Royal Navy CROWSNEST Decision


In what I think is the first post-election major project announcement the MoD have today confirmed that an updated Thales Cerberus system has been selected for the CROWSNEST requirement that will deliver an airborne surveillance system to protect the Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carriers.

The Crowsnest project will act as the Royal Navy’s eyes and ears for its next generation carriers, giving long range air, maritime and land detection, as well as the capability to track potential threats. Crowsnest will also be able to support wider fleet and land operations, replacing the Sea King helicopter’s Airborne Surveillance and Control capability that has been deployed on regular operations since 1982.

Lockheed Martin UK will now conclude the project’s £27 million assessment phase, expected in 2016, supported by Thales and AgustaWestland, the manufacturer of the Merlin helicopter onto which the system will be able to be fitted.

Once a decision has been taken to proceed into the manufacture phase, it is expected that around 300 jobs will be sustained across these companies in Crawley, Havant and Yeovil.

It is important to understand that it is only the Assessment Phase that was £27m, more invoices will follow.

A few things are clear and a few things are not;

  • Lockheed Martin lost, despite them being the prime contractor
  • It is a repacked and updated system, not the shiny new Elta EL/M 2052 active electronically scanned radar offered by LM, to LM!
  • It is a role fit system for the existing 30 Merlin HM2 helicopters
  • No news on how many role fit kits will be provided under the demonstration and manufacture phase, that is a future decision although 10 is the current aspiration

I actually think is a sensible decision, low risk and with an existing training and logistic support pipeline.

No doubt there will be wailing and gnashing of teeth about not using unconverted HM.1 airframes or buying new, but that misses the point of affordability. The Royal Navy will get an updated system into service that is already highly regarded and cover the out of service date for the Sea King ASaC Mk7’s.

CROWSNEST goes back many years, originally starting out as the Future Organic Airborne Early Warning (FOAEW) in 2001 which saw study contracts awarded to BAE/Northrop Grumman and Thales. The studies took the baseline as, funnily enough, a Merlin with the equipment transferred from the existing Sea Kings, after which other options such as an E-2C Hawkeye, aerostat and v22 were evaluated. The V22 included options for the Ericsson Erieye, Thales Searchwater and one that used a conformal antenna.

A July 2000 parliamentary answer confirmed the particulars;

We plan to acquire a Future Organic Airborne Early Warning (FOAEW) system to replace the capability currently provided by Sea King airborne early warning helicopters. FOAEW will operate from the Future Aircraft Carrier (CVF) and complement the deployment of the Future Carrier Borne Aircraft (FCBA). It will mount powerful radar systems to provide wide sensor coverage against both air and surface threats, and command and control for operations by the carrier air group. Expressions of interest for participation in the programme were sought from industry in February 2000. The planned in-service date for FOAEW is 2012.

There are 13 Sea King Airborne Early Warning helicopters in service. Of these, nine are operationally available, with the remainder undergoing major maintenance programmes and a capability upgrade. Ten of the airframes were first delivered to the Royal Navy between 1969 and 1971 and converted to the Airborne Early Warning variant between 1982 and 1987. The other three airframes first entered Service as in between 1985 and 1986, being converted during 1997 and 1998.

BAE was confirmed in the role of ‘Prime Contactor’

In 2001-2002, all 13 Sea Kings AEW Mk2’s received a comprehensive upgrade to the Mk7 configuration that included the new Searchwater 2000, new INS/GPS, Link 16/JTIDS, IFF and most importantly, an operator console and interface designed by the Royal Navy Mk2 operators.

Royal Navy Sea King ASaC Mk7 AEW Helicopter
Royal Navy Sea King ASaC Mk7 AEW Helicopter

Future Organic Airborne Early Warning (FOAEW) evolved to the Maritime Airborne Surveillance and Control (MASC) programme and in April 2002 the very same Northrop Grumman and Thales received another contract, for Phase II.

The formal start of the assessment phase for Maritime Airborne Surveillance and Control (MASC) started in 2005. By the following year, another three study contracts had been awarded, one each to Lockheed Martin, Thales and Agusta Westland. MASC formed part of the Carrier Strike triad; the others being CVF and JCA. Work continued on looking at various options and in 2007 the V22 AEW option resurfaced with the amusingly named TOSS, Tactical Organic Sensor System (seriously, who makes these names up!)

The Thales solution looked at a system that would be mounted in a ramp equipped Merlin using a roll on roll off pallet, as images below show.

Looking at the various National Audit Office Major Projects reports from the period it looks like about £10m was spent on the Assessment Phase and various studies on top of what was spent for Future Organic Airborne Early Warning (FOAEW), which is much harder to track down.

In time honoured tradition, just as FOAEW had morphed into MASC, MASC became CROWSNEST. This is a common tactic by the MoD and used to rebaseline spending on assessment phases that produce nothing. This is a significant weakness in NAO reporting, when the MoD renames a programme, as it often does, the slate is wiped clean and any costs tends to get ‘lost’ in previous reports, thus failing to highlight the true cost of the programme.

The key difference between MASC and CROWSNEST is that CROWSNEST dispensed with any notions of platforms other than Merlinrom the National Audit Office;

From the National Audit Office;

The requirement for an Airborne Surveillance and Control capability emerged from the need to provide an organic long range airborne surveillance, control and early warning capability to Carrier Enabled Power Projection, Littoral Manoeuvre, and Maritime Task Groups at all scales of operation.

The CROWSNEST project is to succeed the capability currently provided by the Sea King Mk7 Airborne Surveillance and Control aircraft which has a planned Out of Service Date of September 2018, extended from 31 March 2016. The primary purpose of this capability is to provide Organic Force Protection for Maritime Task Groups and their their forward deployed Task Elements, including wide area surveillance overland and in the Littoral environment.

Following the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review, the CROWSNEST capability is required to be delivered as a role-fit mission system integrated into the Merlin Mk2.The

The CROWSNEST project will procure 10 role -fit mission systems, and convert all 30 Merlin Mk2 aircraft to make them “fit -to-receive” the CROWSNEST role-fit equipment.

This also confirmed an extension for the Sea Kings out to 2018 and that it would be fitted to existing Merlin HM.2’s, no extra conversions, no new HM.2’s, no extra nothing.

The Assessment Phase was to run from March 2013 to April 2016, when the main investment approval decision would be made, leaving a couple of years before the Sea Kings went out of service. If the project overshoots this then the Royal Navy will face a capability gap.  The expected and approved cost for the CROWSNEST Assessment Phase was £34m, on top of the FOAEW and MASC costs.

In their role as Merlin Mk2 Design Organisation, Lockheed Martin would be responsible for running a competition between Thales and, err, Lockheed Martin.

Lockheed Martin had originally proposed their Vigilance solution that used a podded AESA radar, reportedly derived from the F35. Other reports had the numbers of pods at 2 and others at 4, all managed using the Cerberus mission system. In the 2 pod solution, they would be mechanically steered to increase their field of regard in order to achieve 360-degree coverage. The Lockheed Martin offering evolved to use the Elta EL/M 2052 AESA radar in side-mounted pods.

Thales, having fully understood the mood music, stuck with the ‘transfer and update’ theme, having already proposed the same as part of their MASC work. A couple of mounting options emerged but ultimately, the stores pylon was chosen.


Whilst there are no doubt any number of advantages to using the latest AESA technology the bottom line is that Searchwater and Cerberus are actually pretty damned good in any case and would arguably have been the cheaper, quicker and lower risk solution in comparison with the AESA option.

The Royal Navy will form them into a single squadron, 849 NAS, announced here

CROWSNEST was originally intended to enter the assessment phase in 2012 with a target in-service date of 2020 but this was accelerated in 2014 in order to coincide with the Sea King OSD, commenting on the decision, Phillip Dunne said;

Crowsnest will provide vital surveillance and intelligence to protect the Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers. The introduction of Crowsnest 18 months early will ensure HMS Queen Elizabeth has the full range of capabilities when it enters service. This announcement is a good example of improved financial management in MoD allowing us to respond to new requirements as they arise.

And this brings us back to today.

The decision has been made and the often described ‘low-risk, low-cost’ solution has won out

It is here where our oft-visited subject on Assessment Phase contracts come back to focus.

FOAEW looked at transferring the Sea King systems into Merlin.

MASC looked at transferring the Sea King systems into Merlin.

CROWSNEST looked at transferring the Sea King systems into Merlin.

This process has cost a conservative £40m

This is the solution selected.


Sea King systems transferred into Merlin.

Anyone who has ever done any DIY is familiar with the concept of;

Measure twice, cut once

At a fundamental level, this is exactly what the Assessment Phase is there to do, make sure that decisions are based on sound information and that money is not wasted, scarce and precious money.

But how much measuring do we really have to do to come to the conclusion we have?

Are we guilty of over measuring?

There is also a timing issue, following Main Gate the Merlin HM.2’s are going to have to be pulled back out of squadron service in order to be made ready for CROWSNEST. Now this might not be a hugely time-consuming issue (that being one of the attractions) but with better timing as a result of making sensible decisions earlier the HM.2 upgrade and CROWSNEST installation could have been carried out at the same time, thus relieving pressure on what is a very stretched fleet of specialist aircraft. One might also assume this would have been cheaper when taken in the round.

When I was looking at the FRES series and a comparison with French armoured vehicles in particular, one of the things that came out loud and clear was the French seem to be able to make sensible and obvious decisions because they simply know it is sensible and obvious i.e. they have the confidence to make that decision without the need to spend enormous sums of money on confirming what they already just know, and pointless competitions.

I think there is a lesson there.

The bottom line is the Royal Navy will have a prepackaged and updated system that makes use of existing HM.2 consoles, logistics, training and support arrangements but we have taken over a decade and over £40m to come to this decision.

Is that value for money?

Or is it something else?

  1. MSR says

    Technical question about the chosen palletised system: when the sensor is lowered and deployed out of the rear of the aircraft (the ramp must, I presume, be removed prior to takeoff) is there an internal door that seals the cabin, or is it left open to the elements?

    (See the Thales MASC 3 image for the internal cutaway which seems to show the rear cabin, plus some seating for passengers, fully open to the elements.)

  2. Think Defence says

    Mike, I think the CROWNEST solution is mounted on the stores rail as I understand it, so no need for doors and ramps to be left open

  3. Challenger says

    What i put in the Open Thread earlier:

    Good to finally see some movement, with a planned in-service date of 2018 it really has to be full steam ahead to meet the deadline. Why has it taken this bloody long?

    What they really need is those 8 HM1’s upgraded and added to the fleet. Is it too late to utilize them?
    30 HM2’s to provide 9 air-frames for CVF, individual ones for the frigate fleet, clutches of 3 or so at the moment for humanitarian work in West Africa and now the Med as well as maintenance, training etc is too much, all that pressure will run a very specialized and expensive fleet into the ground.

  4. Observer says

    Looks good, grats on a job well done.


    Just congratulate them grumpy. :) As the Chinese say, even if it isn’t genius, it still is hard work.

    As a cynic, I’m just waiting for someone to forget to retract the system before landing. Not because it is a bad system, but simply because life screws with you when you least expect it.

  5. Observer says

    Correction: “Pessimist”, not “cynic”.

    Edit function doesn’t seem to be working. Oh well. Murphy’s Law.

  6. Think Defence says

    Test comment, again

    Does the edit function work,

    Yes it does !!

  7. Fedaykin says

    Whilst I found the AESA solution from Lockheed Martin very compelling to be honest I can’t fault this decision. It will provide a world class system at a very reasonable price and low risk.

    It should also be noted that the door is still open to an AESA upgrade in the future, I see no reason why the M-SCAN antenna couldn’t be replaced with an AESA one if so desired at some future point.

  8. ArmChairCivvy says

    ” In a statement, Thales said, “The new capability will enter operational service in 2018 when the last of the SKASaC helicopters are retired.

    “Thales’ winning solution will maximise the re-use of the MoD’s existing investment in equipment, training and expertise by upgrading, updating and adapting a battle proven capability, ahead of operational timescales”

    So 2016 retirement was just scare-mongering, then?

  9. Not a Boffin says

    A few points of order.

    MASC was originally about much more than cross-decking a bag system into Merlin. Those who were around understood that the name change was to reflect a more ambitious requirement. However, MASC was always the poor relation to the ship and the FJ and funding (and progress) reflected that. At one point it was hard to determine whether the project still existed.

    As repeated numerous times, the “orphan 8” are donating bits to the HC3/3A interim Junglies and would require complete rebuild to MCSP (Mk2) standard. It would probably be easier and cheaper to buy new cabs if extra frames are needed. The problems are more likely to involve funding sufficient people to run a pinger sqn for carriers, a pinger sqn for DD/FF, a Bagger sqn and a training sqn.

    There was no scaremongering in the 2016 withdrawal of the Sea King and the closure of the associated SKIOS contract. It was real (and remains real for the RAF SAR force, 771 NAS and CHF). It was only the belated realisation that this would also do for the baggers and most importantly, the associated skillsets that resulted in some rethinking. allowing the extension of 8 frames out to 2018. See earlier point re MASC being lowest priority to understand that “logic”.

    The actual system is (AIUI) significantly re-engineered from the current SK fit and is less about cross-decking kit than hosting the same functionality in new equipment, such as using common consoles in both pinger and bag variants. Which is good.

  10. wirralpete says

    @NAB…. Thanks for those insights seems a very sensible compromise within the age of austerity … In another 10 years we can revist the question as the QEC develops into a more power projection and strike carrier group ….

  11. secundius says

    @ Make R.

    One of the AESA systems that may deployed on the Osprey, has a similar feature with a Palletized Operations Cabin that can also be Pressurized…

  12. secundius says

    @ Fedaykin.

    The US. Navy plans to integrate the AESA system into the F/A-35 Airframe and Pod Mount them on all other Naval Combat Aircrafts…

  13. Martin says

    I have no doubt this is the correct decision to make given the current budgets. I think the Crowsnest assessment phase was probably a good idea as AESA radar technology may have been a real game changer but the previous assessment phases were likely a total waste of money. I think it has been shown enough on here just how much money is wasted on design studies and I think by in large they should now be banned unless their is exceptional cause with something like Taranis. The MOD needs to get it through its scull that we don’t have the budget or ambition for Gucci gold plated cutting edge kit but then no one including the USA can also really claim to have nowadays. we do have a decent sized budget for a force based less on aspiration and more on basic quality equipment. Hopefully the new MOD has learned from the mistakes of the past but I rather doubt it as by in large it’s still heavily dominated by the same people who caused those previous f**k ups.

  14. WiseApe says

    {insert functioning shock horror smiley face here} We appear to have made a sensible decision. Are we feeling alright? Sensible given the risks associated with introducing new classes of ships and fixed wing and the threat of further budget cuts.

    Also worth reminding ourselves – again – that the ships will be around long after most of us have popped our cloggs, so plenty of time in the future for gold-plated fantasy fleeting.

  15. Chris says

    Martin – ref design studies – there are good and bad ways to engage in these. So, here are my views on each of these:

    Bad studies:

    Those that preserve desk officers’ jobs without reason. Some studies will be started, funded, managed and redirected because there are personnel that have nothing better to do but by running ‘highly important’ studies their lack of productivity is masked. These will happen throughout MOD, the wider government machine, and industry. Generally justified when they are shut down by statements to the effect that they have “informed future studies” or have “defined the problem space”.

    Those where every man and his dog throw difficult requirements into the study to ‘stretch’ the design teams. This based on the erroneous presumption that people try harder when they have a more challenging mountain to climb. By adding in ever more ludicrous must-haves including many so far from the core capability as to require complete redesign to the detriment of most other requirements, the focus is lost and no-one knows what the User wants nor how they need to use it. There comes a point where the challenging gradient becomes so steep as to be a wall at which point the process changes from earnest study to tick-boxing as no-one believes there’s any value left in the study. Characterised by the departure of those that are obviously domain experts, who are best used on something productive.

    Good studies:

    See something good, fund a prototype. Clear and simple. Build something to see if there are possibilities but don’t mess with the requirement (or in the case of an industry good idea the design) – if the prototype works OKish but needs changes, invoke the changes in a second generation prototype. But at all times stay focused on achievable and coherent product to be demonstrated in months not decades.

    Engage small teams of far-thinking experts to tease out how new technology could have defence value. Small teams, either theorising from other reports/studies in existence or performing lab experiments to test hypotheses. Low level of funding, minimal control from the funder after all the study team is supposed to be thinking further than existing dogma, rather than merely justifying current perceptions.

    There is a clear discriminator between bad studies and good studies, and that is interference. In the bad studies the funder constantly sticks their oar in, adding spurious requirements, redefining the study purpose, changing the constraints, changing relative priorities of the different aspects of the design. Generally these changes come from the funder’s extended organisation from various expert groups who have their own distorted view of what’s most important. They are not managed within the funder organisation into a coherent rational consistent requirement but a broadside of needs every one more important than all the others. Impossible to design against. In good studies the requirement/design stays sharp and focused so everyone knows what to aim for and the result is unambiguous. They are less expensive and deliver results quicker.

    Take FRES in its widest form – prototypes could have been created for each of the FFLAV, FFLAV2, TRACER-FSCS and subsequent stand-alone TRACER studies, and once FRES itself was under way probably one every 18 months – any one of the various prototypes (had they been built to a single snapshot of requirement) may have been seen as good enough to develop into CVR(T) replacement. More than that, once Users get to play with prototypes the genuinely good ideas start to flow. Prototypes make better end products than any number of paper studies.

    Good studies are springboards to new products; they create momentum and eagerness. Bad studies are a waste of funds and talent, and take all enthusiasm out of the designers.

    In my opinion.

  16. ArmChairCivvy says

    Without trying to pigeon hole into Chris’s categories, pre-dating Crowsnest there was a study of using he manned helo to leverage other surveillance assets (vectoring them as dictated by the constantly updating threat picture). Now that we have a small scale programme to fly such (only off frigates, I think), might be the time to revisit the idea?

  17. monkey says

    One thing I find is that when other areas workload starts to drop off the amount of ‘suggestions’ on where a project should go start to multiply as people try to justify their existence , most are quite valid in many respects ( we have a good team ) as in engineering there are many ways to skin a cat but constant rethinks do delay the work if allowed to permeate through. Fortunately my director handles this input on the basis of ‘useful for future projects but …..’ :-) and defends us from well meaning individuals inspirations.

  18. Martin says

    @ Chris

    I agree, Some studies like BAE UAV/UCAV studies that actually produced hardware seem to have been great value for money. I am all for getting a small group of engineers and military staff to dream up some far flung concepts as well but it’s the constant multi million pound desk studies that get me. The sole purpose of these studies seem to be so that we can maintain teams of people to carry out future desk studies. Many of the worst of these like FRES were started in the bad days of the 1990’s and one has to hope lessons will be learned. are there still any under way? The only one I can think of is Anglo French UCAV

  19. monkey says

    In terms of these studies often led by senior military officers is it gives them something to continue with after their regiment/squadron/ship has been struck of the lists. With what is about to happen with SDSR2015 expect more of the same.

  20. rec says

    Fairly logical and low risk in one sense, but far too few Merlin HM2s in service and that tome is the high risk part. So any chance of the Orphan HM1s coming into service, or maybe an additional new build of say 10 HM2s??? After all no one is going to be kind enough to attack you with either Submarines of aircraft launched missiles and torpedo’s, they probably will do it with both at the same time. Surely the most logical plan would be an all merlin helicopter fleet and no Lynx wildcat at all.

  21. Not a Boffin says


    “it’s the constant multi million pound desk studies that get me. The sole purpose of these studies seem to be so that we can maintain teams of people to carry out future desk studies”

    Care to list this huge number of multi-million desk studies? I’ll start you off with FRES & FSC (2 iterations) & I suppose S2C2 Pathfinder. In at least one of these, the reason it didn’t go into production was that the money was reprofiled, meaning it couldn’t be paid for. Don’t forget that many of these “front end” studies maintain the initial design skills that you don’t tend to get elsewhere.

    I struggle to recall any of these being led by a senior officer straight off a ship drive/sqn cmd/regt cmd. They’re generally run out of Dstl or DE&S, by CS engineers.

  22. mikecml2 says

    The UK MOD have gone for the low cost low risk low capability option. This is understandable given the fiscal restrictions on the UK defence budget. However what could have been achieved if had built carriers for CATOBAR option back in early 2000’s, combination of F18E/F, F35C and Hawkeye. It would have put the UK in the premier league of nations regards defence capability. Instead we seem to have gone for the Poundland option at John Lewis prices

  23. Martin says

    @ NAB I’m sure I could name a few, off the top of my head FOAS, in fact pretty much anything beginning with F

    I know the rational is about maintaining design skills but much of the issue seems to be running out of budget after spending money designing things then not having anything left over for actual production.

    we need to ask serious questions like can we afford to have design teams, I can see a rational for Submarines as you can’t buy an SSN off the shelf, maybe for surface combatants and FJ’s although it’s debatable if we can afford much for the later two.

  24. Chris says

    Martin – ref “can we afford to have design teams” – in my estimation very much yes. The reason is simple – MOD do not, have never done, nor will ever buy COTS and field it without modification. Remember when Quentin Davies said FRES-SV would be COTS because the studies had failed to design anything? As far as I can tell from the outside of the project apart from the shape and the name, every part of ASCOD has been redesigned to make it – um – ‘good enough’ for the UK. More powerful engine. Uprated transmission. Different armour package. New turret. New electrical architecture using GVA. And so on. Its my contention that its cheaper and quicker to get what the customer wants by design than by chipping away at an existing (and apparently inadequate*) platform.

    So unless MOD change and are content to field unmodified kit (that’ll be shortly after hell freezes over), in my view a well run design to requirement would be most efficient in time, cost and performance. Note ‘well run’? This goes back to the previous comment about design studies – MOD need to learn to set a requirement and stop the perpetual fiddling with requirement and priorities, and stop the barrage of ‘That’s not good enough’ claims against every bit of capability, qualification criteria, schedule, cost and anything else they can find.

    *Apparently inadequate? That has to be the conclusion otherwise there wouldn’t be value in modifying or redesigning everything at vast cost.

  25. Not a Boffin says

    Careful with things like FOAS. Via FCBA that’s actually become JCA – standfast the RAFs apparent inability to STFU about F35A, because there’s a 150nm combat radius difference between it and the B and because a B-only fleet means they’d all have to plan on going to sea from time to time.

    There is a big difference between something like FOAS (or FRC) for example that are essentially capability trade-off and budgeting/scheduling studies and something like FRES or MRA4 where you end up building prototypes and then canning the project without fielding operational kit.

    The former are necessary to properly consider the options, whereas the latter are necessary to confirm risk reduction / performance. The former don’t (usually) tend to cost huge amounts in the great scheme of things and although the latter can, it isn’t always wasted bunce.

    The other thing that people forget is that MoD itself (that’s DE&S and Dstl) need to maintain technical competence. That’s more than reading lots of reports (that just makes you a taxpayer funded spotter) – it usually means exercising the project disciplines (requirement setting, estimating, design, logistics, integration, test & eval and project management among others) on a reasonably regular basis. Otherwise you end up having lots of technical data, schedules, project estimates in front of you, the validity of which you are not competent to judge.

  26. Think Defence says

    NaB, are you defending the journey to CROWSNEST then, are you saying that 15 years and £40m is OK to get from where we were to where we are in order to maintain skills and experience in the contractors and MoD?

    It sounds like you are defending the status quo, as in ‘nothing to see here move along now’

  27. monkey says

    With the inevitable rise complexity of systems and equipment and the need to understand how to integrate them constant revision of the achievable and the wish list is a good thing in terms of making properly educated judgements on essential purchase rather than believing the BS that spawns from salesmen’s mouths about ‘their state of the art kit that perfectly fits your needs’ but , a big BUT , a limit needs to be kept on the expenditure so budget is available for other defence projects/ wish lists too.

  28. The Other Chris says

    There is one, huge, important, unanswered question about the Cerberus/Searchwater selection:

    Is there still a dedicated Weapon Target Fighter Global Overview button?

  29. Rocket Banana says

    I’m not sure how I feel about this decision really.

    It seems to me to be a stop-gap, which is okay, but you’re supposed to “stop gap” on the cheap. If it’s not a stop gap then it’s farcical to opt for a yesteryear solution on an aging platform.

    30 HM2 really isn’t very many and we’ll need to field a dozen on CVF if we want to maintain AEW and ASW – fortunately a palletised system aids this as we “spare” throughout the twelve.

    Can anyone point me at the specs for the Searchwater 2000 (assuming that’s what we’re getting). I seem to remember it is a bit better than the existing baggers.

  30. Observer says

    But what is the alternative Simon? The RN can’t field E-2Ds, so it’s either a helo solution or nothing.

  31. The Other Chris says

    Searchwater 2000 is old hat, this is an evolved ASaC backed with the latest Cerberus which, as a combined system in their earlier ASaC7 implementation, outperformed the E-2C in many areas and directly inspired E-2D features…

  32. Martin says

    @ Chris

    The MOD never having bought COTS before is exactly the problem. We are in a new reality and the fact is the public is not willing to pay for the MOD budget that the top brass feel they deserve. They need to either start buying COTS solutions or except the limitations the French do on their home grown solutions. But the prevailing wisdom that everyone else’s kit is c**p and we can on,y use it after faffing about with it for a decade and a couple of hundred million must change. we no longer even have the capability to build armoured vehicles much less an national champion so why not just offer up army vehicles to a proper international competition like others do.

    The same could go for virtually ever other piece of kit we need with the exclusion of Subs, Warships and Fighters jets. All our defence industry really makes is niche components anyway.

  33. topman says


    I’m intrigued who in the RAF won’t stop talking about the A model?

  34. Chris says

    Martin – I thought we’d given up on fighter jet design/manufacture decades ago. Hence being a part player in other nation’s projects. At least our last wholly UK designed & built combat aircraft was a good’un – Harrier was unlike anything before it and brought genuinely new capability to the military. F-35B might be faster and a bit more stealthy but its nowhere near as elegant a solution. And even taking inflation into account, eyewateringly more expensive. So as far as I’m concerned since we buy whatever Uncle Sam will sell us, our fighters are COTS just as much as FRES/Scout-SV is. And to be truthful, with such a poor export record for BAE surface ships I wouldn’t be surprised if we start buying cheaper offerings from abroad.

    Looking at historical export records is illuminating – I would suggest in terms of platforms the export potential league table would be:

    Softskinned utility & specialist vehicles (like LR and Supacat)
    Light armour (Alvis & GKN)
    Combat aircraft (Hunter & Harrier, part shares in Tornado)
    Training aircraft (Hawk)
    Heavy armour (Vickers)
    Transport aircraft (Andover & BAe146)
    Small surface ships (Vospers & BAE patrol vessels)

    Big ships and submarines do not figure except as hand-me-downs after RN has used them for a bit. So if you were looking for payback on Treasury investment you should be looking at the likes of LandRover type vehicles, Supacat’s range, basic light and medium armour and at a stretch indigenous UK designed & built combat aircraft. Makes you wonder why we as a bunch of taxpayers instead invest in the two sectors that have never paid back…

  35. Rocket Banana says


    I realise the RN can only field a copter or tilt-rotor solution. Although I’d like a 400km horizon I’ll settle for 300km on a V22 and obviously have to settle for the poormans 200km on a Merlin.

    It’s more the radar that concerns me. We’re going to field a non-AESA, non-PESA, old fashioned radar. I also wonder (‘cos that’s all I can really do) if our ASaC is actually used more as a battlefield and surface search optimised radar anyway (so much is touted about seeing through clutter) rather than the true AEW. In this case I don’t understand what is wrong with the Seaspray already fitted to Merlin/Wildcat.

    So although I like the idea of de-risking I just don’t understand what we’re trying to do… and for how long.

  36. Lord Jim says

    I agree that the MoD has made the right decision about CROWSNEST but as others have stated I also have problems with the decision process. I have been out of the loop for quite a while but the then DPA always seems a over staffed, self important monster that rules the MoD’s budget and form experience often cause moratoriums to be imposed on DLO to cover the former inability to stick to budgets. That however was the tip of the iceberg. I could never understand the constant processes for job creation that existed at Abbey Wood. Take what has finally evolved into the T-26. Over the decades a team was formed, changed its name, disbanded but reformed under a new name with the same personnel, reduced in size then expanded and kept on going round and around this variable cycle, all the time costing the MoD millions of pounds but producing little or no results. This was the case and still maybe for many projects, as the MoD and Government are loathed to actually cancel anything but would rather drag things out again and again

    The MoD’s inability to instinctively go for the Rolls Royce option is an attitude that has got to change even if it means some personnel have to be moved or retired to make way for more forward thinkers. I understand that a pure COTS purchase is pretty much impossible but it should be possible to purchase kit with the minimum alterations such as comms gear. This is especially so when a piece of kit is already in service with other nations especially western and or NATO. Why do we think other nations assessment procedures are so inferior to our own and also why are our requirements so different? How much does BAE Systems have a say in all this for example? The constant tinkering is another cause of projects being drawn out and costs increasing but nothing being delivered. Why can’t the MoD accept vanilla platforms that have growth capacity and are delivered at minimum specs but can be developed in service during regular maintenance or even UORs should the need arise and it will.

    Take FRES(SV). Many NATO countries have gone for wheeled platforms for the recce needs. We have gone for a more expensive tracked option. That in itself is not necessarily bad, but whereas FRES(SV) will need transporters to move any real distance in theatre, wheeled platforms can self redeploy far easier. Are our assessment teams dealing with AFVs still fighting the cold war and re-equipping the BAOR. Yet again we have a Gucci bespoke AFV that nobody else will buy, but we had to buy something to try to cover up the absolute mess the whole programme had become. But these decision have knock-ons affecting other programmes. Because of the FRES disaster other programmes such as the Warrior update have had to be dragged out to free up funds. Because it was dragged out, the programme Managers felt the need to do something and constantly tinkered around the edges. Also look at the Challenger 2, where little or no funding has been made available to update that platform.

    All of this cannot be laid at the doors of the MoD however, a fare part of it resided in the Treasury. How can the MoD run long term programmes when funding is decided year on year and is not constant. Industry is often left to carry the can, having to use some of their own funding to keep programmes running!

    One of the first things the MoD has to do is dramatically reduce the assessment and development time for projects. It must also be far more realistic about its capability requirements and what meets them. As long as a platform has growth potential it doesn’t need to be a Rolls Royce from day one and cover all future possibilities even if that were possible. The MoD must also reassess its priorities. With the Army, the Warrior update should have been the priority. Said Warrior would have been able to do the job that the FRES(SV) is going to be doing more often than not, that of light armour, but with greater flexibility due to its ability to carry dismounts. The Army’s second priority should have been FRES(UV) and protected mobility platforms. The days of infantry being deployed operationally in Landrovers and trucks is long gone. The infantry need to be mounted in APCs or at a minimum a protected vehicle. This also goes for their support weapons. Yes certain units need greater mobility still and airmobile regiments cannot be equipped as such but equipping the Infantry in such a way is readily affordable if the right decisions are made in a timely manner. But we have invested most of the Army’s procurement budget in FRES(SV), which regardless of its capabilities can be seen as nothing other than a face saving measure by the MoD and Government.

    Which is why I am delighted that the Navy has chosen and affordable and low risk solution to CROWSNEST, with serious growth potential even if it took too long and coat too much to arrive there. Maybe there is hope for future projects, and the reforms in progress are having a positive effect. Roll on SDSR 2015.

  37. Chris says

    Lord Jim – much agreement with your view. Part of the problem I see is that everything in the Government is stovepiped. Not only are the departments entirely inward-focused, but all the contracts are stovepipes in their own right. One of my frustrations is that since the 80s there has been no interest in easing the support burden by commonality, and that came about when some bright spark decided the bidders for equipment programmes also had to cover their product’s support and eventual disposal cost within their contract. With such a structure common support is impossible. In essence each MOD project is a mini-PFI lookalike, with all responsibility for the capability dumped at the contractors feet. Irresponsible MOD then. Personally I think its balmy; it might be advantageous to back-room accountants in MOD but to the deployed force it means a much greater support burden (different spares, different procedures, different accounting lines to adhere to) and in some cases broken equipment awaiting parts to be sent through when the same parts are on the shelf but can’t be uses as they belong to the wrong contract. At least that’s what the rules would say; I would hope the front line support personnel put the User first and fit what’s available irrespective of accountancy boundaries and fix the paperwork later?

    I am tired of every aspect of modern life being ruled by those who put cost before value. Efficiency, that’s the buzzword. It doesn’t mean efficiency of course, it means lower apparent cost. The call is always “Cut costs!” and never “Increase value!”; sometimes spending a little more on doing a job right saves a fortune downstream in band-aids and rework. But it takes a savvy individual to understand true value, where anyone can count pennies.

    A quick example on the difference between corporate and real-life efficiency: buses in the UK were traditionally operated by a driver and a conductor. the conductor was able to take fares between stops, was able to deal with passenger emergencies, was able to generally assist passengers, give out information, keep good order if things got rowdy. In essence he ensured the good conduct of the bus. Hence his name. The driver concentrated on the safe and punctual operation of the machine. In the name of (corporate) efficiency, the conductors were sacked. Now the driver does everything. The bus stands still at bus stops far longer as all fares must be dealt with before moving off. If there are emergencies, the bus must first be brought to a safe parking location before the driver can help. If there’s rowdy behaviour I have no doubt the passengers now just have to put up with it. There can be no assistance for passengers; there is no opportunity to ask the driver for information because he’s busy. Which of these two options is more efficient from the passengers’ perspective?

  38. Nick says


    With such a structure common support is impossible. In essence each MOD project is a mini-PFI lookalike, with all responsibility for the capability dumped at the contractors feet. Irresponsible MOD then. Personally I think its balmy; it might be advantageous to back-room accountants in MOD

    who do what the Treasury tells them to do. The advantage – no new government borrowing requirement and budget cost split over the life of the equipment with limited upfront capital costs.

    This is exactly what PPP/PFI arrangements are designed to do (simplistically) with the added advantage of generating private profit as the same time. Supposedly the risk is transferred from government to private sector as the added bonus.

    I’m afraid this problem belongs to the Treasury alone. With the government focused on reducing borrowing and current spending, we should expect to see these sort of arrangements continue to grow in importance across Government for the next 5 years.

  39. Chris says

    Nick – the reason I think its daft is that it both costs more (taking the whole fleet of assets into account) and is less supportable because so much more stuff is needed in the stores. You may have heard TD muttering – OK saying very loud – that ruthless commonality is really really good? So it is. When I said the current system suits the accountants what I mean is that all the support costs for a given item are neatly bundled with its purchase price. Easy accounting. I certainly didn’t mean it was a cheaper option – its not – which is what HM Treasury would like. But to invoke support commonality the MOD would have to cease their love affair with competitions and approach the task of equipping the Forces from quite a different angle. I’m sure there are many bright individuals in MOD but in my estimation they don’t now have the calibre of staff to execute this change – we had the Establishments when this approach was last used with all their scientific and technical staff. The modern system relieves MOD from any need to assess supportability because its just another line in the contract with a price attached – MOD take no responsibility for adequacy, that’s the supplier’s job. But MOD will pay royally for that peace of mind.

  40. All politicians are the Same says

    At 15,000 feet the radar horizon vs a sea level contact is 278Km though we try and talk in NM professionally.

  41. Think Defence says

    The bottom line is this is a sensible decision that will see a much in demand and useful capability carrying on with a range of improvements.

    Apart from the route to get here, not sure what there is not to like to be honest

  42. Rocket Banana says


    241km surely? Does the Merlin carry 4+ hours of oxygen [serious question]?

    TD, All,

    I’m not “anti” the decision. It just doesn’t seem to fit in with the capability mix of F35B + CVF + Merlin ASW + T45 + Astute + etc… It seems a bit lame so makes me think it is a stop-gap until the USMC sort out their V-22 AWACS solution or we field a STOL UAV AWACS.

  43. The Other Chris says

    Horizon calcs vary. Most straight forward difference is visual vs radar. Radar waves propagate over the the visual horizon to an extent of reliability. Curvature of the Earth also varies depending on relative positions upon our inconsistent oblate spheroid of a planet.

  44. mike says

    I didn’t know the USMC were looking for a AWACS ;)
    V-22 AEW is a pipe dream without active USN involvement – and that wont happen with E-2 and USAF E-3. Though a organic helicopter borne ISTAR platform may peak some interest.

    A smart decision for the RN’s FAA which has always had to fight hard against the ‘hull’ lobby for budgeting – for a frankly cash strapped force, this is what’s needed – the RN learnt a bloody lesson for the lack of organic AEW, and this keeps it hopefully without any gaps; whose to say how open Cerberus is for future AESA enhancement. Would be interesting to see what future proofing there is.

    As long as it has the “WTF” button, its gotta have that!

  45. McZ says

    It is foremost the only practicable stopgap solution to kill Sea King now, which seems high on the agenda. Too bad, the don’t tell us how the 100 or so Sea Kings of various roles will be replaced. A £2b helicopter black-hole looming?

    It cuts deeply into already scarce Merlin-numbers; this will eat up valuable airframe life from our top ASW bird, sending them to places like Iraq or Afghanistan.

    It retains Searchwater; maybe it’s an adequate system now, but non-AESA systems will face a hard time from 2020 onwards to stay relevant. Growth potential is used up.

    Additionally, the whole solution seems redundant. IMO, a force commander would choose a picket F-35 – having greater range, greater service ceiling, completely integrated fire-control, plus being on-station quickly – every time AEW is required.

    Plus, where is the re-use of AESA-investments made with SAMPSON and ARTISAN, to name the two systems being required to work seamlessly with AEW? Or Captor-E? Or Seaspray, which has a compatible AA-sister system?

    So, the decision is sensible. But, hell, it doesn’t solve only the most desperate needs, for a very short time.

  46. The Other Chris says


    Hear, hear regards the button :)

  47. Observer says

    The two countries that might want a heli-borne AEW that I can think of are China and India. Might want to put out feelers for an Indian deal, but China might be a bit of a harder sell. The US media will detonate.

  48. Nick says


    Totally agree with you. PFI/PPP is the worst financial innovation by UK government. It has distorted and over-complicated contractual arrangements.

    I agree with your comments regarding commonality, but surely that is a design choice rather than a financing/contractual issue. For example, if you wanted high % commonality in the Type 26 design, surely you would design to use systems with common engineering, equipment and software from the Type 45/QE at the outset (and if not the same equipment, then at least the same supplier).

  49. Martin says

    @ Observer – I would think a fair few countries in the Far East would be interested in Helicopter AEW. Japan and South Korea have a need. If Tony gets his way in Australia they may also want one. Even Singapore with its obsession with loosing its airfields could be a potential customer. The F35B is likely to usher in an entire new ear of naval air warfare even more so than the harrier did. It will be far far more practical for smaller nations to consider fixed wing naval aviation.

  50. Chris says

    Nick – ref commonality – absolutely not a design choice. The point is that every project is contracted to both supply and support their equipment. it is the suppliers’ responsibility to deliver the spares when and where they are wanted under their “Integrated Logistic Support” process. Even if every contract delivered identical equipment full of the identical subsystems, according to the contract boundaries only spares from the specific contractor’s ILS supply chain can be fitted. Like I said its an accountant’s dream because their books are much easier to compile and manage. For everyone else its the height of stupidity injecting complexity and inefficiency and delay.

    That’s if I understand the system right. I’d be happy to be wrong on this – if the system is that bad it has to be one of the least intelligent inventions MOD has come up with.

    the only mitigation I can see is that each new project now (again if I understand right) has to promise to join the electronic stores management systems – Lockheed’s JAMES in the case of the Army? At least there seems to be one marshalling and distribution system even if the spare parts all come from different contract routes.

  51. Think Defence says

    Chris, look at the trucks a typical Royal Engineer squadron might use;

    MAN SV – REBS, general cargo, unit fuel

    Iveco Trakker – dump trucks, concrete mixers, light plant transport

    Unipower – ABLE bridging equipment

    Oshkosh – medium and heavy plant transport

    Foden – DROPS

    Each will have their own logistic support contract, as you say, sitting in neat stovepipes.

    Each will require a driver training course, driver trainers, training courseware, someone in the IPT to manage the contracts.

    Each will have a theatre specific deployment package like armour, commss and ECM. These will require separate testing and certification, training, training manuals, trainers and, well, you get the picture I think

    Each will, whend deployed, need a different type of starter motor, headlamp assembly, light switches

    I think I am probably preaching to the converted here but I think the advantages of commonality are such they need constant promotion :)

    Not used JAMES, but mates tell me it a complete horror

  52. Observer says

    I have my doubts on that Martin. Most of the Far East helicopter carriers are sub hunters, their/our doctrine is land based aircraft projection protecting fleet assets that hunt other naval assets. AEW is worse than useless in that situation. You get early warning against aircraft…but have no aircraft to intercept, which is useless. And to get the AEW bird in, you have to take out a sub hunter which is the ship’s main purpose, so you are actually reducing the number of units that do the work.

    As for the F-35 and a “new era” of naval aviation, look what happened to Thailand’s aircraft carrier. It’s not like these things have not been tried before. There was even rumours of a study for Harrier usage in Singapore which recommended against them (maintenance problems). It’s amazing how these “new” solutions look so much like the “old’ solutions that never got anywhere.

  53. Nick says


    sorry it seems like a choice to me, but then I’m also clear that I don’t fully understand what you’re describing either Chris. If you take TD’s example of all the different vehicles, how do you get commonality ? Does sole supplier, who might use a common logistics footprint, provide that much reduction in the maintenance footprint ? Surely, there won’t necessarily be that much commonality really ?.

    Chris, what you seem to be describing and challenging is the “just in time” philosophy which is inherent in just about all logistic systems today. If so, it seems to me that there is an absolute operation choice the purchasers makes before entering the contract. Namely, its the operators choice how much buffer stock you hold at your depot location. If you took Nissan, Sunderland as an example, I would expect that they would hold many more days of part and materials sourced from SE Asia compared to those sourced in the UK. Even if the stock held on site still belongs to the supplier (which is the norm from what I can recollect) the manufacturer designs the minimum requirement based on all the necessary factors.

    If your supplier is also responsible for vehicle maintenance, for example, the contract is likely to specify certain operational criteria (the dreaded KPIs) which the supplier will have to achieve (to avoid a financial penalty). Surely, it then become the suppliers responsibility to determine the level of parts held and staffing needed at depot to meet those KPIs. Setting KPIs and the whole operational requirement in any sort of contract like this must require specialist knowledge and experience for both the purchasors and the supplier. I expect Rolls Royce embeds specialist logistic managers along side engineers and requisite spare parts (or spare engines ?) in Emirates repair hub in Dubai as well as uses its remote data collection system to monitor engine performance in real time, whilst the airline will have set demanding engine availability criteria.

    Sorry for going on, but I just want to understand what the problem actually is.

  54. Chris says

    Nick – the jumble that TD describes is a result of the MOD’s sacrosanct competitive procurement process. Each project entirely divorced from all others when it comes to bid assessment – for example we on the outside might have thought it a no-brainer that the MAN truck (of which UK has many parked up in reserve) should have been chosen for the self-loading dumper requirement. But Iveco won the contract because their bid was presumably determined to be better value in isolation. So all the nause of the additional training & logistics burden is imposed on the Army.

    The parallel to the car industry falls down a little when the User model is added. As private car owners we tend not to move wholesale in village-sized groups to far corners of the world taking all the spares we might need for our kaleidoscopic variety of cars with us. The Army does just that. It makes really good sense to use common vehicles or at least vehicles using common spares.

    As for the ‘how to do it’, it requires a fundamental change on the part of MOD in its procurement strategy. The UK last had sound commonality in the 70s; I think Warrior was the first break from the earlier common support ideal. Until then designs came from The Establishments and the designs called upon a restricted set of parts. Hence Champ, Ferret and FV600 having 4, 6 and 8-cylinder versions of the same RR petrol engine sharing many components, and 432, Abbot and Chieftain using related Leyland multi-fuel engines. Much parts-bin level commonality (lights, smokes, batteries, NBC sets, periscopes etc etc) where possible. All because the MOD was design authority and could mandate what it wanted in the design. Now that MOD is a procurement organisation, not a design one, its power is diminished, although as in the case of the self-loading dump truck it could have mandated the MAN prime mover and essentially competed the dumper body and associated gubbins. It chose free competition instead.

    To invoke common support and all the advantages it brings requires strategic planning and resolve; it might even need a mechanical equivalent of the software ‘open standard’ – proven sets of mechanical subsystems available to all manufacturers for inclusion in their products. The concept of common support would also need MOD to step up to owning risk; either that or passing all Land platform supply to a single subcontractor – the former a much better option than the latter.

  55. DavidNiven says

    ‘But Iveco won the contract because their bid was presumably determined to be better value in isolation’

    Iveco won the contract because the army’s C vehicle provider has been contracted out to ALC who act as a plant hire company for the army. As a private company they source the plant equipment which the army asks for and as such buy whatever vehicle they see as value for money for them (as it is their funds which procure it) as long as it meets basic requirements not in terms of commonality within the wider context of the armies vehicle fleet. Although it I doubt it would have been too hard to state that the SLDT replacement was required to be based on the MAN chassis, but who would have paid?

    As to commonality, how hard would it be to state that ‘X’ needs to be compatible with the common platform in use?

  56. Rocket Banana says

    Does the Merlin carry four hours of oxygen for high altitude AEW?

  57. Chris says

    DN – thanks for the clarification. I hadn’t caught the fact there was a second layer of procurement authority in ALC.

    As for ‘how hard would it be’? Sort of like telling Volkswagen GM Fiat Toyota and Nissan that you’ll only buy their vehicles if they have Ford engines transmissions suspension and instrument panels? These are separate manufacturers with complete vehicle designs to sell. Although in the case of trucks there is a greater willingness to fit generic engines and transmissions (ie those not made by direct vehicle competitors) so demands to fit Cummins or Caterpillar engines or ZF or Alison transmissions would possibly be supported by the manufacturers.

  58. Nick says


    Thanks for the very clear explanation. I’m on the same page now. I don’t think sole supplier would necessarily give you that much commonality these days and there are lots of other disadvantages as we all know.

    The world has moved on though. Between 1940 and 1970, we had an essentially centrally controlled network of various defence manufacturers, some privately owned, many nationalized or under the direction of the government. Unless the UK was to procure to replace the entire stock of vehicles (for example) I doubt that it would be practically possible to direct one or many suppliers to utilize a common engine design (gear box, transmission, electronics etc) and even then it would have to be a very specific UK design. I doubt this sort of commonality is practically possible on a large scale anymore. That said, I’m absolutely sure that having a common, open architecture design philosophy at the MoD/Services than runs over many years, could go along way to support these sort of gains.

    It seems to me that one problem with the MoD is that it isn’t just a procurement organization. There are almost continual references to UK gold plating, UK specific requirements (that no other European country seems to have). If anything, the MoD seems to have an absolute averse to COTS solutions and to limiting itself to being a procurement body, even when that’s all it should be.

    One problem certainly seems to be that the MoD is largely incapable of even setting out design requirement without the assistance of its cozy supplier relationships. Type 26, FRES seem classic example. Of course, we also know that in writing a specification you can eliminate your competition (Canadian, Norwegian F35 procurement). I expect that this happens all the time.

  59. Think Defence says

    On the C Vehicle Iveco thing

    DN is spot on, ALC make the decision because it is ALC who do the maintaining


    On operations, it is the Army that do the maintaining

    So in Afghanistan, you have two (and this is just these) pretty much identical trucks doing pretty much identical things but with the added bonus of double the logistics overhead. Every single light bulb or switch has to be transported to theatre.

    In all fairness, the Army could have specified that ALC use MAN SV chassis but that would have meant diverting some of th vehicles from the MAN SV production line and impacted deliveyr milestones for the MAN SV contract.

    Can’t have that!

    Regardless of the small difference it would have made operationally, contract conditions and inflexibility trumped common sense.

    So now we have, to labour the point, two medium trucks doing medium truck things.

    Add on the Unipowers, DROPS and equipment transports, plus the various RAF trucks and transporters and what do you have

    A breakfast for a dog, a very expensive and complex breakfast

  60. Nick says


    I can see that lack of commonality makes logistics management more complex, but does it necessarily have that much impact in reality ?

    Suppose you have 5 vehicles types with 5 power trains and predict that you’ll need 50 replacement engines during the operation. You’ll probably ship 55 in theatre. If you had 5 vehicles with a common power train (say), you’ll still end up needing 55 engines in theatre. Instead of 5 different civilian engineering teams you’ll have one larger team. Hypothetically, with 5 different suppliers, you ought to be able to call upon each of the 5’s local infrastructure to ease the passage of the UK army dedicated maintenance unit.

    Isn’t the core issue the quality and ability of logistics management in the organization (mostly a mid to back office function) rather than the number of individual suppliers. Its not like anyone builds anything entirely on their own these days. Behind each major component, you’re going to have multiple individual component suppliers (many of them in common to lots of components) in any case.

    I agree with your comment regarding the truck (how could anyone disagree hen put that way), but unless you’re going to have a single supplier deal with group X lasting 20 to 30 years or buy all new trucks for the entire force every 5 years, I don’t see how you can avoid some issue anyway. Its not that likely that a new truck and one built 10 years ago are going to have that much in common is it ? Commercial designs tend to evolve reasonably quickly in line with regulations and customer requirements.

  61. A Different Gareth says

    RE: FOAEW Merlin

    I like the stubby wings. Could they provide performance benefits to existing Merlin? I would also like to see some advances in helicopter thinking by the MoD – if you’re going to have Merlin flying about for long missions might a compound variant, with a ducted fan or similar rather than the tail rotor, be able to fly further and faster?

  62. Topman says

    Sometimes commonality can be quite a trickey thing to do. The question is commonality with what ? On one hand the MoD is critised for ‘UK spec’ anything and modifing anything. But on the other hand we want commonality in the UK, one follows the other. I’m not saying it’s perfect world and some decisions are crazy but equally sometimes it’s a choice between the devil and the deep blue sea.

    A good example, a/c have been bought from overseas and accepted into service. Nothing could be changed at all, (even the tiniest thing) it all had to be exactly how the overseas air force did it to keep costs low. Which is brillant, the only problem several aspects of how it was supported were totally different to how all other a/c in RAF are run.

    I’m not making excuses just pointing out it can be harder than at first glance.

  63. Think Defence says

    Here is another truck based example

    The general support bridging kit is carried on a series of Alvis Unipower trucks, great trucks no doubt but they have not been made for ages and although they arguably have not been hammered like other vehicles the simple fact is they are on a declining slope of spares availability.

    Now the common sense thing to have done when the MAN SV contract was being let would be to include the transfer of the bridging kit to MAN vehicles, Indonesia already have said bridging kit on said MAN trucks, it not being rocket science.

    Did we do this?

    Of course not.

    So when it came time for them to deploy to Afghanistan they had to have their very own very expensive TES kits; armour, comms, ECM integration etc etc.

    An opportunity lost and a significant cost, the TES mods were probably higher value than the trucks themselves.

    Do you think we might have learned?

    ha ha

    The Army is currently carrying out a survey, contracted out of course, to look at the best options for the bridging kit. This study includes all manner of options including the obvious one of transferring them to the MAN SV fleet. The same MAN SV fleet that is actually larger than needed given it was specced on an Army that was 20% larger than it is now.

    What will happen

    The bridging kit will be transferred to the MAN SV fleet

    Everyone knows it, it is the common sense and obvious thing to do, later than we should have done it of course, much like CROWSNEST.

    Back to my French example, the French seem to be able to make decisions much faster and much cheaper because they have the confidence t do the obvious thing without expensive, time consuming arse covering feasibility and assessment exercises.

  64. Nick says


    The common theme being inadequate management (and I think this is a favourable descriptive term). The real question is why ? (especially given our orthodoxy of consultancy testing everything).

  65. McZ says

    The French are essentially buying from state-owned companies or companies governed by the ENA-elite. Of course they end up buying faster, the rest are private market profits.

    The cost advantage of the British system was given away, when we followed the French “national champion” logic, which was instated in the 60s to break free from US supremacy. Our system of medium sized, distributed companies actually worked quite good; ever decreasing numbers, uncertainty in requirements and will as well as higher cost have since developed a death spiral, with all factors being interdependent to another. Now, we are essentially stuck with BAE in the middle of nowhere.

    On all things common sense you are right, of course.

    Merlin is essentially a dead-end. Not as good as a Chinook in the cargo-role, slower for anything else than say a AW-609 (which will come into service in 2017 and with Bristow in a SAR-role a year or so later).

    On the CROWSNEST decision, I also think, we will see a rewiring effort. I simply cannot believe that the weapon stores wiring can handle radar signals.

  66. The Other Chris says

    Yet amazing if you want to dangle underneath a Jesus Nut in the middle of the North Atlantic for several hours.

    Will still get you home on a dry transmission in a TEO.

  67. Lord Jim says

    The comments especially regarding truck fleets have been fascinating and have reinforced my belief that some head need to be seriously banged together in various Government departments. Given the review undertaken fairly recently into military procurement and support, the need to continue to cut cost/make efficiency savings and the stagnant/shrinking budget, the powers that be must start looking at the big picture. The MoD is still a big customer to have for many defence contractors. Existing PFIs and support contracts need to be reworked to ensure that the hours contracted for ARE available and that the contractor IS liable for failure and is not able to squirm out by offering excuses such as manufacturing errors. Contractor support is here to stay for good or bad so we need to ensure it delivers.

    Also the MoD and Contractors must be made to look at existing equipment when negotiating contracts. Heaven forbid a contractor may have to spend more to use a common platform but together with joined up support things should become more efficient and affordable. Competition for competitions sake does not work and hence the need for more head banging. The Commercial section with the MoD had quadrupled in size over the ten years I worked for them along with the financial sections. All others shrank though the number of consultants also increased. All anybody was concerned about was the books! RAB was the bane of our existence and almost the end of a few Chief Techs. This was all due to the honourable member for parliament Mr Gordon Brown and his fetish for micro -management. Programme managers and staff need to be able to look above the weeds. The IPT empires need to be broken up or amalgamated, probably the latter as we have fewer and fewer platforms in of planed to enter service.

    Returning to commercial issues, when will the MoD learn to write contracts. Are they still not allow to include proper penalty clauses for failure to deliver? They couldn’t up top 2005. All they could do was minor financial wrist slapping at best. My personal view is that we need to return to fixed price procurement contracts, but at the same time the MoD need to list its requirements and then stop tinkering. If needs change either modify the platforms post delivery or cancel the contract. For example modify enough warrior to initially carry Javelin teams but if required convert then later with a new turret and heavy ATGW platforms at battalion level. Same with FRES(SV) purchase enough carrier versions with the RWS so that at a later date they could be converted to other roles by changing the turret as requirements and needs change. Don’t keep altering the initial contract to constantly add or remove different variants.

    I am developing a strong sense that there need to be s strong non-partisan body that overseas defence with the power to override policy errors, bang heads together and take most of the politics out of defence. Then we could do the same with health, education etc.

  68. Challenger says

    A sensible decision regarding Crowsnest at the end of the day.

    I’d say even though the roll on, roll off system makes sense as opposed to a dedicated fleet, the lack of overall numbers could create issues further down the line.

    The 30 strong HM2 fleet will on paper be able to provide 14 air-frames for CVF and enough to fly off of the T23’s and eventually the T26’s. Even if we only see 8 ASW configured frigates that’s still 2-3 helo’s required at all times. Add to that 5 air-frames in maintenance at any 1 time, the demands currently placed on the fleet by contributing to CASD protection and supporting ops in the Gulf (aren’t a couple of Merlin’s land based to conduct ASW in support of Kipion?) and things start to look spread very thin.

    Hopefully once the Commando force has it’s Merlin’s they can contribute to humanitarian tasks and leave the HM2’s to there primary roles, but even then whilst 30 can cover all the bases (just) at the moment it leaves little flexibility to surge numbers if necessary.

    More importantly those air-frames are going to be worked dam hard (a lot harder than the original 44 HM1’s were when they only had to provide single birds for the frigate fleet and a clutch of 4-7 to fly off of an Invincible). It could lead to serious fatigue and thus potentially lots of problems and cash needed to put them right further down the line.

    I agree that the Merlin in general is a bit of a development dead-end. V-22/AW-609 shaped products will become the real future once they are reliable and cheap enough. The AW-149 looks decent as well.

  69. Chris says

    Lord Jim – ref “the contractor IS liable for failure” – that’s a yes & no – if the process was clean and a requirement set up front for the contractor to bid against then agreed the stated compliance in the bid should be met and any shortfalls penalised. But its not clean. The tinkering you describe adds stuff to the product that the engineering assessment leading to the bid could not cover. Indeed once the Preferred Bidder is in place and switched on, the customer sends in an army of experts to demand changes to make the product ‘good enough’ for UK use. The Preferred Bidder doesn’t get much of a vote in that – if they don’t want to play there’s always the next team down the list… So by the time something is delivered its not really anything like the product that was bid. And MOD has considerable input into the outcome. If the product fails after all that ‘help’ its a bit tough heaving all the blame on the contractor. Although of course MOD does. Every time.

  70. Homhum says

    A lot of historical myth is being peddled here. Most notably this gem from McZ:

    Our system of medium sized, distributed companies actually worked quite good

    No it didn’t. Even a quick flick through the archives from the 50s and 60s (and before) reveals near perpetual exasperation at companies delivering poor product very late and very over budget to the point where some creations were obsolete on arrival. Companies lead by powerful personalities (think Frederick Handley Page, Teddy Petter etc) would pursue pet-projects with little regard either for operational need or the niceties of operational use. The model ultimately failed when complexity became so great that it was simply impossible for these small companies to manage a project such as TSR-2 or CVA-01 alone as they lacked the staff and all to often the project management skills too.

    Blanket solutions such as “bring back fixed cost contracts” won’t work either, at that point you basically say goodbye to any risky (read technology pushing) development programme. The French system works because DGA acts as if it has a dual responsibility to both the customer and industry, the end result being that sometimes the customer gets what industry wants to make not what the customer necessarily wants. And they have had their fair share of cock-ups, BAAINBw works a similar way in Germany and the results have been disastrous in recent years.

    Where the UK did go seriously wrong (but has subsequently rectified) was in the 90s/early 2000s when it essentially handed the entire UK defence industry to BAE, who then managed to fail the customer and themselves (admittedly with the customers help on occasion, see Nimrod MRA4). The solution was to go overseas but for MoD to acquire the IP and for any sensitive/high value work to be done in the UK- so what if metal boxes are being made in Spain, the important part is being able to integrate the electronics, keep the key sensor technology and be able to modify the base platform. If MoD wants to keep its policy of buying bespoke, high-end solutions and keeping key technology in the UK I don’t see any other way of going about it but it requires an acceptance that sometimes things are going to go wrong, the system needs to be able to recognise early when thats the case and act decisively.

  71. Martin says

    @ Observer – Our invincible’s were originally sub hunters but morphed into something more. also with modern data links you could see a platform with helicopter AEW able to que long range air defence missiles even without interceptor aircraft.

    I can see a need for a number of Asian forces that may have to square up to China at sea.

  72. Not a Boffin says

    Tried to post this a couple of days ago, but the edit function kept beggaring about.

    There really is nothing to see here – other than the best option we were likely to get – particularly once the ships went back to STOVL. I’d personally have preferred CTOL ops and the E2D, because that came closest to the original MASC requirement – and because you’re not locked into F35B only. But the MASC requirement was never going to be allowed to drive the ship / FJ choice.

    That £40M has not been spent on a desk study to cross-deck the existing system. At the end of the Crowsnest AP, there will be a system with most of the design engineering and integration done. From there, you’re into manufacturing the new system – AIUI it’s primarily the functionality / software that forms the majority of the Crowsnest system, it should be mostly new hardware, suited to the HM2.

    The rest of the bunce has been spent defining the initial requirement – which includes IERs and similar, options for delivery (including LE UAVs) and some of the wackier aircraft. If you’ re going to consider V22 – which doesn’t have a real capability, just a powerpoint one at present, someone has to conduct the outline risk-reduction, engineering, logistics and cost studies and that also costs money. Having a small PT (

  73. Chris says

    NaB – I see the editor is working properly now?

  74. Not a Boffin says

    This is really cr@p. Keeps chopping my comments about. B0llocks to that, can’t be @rsed to keep reposting.

  75. Think Defence says

    How long did it take the design engineering, integration and hardware specced and fitting sorted in 1982?

    Asking for a friend

  76. Not a Boffin says

    A matter of weeks. BUT – there was no detailed requirement, there were “spare” cabs you could faff about with, “airworthiness” was much less of a monster than it is now and there was sufficient in-house knowledge to do a lot of it without having to contract. There was also a war on, which concentrates minds.

    Only four lines, lets hope the editor doesn’t eat it.

  77. The Other Chris says


    Really needs to be set in some context, but to first answer your question literally, the first Sea King HAS Mk 2 (AEW) was crash developed in under two months from May to July 1982 (i.e. during the war and delivered shortly afterwards).

    To do this they ripped the existing Thorn-EMI ARI 5930/3 Searchwater and basic workstation used on the MR2 and crash-integrated it, pulling ex-operators from the Gannet’s to work round the clock with the engineers.

    Extremely basic functionality to start with. Just a dish, screen and radio. Even the developments into AEW5/7 later on were still arguably sub-par for an AEW, largely due to difficulties linking with other warning and control assets.

    It’s only with the fully integrated and data-linked back-end that emerged for the renamed ASaC.7 that we had developed a world beater comparable (plus/minus features) to an E-2C.

    In that context we arguably took 18 years to establish E-2C capability before the CROWSNEST and precursor projects started, if you catch my drift?

    EDIT: Typo’s, clarification and grammar.

  78. Chris says

    Excellent. Real engineering done by a bunch of knowledgeable experts to meet a simple need simply stated. Designed in weeks, used for decades.

  79. Not a Boffin says

    No. Read TOCs post again. Designed in weeks with limited functionality, used (accepting the limitations) for a decade before a real “requirement” was developed that lead to ASaC7. Which was where the capability really started to ramp up.

  80. Think Defence says

    Chris, do you know how long it took to develop AS90 and how big the user requirements document was?

    NaB, a simple question, do you think the process has delivered value for money, nothing to do with the system performance or what we will end up, has the MoD’s management system delivered?

    The reason I ask is because I think there is a danger of ‘processing’ ourselves to the point where we simply cannot afford anything, ever decreasing circles and spirals at the end of which is 3 frigates, 4 tanks and 1 and a half fighter jets

  81. Not a Boffin says

    An unequivocal yes from me on Crowsnest – subject to how the fit actually performs.

    I also agree that there is a significant risk of process overkill and the potential impact on cost. I just don’t associate that with Crowsnest.

    I do associate that process overkill with T26, Successor and to a degree MARS tanker and the other bits of MARS. It tends to occur at the front end in the requirementeering and OA you get from Dstl and what was DEC. That tends to lead to inertia and delay. Then you get the other type of overprocess where you apply to much manpower too early in the engineering and end up with cost overruns – see T26 for details.

    Common factor – not enough people who know what’s important driving the early and mid-stages of the project, which is then susceptible to people asking for fully mitigated risk profiles – potentially at the wrong stage. Which costs time, money and most importantly, energy.

  82. Hohum says


    The process is the product of the policy. The policy is to maintain a bespoke and technology leading defence capability. The process is the means by which the is being achieved and frankly its the only way of doing it (previous approaches having failed miserably). Its the process that delivers a system that works consistently and does what is asked of it, if you wanted limited capability have a less rigorous process. If you want to be beholden to another country’s process then just buy off the shelf.

  83. monkey says

    The original SeaKing based AEW was designed to detect a fast jet or a sea skimming missile earlier than ship mounted AA radar were capable circa 1982. The lesson being HMS Sheffield being hit and sunk by an Exocet launched from a Super Etandard FJ in 1982 . If it could provide sufficient warning for existing measures to be implemented to limit the chance of a strike or even neutralize the threat by vectoring in a SeaHarrier CAP then it was a success , if not it was a placebo to counter anti-RN critique about this capability gap.

  84. Think Defence says

    Is it a process or people thing then, accepting the strategy is what drives the process?

    In answer to my question about AS90, which is a simple system in comparison with Crowsnest or T26, although not without its own technology complexities, was not very long and 2 pages!

    When I look at products in past, and simpler time, like the 81mm mortar, 105mm light gun, medium girder bridge and CVR(T) to name but four examples with strong export performance, I keep coming back to the old establishments and can’t help wondering if we have gone too far in getting rid of that kind of pool of development and engineering capability that was maintained as an overhead.

    MEXE and Chobham in the land environment, not sure if we had an equivalent in the air and sea domains?

    This isn’t an old man moaning about how good it was in the old days or viewing the past through rose-tinted spectacles but an opinion based on an era when we just seemed to produce winners from geezers in brown coats and flat caps?

    So the question is, is there a happy medium for todays technology environment because this discussion seems to revolve around a process that is designed to compensate for a lack of skills that sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t?

  85. Chris says

    NaB – TOC’s comment arrived while I was typing so at the time there was nothing to read. But I accept there was incremental development – which is no bad thing in my world. Getting upgrade ideas from people trying to use a system tends to bring real product improvement, where lots of blue-sky left-field bright ideas before there’s anything to use tends to lead to a mess.

    TD – ref AS90 – was it one side of A4 paper? I hope so. Followed by proper discussion between User and Designer. The best way to get what the User needs quickly and with minimum churn.

  86. Not a Boffin says

    It’s both. Hohum is slightly incorrect, in that you’d have the process to define your requirement and choose the most cost-effective option, irrespective of whether you were maintaining an indigenous industry or not. Want examples? Canadian / Australian procurement of F35, India’s MMRCA. If anything, it’s a western parliamentary / governance thing and actually there’s nothing wrong with it in that sense.

    You define the requirement (using OA and mil judgement), you look at the options to meet the requirement (considering joint service issues, industrial base, offsets, tech sovereignty, logistics and all the DLOD) and you look at the cost and risk of the programmes to do it. Then you choose one. Doing that properly requires asking lots of difficult questions – and crucially being able to distinguish credible answers to those questions from bullsh1t.

    That’s where the people come in. Where you don’t have people sufficiently experienced (not just trained) in making those decisions, then people tend to fall back on ever more laborious process to compensate for that lack of experience. At which point you end up building a better mousetrap…….

  87. Think Defence says

    How do we stop having 5 army trucks doing pretty much the same stuff in service at the same time then?

    i.e process over common sense

  88. Chris says

    TD – ref the half-way version of the Establishments – I think its very easy to start moving back that way.

    At the moment the UK has a thing called the Centre for Defence Enterprise (CDE) which is supposed to bring in bright ideas from outside MOD. But it is only interested in technology, not design. There is also a Gov’t technology group labelled Innovate UK which similarly looks to new technology, but on a wider commercial basis. I can’t speak for CDE but Innovate expect any funding they offer to be matched by the recipient (earlier investment cannot be counted). So the applicant still needs deep pockets. Neither of these initiatives (modern buzzword) answer the mail.

    What is needed is dead simple. There needs to be a way for MOD to look at bright ideas and interesting designs, and to be able to say “We like the look of that, here’s some cash, go build us a prototype. These are your advisors from the User community.”

    For considerably less funding than the massive design studies, real hardware could be put through its paces. If it doesn’t cut the right mustard then the wasted funding is modest; if it has promise then everyone wins.

    Personally I believe the Establishments should restart and restaff, even if they engage as described above with non-MOD designers, acting as an independent assessment branch. Better still if they use what was once their significant intellectual resource (Gov’t scientists, University researchers etc) to seed new designs.

  89. Chris says

    TD – there’s nothing more important than Process. Its the law.

  90. Not a Boffin says

    How do you stop having five trucks doing broadly the same thing? How about enforce the f8cking process? The DLOD are there for a reason – and they include training and logistics explicitly, with interoperability as an overarching consideration. There is absolutely nothing that would prevent MoD putting the C-vehicle contract out with a clause which required the contractor to make its “best value” judgement based on cross-fleet log support, rather than just lowest acquisition price. It might cost a small amount, but as we know, that’s likely to be recouped in reduced logs effort.

    Ten to one, some-one relatively inexperienced, or somebody with an unhealthy interest in trucks made the call (or was unable to collate evidence to resist the accountants). That’s a people failure and re-inforces the point that process doesn’t protect you from ignorance.

  91. monkey says

    In my time I have worked on projects for a variety of conglomerates, Ford,Nissan,Toyota,BP,Shell amongst many others . Often they are very very specific on the frequently replaceable / high wear sub-components that can be incorporated usually down to a specific part number from a specific preferred (theirs) manufacturer. At the quotation stage on the tender when such issues appear we have tendered the equipment with said components issued FOC ( free of charge) from their stores , with them benefiting from a reduced contract price , their own traceability structure in place , their purchasing leverage etc maintained. Could the MoD just issue 3 or 4 MAN trucks from stock for the prototyping and the bulk of the remainder if the contract is successful? If the bidder can’t work with this method then questions need to be asked if their proposed ‘whatever’ is a substantial advantage over other bidders to justify the additional logistics trail both in peacetime/wartime and risk to system failure in combat by lack of spares to support a unique vehicle.

  92. Not a Boffin says

    As for the Establishments – I’d be very careful there. Certainly in the dark blue side of the house they were never about “design”, more a collection of scientists to measure and analyse stuff – although there were some honourable exceptions to that.

  93. Think Defence says

    The green ones were very much in the design business

    The Bailey and Medium Girder Bridges, both cutting edge and export monsters, were designed by EBE/MEXE

    Have a look at FVRDE, research, analysis and design through and through

    Don’t dismiss the technical complexity either, MGB was preceded by serious alloys and fabrication research that pioneered a number of techniques used today. Bailey had pioneering stress testing scientific study attached.

  94. Not a Boffin says

    Not dismissing the technical complexity at all. By definition the analytical stuff was very specialist (hence the need to develop new techniques). But there’s a world of difference between that and “design” – particularly when you get into complex systems.

    Design (for warships / submarines) used to be the preserve of the DIrectorate of Naval Architecture in MoD(PE), where the feasibility designs (ie getting the design “right”) were produced, before being transferred to the lead shipyard to do the detailed design. All of which changed after T23 – where what was Yarrow were involved much earlier. Don’t know what the Pongo equivalent was – Chertsey or Bovvy?

  95. Hohum says


    Some exceptions? Try most of them, AUWE and ASWE did an enormous amount of internal design and development work. They farmed some stuff out, progressively more as time went on, but in their early incarnations they were all out developing products, some more successfully than others.

    The way the specification process works in countries that buy off the shelf is considerably less rigorous than it is in the UK, often because they have fewer people to do the process and because they have less control over what they get (by virtue of not developing it themselves).

  96. Not a Boffin says

    Would concur with the “early incarnations” bit – but you’re really talking 50 years ago or more for most of it. Lots of component-level “design” there like towed array hydrophones or radar algorithms, but not complete systems. The last thing that came close was the old MESAR prototype (now dumped outside Dstl) and that was a long way from being anything like a working prototype IIRC.

    My experience from dealing with overseas governments buying off-the-shelf kit is that the “western” or “near-western” ones are every bit as rigorous as the UK. You only have to look at the RfP/ITT documentation and associated acceptance criteria for Australian, Canadian, even Turkish projects to understand that. However, there is a difference between rigour and over-elaboration in specification!

  97. Hohum says


    My experience is this, in your “near-western” countries the process is about making sure the offered products do what the seller says they do, rather than making working out what they want and pushing contractors to provide it.

  98. Not a Boffin says

    And making sure your family get jobs. And lots of drink and/or hookers. Allegedly.

  99. Not a Boffin says

    Who’d have thunk it? Allegedly.

  100. monkey says

    At least these are SOUTH Korean officers , prison and slapping for them unlike their Northern counterparts were it would be visit to a firing range a AAA target practice .

  101. monkey says

    TD’s comments on lorry purchasing and keeping it all neat and tidy needs to be front and centre on the upcoming 4×4 runabout replacement for the land rover series. One type to rule them all as it were ! Another poster mentioned NZ had a National contract for all services to use one manufacturer be it , Army, Navy , Air force , Police , FireService etc. The services taking basic vehicles from a common pool for their specific coachbuilding needs would still leave the core vehicle’s maintenance common for a nationwide network to support perhaps.

  102. The Other Chris says

    Wonder what unit price we could get down to if all of the 4×4’s purchased were Foxhound variants…?

  103. Chris says

    TOC – GD prices now, £799,999.99? For the basic steel version, naturally. This from the Army Technology site: “The UK MoD also plans to acquire additional 25 (Foxhound) vehicles at a cost of £30m.”

  104. Hohum says

    Foxhound is a £1 million or more unit price. The steel version is cheaper but takes a substantial hit in vehicle payload. Commonality isn’t always good.

  105. WiseApe says

    Re: the Koreans choosing Wildcat after only flying “something similar(presumably a Lynx) with added weight” and simulators – worth remembering they choose the F35 after only having a go on the simulator.

    Clearly LM offer better…..inducements…. than AW. Allegedly.

  106. Challenger says

    Developing a previous comment:

    ‘Where the UK did go seriously wrong (but has subsequently rectified) was in the 90s/early 2000s when it essentially handed the entire UK defence industry to BAE, who then managed to fail the customer and themselves’

    What do people make of the pre BAE late 80s to late 90s/early 00s set-ups?

    Looking back were Ferranti, Marconi, Kvaerner Govan/Ferguson, Harland and Wolff in it’s shipbuilding form, VSEL, British Aerospace etc better than the one huge BAE block we have now? And if so why?

  107. Chris says

    Challenger – if you believe (as the MOD profess) that competition drives good value, I guess it helps to have many competent bidders? Also, with so many separate potential contractors there would have been many different approaches to business, some better than others, rather than the BAE model for everything. But leaving that aside, the individual companies perhaps with the exception of GEC/Marconi seemed more hungry for business; more flexible and accommodating and just a bit more capable as a result. Its not that BAE don’t employ capable people, but that their willingness to put in effort seems stifled at corporate level.

    Before BAE this same attitude seemed to exist in GEC and the rebranded version Marconi – as a result my deduction is that the merger between Marconi and BAE was more like a take-over, with the BAE name a sop to the BAe underlings post-merge? I may be wrong, but there seems much more GEC about BAE than there does British Aerospace.

  108. A Different Gareth says

    Think Defence said: “This isn’t an old man moaning about how good it was in the old days or viewing the past through rose-tinted spectacles but an opinion based on an era when we just seemed to produce winners from geezers in brown coats and flat caps?”

    The UK also produced plenty of wonderful losers. Is there anything the MoD has in its inventory today that is UK made, modern and an export success? I’m not talking an evolved old product like Land Rover, Lynx or Hawk. I would guess there are some things on the small scale, sensor and data processing side of things maybe but what else? Nothing that is going to keep a large production facility in business for years with successful sales abroad and beneficial economies of scale springs to mind.

    Sometimes it seems as if the MoD has sunk into bloody mindedness in having to have unique kit.

    Hohum said: “Foxhound is a £1 million or more unit price. The steel version is cheaper but takes a substantial hit in vehicle payload. Commonality isn’t always good.”

    The steel version is also a protected vehicle. If you were looking for a general Defender replacement you wouldn’t need it to be protected. It could be made of thinner steel (or aluminium?) so wouldn’t have a massive weight penalty. You could also have flat bottomed modules instead of sloped ones. With a lot less weight but the same engine it’d have a bit of go about it too.

  109. The Other Chris says

    If all we ever buy is 25 at a time and “maybe” more in the future, then I’d be spanking the MOD £1.2m a pop for the pleasure of opening a production line for half the lifespan of a mayfly as well.

    Had we combined Husky numbers (£450k a pop) with Foxhound orders, how close to the £450k Husky figure could we have landed and thus maintained a single fleet of modular vehicles? UK-based company so we can knock 20% off mentally back to the Treasury compared to alternatives.

    Can the cheaper steel King Cab foxhound module carry the same weight as the Husky?

    EDIT: And as noted, is there a cheaper aluminium module for the pure utility work?

  110. Challenger says


    Agreed, that although a bit of a mixed bag in terms of successes and failures the constituent parts of what became BAE, alongside a few other companies were generally more competitive and eager for business.

    VSEL and Marconi Marine at Yarrows for example seemed to come up with good designs and produce ships relatively on time and on budget….at least compared to the what we have seen since.

    Individual parts aside perhaps you are onto something with GEC/Marconi seen as British Aerospace was historically a good company that did well until it merged with them.

    Whatever the reasons i think it’s inevitable that something the sheer size and complexity of BAE won’t be able to excel in every area. It’s just too big for it’s own good.

    As others have said there must be a sweet spot where companies are large enough to be competent at the expensive, complicated projects they need to undertake and have the critical mass to produce products in bulk, fund R&D and frankly make money, but not so large that they become monopolies in given areas and complacent.

  111. Challenger says


    My original response was more detailed but didn’t come out of the system.

    Suffice to say i agree that there is perhaps a sweet spot where companies are large enough to sustain critical mass, fund R&D, take on complex, expensive projects and ultimately produce hardware and make profits, but not so large like BAE that they become complacent, very complicated monopolies, trying to do everything and ultimately excelling at nothing.

    GEC/Marconi may have had it’s issues, but i’m always amazed how in the late 80s and 90s VSEL and Marconi Marine at Yarrows were churning out Trafalgar class SSN’s and T22/T23 frigates 3-4 years a piece and broadly within budget.

    I guess that links into politics and government policy/military priorities though, Part of the reason the T23’s were built quickly and cheaply was because a firm commitment was made for 16 and they weren’t the all singing all dancing cruiser shaped vessels things like the T26 are shaping up to be.

    Even so, it’s a shame some of that eagerness and competition has been lost. The only concerns that exist outside of BAE now are things like Babcock or Rolls-Royce which either don’t directly compete with them or supply component parts for larger projects.

  112. Chris says

    Challenger – I didn’t group VSEL or any other brought-in element of the greater Marconi in my earlier point about GEC – it was the Weinstock core of GEC that seemed to have the odd attitude. Its almost noticeable in the description of rise & fall of the post-war GEC on Wiki:

    So up to the 80s all that was acquired was consumed; after that the business was flailing a bit and the corporate monster unravelled. Its last throw was to join BAe & MES (ex-GEC’s defence arm).

    But you are quite right to point out that the earlier projects were more modest in scope. That in part made them more likely to succeed and in some cases more likely to be sound exports. The modern drive for huge once-in-a-generation multi-role everything-including-kitchen-sinks glory projects makes the equipment extremely expensive and quite unsuitable for export. I’m not convinced the uber-capability equipment makes a better fighting force either, particularly when numbers are sacrificed to pay for wild complexity.

  113. Hohum says
    all singing all dancing cruiser shaped vessels things like the T26 are shaping up to be

    Can we drop this, it’s just not true, not even remotely true. T26 is a new hull design, with a conservative propulsion pack stuffed with some of the shelf (off the hull in come cases) weapons and combat systems. There is nothing special about it.

    Where I do agree, the 80s set-up actually worked quite well, the problem came in the 90s when the required volume of programmes no longer existed to sustain it. I actually quite like the setup we have now, at least there appears to be no better alternative.


    Economies of scale only get you so far, as the US found out with JLTV. You soon hit a cap where issue is material cost and certain types of fabrication. Foxhound is largely off-the-shelf as it is, there is a reason GD is offering s steel podded version.

  114. Not a Boffin says

    When you talk about the 80s and 90s, it’s important to remember that both MoD and industry retained people with design experience and in a few cases some of the senior people moved back and forth. The naval shipbuilding industry then was Yarrow, VSEL, Swan Hunter, Cammell Laird and Vosper Thornycroft. Kvaerner Govan and Harland & Wolff were not part of that, being purely commercial shipbuilders at the time.

    Swan Hunter and Cammell-Laird were what used to be called “mixed” yards – in that they built merchant ships as well as warships, although CL had been bought by VSEL in the late 80s and were down to building the Upholders (and one T22B3) by then.

    The competition aspect was not quite as clear cut. The MoD tended to hand frigate lead yard status to Yarrow (being a pure naval yard) and once the lead ship was out of the way, compete later batches between YSL, SH, VT and occasionally CL. That was good for keeping price down over the life of the build, but got to the stage where losing a contract put the yard on a knife edge. Losing the batch4 T23 contract meant that SH was dependent on LPH and when that went to VSEL there was no cash to support the workforce, as SH was basically owned by the directors (or more precisely their bank managers by that point!). Which is where Hohums point re volume resonates. We simply do not build (let alone design) enough ships to maintain multiple yards to support that competition – at least not operating within the EU procurement rules and going for long build runs of one design.

    VSEL largely stopped building surface ships after Manchester and only bid for the big ships (LPH, LPD) that YSL hadn’t got sewn up by virtue of their size. They had the submarine build contracts to support them, but even then, the Astute hiatus had them building tankers (having knocked SH out of the game permanently). VT had a good export business going, although whether it would have survived the entry of the far east yards into warship export is debateable. Most of those guys are now gone – there’s a handful left in BAES – but not really in positions of influence any more. What’s left of the Swan Hunter team (the real one, not the Dutch comedy show) is part of Babcocks and spend their time doing offshore design.

    Where we are struggling is the ability of MoD to hold BAES to account on the manpower it is supporting to deliver those contracts. Any competent shipbuilder looks at the T26 and QEC prices and knows roughly what the manhours implicit in those prices are. And all of us know that the manhours figures are way over what is actually required to build the ships.

  115. Nick says


    “And all of us know that the manhours figures are way over what is actually required to build the ships.”

    Is that because we are paying for “idle” time to keep the yard running on top of the real cost or a deeper problem ?

  116. Not a Boffin says

    Part of it will be the ever increasing demands of MoD contracts to comply with this that and the other piece of legislation, which takes people to ensure that the artefact (whatever it is) and the contractor have complied. That’s both a technical and commercial function. And don’t blame the MoD -, they are compelled to comply with whatever special interest bit of legislation Parliament passes. ISO14001? Equality legislation? Sourcing timber from sustainable sources? Protocols on halogens etc? All in MoD contract documentation and all require evidence of compliance. All takes time, paper and people, which equals money.

    But the rest? My personal view is a corporate standpoint of throwing (too many) people at “design” and definition too early, with the aim of reducing potential technical risk. It’s fine if the design is right to start with. If it’s not………..

  117. Chris says

    NaB – since schooldays I have amused myself with drawing. There are two approaches I have seen people adopt. The first is to start carefully depicting detail in clear and precise terms so that the bits that are done immediately look neat and finished. Not my way of doing things. The other (in my opinion better) way is to start with great handfuls of scribble, sketching out the total picture, adjusting proportions and angles and depth in an iterative way. All this in light sweeps of the pencil. Only once the whole is sketched out in rough but complete terms is it worth starting to add detail, tone, shadow and so on. While this second approach looks scratchy and somewhat amateurish in its early stages the end result is better – the detail-from-start drawing may look neat but its rarely in proportion and can end up looking quite unnerving.

    Engineering is the same. There are two approaches there too – pretend you know exactly what the answer is and start with excruciating detail on day one, or spend the initial stages sketching out what it is the solution needs, the proportions of stuff that make the best solution, the size and shape (and cost and support impacts and lots besides) all in handfuls of stuff terms. Once there is a balanced outline design, then the levels of detail can be drawn in.

    in my experience Engineers want to spend more time on the sketchy handful task than managers will allow. Managers need progress to tick off on their little charts and a team of experts wafting around the problem space teasing out the right balance of capabilities doesn’t give them that option. It has become painfully obvious over the years that management (particularly non-technical mgt) far prefer solid progress in the wrong direction to indistinct cloud-patting putty-moulding engineering that sets the program on the right vector from the start.

  118. Not a Boffin says

    Oh you can’t just blame management for that tendency. Far too many engineers understand doing detail – the “what” and to some degree the “how”. All too few understand the end objective – the “why” and jump straight into the detail – often because the software available lets them. 3D product models anyone? Great in their place – positively dangerous in early stages. If you don’t understand why you’re doing what you’re doing (in the fullest sense of the word) you’re basically playing blind mans buff.

    Trying to pin the blame on “managers” is shoulder-sloping of the worst type. People who tend to be leading those projects (these “managers” you refer to) are in the main engineers and project managers. It is lack of relevant experience, leading to reliance on “process” that tends to trip them up, not the fact that they’re responsible for something and thus called a “manager”.

  119. Hohum says


    You hit the nail on the head. The European naval shipbuilding industry is a mess, certain European governments (UK included) keep inventing excuses to build new ships in order sustain capability- this is becoming harder and harder as export opportunities dry-up. In the meantime some of those yards have diversified (in particular into things like superyachts) or were diverse from the start. The UK industry under BAE has done nothing of the sort, in fact I would argue its closer to being a Royal Dockyard than it is a real business. Eventually something is going to give, either Europeans are going to start buying more warships or some yards are going to close.

  120. Not a Boffin says

    To be fair to BAES, Lord Draysons Maritime Industrial Strategy encouraged such behaviour. Implicit in the MIS was the belief that there was overcapacity in the UK (true in terms of production, less so in terms of design) and that the industry had to restructure to fit the MoD forward programme.

    Much of this was supported by the Rand Europe consulting work by Hans Pung and his team, which – quite reasonably – postulated that warship building attracted a higher staff overhead than commercial shipbuilding and that the UK was not competitive in the market. Trouble was, they took that as an immutable condition and then set a strategy to fit MoD requirements, rather than try to propose ways to overcome the blocks to (limited) commercial shipbuilding.

    People tend to focus on rationalisation/consolidation – including across Europe – as the obvious efficiency measure. In pure economic supply and demand terms that’s correct, but it ignores the inevitable shrinkage of talent and experience that brings, the consequences of which we’re dealing with right now.

  121. Chris says

    NaB – I don’t think we’ve worked on the same projects then… I have sat in team meetings where the manager (of whatever type) has been thumping the table in fiery rage because the engineers (me amongst them) had not kept up with his nice neat waterfall schedule so carefully typed into MS Project.

    An example. In my last stint working for a big company I was asked to join a few other (3?) engineers to pick up a side-study on an existing project. The add-on in question was to design an installation of the main project’s control cabin onto a tracked armoured carrier. We watched as the manager (of some type or other) talked through the set of tasks he’d identified, maybe 30 or so, and we thought they looked about right. He then said “Oh and the time between here” (the start) “and here” (design complete) “is two weeks.” He got pretty cross when we said the volume of work wouldn’t fit his imagineered schedule. Things like ‘Survey the trials vehicle’ was a 4 hour task wedged between other in-office tasks, when the vehicle would have been a three hour drive away. A clear case of forcing nine men to make a baby in one month.

    I accept there are good and bad in all professions – I just seem to have trod a path that brought me to more than a fair share of managers who believe in the omnipotence of their own schedules rather than in real life. I imagine much of their fraying temper was down to their personal performance targets for bonuses or merit pay-rises. These too are spawn of the devil…

  122. Hohum says


    The RAND Europe work was dross (it often is, RAND US is a different beast). Some European yards are making very good money from specialist shipbuilding in high cost-base economies. Notably in Norway, the Netherlands and Germany. BAE chased defence as a core business and cast everything else aside whether it was good or bad. Only belatedly realising its error and being stymied in its attempt to merge with the airbus cash cow (which it had only divested from a few years prior).

    The talent shrinkage is only an issue as we have shrunk the volume demand but kept the diversity of types. Even the French and Italians essentially ended up building completely different ships through the FREMM programme not to mention some of the earlier abortions. The Swedes kicking TKMS out of Kockums actually reversed the consolidation process- for two submarines.

    T23 was originally meant to be 24 units out of a frigate fleet of 38 (plus 12 destroyers) , as we all know T26 is 13 units out of a frigate fleet of 13.

  123. Not a Boffin says

    I never said Hans and his team should have been believed……..

    Norway is probably the best model. Holland is on its way under (from a naval perspective) it just hasn’t twigged yet. Germany and Italy managed to define and defend niche product areas (cruise liners for both, Ro-Ro for Flensburger). UK doesn’t have that base, which makes it much more difficult to get back in – particularly when your experiential base (Yarrow and VT) is all military. Babcocks actually have a better commercial design capability.

    Doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be pursued though. However, very difficult to do within EU procurement rules….

  124. Nick says


    I pity you (I hope not all of your project managers were accountants, although I can fully understands your attitude if they were). :)

  125. Nick says


    lack of relevant experience, leading to reliance on “process” that tends to trip them up

    Chicken and egg isn’t it. As we do less, we have become less experienced and on and on.

    Isn’t there a bigger problem though. Ambitious (senior/Board level) management might try to grow their way out of a problem. This seems to be a French management trait, seeking export sales (with special term finance from the government) to support domestic production of domestic designs. Mostly it seems we have unambitious (and defeatist ?) Boards and Government which only sees things in terms of cutting costs, rationalizing, downsizing etc.

    I am rather tempted to claim that this seems to be a UK national disease, wrt “manufacturing” we picked up sometime after the end of WW2. Even there, we have proved ourselves to be world class at assembly.

    Its quite strange really, when you consider that our Service sector, Financing, Healthcare, University are all world class (and we aren’t that bad in electronics, media and software albeit in relatively restricted segments).

  126. The Other Chris says

    Post war issues started with the (understandable) misapplication of Marshal Plan funding to propping up Sterling rather than rebuilding infrastructure.

  127. Nick says


    We clearly didn’t spend it wisely…If we’d copied the German approach, I rather think the UK economy would be the largest in Europe today.

  128. Not a Boffin says

    “Its quite strange really, when you consider that our Service sector, Financing, Healthcare, University are all world class (and we aren’t that bad in electronics, media and software albeit in relatively restricted segments).”

    As is our aero-engine industry and the (largely foreign-owned) automotive industry. Although I think I might take issue with the idea that our universities are all world-class (having had to deal with some of the output).

    I suspect that the “ambition” element is tempered by corporate outlook above a certain size. Once a conglomerate reaches a certain mass, the individual components (while useful) become less critical to the overall well-being of the whole and as such default to a safety-first risk management posture. This is exacerbated if you’re in a monopoly position for certain clients.

    Trouble is, the flip side is a small company that while agile and willing to take risks may be insufficiently capitalised to do it properly and runs the risk of collapse or amalgamation into the Borg. Yarrows isn’t the best example of that as under GEC it was nominally a separate entity, nor is VT, but Appledore might be a better analogy. Don’t be fooled by the paddy patrol ships, good though they (and the people designing and building them) are. Appledore is surviving within Babcocks by a wing and a prayer and its future is far from secure.

    The ideal is probably something capable of employing a permanent staff of something like 1500 with the ability to flex larger for contract variation, but able to operate without a core overhead. By definition, it also needs to be able to survive a couple of fallow years without resorting to a corporate back-up. A big ask.

  129. Nick says


    re universities I take your point, but we are over represented in the list of top Global institutions.

    I’m not much of a fan of size either, but if you look at this article (Not a Patent success half way down – it does seem to show that you can create a culture of innovation in what you might consider to be monolithic organisations if you want to. Its not something you can do quickly though).

    I have always thought that you need to manage innovation on the basis of a portfolio, recognizing that you need several projects running to get a big success , given that you will have a failure rate to deal with. If you (and your shareholders) can’t accept failure will happen, then you are in the wrong place.

  130. secundius says

    @ Simon.

    Are you sure? I thought the range was 185-nmi…

  131. secundius says

    @ Simon.

    You really only need breathing oxygen above 4,265-meters…

  132. Rocket Banana says


    If you’re talking true radar horizon then APATS is correct at 278km (150nm). However, at that range (which is only due to refraction of the radar signal through the changing atmospheric density) the clutter is massive so using the normal optical line-of-sight yields about 240km (130nm).

    As for oxygen breathing, I think anything above 3000m for more than 30mins (???) requires oxygen. Add to that the fact that with less oxygen the brains of the operators will not be functioning particularly well. I’d imagine ASaC/AWACS requires a pretty astute brain on board.

  133. Allan says

    That is brutally cynical. Ice cold observation! Top Notch!

  134. all Politicians are the Same says

    @Simon yes but we are discussing radar horizon in a pure sense from Zz where asinine reality your ASW asset will not be at Zz and the target will not be at 0 feet then add in Esm they have to find you too etc and it is all far more complex than simple numbers.

  135. Rocket Banana says


    Yup, you can add together anything you like. They’re still numbers.

    Sea Skimming missile: 5nm
    T45 SAMPSON: 14nm
    Aircraft at 200ft: 17nm
    Sea King ASaC7: 123nm
    Merlin Crowsnest: 150nm
    V22 Osprey: 194nm
    E2D Hawkeye: 229nm
    E3 Sentry: 249nm
    F35B: 298nm (at 60,000ft zoom)

    Anyway, I’m not debating this point. We all know Merlin is an inferior platform otherwise we’d be using it for the duties we task Sentry for and the USA wouldn’t bother with E2/E3 either.

    My observation was more about the non-AESA, non-PESA Searchwater radar attached to an otherwise excellent Cerberus mission suite. The latter part I like. The former, I don’t. It’s like using a dot matrix printer when you have Window 10 and wondering why everyone else seems to be able to produce photo quality pics in relative silence.

  136. all Politicians are the Same says

    Yes but we use E3 to monitor massive amounts of air space we will use Crows nest to defend a Tg. Proven tech capable of doing its job with minimal gold plating and reduced risk in terms of bringing into service.

  137. Rocket Banana says


    You list (quite rightly) the pros. I agree with them. There are however the cons. These I suspect will mean that it will cost us more in the long run.

    Hopefully the TCO of a UAV AEW solution proves to be low enough to offset this apparent short to mid term investment.

  138. all Politicians are the Same says

    Given the in service life of a qe we will no doubt evolve but I must strongly disagree that it is better to delay a capability now to pursue something that does not currently exist. The proposed system is perfectly fit for purpose.

  139. Chris says

    APATS – a rare occasion where I entirely agree. Far better in my opinion to get something in service in a raw and slightly rough-around-the-edges state and then set about fixing the bits that the User needs fixing, than to hide the future product away polishing it and upgrading it and refining it for years without ever finding out how the Users need it to work.

  140. Fedaykin says

    As I understand it (and please do correct me Not A Boffin if I am wrong) but whilst the new PV90 Samuael Beckett class look rather war like a closer look shows that aside from the OTO 76mm and grey paint job they are not particularly war like. There are fisheries protection vessels with a better systems fit than the new Irish vessels.

    Are they not built to simpler Lloyds standards than what the RN specify to?

  141. Fedaykin says

    With all this talk of AEW system comparative performance one thing does strike my mind. In 1982 when we had no AEW system and even if Nimrod AEW had been ready it would of been relying on the Victor. Now we have E3D Sentry supported by Voyager K MK3, now that must give a fair amount of scope to operate a long way out from somewhere like Ascension just for example.

  142. not a boffin says

    Yes – yes they are.

  143. Fedaykin says

    To be honest I can’t criticise the Irish for the decisions they made around their PV90/Samuael Beckett class vessels. They are never going to need something with a sophisticated CMS and Radar. My only slight criticism is I think they should of included a multipurpose container/helicopter deck but that’s about it.

    Being built to a simpler standard with a limited systems fit I would guess better suits the Republic of Ireland’s ship repair industry which I guess is geared towards small to medium commercial vessels then anything with a complex systems and weapons fit.

  144. Rocket Banana says


    Sorry for the delay, but a question suddently hit me regarding your final response:

    …it is better to delay a capability now to pursue something that does not currently exist. The proposed system is perfectly fit for purpose.

    Does the Cerburus mission suite integrate with the F35 sensor fusion and add to the broadcast battlespace picture?

    I must admit that I assumed that the Vigilance radar solution would and therefore thought of it as a no-brainer.

  145. The Other Chris says


    The version of Cerberus on ASaC7 already includes Link 11/16. Given our investment in the latest (including MIDS) incarnations, its success on our Typhoons during ELLAMY and the presence on the F-35 it would be surprising if the updated Cerberus terminals didn’t include the latest version of the Links as well.

    EDIT: Just to clarify, the Vigilance/Searchwater is the sensor system, Cerberus is the mission system that was to be common to both and Link 11/16 is a data link interpretation using available hardware on the aircraft.

    If F-35 is operating under restricted emission control, they will communicate between themselves using MADL. A MADL-to-Link node is then required, which could be another F-35 in a C2 (or swing-) role or a BACN-like asset such as MQ-4C, E-2D, P-8, etc.

    EDIT 2: Exact Cerberus implementation is going to be interesting. Will the hardware running Cerberus be dedicated palletised Cerberus workstations or will be taking LM up on the cartridge-swap option for the existing Merlin ASW workstations? If so, what does that mean for the vital WTFGO button?!

  146. Brutoni says

    An update was to be expected. Real issue here.

    The over stretched Merlin HM.2 fleet will be further stretched. Effectively reduced by up to almost 1/3 of its numbers. This is shocking and not acceptable. SDR should be fun. More cuts, more “do more with less” bull S***

    Is not going to help the manpower issue.

  147. NARO 19743992 says

    Lots of very pointed comments about MoD shenanigans. Mostly true! When the MASC team was being stood up in late 2000, the ASaC Mk7 programme manager applied. He was was rejected on the grounds that his experience (of both AEW Mk2 and ASaC Mk7, over a period of 16 years) was completely irrelevant. Some might say he did a half decent job for someone who knew nothing about AEW/ASaC.

  148. Rod says

    The latest RN presentation on CVF update shows one TAG as 9 Mk2 and 5 Crowsnest. This represents 47% of the total Mk2 airframes! Surely given their other requirements with training, operations (2nd CVF?) plus 829 and the remaining 5 on 849 we don’t have enough ASW/ASuW coverage with only 30 airframes in total. Leonardo Finmeccanica are looking at moving all future AW159 production to Italy, we need a new order of Mk2/4s to keep a UK Helicopter Industry viable.

  149. All Politicians are the Same says


    It is an interesting force mix demanding 24/7 AEW with a lot of ASW assets. i would not pay too much attention to the graphics. The clue is in the title “Tailors Air Group” the only time I would see that sort of requirement would be in a hot multi threat environment which would make it max effort and those other commitments would become very secondary.

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