HMS Astute Grounding and Paper Charts

The MoD have today released the inquiry findings into the grounding of HMS Astute off the isle of Sky on October 22, 2010

Click here for the full report and statement.

A number of media outlets have reported on the release and extracted key sections;

The root causes of the grounding were non-adherence to correct procedures for the planning and execution of the navigation combined with a significant lack of appreciation by the Officer of the Watch (OOW) of the proximity of danger. However, a number of additional causal factors were present, including some deficiencies with equipment.

As can be imagined it is a very thorough report and the statement by Rear Admiral Ian Cordner makes it clear that all the recommendations have either been completed or soon will be and the performance of HMS Astute during recent trials with the US Navy were said to have left US personnel somewhat amazed at what she could do but what jumped out from the report, at least for me, was the section on WECDIS.


The recommendations lead to


So the first in Class of the very latest and greatest in submarine technology and let’s not forget, costing a cool billion Pounds each was forced to use paper charts.

Is this some sort of April Fool’s joke, am I missing something?

Genuinely, I have assumed that there must be a sensible answer because this surely cannot be true.

So what is WECDIS?

Basically, its a very clever electronic chart system.

Pop over the the WECDIS site here 

Welcome to, the online home of the naval ECDIS community. The term WECDIS stands for “Warship Electronic Chart Display and Information System” and is also known by some nations as ECDIS-N, where the N stands for “Navy”.

ECDIS systems are the future of navigation at sea, following mandation by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO). In a rolling programme from July 2010, all seagoing vessels above a certain tonnage will be required to install an ECDIS. More information about civilian ECDIS mandation is available on the ECDIS Ltd website.

The British Royal Navy (RN) and Royal Fleet Auxillary (RFA) were the first military organisations in the world to fit NATO-standard WECDIS systems to their warships and auxillaries. The initial contract was signed on January 8th 2004.

A rolling installation programme began in July of that year and WECDIS was fitted, first to the capital ships, destroyers and frigates and then in the various survey and minor war vessels.

Since the Royal Navy, other nations have followed suit, including US Coast Guard (August 2007), Royal Australian Navy (October 2007), Brazilian Navy (February 2008) and Royal Netherlands Navy (August 2009).

Possible functions of a WECDIS system may include:

  • Monitoring and control of the WAIS transponder including world-wide ship database
  • Additional Military Layers (AMLs) for presentation of military information such as tactical areas
  • Interface with CMS
  • Missile safety zones and gun weapon arcs
  • Advanced Pool-of-Errors
  • Target Motion Analysis (TMA)
  • Intercept point, for estimation of where, when and how own ship can intercept a target
  • Screen display for task group tactical manouevres
  • Mission recording including navigational data, external inputs and audio
  • Display of video from electro-optical (EOD) and CCTV sources

A bit of casual web surfing brings up this link from the Public Technology website in 2004

The introduction of WECDIS will bring an end to the era of using traditional paper charts and the bridge’s navigating table. Official paper charts have been used since 1795.

Defence Procurement Minister, Lord Bach, said:

“Electronic charting is a vital requirement for our Fleet and WECDIS is a world-class system. Enhanced situational awareness will ensure our navigating capability is more accurate, efficient and responsive. I am delighted that such significant technology will be developed and produced in this country.”

The contract was awarded to Lockheed Martin, delivering it with Babcock, Kelvin Hughes, QinetiQ and Offshore Designs. 


To quote from Lockheed Martins product page, which has an updated quantity

The system has been installed on 59 Royal Navy ships, 10 submarines, 16 fast patrol boats, 5 SIFs (Shore Integration Facilities), two maintainer training schools, three submarine command team trainers and the surface fleet operator training school. WECDIS installations are planned for a total of 90 platforms including 10 submarines.

But evidently not HMS Astute.

Is this omission just a first of class issue and the Astute class was always planned to have WECDIS or something else.

I assume, by the way, I am off the mark here and there is more to this than meets the eye but still, the report says paper charts.

A bit puzzled to be honest, anyone throw any light on this!



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April 23, 2012 7:48 pm

Just as puzzled as you are.
Not having the tech so charts are being used? I know the senior service loves going old school… but surely there’s more to this or some typo, perhaps contigency training without the tech?

April 23, 2012 7:56 pm

Astute’s grounding was a cock-up. We are talking not even Yachtmaster navigation skills here but Day Skipper standard. Electronic charts don’t enter into at all.

As for the USN well they rely too much on electronic devices. I am lead to believe most USN officers are amazed at the navigation skills of their RN counterparts.

Phil Darley
April 23, 2012 7:58 pm

This has got “bean counter” involvement all over it!!! The treasury trying to defer costs. Another case of cutting off nose to spite face.

April 23, 2012 8:04 pm

do we know why such a basic error was made. What was his thinking bt the time? Were there no other links in the chain to stop this? If this is in the report apologies, i’m not able to access it at the moment.

April 23, 2012 8:20 pm

And what is wrong with paper and pencil? If using paper and pencil = grounding, then all subs pre-70s would have been piled high on sandbanks like monuments. Old doesn’t = wrong, in fact, sometimes, under the right circumstances, old may actually be superior.

April 23, 2012 8:22 pm

Phil Darley,

What you said. The ‘wetware’ failures x pointed out are entirely correct (just about, if not quite, as bad as that Israeli corvette in ’06 that had to apply to Alan Titchmarch for interior redesign after Hezbollah bothed the first effort at putting in a conservatory.) But in the case of boffinry like WECDIS its a classic example of Treasury’s “shabby genteel” approach to expenditure (not just in defence, though glaringly there, but everywhere): buy a blazingly top-class result that reflects your power and good judgment/taste but then fail utterly to provide for the details of its upkeep, and then lecture your lessers on that failed upkeep by telling them to live within their means. (What do you mean “how’s about we generate more means to live within”? That sounds entirely too much like tradesmen’s talk and simply won’t do….)

Anonymous Anonymous
Anonymous Anonymous
April 23, 2012 8:51 pm

As someone from industry closely involved with the RN WECDIS programme it is not much of an over simplification to say that the requirement for WECDIS did not exist when the Asute contract was signed in the 90s and when the MOD tried to add WECDIS to the Astute boats prior to their going to sea the cost and schedule impact claimed by BAE was so enormous, even ridiculous, that the MOD blinked and backed down. BAE shafts the UK MOD and public once again.

A friend of Mr Gladstone
A friend of Mr Gladstone
April 23, 2012 9:20 pm

Well this all seems very advanced. I seem to remember that the computerised navigation system on the RNR ‘Rivers’ was so advanced that if you started sweeping, but ran out of plotted charts because you swept further than you had planned, you then had to stop sweeping (and pull in the whole EDATS) and sail round in small circles whilst you plotted some more charts before putting the EDATS back out again.

April 23, 2012 9:31 pm

Once I stopped laughing I started crying. Anyone else have that happen?

April 23, 2012 9:41 pm

Just wait till the Olympics – I’m saving all my tears for then.

April 23, 2012 9:44 pm

T45s entered service without WECDIS (ECPINS) for the same reasons cited by Anonymous Anonymous. AIUI they now have an ECDIS system fitted, but it is different to ECPINS as fitted to the rest of the RN fleet.

More thoughts on ECDIS may follow once I’ve read the report.

April 23, 2012 9:49 pm
April 23, 2012 9:51 pm

If you want a “conspiracy theory” slant on this…

It’s easier to blame/sack humans than to explain why £1b doesn’t buy you a working sub from BAe.

I had to think up a quick answer to why she ran aground for some friends (didn’t have to be accurate) and came up with the fact that they were “calibrating the navigation systems” – turns out it was almost true.

April 23, 2012 9:53 pm


Love the link, especially the pic at the bottom of the page of the chap who’s just run aground with a few quids worth of kit.

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same
April 23, 2012 9:55 pm

Having read the report, the Submarine ran aground due to the fact that the team failed to follow any of the tried and tested routines for Navigating in restricted water. The catalouge of errors is so vast i doubt they would even have turned WECDIS on if they had it.

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same
April 23, 2012 10:06 pm

Oh yes I can but from my point of view before WECDIS came into it I would list the following as the chain of errors.
1. They decided to do it on the watch (when obviously the on watch team were incapable) but they then conducted a watch handover during the serial.
2. Basic check offs were ignored, no chart on the fin, echo sounder not running, no radar.
3. The plan on the charts in the report is completely inadequate. There is basic visual safety but it is not comprehensive and it is unsuitable for night time use. There is no radar safety annotated.
4. The LS had a handle on where the submarine was at all times but was completely ignored.

Really just a shocking display of incompetence and complacency all round.

Fat Bloke on Tour
Fat Bloke on Tour
April 23, 2012 10:10 pm

TD @ 9.59

Are you surprised at the scenario put forward by AA / ANIXTU?
When AA posted I thought it was to horrible to be true.
Straight out of central casting – BWoS as the bogeyman again – so I was looking for some back up before I jumped in. However the issue does not surprise me in that it extends beyond Astute to the T45s, BWoS is the issue and the quicker it is sorted out the better.

It really is the giant vampire squid stuck in the throat of the MOD sucking the life out of the department. Unfortunately in too many occasions someone in thye department unlocked the door, invited it in and opened their mouth.

April 23, 2012 10:37 pm

1. As someone has already pointed out, the cause of the problem was not the lack of WECDIS.
2. The MoD got exactly what they asked for when the contract was awarded, i.e. traditional charts (which are fine if the crew know what they’re doing).
3. There was talk of fitting WECDIS to Astute before it left Barrow, but it was too late (especially in view of all the other last-minute changes the MoD/RN wanted, which were over & above the contracted requirement). Since then, Astute has been across the Atlantic & back without getting lost or hitting anything.
4. All the Navigation equipment was working satisfactorily.
5. BAE did not “shaft” anyone. There is a tendency amongst MoD personnel to think that contractors are overcharging for everything. The reality is that these people invariably don’t understand manufacturing industry, and have a very simplistic view of how much things should cost. If you knew how much profit BAE is likely to make on the whole Astute programme, you’d wonder why they’re bothering!

April 23, 2012 10:44 pm

Having now read the report I concur with APATS.

For those not familiar with ‘Safe Navigator’ it is a yachty level electronic chart system that has been in service for at least ten years, though with ECDIS now ubiquitous it may have been entirely withdrawn. Consists simply of a laptop and a GPS receiver and antenna. Very portable and simple. Totally unsuitable as a primary means of navigation (unlike ECDIS, though I will come to that shortly)but good as an aid to navigation cross-referenced to a proper chart and very good for situational awareness. With a Safe Navigator laptop under his nose, the OOW on Astute would possibly have had enough SA not to get into the position he did, assuming he could figure out how to to turn it on and configure it.

I will now have a short rant against ECDIS. It is my firm belief that the maritime community as a whole have adopted wholesale an immature and unsuitable technology for reasons of cost and convenience without making the demands of it that would turn it into a truly capable primary means of navigation. This applies not just to the early adopters in the RN, but to the worldwide Merchant community and the IMO.

My biggest gripe is that the screens are too small. ECDIS provides good situational awareness of where you are now, but is crap for looking ahead at where you are going, or looking to the side at where you might have to go unplanned. It is possible to look ahead, but it is not easy, especially compared to a paper chart. There is too much faith and trust put in whoever drew up the passage plan. A decent size screen would allow you to look all round at a scale suitable for assessing the navigational situation. This is a ridiculously easy problem to remedy, but I have yet to see an ECDIS system with a display larger than the IMO minimum.

The other big problem that I will list here is the reliance placed on electronic position fixing (i.e. GPS). ECPINS is one of the best in this regard in that it is relatively easy to enter terrestrial (i.e. visual/radar) fixes. Many of the ECDIS systems in use elsewhere make it so difficult to use proper position fixing as to be not worth the effort. GPS is great, but it should never be the primary or sole method of position fixing in coastal waters.

Do not be taken in by ECDIS as it exists today, it is not the last word in navigation at sea. I await with interest reports on the first few major accidents that can be laid at ECDIS’ door. Do not take me for a technophobe, I think the concept is great, and much could have been made of it, but in the real world the execution is poor.

April 23, 2012 10:51 pm

Anixtu – The WECDIS solution being fitted to the later Astute boats has a large screen in place of the old plotting table. Also, given the other sources of Nav data (GPS, INS, Echosounder, etc), they shouldn’t really have any excuse in future.

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same
April 23, 2012 10:52 pm

Anixtu, The other problem with digital charts is that the younger kids coming through take them as gospel. It is in colour and moves so it must be true but it still requires a proper plan entered.
Have witnessed a NO confidently tell his CO he was 50 yards to Port of track as that is what WECDIS told him despite the fact he was bang on track by a transit of 2 concrete beacons. He had put the nav track incorrectly.
After I gently asked him if he thought someone had moved the fucking beacons or he may have incorrectly entered the nav track I just turned his display off. Gotta love FOST.

Fat Bloke on Tour
Fat Bloke on Tour
April 23, 2012 10:55 pm

Paul @ 10.37

BWoS doesn’t understand manufacturing, this is not a cheap jibe just my considered opinion of their recent attempts at building something. Consequently if you are BWoS staff or contractor please announce yourself and offer some level of humility for your past sins.

As fore the event itself the lack of data from the tasked recording systems is an issue in its own right.

Ed Zeppelin
Ed Zeppelin
April 23, 2012 11:14 pm

The ‘Safe Navigator Laptop’ doesn’t sound expensive. However, I have a feeling it might be. I’m trying to think of an Army equivalent to this and reckon Warrior being procured with a Rarden canon is fairly close in terms of new school meets old school (at the time).

April 23, 2012 11:22 pm


Approximately what size is the “large screen”? Is it the same size as that pictured on the OIS webpage for ECPINS DMOP: ?


Amen, brother!


Safe Navigator was procured already and if the surplus units were not disposed of would be available at essentially zero cost. There may be some installation cost associated with fitting an external aerial, if required.

April 23, 2012 11:24 pm

FBoT – I guess we’re looking at it from opposite sides. What I’ve seen over the past 36+years working on many of the UK’s major defence programmes is that the MoD is disjointed & dysfunctional, with all their little IPT’s, each with their own budget. None of them talk to, much less cooperate, with each other.

DE&S staff actively avoid making a decision, hoping to delay it until the next round of musical chairs, when it will then become their replacements problem to resolve. He or she, in turn, will do exactly the same thing. People find themselves in jobs that they are ill-equipped to carry out (not their fault).

They are told time and again that if certain decisions are not made by certain dates, the costs will increase (due to the impact on production), and they still can’t get their act together.

Meanwhile, the contractor, be it BAE, Thales, L-M or whoever, is trying to complete the job within a timescale and budget.

If I recall correctly, when the Astute contract overrun became clear (circa 2002), the final agreement saw the MoD paying for about two-thirds of it, which is probably a fair guide as to where the blame lay.

I suspect that most contractors have a huge overhead burden in just trying to manage their MoD customer – to understand what they want (because they often don’t actually know) – to help them write their business cases (because they don’t always know how) – to ease their decision making process (by doing all the hard work for them so that all the evidence is presented in easily digestible form). I could go on, but don’t have time.

Finally, I’d suggest that saying that the people that have brought us most of the significant aircraft, ships, submarines & land vehicles for longer than many of us can remember don’t understand manufacturing is a bit wide of the mark. A factory will only work really efficiently if you give it a stable design and clear requirements, and this invariably doesn’t happen when you’re working for the MoD!

Brian Black
Brian Black
April 23, 2012 11:53 pm

This can’t be a cost-cutting issue. Had it been, the MoD would almost certainly have fitted a multi-million pound electronic system in order to save money on pencil sharpeners.

April 23, 2012 11:59 pm

I started by thinking of 2 parallel but mutually separate issues, but clearly there are experts on this thread who have thrown all sorts of additional factors into account.

My two initial thoughts: I knew the Captain at the time, and was surprised that he was appointed to command. That may seem harsh, but when you are dealing with that many lives and that much capability, you do not want Captain Chaos in command. Secondly, I recall strongly sitting in joint MoD meetings in 2001-03 at the working level (SO1) and reading impassioned briefs by DEC UWE for WECDIS, an original oversight from the original 90’s requirements, but other priorities crowded it out, repeatedly. I have no idea if a positive decision in 2002 for WECDIS could have resulted in it being included in the build costs at a reasonable price.

Surely there are a series of complementary and overlapping navigation capabilities, degrading from all singing and all dancing electronic gizmos down through charts and lookouts to sextants? I can’t believe the Andrew have not for centuries practiced the art of navigation. I saw an episode of Hornblower in which the first lieutenant was instructing the midshipmen in navigation: while a fiction, clearly based on fact and historic practice. I also cannot believe that much remains uncharted in the coastal waters off Skye. It cannot have been a surprise that there was a sandbank there.

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same
April 24, 2012 12:03 am

James, You have hit the nail on the head. Unfortunately the team on Astute decided to ignore anything resembling best practice or SOPs.

April 24, 2012 12:10 am

…I say all that as a graduate – one of very few Army graduates – of the RN’s basic sea navigation course run at HMS Dryad in the late 80s. I had found this little gem in the Army’s course handbook under “tri-service” in some dusty chapter at the back. 4 weeks long in southern England – just what a horny Cavalry subaltern banished to BAOR needed with a hot new girlfriend less than half an hour’s drive from Dryad. It took some persuading of a very sceptical Regimental 2IC for him to authorise me to do the course, but he signed up.

I was very much caught out by my own hubris when less than two years later, the girlfriend long ago discarded, when the same Regimental 2IC suggested me as the lead vehicle to cross the berm into Iraq on Desert Storm, and lead the Regiment on a 96 kilometre night NAVEX through Iraqi minefields and multiple waypoints. Completely ruddy unfair I thought, but it seems I had made myself the most qualified to do the job. Thankfully, the Iraqis were crap at laying minefields, and we all got through that serial.

Peter Elliott
April 24, 2012 12:12 am

Am I more worried that they didn’t have the propper fancy system working?

Or more worried that they fucked up on basics working with a paper chart?

Proabably the latter. People and skills count for most.

April 24, 2012 12:19 am

@ Paul

“Finally, I’d suggest that saying that the people that have brought us most of the significant aircraft, ships, submarines & land vehicles for longer than many of us can remember don’t understand manufacturing is a bit wide of the mark. A factory will only work really efficiently if you give it a stable design and clear requirements, and this invariably doesn’t happen when you’re working for the MoD!”

— To be fair to FBOT, he has a point. Practically every issue that the Astute class build had could be traced back to BAE failures.

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same
April 24, 2012 12:26 am

Astute has had teething troubles but the grounding was most definitely human error and her performance at AUTEC has had a few Americans wondering about how good their new Virginia class actually is.

April 24, 2012 1:36 am

Nav dits on !

As a lowly tactical radio operator on a the Hermione in the 80’s my divisional officer was the Navigator; so while doing my 4 month stint “day working” as “Senior Rates Servery” rating I did the full astro-nav course with the embarked Middies ! No ticket for Jedders, but I can shoot sun, stars and moon, and with the correct MOD(N) form to fill my numbers in, can be more accurate than a cheap GPS…… which leads onto the 15 Psyops convoy that was shot at while crossing from Kuwait into Iraq by a bunch of numpty USMC who were in the wrong place / lost – apparently because they had a different datum in their GPS to the one on their maps…. DOH !

April 24, 2012 2:58 am

just amzing. My I phone has a greater ability to navigate than £ 1 billion warship.

April 24, 2012 3:00 am

Does beg the question though have RN personel become to use to electronic charts and GPS. Even with a papaer chart their is no excuse for such an incident.

April 24, 2012 3:05 am


1) Try than in an enclosed space, the “echos” might confuse it.
2) Phone “GPS” more often than not, triagulates from broadcast towers, military ones use bona fide satelite triangulation.

Which makes me wonder how effective GPS really is underwater. Most of the sub mapping systems are probably INS, but maybe they update when they surface?

April 24, 2012 8:26 am


How sure are you about 2)? My phone, a rather old model though with some updated software, uses the phone cell for some element of localisation but does genuinely use Navstar for position fixing. I suppose the easy way to tell is whether the phone documentation indicates that it has a GPS antenna.

WECDIS on subs uses INS input whilst GPS is unavailable. However, the ECPINS software on surface ships without INS is reportedly quite good at acting as its own “INS-lite” using the other sensor feeds (gyrocompass, log, etc).


Astute was not ‘lost’ on the paper chart. The POOW knew where she was but the OOW on the bridge failed to understand until too late. Too many of you are letting your gums flap without having read or understood the report.

April 24, 2012 8:45 am

I would have to say I would agree to a large extent with what Paul has been saying. In response to Chrisb most of astutes early issues were around the mod having a long building holiday to save money and barrow not realising how difficult it would be to recover such high end skills a warning for other high end skills areas. I would say all the it’s all bae fault would be more plausible if all the other mod contracts were going well and well run sadly they are not so it leads to the conclusion there’s something fundamental wrong with the customers procurement method hopefully the new reforms can help but industry has now a lot of distrust of what mod actually initially orders is what it want and that risk is priced into contracts.

April 24, 2012 8:58 am

It reminds me a lot of the human factors sections in AAIB crash reports…perhaps I should do a blog post on this?


1) Target fixation (everyone is thinking about what they set out to do, regardless of anything else)
2) Familiarity breeds contempt (this was the 6th boat transfer in quick succession)
3) Optimism bias (things started to go wrong but everyone just plodded on)
4) Inside view/outside view (it seemed OK looking at the original question, but external references would have shown up the problem)
5) Psychological anchoring (the OOW was thinking about the transfer grid as a reference point, forced all the information he got into that context)
6) Cross-cockpit gradient (the POOW did have good situational awareness, but nobody would listen to him because they were authority and he wasn’t)

April 24, 2012 9:08 am

Is it relevant that the accident occured the morning after trafalgar day?

April 24, 2012 9:23 am


That was an interesting last comment of yours. I think it happens in many fields – the larger the customer, the more important they believe they are, and the more they faff.

The thing is that most business that experience this, figure a way of “managing” the customer. One way to do this is to have “product” ready for the customer to buy, rather than let the customer define what the “product” actually is.

The other thing that’s missing in the world of the MoD and BAe is the lack of ability to “jump ship”. One companies ethos of working may suit a particular project better than anothers. Now BAe have eaten up all of their competitors this is no longer viable.

So we’re stuck with an inept customer (MoD) wasting money down a non-competitive supplier (BAe). That’s why defence procurement in this country never gives value for money.

Fat Bloke on Tour
Fat Bloke on Tour
April 24, 2012 9:47 am

Paul @ 11.24

Regarding BWoS some of my comments are cheap jibes but the kernel remains.

When it comes to what they do how much of their success is organic and how much is bought in. What is their business plan based on? Is it delivery or is it market positioning?

Take the BiF / Sub business unit.
Is it a success because it delivers good product at a good price in good time?
Or is it a success because it is the UK sub yard and all the RN work goes through it as a default?

I suggest the situation is the latter.
If BiF was run as a proper business then the Astute situation would not have arisen.

RN work running down then they need to be able to be export capable / credible.
If all they can do is RN work then the yard needs to be nationalised and a management contract given out to get the work done.

The fact that a hiatus in its workload should cause so much dislocation in the design and build process suggest that things have not been well handled.

What is the cost of a SSN design team?
Looking at £10mill for 100 direct employees pa – offices / IT: CAD/CAM/CAE / 50 support staff.

This is a necessary overhead for any business trying to win business and grow, if VSEL / BWoS didn’t think it was worth the investment then they are not a business in any recognised sense of the word they are a rent seeker based on being the people owning / exploiting the BiF shipyard.

And what was the alternative – failure to do a FE model on the hull.
Flying in bodies from the US to get things started.
It is not as is FE is an alien technology parachuted into the UK for Astute design.

The fact that BiF can’t / won’t / don’t do exports tells you all you need to know about their current capabilities. It is not as if modern upmarket subs are not in demand at the moment.

Unfortunately that is BWoS for you – no organic growth just market exploitation through positioning.

The Hawk debacle tells you all you need to know – market leader turned cash cow turned also ran.

April 24, 2012 10:53 am

1) Try than in an enclosed space, the “echos” might confuse it.

Well, I’ll try to remember not to navigate a submarine in an enclosed space then.

2) Phone “GPS” more often than not, triagulates from broadcast towers, military ones use bona fide satelite triangulation

Nope: most smartphones give you the option of base station triangulation or GPS (more accurate, but eats more battery).

April 24, 2012 1:18 pm

Ok, ok, I’m a dinosaur. :)

Remember once having to lay out an entire company’s worth of GPS on an open grass field for an hour to recalibrate it, just flew back from Australia and had to switch the satellite constellations. Tech must have advanced since then if they managed to do away the recalibration time.

April 24, 2012 8:27 pm

@ Mark

“In response to Chrisb most of astutes early issues were around the mod having a long building holiday to save money and barrow not realising how difficult it would be to recover such high end skills a warning for other high end skills areas. I would say all the it’s all bae fault would be more plausible if all the other mod contracts were going well and well run sadly they are not so it leads to the conclusion there’s something fundamental wrong with the customers procurement method”

While many problems have certainly been identified with the customers procurement method, and continue to be identified year after year, review after review, the majority of the problems with Astute – with the exception of the bizarre delay when we could have just bought another boat – are laid at the feet of the producer.

How do we know this for certain?

Because the man who took over running the project for BAE admitted as much. When that happens, that’s generally a good sign.

April 24, 2012 9:05 pm

From navy matters website extracted fro a times article take from that what you will

“We had a contract that frankly was not working,” said Murray Easton, MD of BAE Systems’ Submarine division. GEC-Marconi, then the Barrow yard’s owner, promised to build the submarines for a fixed price. “It was one of a series of what the MoD called napnoc deals — no agreed price, no contract,” said Malcolm Christie, Astute Project Director. Barrow was desperate for work. There had been “a significant gap” between the last Trident construction contract and the award of the Astute deal, said Easton, which not only spurred GEC’s determination to win the work, but also depleted the ranks of experienced staff. The biggest headache came with the computer-aided design tools. The system chosen was CADDS5, made by the American software company PTC. Although it was a proven piece of software, it was overwhelmed by the size and complexity of Astute. “This was the first submarine designed in a three-dimensional computer model, and there wasn’t a system capable of doing it. This has caused us a big delay. We have collaborated with PTC and customised the system extensively, but it is still not capable of doing what we want it to,” said Easton. John Hudson, engineering director, said the problems were made worse by a welter of work landing at the same time. As well as winning Astute, BAE Systems was awarded contracts for two large amphibious assault ships and a fleet of auxiliary oilers. “All this happened within 18 months, and at the same time we were changing procurement methods and introducing new computer design technology. The system (the computer design tools) would go to sleep for long periods, or take five minutes to update every time you did anything. That’s obviously time-consuming, but it also leads to a loss of concentration on the part of the designer,” said Hudson.

April 24, 2012 9:44 pm

“take from that what you will”

– That they used the wrong software,
– That they kept using the wrong software, despite realising it wasn’t working,
– That they took on more work than they could handle,

You’ve also left out the point where BAE’s entire management system was heavily criticised for causing large delays and inefficiences, or the part where they had to ring up Electric Boat to come in and completely overhaul their manufacturing process.

April 25, 2012 6:40 pm

@x “As for the USN well they rely too much on electronic devices. I am lead to believe most USN officers are amazed at the navigation skills of their RN counterparts.”

I thought that the USN plots manually as a backup to electronic charting? I know in some areas they certainly used to use manual methods (submarine firing solutions?) to backup the computerised methods, as these were sometimes subject to sonar artifacts. The RN apparently doesn’t do this (Los Angeles vs Trafalgar class). This isn’t firsthand knowledge though so happy for someone else to throw light on things.

April 26, 2012 11:34 pm

WECDIS isn’t a magic solution to navigation nor an alternative to proper planning. It is exactly what it says on the tin – an electronic chart, not a navigation system. The system allows navigators (of which I count myself as one) to plan their routes with more information than ever before, more reliably updated and with greater accuracy. You then navigate using ALL available sensors including Mk1 eyeball, echosounder, gyro compass and radar as well as GPS. The failure here was in the planning (or lack thereof) and execution of the navigation plan, NOT the equipment. The individual failures are inexplicable and disgraceful and are NOT a reflection on the general standard of navigation within the RN.

As for WECDIS being unreliable or immature technology, again I cannot agree. Aside from the inevitable issues of the ‘Tom-Tom’ generation of young officers accepting anything in digital colour as being gospel (which we are managing), WECDIS has given us a huge increase in situational awareness, tactical awareness on the Bridge, much improved planning capabilities and access to new hydrographic products not previously made available. It’s like any new technology – early problems + experience = a system that we have adapted to, and adapted to our needs, with a great final result. I like it, and it’s definitely a good thing.

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same
April 26, 2012 11:47 pm

SI, Preaching to the choir mate!

May 25, 2012 4:29 pm

WECDIS was not available to Astute because the platform was brought into service using a whole boat safety case which included the navigational and charting arrangements. Originally specified with paper charts the whole boat safety case was written with that in mind. Subsequent adoption of WECDIS would have cost a very large amount of money to re-write that safety case. The submarine would not have run aground if the proper and standard navigational procedures were followed. If you read the report fully the OOWs lack of situational awareness was the key factor in the grounding – if he did not have the bridge chart available he could just as easily not have the bridge navigational laptop as well. Interestingly the plot knew where the submarine was throughout. WECDIS or no WECDIS there were systematic failures on board and the submarine would have probably gone aground either way. Paper charts have provided adequate navigational guidance for submarines for many years in far more taxing scenarios although obviously the introduction of WECDIS is to be welcomed – its worth noting though that RN ships and submarines will still go aground even with electronic charting. There are many things that are not “the latest” on Astute and that is because the procurement process is lengthy and lacks flexibility – a problem defence has been tackling for as long as I can remember.