back to article UK's 'homebrew firmware' Chinooks set to be usable a mere 16 years late

The Ministry of Defence has started replacing the flight control software on its all-but-useless Chinook Mk.3 special forces helicopters, a mere 16 years after bungled attempts to bake its own software without involving manufacturer Boeing. Branded "the most incompetent procurement of all time", the Chinook Mk.3 saga began in …

  1. disgustedoftunbridgewells Silver badge

    Does anybody know why they decided to downgrade them from mk3 to mk2?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      The software modifications were needed to make all the secret squirrel special forces hardware modifications work. Aircraft avionics are a complex, monolithic beast with every piece interconnected to every other piece. To install the working/supported software they had to physically modify the Mk3s to be Mk2s.

      They never quite managed this which is why they've sat in a hangar for a literal fucking -decade- despite our special forces being almost continually deployed.

      MoD procurement: A particularly sadistic kind of idiocy.

    2. SkippyBing Silver badge

      They weren't actually downgraded to Mk2, they just had the avionics replaced with those of a Mk2. There are other differences to the airframe, such as longer fuel tanks on either side of the fuselage which make the flight characteristics slightly different, which meant they stayed a separate Mk.

  2. This post has been deleted by its author

  3. David Austin

    Usable Life

    How long should they have left as combat ready, after the MK5 upgrade?

    Does it make financial sense to do that over writing them off? Based off past experience, the MoD Don't always seem to notice or care when they're throwing good money after bad

    1. Aladdin Sane Silver badge

      Re: Usable Life

      They should still have a long life ahead of them as they won't have amassed the flight hours that combat ready airframes would have.

      1. Chrissy

        Re: Usable Life

        Trigger's broom.

    2. SkippyBing Silver badge

      Re: Usable Life

      'How long should they have left as combat ready, after the MK5 upgrade?'

      Decades, bearing in mind the UK hasn't retired any of the original Chinooks it acquired in the '70s they've just been continually upgraded. Planned out of service date is still at least 20 odd years away.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Usable Life

        I sort of wish that they'd all fall out of the sky (and leave the crew uninjured)

        Those twin rotor egg-beaters are effing noisy and my whole house shakes when they fly over at 500ft.

        The local nursery school hates it when they fly over during the post lunch quiet period. It does not stay quiet for long.

        They are so slow and noisy it is a wonder that they didn't all get shot down in Iraq/Afghanistan.

        1. anothercynic Silver badge

          Re: Usable Life

          Those twin rotor egg-beaters are effing noisy and my whole house shakes when they fly over at 500ft.

          *tiny violin*

        2. GingerOne

          Re: Usable Life

          "They are so slow and noisy it is a wonder that they didn't all get shot down in Iraq/Afghanistan."

          Isn't the Chinook one of the fastest helicopters around?

          And personally speaking, I love hearing one overhead (which is good as living near RAF Northolt and working in the City I see/hear them every day!

          1. W4YBO

            Re: Usable Life

            "And personally speaking, I love hearing one overhead..."

            Me too!

            But it's really nifty watching (and hearing) the local Air National Guard practicing airborne refueling. A KC-135 tanker with two or three C-130s trailing along waiting their turn creates a hellish racket, but I love all the Doppler shift and beat notes. Beautiful precision flying, too.

        3. This post has been deleted by its author

      2. /dev/null

        Re: Usable Life

        The RAF is still flying Puma helicopters that were delivered in 1971, and are planning to keep them until 2025, maybe even 2035, so the Chinook HC5 could be around for a while yet...

    3. rh587 Bronze badge

      Re: Usable Life

      Oh forever. The lifespan of this sort of hardware is multiple decades. Being late into service just means they'll last longer because they haven't done much for the first 16 years!

      The original Mk1s entered service in 1980 with more delivered between 1984-86. These were returned and re-manufactured in Mk2s around 1990, and they acquired more new-build Mk2s in the mid-90s.

      Those are the airframes now being brought to Mk4 standard some 25-35 years later.

      The 8 Mk3s have very low flying/airframe hours for aircraft of their (calendar) age and having never been used in battle are basically "new". They'll become Mk5 and if they follow the example of their predecessors will be in service till at least the 2030s/40s, having had a slow and stuttering start to their careers.

      There were also 14 brand spanky new Mk6s ordered in 2009 with deliveries completed in 2015 (they're based on the latest CH47F, rather than the MH47E that the Mk3/5s were derived from).

  4. Pen-y-gors Silver badge

    Of all time?

    Branded "the most incompetent procurement of all time"

    that's a pretty impressive claim, given all the other incompetent procurement exercises the MoD (and, to be fair, other government departments) have been involved in.

    In terms of overall cost, how about a couple of aircraft carriers with no aircraft?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Of all time?

      And will heads roll or will those responsible just receive some sort of gong to keep them quiet?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Of all time?

        hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha, heads roll that's a good one

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Of all time?

          heads roll that's a good one

          Parachute all MoD employees (and secondees from the military) into Mosul, with "I love Tony Blair" tattooed on their foreheads. That'd involve heads rolling.

          Fucking MoD twats. I hate them with a passion I'd otherwise reserve for terrorists. Everything the MoD touch turns instantly to fresh, steaming dog excrement, and they never learn, never admit their errors.

          1. Thicko

            Re: Of all time?

            They sound a bit like our Brexiteers!

      2. jason 7

        Re: Of all time?

        Yeah a gong and a nice 6 or 7 figure 'moving on' package.

        Always wanted a job whereby you can never be too incompetent to lose.

        Walk in on day one, take a shit on your desk and be able retire that same day.

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Of all time?

        > "And will heads roll or will those responsible just receive some sort of gong to keep them quiet?"

        Its a promotion to admiralty or even a lordship I should imagine.

    2. gskr
      FAIL

      Re: Of all time?

      Surely the badge of "most incompetent procurement of all time" belongs to the Nimrod MRA4

      £3.8 Billion straight down the toilet, when it was cancelled in 2010, at which point the project was 7 years late, and 789M over budget - and all that was left to show was some scrap metal

      1. Aladdin Sane Silver badge

        Re: Of all time?

        QE class catapults.

      2. Smooth Newt
        Pint

        Re: Of all time?

        Surely the badge of "most incompetent procurement of all time" belongs to the Nimrod MRA4

        A close runner up would be the Nimrod AEW 3, which I suppose was the prequel to the Nimrod MRA4 fiasco. Project started around 1974, expected to start entering service around 1982, cancelled in 1986 after £1 billion (say £3 billion now) had been spent. See http://www.spyflight.co.uk/Nim%20aew.htm

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Of all time?

          I cheered when, as a kid, I heard that British Forces would be getting British-designed electronics built by British workers on a proven British airframe, rather than buying that costly American AWACs stuff.

          Imagine my surprise when, years later, I found myself supporting the design computers for the project. Watching engineers slumped in their chairs, rotating 3D models. Hearing about wings that didn't fit. Seeing the (in)activity around the airframes. Wondering about how Britain had actually managed to get the Spitfire, Lancaster etc. into service in time for WWII.

          Did I say "British", or "rubbish"?

      3. SkippyBing Silver badge

        Re: Of all time?

        'Surely the badge of "most incompetent procurement of all time" belongs to the Nimrod MRA4'

        I think the difference is, in the case of Chinook Mk3 all MoD had to do was go to Boeing and say, 'Can we have 8 of those please?'. But no, they managed to f**k up buying a helicopter off the shelf to the extent it didn't fly for a decade.

        It would be like me going to BMW and managing to spec things in such I way I had 8 cars that I couldn't drive on the road despite my neighbour having brought 80 of the same model that could.

      4. Christopher E. Stith

        Re: Of all time?

        Maybe on that side of the pond. The US has multiple Northrup B-2 Spirit "Stealth Bombers" designed for a first-strike nuclear capability over Russia, at a cost of over $737,000,000 per plane (over $2,000,000,000 per plane lifetime amortized cost) and $135,000 per flight hour to operate (and more than double the prep time per hour of flight time compared to other bombers more suited to conventional weapons roles).

        Meanwhile most bombs are dropped by fighter/bomber aircraft for smaller sorties or by the B1-B (rescued from a cancelled project because of the cost and time overruns of the B-2) or the B-52 (flying since 1952).

        The total program cost for the B-2 as of 1997? Around $45,000,000,000 in then-current dollar valuation.

      5. Brenda McViking

        Re: Of all time?

        At least it was scrapped when it was *only* a mere 789m over budget. Usually these things drag on to 10x their original cost in a supposed face-saving exercise before someone brings out the guillotine.

        As any half-way decent project manager will attest to, sometimes the most sensible thing to do to a project with massive cost overruns, a pathetic set of half-written requirements, no direction and clearly unattainable goals is not to try to be the hero who re-baselines and pretends to save the day by starting again, but to stop chasing your losses and just amputate.

    3. SkippyBing Silver badge

      Re: Of all time?

      'In terms of overall cost, how about a couple of aircraft carriers with no aircraft?'

      Great meme, but as they have aircraft, or at least will once they're in service, it's mostly bollocks.

      1. rh587 Bronze badge

        Re: Of all time?

        Great meme, but as they have aircraft, or at least will once they're in service, it's mostly bollocks.

        Does it still count if they can only support one type of (fixed wing) aircraft that most countries are not allowed to buy, can't operate fixed wing support aircraft and are totally incompatible with our allies' other fixed wing assets?

        1. Aladdin Sane Silver badge

          Re: Of all time?

          Other classics yet to be discussed -

          TSR2

          F-111K

          RAH-66

          Bradley Fighting Vehicle

        2. SkippyBing Silver badge

          Re: Of all time?

          'Does it still count if they can only support one type of (fixed wing) aircraft that most countries are not allowed to buy, can't operate fixed wing support aircraft and are totally incompatible with our allies' other fixed wing assets?'

          Well the last carriers could only operate one type of fixed wing aircraft so it's not as if that's a new thing. I'm not sure that other countries not being able to buy it is a problem either, it's fairly standard that you don't sell the new shiny cutting edge stuff to people you're not 100% sure about. I mean unless you're a Labour government in which case you just give jet engines away to people who'll use them to make MiG fighters your forces can then face over Korea.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Of all time?

      If you want to count none UK defence procurement disasters, you can't look past the Australian navy Seasprite project.

      Order new patrol boat in conjunction with Malaysia

      Realise you can't fly exisitng very capable helicopters off these new boats

      Flail around for a replacement and decide to refurb some 2nd hand US seasprites

      Malaysia pulls out, so the patrol boat gets cancelled

      Keep the Seasprites for inexplicable reasons

      Spend the next decade and 1.4bn AUD trying to get them flying

      Eventually realise they will never meet safety standards and scrap the whole project.

  5. Will 20

    Nimrod MRA4.

    <Mike Drop>

    1. Mark 65 Silver badge

      Was the Nimrod named after the head of MoD procurement?

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    No "lessons will be learnt"?

    1. SkippyBing Silver badge

      Correct, no lessons will be learnt.

    2. J. R. Hartley Silver badge

      I say, old bean. Are you from the colonies?

  7. Norman Nescio Silver badge

    Re: Aircraft carriers

    @Pen-y-gors, @gskr

    Funny you mention aircraft carriers. If you convert from Reichsmark to Euro, the (non) procurement of two of a planned four aircraft carriers by the Kriegsmarine might give Nimrod a run for its money.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Graf_Zeppelin-class_aircraft_carrier

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

    Finding out how much money was used in this exercise would be a bit difficult.

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Aircraft carriers

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Graf_Zeppelin-class_aircraft_carrier

      Oh, wow. When I read "Graf Zeppelin-class", the first mental image to appear was a S.H.I.E.L.D Helicarrier, immediately followed by a mental image of SPECTRUMs Cloudbase.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Boeing involvement

    Do you really want America's biggest defence contractor to have full control over UK military hardware? And if they had got what they wanted, Boeing would have been the only people "allowed" to perform any maintenance or repairs on the Chinooks.

    It's not that the work to get the Mk.3s certified and flying couldn't have been done if the political will had been there, more that someone decided wasting money on scrapping all the Harriers and buying the F35 was a better idea.

    Don't forget it is Boeing have almost total control over how often we are allowed to fly 'our' E3A Sentry aircraft (if they don't like what we do, they don't do any work on them); Boeing who lost various tanker and transport aircraft competitions to Airbus but then repeatedly went to court to force the US government to "reconsider" until Airbus got fed up with the constant waste of time and effort being put into each bid; Boeing who demanded that ALL Airbus airliners be grounded after the birdstrike over the Hudson; Boeing who demanded ALL Airbus airliners be grounded after an incident where an inexperienced co-pilot FUBAR'd and subjected one airliner's rudder to over 750% of the designed maximum stress and broke it in half (even though the aircraft in question landed safely); Boeing who have had hundreds of incidents involving 737s but refuse to admit that there might be any links between them... I could go on but there are some scary stories out there and a lot of people flying around on Boeing aircraft who don't need the extra worry.

    I have no love for MoD(PE) (or Airbus) but giving Boeing any more control over 'our' military hardware? Not a good idea!

    1. nichomach

      Re: Boeing involvement

      On the 737s are you thinking of the uncommanded rudder hard-overs?

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Cool

    More kit that members of the royal family can use to attend stag parties or impress their girlfriends. Before deciding that, after receiving a small fortune worth of training paid for by the tax payer (mainly so that they can appear to be heroic, clever and superior to the rest of us, for the benefit of tabloid readers), that they'd rather just retire, and occasionally cut ribbons.

  10. John Sturdy
    Linux

    If it's not expensive enough...

    If the control software isn't overpriced enough, people will guess that it's actually an unauthorized re-badging of Ardupilot... which has been able to control multi-rotor craft for some time now.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Footage of the Mod-modified airframes:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-LFLV47VAbI

  12. YourNameHere
    Happy

    Its Just SW how hard can it be...

    Geez, its just a few lines of code. How hard could it be. :)

  13. Herby Silver badge

    To err is human....

    To really foul things up requires a computer....

    To make it truly worthwhile, you need a government contract to finance it all at taxpayers expense.

  14. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Unhappy

    The MoD is right up there with the Home Office

    In producing, large, mostly unaccountable, highly secret, IT f**kups.

    They both appear to be effectively unaccountable in any serious way for their actions.

    1. tfewster Silver badge

      Re: The MoD is right up there with the Home Office

      Maybe Parliamentary committees aren't allowed to investigate because those areas are "sensitive"? (And they have guns and SIGINT, which tends to discourage criticism).

      I can sort-of understand project disasters at the Home Office, as policy changes every couple of years. But the MOD and HMRC enjoy relative stability, so requirements changing shouldn't be a factor.

      1. SkippyBing Silver badge

        Re: The MoD is right up there with the Home Office

        'But the MOD and HMRC enjoy relative stability, so requirements changing shouldn't be a factor.'

        The requirements changing is almost always a factor, as is the funding available. Occasionally the two factors are related.

        E.g. order new aircraft, then discover great 'new' technology and decide it has to be added to the new aircraft to avoid being woefully out of date on service entry. Discover these changes weren't included in the original contract so there's an unexpected charge to incorporate these new features. Get told there's not enough money so either cut the capability or the numbers. Repeat as required.

        Alternatively, find you've budgeted carefully, add a capability to an aircraft and then have its out of service date brought forward over a decade to save money, I mean realign our strategic requirements.

  15. Daniel Bower

    You could...

    Paint a figure on the side of a helicopter and promise that to the NHS...

  16. Bob.

    Can you still get the EPROMs for these Chinooks?

    And then you have to remember which dusty cupboard the Programmer was consigned to.

    1. Brenda McViking
      Trollface

      Yeah, but they're the UV erasable ones and due to a rushed design, they're located on the outside of the helicopter where the sunroof was meant to be.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Bespoke requirements=cool.

    Bespoke requirements+designs checked to fit it all in properly and some requirements modified or droppped=expensive and cool.

    Bespoke requirements+no central design and all sense abandoned for "just create it"=cool requirements, frozen in overruns and delays, hopefully cool for the next war & better hope there will not be a next war.

  18. Steve B

    Supposedly couldnt fly by instruments.

    Was it one of those that crashed in foggy Scotland and despite all IT advice and knowledge the MOD blamed pilot error for the first decade or so!

    1. JFS11

      Re: Supposedly couldnt fly by instruments.

      MoD blamed the pilots for over 17 years. Cleared as soon as the truth was revealed and MoD proven to have lied. Read "Their Greatest Disgrace" by David Hill.

  19. JFS11

    All is explained............

    https://www.amazon.co.uk/Their-Greatest-Disgrace-campaign-Chinook/dp/1526204460/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1469118596&sr=1-1&keywords=their+greatest+disgrace

  20. Dave 15

    'elf and safety me old mucker

    This will continue to get worse. The worst thing about it is that the processes to 'prove it is safe' really don't, you just prove you followed a process that creates a ton of paper for every line of code (quite literally a whole ton). It proves you think you know what you asked it to do and that it apparently does that and little more , it does't prove what you asked was sensible and further we know from experience that 'wrong' or 'test' software or data can be loaded despite the supposed procedures...

    Frankly we need to learn to accept a little more risk. Can anyone imagine trying to produce a car involvign heat, flame, high speed, bendy metal and explosive fuel in todays climate?

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