back to article F-35B Block 4 software upgrades will cost Britain £345m

Britain will spend £345m ($486m) upgrading its F-35B fighter jets to the most recent, combat-ready, version of the aircraft’s operating system. The figure was indirectly revealed by defence procurement minister Guto Bebb, in response to a Parliamentary question. “The UK’s contribution will be around 4.5 per cent of F-35 …

    1. Pen-y-gors Silver badge

      Relevance?

      Not sure about the F35B, but 'conventional' aircraft have a great future. Witness the Typhoon, which our 'friends' in Saudi Arabia might, possibly, maybe want to buy a few more of, and which our wonderful, nominally Christian, government will be more than happy to flog them. (Unlike the Saudi government who just flog their citizens) Aircraft are excellent for when you want to drop big bombs on children and undefended schools and hospitals, so there will be a great future for aircraft: how many slum kids can afford a rail-gun?

      #NotInMyName #GodIReallyHateThisGovernment

    2. Cuddles Silver badge

      "We keep reading about rail guns, drone swarms, hypersonic missles. Is this another case of preparing for the last war instead of the next one?"

      No, none of those things are in any way relevant to aircraft. Rail guns are basically just a replacement for gunpowder; you might be able to throw shells a bit further and more efficiently, but they still won't be any more effective against aircraft than existing ship guns. Drones can be used for things like dropping grenades, but they're useless as anti-aircraft weapons and can't replace regular aircraft unless they essentially are regular aircraft - ie. things like the Reaper may replace the F35, but swarms of small, cheap drones certainly won't. Hypersonic missiles are for sending nuclear warheads to the other side of the world and, again, are useless against aircraft and don't fill the same role.

      So no, war hasn't suddenly changed to the point that aircraft are no longer needed. The nature of the airpower required will vary depending on who you're fighting, but the need for large, fast planes that can control the skies and drop things on the ground is still very much there. The only things likely to change about that in the near future are whether there are actual people sitting in the planes, and whether carriers remain a useful way to get them where they're needed.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        mmmm..not sure thats correct

        "Drones can be used for things like dropping grenades, but they're useless as anti-aircraft weapons and can't replace regular aircraft unless they essentially are regular aircraft"

        if a swarm of birds can fuck a jet engine then a swarm of drones will be just as effective!

        1. Cuddles Silver badge

          Re: mmmm..not sure thats correct

          "if a swarm of birds can fuck a jet engine then a swarm of drones will be just as effective!"

          The vast majority of bird-in-engine incidents occur at landing or take-off when the plane startles a grounded flock of birds into taking off directly into its path. Since small drones are very limited in range and altitude, that's pretty much the only thing they'd be able to do as well; there's basically no chance of positioning a swarm of drones exactly in the path of a jet when it's flying at normal speeds and altitudes. If your enemy is able to fly a swarm of drones around your runway, you have much bigger problems than the chance of a plane losing an engine.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: mmmm..not sure thats correct

          "Drones can be used for things like dropping grenades, but they're useless as anti-aircraft weapons and can't replace regular aircraft unless they essentially are regular aircraft"

          Not at all.

          Conflating home built model aircraft built by resource challenged irregulars and the drones that a modern nation state can build is like confusing an outrigger canoe with a modern destroyer.

          A properly designed air combat drone would have an enormous advantage over a manned fighter, while being much less expensive.

          Consider the following...

          Start with a lightweight single engine fighter design - F16 or Gripen, for example.

          Eliminating the pilot means eliminating cockpit (space and weight), displays, controls, ejection seat, canopy, oxygen generators, survival gear.

          Shrink the aircraft. You've lost weight, and surface area. You need less fuel, and less engine power.

          Shrink the aircraft. Look at all the redundancy intended to preserve an expensive aircraft and the pilot's life. Strip it out. Availability now goes up, as you have fewer systems that can fail to render the aircraft not fit for flight (you lost some of those when the human support went, too).

          Let's make this a purpose built air combat model. Strip out support for ground attack. Weapons load is much less, so takeoff weight drops, as does drag, wing area, software complexity (which also dropped by stripping out display functions and human interface / control capabilities that can move to the controller end).

          Reduce strength of undercarriage, fuel, engine. Shrink again.

          Reconsider the number of weapons and hard points. Do you need as much, when the aircraft is now pilot free and losing it is much less important? That and losing ground attack means you can cut back.

          Now look at structure. Manned aircraft have a maneuver capability of about 10G max - structural and pilot limits. Air to air missiles maneuver at 50G+ when they have enough energy. Design for 20 - 30G maneuvering. Now you have an aircraft that can outfly any human piloted aircraft in a dogfight, and has a much better chance of dodging missiles. Enemy firing solutions assuming the limitations of a human piloted aircraft will be incorrect, and may allow the drone to escape the theoretical 'no escape' zone. On the other hand, if the calculation is done correctly, a human aircraft may have to wait longer to fire on a drone, giving the drone the first shot.

          Your aircraft is now smaller, with a smaller engine. Reduced radar cross-section and IR signature result. With simplifications, it is now less expensive, and less expensive to operate. Build more of them than you would have for piloted craft. Increased production means lower per unit costs. Redundancy is now measured in extra drones, not backup systems in each drone.

          Because of the higher numbers, loss of a drone is less of a hit to combat capability than losing a piloted fighter. And it is cheaper to replace. More important, your pilots are not lost with the craft, so they continue learning, not only from success, but failure as well. On long missions, they can be swapped out if fatigued. A drone can have as many crew as needed - two, three, four. There can be specialists for combat, electronic warfare, landing, enemy tactics analysis. Co-ordination of crews is secure and easy, particularly if they are in the same room or building.

          You might delete some other capabilities on some drone models. Dropping the gun means savings of cost, weight, and space, which can be used to reduce size, increase climb, range and endurance, or strengthen maneuvering. If worst comes to worst, trading a drone worth 15 million, without a pilot, for an aircraft worth 150 million with a pilot is a win, particularly when you have more drones than they have aircraft, so ramming is an option if your missiles don't do the trick.

          Drones under computer control should equal a human pilot in air to air combat, even in identical performance scenarios. This has been tried with simulators, and a computer program can match an experienced human combat pilot. This allows for a 'quiet' autonomous combat mode, where the only communication is getting permission to fire. Depending on circumstances, even that might be delegated to the drone, in wartime. Safety procedures would doubtless disallow that during peace.

          Once this technology matures, piloted aircraft will serve as mobile drone controllers and targets.

    3. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

      another case of preparing for the last war instead of the next one

      Yes. But it's a very. very profitable case (for some).

  1. Russell Chapman Esq.

    Charging us for Beta grade software then

    Everyone in the software business thinks they can get away with it these days. Get something out the door, worry about patching and upgrading later, meantime you have to keep paying through the nose. I bet it will be Block 5 or 6 before things are ready. How much more will we have to pay. Yeah sure they have reduced the price of the aircraft, but they are clawing the discount back through software 'upgrades'

    1. Rich 11 Silver badge
      Joke

      Re: Charging us for Beta grade software then

      Maybe they'll be able to reduce the costs by selling the data the software gathers on the open market.

    2. Pen-y-gors Silver badge

      Re: Charging us for Beta grade software then

      Aircraft cost $121 million each, one software upgrade costs UK £30 million per aircraft. That is cheeky! Have they been learning from printer manufacturers?

    3. Outcast !!!

      Re: Charging us for Beta grade software then

      Nah it is not beta, this is just early access.

  2. A Non e-mouse Silver badge
    Facepalm

    So the fighter aircraft we bought can't actually be used in real fights. To achieve that, we have to pay more money for the Chuck Norris version software.

    Nice sales job there by Lockheed.

    1. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

      IOC can be compared to Full Operating Capability (FOC). Think of IOC as similar to Windows’ Safe Mode – and FOC as the whole shebang.

      "617 squadron, scramble, scramble"

      "Ah, give us a few minutes, it's just rebooting after an upgrade. Oh, hang on, it's booted into IOC, says there's a driver issue"

      1. Roj Blake Silver badge
        Coat

        Re: "...it's booted into IOC, says there's a driver issue"

        Planes have pilots, not drivers.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: "...it's booted into IOC, says there's a driver issue"

          Planes have pilots, not drivers.

          Only once they've got off the ground...

          1. Jos V
            Happy

            Re: "...it's booted into IOC, says there's a driver issue"

            And 'round here where I work, Airbus pilots are called bus drivers :-)

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    and Pigs might fly a.k.a F-35

    Well, that is nice isn't it.

    One screen to take out and the plane is toast. At least with old style separate mechanical insruments there wasn't a single point of failure.

    Oh wait...

    This stupid thing is a failure from the day it was dreamed up.

    Oh, for a totally modernised Harrier... Going faster than the speed of sound is really only useful for interceptors (as told to me by an RAF Wing Commander at an RAF base in Germany in the 1970's.)

    1. Voland's right hand Silver badge

      Re: and Pigs might fly a.k.a F-35

      Oh, for a totally modernised Harrier...

      Stop being Russian, it is not fashionable. They can modernise and replace all avionics on Su-24, Su-25, Mig-29, Su-27, Tu-22M and Tu-160 (*)

      We are not supposed to. We are supposed to buy the latest and greatest and scrap the old stuff.

      (*)The narrator at their 9th of May parade a couple of years back was nearly having a boner announcing the upgraded versions as they overflew. I, in the meantime, was reading some of the perennial El Reg coverage of F35 and swearing like a docker.

      1. Aladdin Sane Silver badge

        Re: and Pigs might fly a.k.a F-35

        They can modernise the avionics all they want, if the airframe design is 50 years old (as is the case with the Tu-22M and Su-24) then its stealth characteristics will be negligible. They'll stick out like a sore thumb on modern radar.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: and Pigs might fly a.k.a F-35

          They'll stick out like a sore thumb on modern radar.

          That may be true, but is stealth any better? To believe so, one would need to assume that whilst aircraft designers have been developing stealth capability over the past thirty years or so, radar and missile designers have sat on one hand with their thumb up their arse. I think that's pretty unlikely myself.

          When bombing some third rate dump like Libya or Syria, I'm sure stealth works a treat. Against a modern air defence system created by a country already building its own stealth aircraft, I'm far less convinced. I gather that the smart money is on bringing together multiple observations from different radar systems to create a sufficiently accurate location to put a missile on, and I'd then guess using any of a number of techniques for non-radar homing.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: and Pigs might fly a.k.a F-35

            Lower frequency radars and echo repeating jammers plus infrared targeting.

            So if you cant fly with AWACS as you dont have air superiority (yet) your "invisible" plane is a bit screwed.. as it has to get close and dirty to kill the enemy, and it will be detected by meter radar and targeted by IR.

            At this point you will probably use long range cruise missiles to bomb out radar sites and AFs.. and if you can do that and have to do that, then what is the point of the f35s?

            I mean, I do understand the principle.. but the point of the f35 was to be cheaper than the f22 with less advanced stealth features and multirole.

            Now it is MORE expensive, so even if it works as advertised, it fails in cost.

            If you look at the t-50/SU-52 it is quite clear that this "stealth thing" is not cheap. Not at all.. well, that and expensive AESA radars, datalinks, etc etc.

            So maybe block 60 F16s makes more sense...

            1. cortland

              Re: and Pigs might fly a.k.a F-35

              Not so much discussed is that multiple 35's whose radar and computational power is networked may be practically as good as having an AWACS circling around some hundred kilometers from the scene.

              It's all new, that. I wonder if it will work as well is expected the first time it has to.

        2. Voland's right hand Silver badge

          Re: and Pigs might fly a.k.a F-35

          then its stealth characteristics will be negligible.

          Correct.

          Which is exactly why the modernization included high power ECM counter-measures on every aircraft.

          Who cares if you are stealthy or not if nobody's radar works to start off with.

          Does this idea work or not - too early to say.

          1. ciaran

            Re: and Pigs might fly a.k.a F-35

            In any case if you turn on your radar you're not stealthy any more.

            No matter how much hi-tech jumping around you're doing, if you outputting 10's or 100's of watts of power, you will be detected passively by anyone in range.

            ECM is a good approach. It helps if you're not built like a mirror, so having a small radar cross section is an advantage. How small is an economics calculation vs. the cost of the ECM. In this the french Rafale is a better design than the Eurofighter.

            1. phuzz Silver badge

              Re: and Pigs might fly a.k.a F-35

              The ECM carried by the Vulcan was rumoured to be powerful enough to cause physical damage to some of the US radar equipment they used to practise against.*

              Who needs stealth when the opponent's radars are all smoking from the electronics?

              * Allegedly.

          2. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

            Re: and Pigs might fly a.k.a F-35

            Who cares if you are stealthy or not if nobody's radar works to start off with.

            Or if you can get ten of your upgraded aircraft for the cost of one F35-B. Doesn't matter if the F35 shoots down five of yours (except, of course, to the pilots and their families) if the other five are still around to shoot down the F35..

        3. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: and Pigs might fly a.k.a F-35

          "if the airframe design is 50 years old (as is the case with the Tu-22M and Su-24) then its stealth characteristics will be negligible."

          Compared with, say, the B-52, which entered service in 1955 and which is planned to remain in service through to the 2050s, or the F-15E, which has replaced the retired F-111 in the medium range strike role - the F-15 entered service in 1976, just two years after the SU-24, and the 'E' model remains as unstealthy as the first A/B models.

          So yes, both 'sides' will continue to use non-stealthy aircraft for the foreseeable future.

          But radar 'stealth' relies mostly upon reflecting radar pulses away from the transmitter/receiver instead of back towards it, and one way around this, at least for territories that are already occupied and controlled, is a transmitter that can send identifiable pulses, combined with a coordinated and distributed receiver network made up of many relatively inexpensive omni-directional sensors in an IoT type of scheme. The sensors would not actually do any tracking, reducing their complexity and cost, and just report the ID of the received reflected pulse and the time of receiving it. This would be enough to alert you to an intrusion and give you a rough idea of location and track, and probably sufficient to get passive electro-optical systems looking in the right direction. Stealth just isn't quite so useful in the attack role, at least against a technologically equal opponent, as it's made out to be.

          Btw, there's no reason why such sensors couldn't also be dropped in large quantities over territories that are not controlled, or are controlled by an opponent, but that would open the possibility of them being collected and interfered with, so that they send back bad data.

          1. Jellied Eel Silver badge

            Re: and Pigs might fly a.k.a F-35

            ..a transmitter that can send identifiable pulses, combined with a coordinated and distributed receiver network made up of many relatively inexpensive omni-directional sensors in an IoT type of scheme.

            And perhaps not unsuprisingly, this is what the latest radar systems from Russia & China appear to do. Which then leaves the challenge of targeting hostile aircraft. So either directing interceptors or engage via air defences. But potentially force 'stealth' aircraft into operating at low level and/or at night. In which case they become less useful for CAS or other strike missions. Not that the F-35 seems very useful for CAS, at least compared to Su-24s, A-10s, F-15s etc. A few procurements have opted for the venerable F-15 over the F-35 because that's a cheaper and more reliable multi-role aircraft. I'm a bit dubious about how well the F-35's would do in combat given they're pretty delicate compared to alternatives, and may spend more time as hanger queens than on CAS duty.

            1. Rudeboy

              Re: and Pigs might fly a.k.a F-35

              Which procurements are those then....

              The world wants to know....

        4. AS1

          Re: and Pigs might fly a.k.a F-35

          Is stealth important when the updated Tu-22M's ordnance includes three Kh-32, a hyper-sonic anti-ship missile with an estimated range of 600 miles? This is more than the combat range of the 35B (500 miles) on internal tanks. If the QE class (with dubious independent AWACS capability) saw the Tu-22 coming, could it actually plot an intercept in time to prevent, or even retaliate against, a strike from this range?

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: and Pigs might fly a.k.a F-35

            could it actually plot an intercept in time to prevent, or even retaliate against, a strike from this range?

            Depends on the speed of the incoming missile. If it is faster than the air defence weapons can cope with, not much can be done to stop the incoming weapon. Nominally the Sea Ceptor missiles on a Type 23 escort will defend up to Mach 3.2. Although the Kh-32 isn't really hypersonic it has a speed of Mach 3 to 3.5, so maybe, maybe not. But that's based on public statements about capability, and I'd be very surprised if either side were telling the truth, so you'd have to assume both systems real capabilities will differ.

            The carrier might get lucky with its Phalanx, but against a supersonic target the chances are not good, and at the very short operating range of that weapon, the missile debris would still hit the carrier at a multiple of machs even if the warhead exploded. I'd imagine a few hundred kg of shrapnel moving at mach 3 would make a considerable mess.

            1. Rudeboy

              Re: and Pigs might fly a.k.a F-35

              "Nominally the Sea Ceptor missiles on a Type 23 escort will defend up to Mach 3.2. Although the Kh-32 isn't really hypersonic it has a speed of Mach 3 to 3.5, so maybe, maybe not."

              You're basing Sea Ceptors ability to intercept based on a tail chase scenario...its what the Daily Mail did....can you not see a rather obvious problem with that?

        5. JohnMurray

          Re: and Pigs might fly a.k.a F-35

          Russia has plenty of low frequency radar...so the stealth aircraft will also stick out like a sore thumb...

        6. This post has been deleted by its author

        7. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: and Pigs might fly a.k.a F-35

          "They can modernise the avionics all they want, if the airframe design is 50 years old (as is the case with the Tu-22M and Su-24) then its stealth characteristics will be negligible. They'll stick out like a sore thumb on modern radar."

          ...

          Stealth is well on the way to being obsolete. It was another 'technology to eliminate dogfights' silver bullet, something the technocrats, particularly in the casualty averse US, have been looking for since the F-4 Phantom, whose missiles were supposed to eliminate the need for a gun by killing all the enemies before they could get in range.

          Stealth is only effective against certain wavelengths - those typically used by aircraft radars. Other radars, including modern air defence radars, operate in other bands, where only bombers are big enough to take advantage of many of the stealth techniques involving aircraft geometry, at least versus 2m radars.

          Stealth coatings are quite fragile - at least one or two reports I have seen indicate that the F-35 can't fly through rain without damaging the coating. And then there are hailstones...

          The F-35, in part because of multi-role compromises, is radar stealthy only in limited frontal arc. From the side or rear, not so much.

          Stealth was developed in an era when high capability IRST (infrared search and track) was not fitted to aircraft. While IRST is still shorter range than some radars, depending on target, good IRST now has a range of 50+ km... rivaling radar in some situations... and the F-35 has a rather hot engine.

          Integrated air defence systems also track targets by their emissions - which becomes a contest between defence systems and evasion capabilities of the networked communications that modern fighters use to integrate into their own tactical nets.

          The defence integration also means that you are not just hiding from the enemy in front, you are hiding from ground based, often mobile, systems and the other enemy aircraft and drones that may be out of your radar stealth arc.

          As well, stealth aircraft are more limited in armament (size and number of missiles) because external ordnance kills stealth.

          The F-35 has little or limited supercruise, and cannot carry external fuel without breaking stealth. Many other fighters are faster. This means that opposing aircraft moving faster give enemy missiles more kinetic energy, speed, and range, so nominally equal missiles on a non-stealth aircraft may be fired from farther away, giving the enemy a chance to break off after firing. More missiles also means more and more diverse incoming missiles which complicates countermeasures and reduces chances of dodging missiles.

          F-35 mission availability is currently hovering around 25%, and repair times are high, so the number of such aircraft actually available for use is much less than you would expect by comparing numbers of aircraft.

          All in all, any of the three Euro-canards is probably a better choice.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: and Pigs might fly a.k.a F-35

            "All in all, any of the three Euro-canards is probably a better choice."

            Although IIRC, the Typhoon is somewhat specialized for air to air, so Gripen or Rafale might be a better multi-role choice.

            Personally, I find the Rafale's refueling probe aesthetically inelegant, but that's just me.

            OTOH, Gripen's low logistics footprint, and short field/road capability is kind of interesting.

            1. Rudeboy

              Re: and Pigs might fly a.k.a F-35

              "Although IIRC, the Typhoon is somewhat specialized for air to air, so Gripen or Rafale might be a better multi-role choice."

              This is nonsense. The Typhoon was developed on a requirement to replace Phantom AND Jaguar. It has always been intended to be swing role. As the cold war ended though the integration work on air to ground weaponry was defunded as Germany, UK and Italy had hundreds of Tornado's, AMX, Jaguars and Harriers. What they lacked was modern fighters. So that was concentrated on. As Tornado has been planned for retirement the A2G weaponry has made a comeback.

              By 2019 the RAF's Typhoon will be superior to either Rafale or Gripen, as well as massively superior in A2A. The reason? Brimstone and Storm Shadow will be integrated. Add in the already integrated Paveway 4 and Enhanced Paveway 3 and thats a superior capability than Rafale (its colossally more than Gripen). It can also carry all that stuff whilst remaining fully aerobatic and carrying 4 Meteor, 2 fuel attacks and 2 Asraam. Something that neither Gripen or Rafale can come close to.

    2. Dr Who

      Re: and Pigs might fly a.k.a F-35

      What? The Jensen Interceptor can go faster than sound? That's not what my Supercars Top Trumps said.

      1. imanidiot Silver badge

        Re: and Pigs might fly a.k.a F-35

        Stealth doesn't exist. Even the F-35 can easily be identified by radar installations designed in the 80s and 90s. Yes, it makes it slightly more difficult when low to the ground using mobile radar installations, but anything large and fixed will pick them up easily enough. And in todays interlinked combat systems, if the ground can see you, so can the interceptors in the air (And the SAM sites)

        1. EvilDrSmith

          Re: and Pigs might fly a.k.a F-35

          Stealth does exist, it's just not binary ( 'you have it or you don't'), but shades of grey.

          It's about reducing the radar return from the aircraft to the detecting system, and the basic physics behind shaping and radar absorbent (or transparent) materials doesn't change just because your opponent also understands these principles and has made his detection systems less vulnerable to them.

          Whether 'full stealth' is worth the financial cost or other design compromises necessary to achieve it is, of course, and entirely different question.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: and Pigs might fly a.k.a F-35

      "Totally modernised Harrier"........the Hawker P1154 project was cancelled ages ago, and it was (at the time) a totally modernised Harrier....supersonic too! Ah....the good old days!!

      Signed: A Dinosaur

    4. Rudeboy

      Re: and Pigs might fly a.k.a F-35

      That was true with earlier generations of aircraft. Going supersonic actually used colossal amounts of fuel and wasn't possible with most external stores.

      But...F-35 carries its weapons internally. Typhoon and F-22 in particular have the ability to supercruise at high mach numbers (go supersonic and sustain it without using afterburner). Thats a paradigm shift. The Rafale can just manage it, Gripen can't, SU-27 can't.

      For comparison a production F-15C allegedly has a top speed of m2.5. In reality that was a stripped down, cleaned up version on max afterburner for a few seconds. A normal F-15C with limited external stores couldn't go beyond m1.8 with full burners engaged. In comparison F-22 and Typhoon can hit m1.5 with full warloads without afterburner. They're massively faster in practice. If we ever allow RR to upgrade the Typhoon engines to their full potential (about a 30-40% increase in power with no increase in fuel burn) god knows how fast it would go.

  4. A Non e-mouse Silver badge

    The fighter is already expected to be the most expensive military aircraft ever produced

    I saw a program on PBS America about the initial competition for the next generation aircraft. The aim was to keep costs low as previous aircraft contract costs had escalated. Nice to see the US Government have got costs under control. Under the control of Lockheed Martin, that is, not the US Government.

    1. Alister Silver badge

      Do you mean the next-gen after the F35, or the competition which lead to the F35?

      1. A Non e-mouse Silver badge

        @Alister

        The competition which lead to the F35

        1. Alister Silver badge

          Re: @Alister

          Ah right, thanks.

          I think I saw that, too. Ironic that the stated aim of the program was to reduce costs, as you say.

    2. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

      Under the control of Lockheed Martin, that is, not the US Government

      Well, politicians and senior military types need a nice soft directorship to go to after they retire..

    3. JLV Silver badge

      Good of you to remind us. We all tend to forget this POS was originally sold as a high volume low cost alternative to the F22 (which can't be exported).

  5. ColonelClaw

    This whole paid DLC thing is getting out of hand.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re:DLC

      At least you have a chance without the DLC.

      If it was being done by EA, your planes would spontaneously explode until you brought the latest DLC....

  6. @JagPatel3

    Failing to quantify Whole Life Cost

    One of the reasons why a £20bn funding “black hole” has re-emerged in the Ministry of Defence’s budget is because it has never bothered to consider the cost of new equipment procurement programmes on a through-life sustainment basis, preferring instead to bear down on initial acquisition costs – notwithstanding the fact that, the cost of acquiring and re-provisioning Support Assets required to sustain military equipment over the whole life cycle, can be in the order of four to five times the prime equipment costs.

    A point that came to light at a recent Defence Select Committee hearing, which was told that MoD did not know what the Whole Life Cost of the first tranche of 48 F-35s was. This has come about because, for as long as anyone can remember, MoD has rigorously applied a policy of buying Support Assets for its military equipment separately, on a piece-meal basis, via a steady stream of short-term, renewable Post Design Services contracts let during the in-service phase, as and when the need arises rather than upfront, at the time of acquiring the prime equipment.

    The fact of the matter is that the ability to identify, quantify and then confidently price Support Assets can only be accumulated progressively, as the Technical Solution is being advanced during the design, development, systems integration and prototyping phases of each equipment acquisition programme – it cannot be gained overnight! Central to the quantification of Whole Life Cost is the systematic determination of the inherent reliability of the prime equipment, bottom-up, starting with each individual Maintenance Significant Item. A methodology that has not been applied by Defence Contractors, because they have not been specifically directed to do so by MoD.

    But what is especially worrying is that, instead of using common sense and setting-up a single fixed, all-in Through Life Budget for each new military equipment acquisition programme to encompass costs for the prime equipment and its associated Support Assets required for through-life sustainment, MoD has created two separate, expandable budgets – the Equipment Procurement Plan and the Equipment Support Plan – thereby giving a clear indication to Industry, that it is happy to continue with the practice of procuring new equipment using one pot of money for the prime equipment, and paying for its in-service support costs from the second, using Post Design Services contracts – just like in the bad old days of the Defence Procurement Agency and the Defence Logistics Organisation, the predecessor stand-alone entities to MoD’s arms-length defence procurement organisation at Abbey Wood, Bristol.

    This tried-and-failed policy of buying Support Assets separately also gives the impression that MoD’s leadership has accepted that the Contractor supplying the Support Assets can be different from that which produces the prime equipment – unwittingly betraying its collective ignorance of what it is that makes Private Sector organisations tick, and how obsessively possessive they are of Intellectual Property Rights vested in their products.

    @JagPatel3

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