Is this What They Call Taking the Piss?

Sorry for the title, hope no one objects too much but I couldn’t quite believe this quote when I saw it.

Speaking at an evidence session for the House of Commons Defence Select Committee a number of industry figures have urged the MoD to consider fielding ‘less than fully capable’ systems, especially vehicles. It seems that industry has woken up to the coming famine in defence spending and want to get their kit in the system early so as to ensure it can be built upon when times are better.

They say that perfect is the enemy of good enough and this is fair enough but it is rather rich of the defence industry to start complaining about gold plating when they have been sucking at the teat of over specification and eternal optimism for decades.

REvolving Doors

Addressing the governmental defence committee, Sir Brian Burridge, Finmeccanica UK’s vice president for strategic marketing said ground vehicles in particular should initially be fielded with an “80 percent capability”.

With committee members describing such systems as “less than fully capable”, Burridge added that both the defence industry and the MoD were “up” for the challenge.

Up for the bloody challenge…

Here’s a challenge for you Sir Brian (ex RAF Air Chief Marshall)

  • Explain how Westland (yes that Westland, owned by Finmeccanica) can win a contract for Future Lynx (AW159 Wildcat) without going through a competitive tender
  • Explain how Westland (yes that Westland, owned by Finmeccanica) can charge £6.5million for an engine upgrade for a small handful of the existing Lynx fleet
  • Explain how Westland (yes that Westland, owned by Finmeccanica) can sell the MoD 60 odd Wildcats for the eye watering price of £1.7billion pounds, or about £26million each.

There are powerful voices muttering about the Defence Industrial Strategy and a rising tide of opinion that says things have to change, the suggestion of rushing equipment into service quicker just so industry can milk the MoD for upgrades later is about as transparent as something that isn’t very transparent.

If industry wants to stave off calls for the DIS to be scrapped then it is going to have to do much better than this.

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Euan Stewart
December 9, 2009 5:42 pm

I have no objections to the title and I would say that they are certainly taking the piss. The Defence Industry should really be told where to get off as this is just plain greed by an industry wanting to cover their inefficiency failures and stupidity while trying to make more money. In all honesty I think it is disgusting especially at the current time when defence equipment is actually being used in operations and when it fails lives are being lost.

I think some major changes need to be made when it comes to the procurement of equipment it’s development and manufacture. I doubt however change will happen as the British Public and their elected representatives do not give any attention to the end product all they are interested in is money and jobs. I personally like the concept of having manufacturing separate from design and development with production facilities used for building whatever design is suitable. If that means Augusta Westland or BAE producing foreign designs in the UK then I would have no objections as long as the UK still has some design skills retained. The basic principle is having ‘design houses’ separate so from the actual manufacturing so that a design house that is rubbish can be allowed to fail so that only the best survive. It may seem daft but manufacturing is where the majority of the jobs are and where the money is generated. Following this route should allow for far more competition in defence contracts with designs competing against each other being the principle drivers in procurement decisions. Designs skills are still vital but could still be kept alive in much the same way that BMT has managed to survive in the naval arena innovation and skill. Money could be paid for fixed price design and prototype contracts in a similar way to the BAE/MoD UAV partnering which has produced some excellent results.

December 9, 2009 5:43 pm

Dont we already do this?

If my memory serves, the Type 45 was designed with its fancy anti air system, a fancy anti submarine system, long range anti ship missiles and Close in Weapons Systems.
To cut costs, it got the fancy air defence system.

Euan Stewart
December 9, 2009 6:15 pm

Dominic we do very much do this already but what this is about is someone from industry and Ex-RAF actually coming out and saying it and suggesting that it is a good idea. To be pedantic the guy who said it was Ex-RAF and the comment was suggesting “ground vehicles in particular should initially be fielded with an “80 percent capability”” Hmm! RAF trying to screw the Army what else is new.

December 9, 2009 6:45 pm

Our armed forces have dropped below critical mass, the defence budget is too small to leverage it for ‘industrial’ competitiveness – be it dockyard workers, plane builders, or electronics engineers to nuclear sub power plant designers, a succession of UK governments have blown it – so we are now too small and too poorly funded for the DIS to make sense. Therefore we should just buy Millitary Off The Shelf (MOTS) for whatever country offers the best price.

Euan Stewart
December 9, 2009 8:17 pm

Jed I agree the Armed Forces are below critical mass so equipment orders are getting far too small to justify going it alone in many areas causing massive problems. It’s a vicious cycle orders are small to start with so unit costs are high then problems cause unit costs to rise further so unit numbers get cut driving costs higher leading to further cuts in unit numbers… The curious thing is how does Sweden manage to make such a good job of it? Small country small armed forces but excellent kit and value for money and things seem to run on time and close to cost estimates from what I can gather.

I’m fine with MOTS but we should specify large industrial offsets much like other nations do, hence where the AW Yeovil facility being a helicopter factory rather than AW’s helicopter factory. Also buying off the shelf for more high tech systems should also include all the access to technology so we know about any hidden kill switches etc. Some things still should remain UK based such as ammunition production but should return to something like Royal Ordnance although under more efficient management.

December 10, 2009 10:53 am

“The curious thing is how does Sweden manage to make such a good job of it?”

Realistic Goals
Realistic Funding

Tanks are German
Helicopters are American
Fast Air looks awfully like it could be the bastard offspring of the single engined version of the Eurofighter BAE suggested but the RAF refused to contemplate.

The stuff they do make themselves is all either already in existance, tech wise, or is readily achievable, and a plug and playable export product.

I quite like the idea of splitting up design and production work, although if its easiest/cheapest to get a German design built in a Polish factory, thats what we should do.

The funding saved by not keeping failed companies alive on life support would allow us to take areas we have a genuinely competitive product, invest and become world leaders.
We might not be able to make our own destroyers or larger ships anymore, but would it really be that terrible if we bought light carriers off the Americans for half the price and 90% of the capability?
Not even if that money saved allowed us to equip anything Destroyer sized or larger with a nuclear power system, and sell that to allies?
A billion here (wildcat), 3 billion there (Type 45), soon your talking real money.
Suddenly a 5-10 mw nuclear reactor requiring limited maintanence, a week long service every 5 years and no refuel for 20-30 years sounds achievable.
Its not anything near enough to run a ship, Type 45’s use 40mw at full tilt, Invincibles 70mw, but a 5mw reactor must knock a considerable chunk off the fuel bill, especialy when the ships stationary.

Or we could design long range self piloting UAV’s that are launched with a patrol route and record everything they see, or they could tag “interesting” things and either follow them, or send picture home and ask if they should follow them, not immediatly useful in a “hot” war, but the ability to keep the entire enemy navy under constant survailance during a cold war would be infuriating.
If its small enough and a few miles away, it might not even be picked up on radar, which would be useful in hot war.
We’d have been buggered if German submarine fleets had several hundred UAV’s looking for our convoys, not useful for us anymore, but if you’re Chad fighting Sudan, monitoring vast areas of featureless desert on the cheap, sound handy?

December 10, 2009 2:31 pm

How does Sweden do it ?

They don’t anymore !

Haaglunds belongs to BAe, Gripen is marketed by BAe, and probably won’t be replaced by an indeginously designed and manufactured aircraft, they can no longer afford it (as they no longer need to be militantly neutral). Their small arms are all bought in designs, and as noted their tanks German etc… However their defence procurement record is better than ours because they were spending less on smaller forces to defence thier homeland ??? Or is it because they have national service and most (if not all ?) of their politicians have done some time in the services ???

Richard Stockley
December 11, 2009 4:43 pm

If Sir Brian Burridge decided to reply on this blog I’m sure it would be along the lines of, “All costs attributed to the projects named are legally attributable within the terms of the respective contracts.” Sir Brian is merely a businessman trying to make money for his company and his shareholders.

What we should be asking is what kind of contract are our public servants signing that allows the tax-payer liable for absolutely huge sums of money? Would Richard Branson and the Virgin Group sign up to such a document?

If Mr Branson decided to buy 60 Wildcats or have his helicopters modified by AgustaWestlands I’m sure the conversation he had with Sir Brian would be very different to the one between Sir Brian and the MOD. Why should it so different? In addition to this, would the Virgin Group field an aircraft or vehicle with 80% capability? No chance, it would be a case of deliver what we want or the other guy gets the contract.

So, £1.7billion for development and delivery of 60 helicopters, value for money or simply a thinly disguised Government subsidy?