handed for free to the US "

                    And apart from a few low powered helicoptor engines, how many centrigual jet engines ever came out of that?

                    $HINT: Axial flow jet engines were a german thing, as found on the ME-262 and the americans took plenty of those home to study after WW2

                2. Yorkshirefoxy

                  Re: UK sales to US

                  Don’t forget we also sold the Canberra bomber and the Hawk trainer to the US as well.

              3. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: Is their hardware history better or worse than their software history?

                We also gave the best available at the time jet engine to the CCCP. It seems politicians always manage to put the UK on the back foot.

              4. Alan Brown Silver badge

                Re: Is their hardware history better or worse than their software history?

                "more was achieved by private entrepreneurs and inventors (Cockroft, Mitchell, Watt, Bolton, Parsons, Brindley, Stephenson, Newcomen, Trevithick ) than by Governments. "

                The success rate for both was about the same. The difference being that governments tended to decide what was a "winner" long before fruition and continue to sink stupidly large amounts of money into it long after it had been left hopelessly in the dust, whist ignoring other more promising technology or even destroying it.

                The Brabazon might have been a great R&D aircraft if the air ministry had been paying for it instead of just telling makers what to build and expecting BOAC to buy the results, etc. Instead they quite effectively destroyed the UK independent aviation industry. etc etc.

          2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

            Re: Is their hardware history better or worse than their software history?

            "Oddly, if you look at our history BEFORE we joined the EEC, it was a lot better."

            You're looking at a time just after WWII - and really seeing a continuation of the inventiveness that engendered (radar etc.). After that the arts & PPE graduates took over and they didn't like these little men in brown coats with pens and screwdrivers in their top pockets.

            1. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

              Re: Is their hardware history better or worse than their software history?

              After that the arts & PPE graduates took over and they didn't like these little men in brown coats with pens and screwdrivers in their top pockets.

              So tell me again why it's better to have a central political government like the EU controlling R&D? Apart from a large unaccountable taxpayer-funded budget, I suppose.

              1. Nick Kew Silver badge

                @Phil O'Sophist

                So tell me again why it's better to have a central political government like the EU controlling R&D? Apart from a large unaccountable taxpayer-funded budget, I suppose.

                Compared to what? The total EU budget for 28 countries - including all that agricultural nonsense, as well as waste[1] - is a drop in the ocean of Sir Humphrey's empire, and it's focussed. Science being one of those focuses.

                [1] Both real waste and the product of 30+ years of often-false news from Murdoch et al.

              2. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: Is their hardware history better or worse than their software history?

                It's not either or. I am not aware of an EU directive forbidding private sector R&D. Equally I am not aware that post Brexit UK government R&D will suddenly magically escape central political control. At least Europe has some countries with political systems that support industry and R&D (thinking of you - Germany) - Westminster with it's cadre of professional politicians and failed PPE journalists couldn't organise a project to research the effect of fermentation on cognition in a yeast processing plant.

              3. Yes Me Silver badge
                Headmaster

                Why it's better to have the EU funding R&D

                So tell me again why it's better to have a central political government like the EU controlling R&D? Apart from a large unaccountable taxpayer-funded budget, I suppose.

                Firstly, the EU isn't a 'government'.

                Secondly it doesn't 'control' R&D. It funds some projects and not others, within a general framework that is a consensus between the 28 EU governments. This is a good thing, because it avoids duplication and encourages broad, diverse research teams, which are well known to be more effective than inward-looking local teams.

                Thirdly, it isn't unaccountable. Actually the EU auditors are much more nosy than any national R&D auditors, in my experience. They claw back inappropriate expenditure.

                And finally, as someone else noted, the total EU R&D budget is a drop in the ocean compared to national R&D budgets.

                1. anothercynic Silver badge

                  Re: Why it's better to have the EU funding R&D

                  The EU auditors are a proverbial pain in the ass (but that's good). If you've ever been a partner in an EU-funded science or technology project, you will know what I mean.

          3. 45RPM Silver badge

            Re: Is their hardware history better or worse than their software history?

            @AMBxx

            You’ve muddled your cause and effect there. The decline in innovation can be ascribed to a short-termist, greed-is-good, attitude which came about, in part, through Thatcherism and imported Reaganism. The banks were supported through deregulation, resulting in the phenomenal rise of the City of London (supported also by being the main financial centre for Europe).

            Sadly, part of the Thatcherist attitude also resulted in the mass sale of public business. In some cases this was good (the automotive industry), in other cases it was forced upon us (by the world bank, as a condition of further investment - we were once ‘the sick man of Europe’, how quickly we forget) and in others it was unnecessary, driven through sheer greed (public-private partnerships, railways &c.)

            We had great, innovative British industry even after we joined the EU. Sinclair, Acorn, Apricot, Inmos, even Rover, Jaguar, Aston Martin, Reliant and more besides. Thanks to the short termist view, and no protection from our government, they were starved of the funds to invest for the future and sold outside of the UK - worse, in many cases, sold out of Europe.

            We still have one or two innovative businesses - they’re the ones that are privately owned. Imagine what they could do if they could raise funds on a healthy stock market, safe in the knowledge that they could rely on government protection.

            1. anothercynic Silver badge

              Re: Is their hardware history better or worse than their software history?

              The decline in aerospace and other industry started *way* before Thatcher and Reagan. Successive Labour* governments killed off projects like TSR.2, the British space programme (primarily the launchers), the list goes on. Manufacturing was on its knees, was way behind compared to the continent, and starved of money. One thing we did not lack was BRAINS and BOFFINS... Science across the world has benefitted so much from the inventiveness of necessity, and this country has benefitted countlessly from great minds of various nations coming here to study, coming here to do research, and export that knowledge to projects across the globe.

              * I do not subscribe to party policy of any party in this country, just pointing out facts

              1. 45RPM Silver badge

                Re: Is their hardware history better or worse than their software history?

                @anothercynic

                Of course. What I said doesn’t preclude the possibility that some Thatcherite policies were worthwhile, and nor does it preclude the possibility that other businesses folded / were bought before her either. However, post Thatcher there was a demonstrable increase in the number of businesses failing / leaving British or European control.

                That said, I would argue that some of her banking reforms were necessary, and that it was essential to weaken the unions somewhat (although it would have been an act of vandalism to destroy them utterly) - as with so many things, balance is required. A bit of Union, a bit of government, a bit of socialism, a bit of capitalism, a bit of left, a bit of right.

                It was vandalism to permit so many British businesses go to the wall / be sold off, to reform finance to the point where greed became more desirable than solid investment.

                Similarly, it’s an act of vandalism to leave the EU now - rejoining will not be so easy. Regaining the squandered trust may be impossible.

                1. anothercynic Silver badge

                  Re: Is their hardware history better or worse than their software history?

                  @45RPM, however to blame it on Thatcher and Reagan is not necessarily appropriate either. Those who didn't grow up and get with the programme (the world reality) went to the wall or flogged themselves off before they did go to the wall. Yes, it's brutal, but mollycoddling a business just because it's home-grown does not fix/change reality.

                  There's much I agree with you on though... things do need balance, and yes, we're going to have to work very hard to regain the trust of our continental neighbours if we do decide to spite our faces by leaving.

            2. MrRimmerSIR!

              Re: Is their hardware history better or worse than their software history?

              Sorry 45RPM, in your political zeal and general hatred of Thatcher you seem to be a bit confused...

              "The sick man of Europe" label was given to the UK long before Thatch was in power:

              "Throughout the late 1960s and 1970s, the United Kingdom was frequently called the "sick man of Europe", first by foreign commentators, and later at home by critics of the third Wilson/Callaghan ministry, because of industrial strife and poor economic performance compared to other European countries.[9] This era is considered to have started with the devaluation of the pound in 1967, culminating with the Winter of Discontent of 1978–79, the period between the Three-Day Week in 1973-74 and the IMF bailout in 1976 is generally seen by Britons as one of the darkest periods in the country's modern history. At different points throughout the decade, numerous countries such as Italy, Spain, Portugal, France, and Greece were cited by the American press as being "on the verge of sickness" as well. "

              "The banks were supported through deregulation" leading to the banking crisis was Brown's doing=

              https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-13032013. In contrast, Thatchers breaking up of the cosy City old boys network injected much cash into a stagnant part of the economy, making London the financial powerhouse that it remains (so far).

              You are right about the lack of investment as anyone who remembers the Transputer would recognise. Unfortunately all governments, regardless of side, seem to shy away from that sort of investment as it hits the borrowing requirement. This is one reason why the railways etc. were privatised as that allowed them to search for capital outside of government restrictions. 40 year sof state ownership did not leave British Rail in an enviable state.

              1. Alan Brown Silver badge

                Re: Is their hardware history better or worse than their software history?

                "This is one reason why the railways etc. were privatised as that allowed them to search for capital outside of government restrictions. 40 year sof state ownership did not leave British Rail in an enviable state."

                BR's woes can be far more easily attributed to the factor that when it was "nationalised" the underlaying private companies, manglement and rivalries continued with business as usual instead of becoming a joined-up whole. The resulting clusterfuck was fairly predictable (and the destruction of the Central line plus several other important lines are traceable to those rivalries, not commercial or logistical realities which were already becoming apparant by the 1950s. "I'm alright Jack" was only partly fictional.)

                The same problem happened at Leyland. You can't just jam a bunch of rival companies together and _keep_ all the individual groups of rival managment as.... groups of rival management, etc etc.

                British industrial history is full of brilliant inventions followed by half-arsed development and outright shoddy implementations.. It's a cultural problem dating back at least 150 years and is tracable to a fixation on short term profit. It's no wonder that by the 1970s "Made in Britain" was treated as a warning label across the rest of the Commonwealth. (I grew up in one of the ex-colonies and had a chance to compare "quality british products" being foisted on us with stuff that actually worked. That's a lesson that brexiters seem not to have learned)

            3. Lomax

              Re: Is their hardware history better or worse than their software history?

              > We had great, innovative British industry even after we joined the EU. Sinclair, Acorn, Apricot, Inmos, even Rover, Jaguar, Aston Martin, Reliant and more besides.

              You did mention Acorn, but I think ARM really deserves separate mention; perhaps the single most successful (civilian) (tech) company in (post-colonial) UK history. Still ruling the (electromagnetic) waves today, though sadly now under foreign (convenience) flag.

              My preferred parallel univerb is any one where ARM - and not Microchip - bought Atmel.

          4. graeme leggett

            Re: Is their hardware history better or worse than their software history?

            The US gave us money to develop the P.1127/Kestrel/Harrier under the guise of Mutual Weapons Development so, among other things, Bristol only had to cover 25% of the cost of engine development.

            Plus the idea was part French.

            Overall it's all so complex

            http://www.airvectors.net/avav8_1.html

          5. henryd

            Re: Is their hardware history better or worse than their software history?

            Er.. transistor?

          6. Clunking Fist Bronze badge

            Re: Is their hardware history better or worse than their software history?

            Not to forget HST InterCity 125.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Is their hardware history better or worse than their software history?

              Not to forget HST InterCity 125.

              Still holds the world diesel-electric speed record.

            2. anothercynic Silver badge

              Re: Is their hardware history better or worse than their software history?

              @Clunking Fist, don't forget APT (developed around the same time as the HST). As much as the APT was a complete flop for British Rail Engineering, they sold the technology and patents (to reduce the losses of the APT experience) on to... Italy's Fiat, who used and endlessly refined them to develop the Pendolino, which today plies its trade between London Euston and Liverpool/Glasgow, and many countries across the world. Many tilting trains out there in some form owe their existence to the engineers at BREL.

    2. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

      Re: That is going to be one hell of an expensive failure

      So let's see, what is the UK Gov history on hardware accomplishments ?

      You mean like building the bits of Galileo that work, unlike, say, the Swiss-built clock modules?

    3. Tinslave_the_Barelegged Silver badge

      Re: That is going to be one hell of an expensive failure

      Oh yeah, they built a new aircraft carrier, but forgot the catapults.

      Don't forget the contract - the "£5billion" will balloon to £15 billion, which will have to change hands whether the system gets built or not. The satellites will end up in a shed in Basingstoke.

      1. Gio Ciampa

        Re: That is going to be one hell of an expensive failure

        "will balloon to £15 billion"

        ...and the rest! ESA or NASA (or the Russians) will have us by the proverbials for a launch system

        We might just about manage to pay for it if we scrap HS2 ... but even then I doubt it

        1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge
          Joke

          Re: That is going to be one hell of an expensive failure

          "...and the rest! ESA or NASA (or the Russians) will have us by the proverbials for a launch system"

          Why? I'm sure Mr Branson will do gov.uk a good deall and launch them from Spaceport UK up in far north of Scotland!

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: That is going to be one hell of an expensive failure

      "Oh yeah, they built a new aircraft carrier, but forgot the catapults."

      They didn't forget the catapults, they just had nothing to power them with, catapults need steam, the carrier is powered by gas turbines, no steam, they needed a nuclear reactor

      1. bsdnazz

        Re: That is going to be one hell of an expensive failure

        The Yanks are moving to linear magnetic motors for catapults and they just need electricity.

        I spent the weekend at Blackpool on the Icon coaster which uses linear magnetic motors to launch the coaster. If a amusement park can make them work then show should the RN's contractors.

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