I will be covering Nimrod and its roles in a future post but I received this yesterday and thought it worth publishing, despite the media attention of scrapping the Harriers I think not bringing into service the MRA4 is reckless.
I write on behalf of a group of former aerospace workers and supporters in the North West of England, committed to saving the Nimrod MRA4 maritime surveillance and intelligence gathering aircraft from cancellation and scrapping as a consequence of the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR).
The gravity and urgency of the current situation cannot be over-stated. Within a matter of days the circumstances could become irreversible.
If MRA4 is scrapped, £4billion of public money will have been wasted on the programme. Five aircraft have flown comprising of three development aircraft, which have completed a test programme and two production aircraft, one of which has been delivered to the UK Customer. The remainder of the nine aircraft ordered are in various stages of advanced build. Scrapping these existing aircraft will represent waste on a scale that is unprecedented, even for this country. This at a time of recession when the Government claims to be targeting waste as well as cutting spending.
Moreover, the loss of MRA4 as a defence asset will open up a huge gap in the UK’s maritime surveillance and airborne intelligence gathering and co-ordinating capability. This is unacceptable for an island country heavily dependent on free movement along its sea lanes and at the same time vulnerable to the ever-present risk of terrorism. The security of shipping, offshore oil and gas rigs, offshore wind farms and nuclear power stations in remote coastal locations will be compromised.
It is just not good enough for the Government to talk in terms of an alternative, mitigating range of measures including naval ships, helicopters and re-deployed transport aircraft. Such a system would be incapable of operating, communicating and co-ordinating anywhere near as effectively as the MRA4, which provides all the necessary capabilities of surveillance, intelligence gathering, communications and air-sea rescue in a single platform.
The ultimate nonsense would be then at a future date to lease or purchase a far less capable alternative, possibly from the United States, the cost of which would have to be added to the £4billion which would already have been wasted.
In its response to the Commons Defence Select Committee’s First Report on the SDSR, the Government acknowledged and welcomed the Committee’s right to review the SDSR implementation proposals. This has not yet taken place and it appears that disposal of MRA4 is being rushed through before the Committee has had the opportunity to do so.
Therefore, as a matter of the utmost urgency, we call upon the Prime Minister and his Government to immediately suspend the irrevocable scrapping of these unique world class aircraft, pending further detailed review and consideration by the Commons Defence Select Committee.
The Programme: – Badly conceived, late and over budget.
But the Result: – A unique world class aircraft virtually ready for service with the RAF.
Then Cancellation: – A hasty ill judged decision which makes no sense at all.
Disposal: – Scrapping these aircraft would be an act of unparalleled vandalism with taxpayer assets; it would be the most disastrous event in the history of the British Aircraft Industry and will have a significant impact on the RAF and the defence of the UK.
Reconsider: – A final chance for Prime Minister, David Cameron and the Government to reconsider all options to save these aircraft from destruction before they are scrapped in early 2011.
The disastrous destruction of the nine production and three development Nimrod MRA4 aircraft moved a step closer over the last two weeks of November following the rejection by the Ministry of Defence of options proposed by BAE Systems aimed at saving all or some of the aircraft. As a result of the MoD rejection of the options, primarily due to lack of backing from the government, approximately 380 sub contract staff were laid off at BAE Systems Warton on the 24th November 2010, with a further 1400 staff at BAE Systems sites at Warton, Woodford, Chadderton, Prestwick, Farnborough, and RAF Kinloss put on notice on 9th December. The impact on people and the local communities is just one result from PM Cameron’s brief cancellation statement on the 19th October, where he dismissed the aircraft in just a few seconds. This hastily made, ill judged decision is the greatest blunder in the history of the UK Aircraft Industry and will have a significant impact on the RAF and the defence of the UK.
The following identifies why.
The Programme: The Nimrod MRA4 programme has had its well publicised problems and no pride can be taken in its eight year slippage. The original contract was awarded in December 1996 for the supply of 21 aircraft with the expectation of a minimal development programme. Although the MRA4 design uses refurbished MR2 fuselages, the MRA4 is essentially a new and very complex aircraft. The design and manufacturing programme was challenging and it eventually became evident that a specific development programme was required. A controlled stop was therefore applied to the production programme, while the three development aircraft went forward, achieving first flight on 26th August 2004. Initial results from the flight test programme demonstrated the previously unappreciated performance and capabilities of this “new” Nimrod MRA4, compared to Nimrod MR2, and allowed the customer to be comfortable with the reduction in fleet size from 21 to 9. BAE Systems were therefore awarded a realigned contract for 9 production aircraft in July 2006. The three development aircraft completed their design and development flight test programme in March 2010, which was also a momentous month for Nimrod MRA4 flying. On the one hand it saw the final flights of the trials fleet after a five and a half year, 1900 FH, 630 flight test programme with PA1 and PA2 flying into Woodford on 9th & 5th March 2010 respectively in order to be put into storage. On the other hand the second of the production aircraft PA5 made its first flight on 5th March and PA4 (first flight 10th September 2009) had the privilege of impressing the Chief of the Air Staff, ACM Sir Stephen Dalton, and Capability Manager (Information Superiority), AVM Carl Dixon, with a one hour flight on 2nd March. It is almost unheard of for a high tech programme not to suffer some cost growth and Nimrod is no exception. However, with the aircraft exceeding its specification time-on-station and the Customer happy to reduce the fleet size recognising the enormous capability of the aircraft, the overall programme cost has grown by only a modest 28% (from £2.813bn to £3.602bn) as clearly stated in the recently published 2010 Major Projects Report (HC489) from the National Audit Office.
But the Result: It is vital to stress that the Nimrod MRA4 offers a step change in capability in comparison with the previous Nimrod MR2 aircraft. It would have met the UK’s Maritime Patrol, Reconnaissance, Intelligence and Strike requirements well into the 21st Century. The Nimrod MRA4 would have fulfilled a number of roles: anti-submarine and anti-ship warfare and attack; maritime reconnaissance and intelligence collection; search and rescue; counter-terrorism; and protection of the 200nm EEZ and its fisheries, wind farms and gas and oil rigs. Performance data includes the following: -
The Nimrod MR2 aircrew, widely acknowledged for their world-beating maritime patrol expertise, who have flown in the MRA4, have highly praised the aircraft’s capability and its systems and were looking forward to operating the Nimrod MRA4 in RAF service. This view was supported by the Chief of the Air Staff, who said that he expected Nimrod MRA4 to form the centrepiece of the RAF’s long term combat ISTAR fleet. This supports the fact that the aircraft is truly a unique world class product with a performance capability far in excess of the new American P-8, which has less than half the range, endurance and weapon capability of Nimrod MRA4, is heavily dependent on support from an unmanned aircraft known as BAMS (Broad Area Maritime Surveillance) and is still in development.
The Cancellation: There has been an outcry of concern from many informed sources following the cancellation statement by Prime Minister, David Cameron.
These include significant statements from: -
Minister of Defence Equipment, Support & Technology, Peter Luff has identified a number of mitigation measures (use of other assets and closer collaboration with allies) to fill the capability gap resulting from the MRA4 cancellation. However, these measures will be far less effective than the capability that would have been available by the operation of MRA4 by the experienced aircrew at RAF Kinloss. Further, the adoption of such mitigation measures will be at a cost, which has not been defined. Peter Luff has also stated that not bringing MRA4 into RAF service will provide a savings of £2bn over the next 10 years (£200m per year). However, this perceived saving has not been clarified. Did it take into account the costs associated with the adoption of mitigation measures plus the cancellation and disposal costs of the aircraft and other MRA4 assets? The answer must be no, since these costs have not yet been fully defined.
Were other options for the RAF operation of MRA4 in a more cost effective manner ever investigated, for example, operation from RAF Waddington instead of RAF Kinloss, or operation by BAE Systems on a PFI leasing basis?
Nimrod MRA4 could have been cancelled on a number of occasions over the past 14 years, but those responsible in Government and MoD have always seen fit to keep it going due to its essential multi role capability.
So what is different now?
The threats have not changed (in many cases they are greater the aircraft has completed intensive testing and is virtually ready for service. Cancellation would result in an unforgivable waste of money. It makes far more sense to allow the RAF to operate this extremely capable aircraft in the most cost effective manner rather than rely on other far less capable measures. The resulting operating costs would be money well spent ensuring the UK has the best long range maritime patrol aircraft available. It has been stated by Secretary of State for Defence, Dr Liam Fox, that it was a very difficult decision not to bring Nimrod MRA4 into service. It is apparent that this difficult decision was hastily made during the conclusion of the SDSR discussions without the full implications being known.
The resulting cancellation statement by Prime Minister David Cameron was ill judged and left little or no scope for reconsideration.
Disposal: Following the cancellation decision, BAE Systems, received formal notice to terminate the contract, but were also invited to consider any innovative options to save the aircraft from an unjustified demise. The company proposed some options, which all required support and further funding from the MoD. These options were all rejected by MoD since they had no funds from government to consider any such proposals. Therefore, plans are now being formulated which would see the task of scrapping the aircraft commencing early this year, with the intention of completing the disposal as soon as possible.
Reconsider: The Government has made much of the fact that as well as cutting expenditure to meet the budgetary deficit, reductions in waste are also essential. To scrap Nimrod MRA4 at this late stage would constitute a Government-commissioned act of waste on a colossal scale. Does this government want to be responsible for the message and images that would be sent out, following expenditure of £4bn, by the sight of these fine, fully functioning aircraft being sent to the wreckers yard, compounded by the fact that the strategic, military and civilian roles they serve, ever present and remaining just as vital, were no longer able to be met in an adequate manner?
To accept the impact on capability and the colossal financial waste in order to save an estimated £200m per year for the next 10 years cannot be justified. Therefore, even at this late stage, there is a final opportunity for Prime Minister David Cameron and his colleagues in government to reconsider the cancellation and disposal decisions. They must have the courage and integrity to take heed of the outcry of concern from the many informed sources since the cancellation statement, recognise the full impacts of these hastily made decisions towards the end of the SDSR and accept that there is a compelling case for them to be urgently reconsidered before it is too late to save these aircraft from destruction.
This from the MoD today
Ministers and Service Chiefs have made clear that the decision in October’s Strategic Defence and Security Review not to bring the Nimrod MRA4 into service was difficult, but it will not be reversed and the dismantling process is underway.