In the early seventies it became clear to NATO cleverness that the Warsaw Pact was expanding several new fighter-bombers capable of mounting direct problems on Western Europe, flying extremely fast, in large numbers, and very low, under the ground radar horizon. To combat this new danger, the NATO countries agreed to purchase a very expensive new defence called AEW - Airborne Early Alert. The system engaged, literally, adding a radar place in the sky where it might look down and find out enemy airplane as a long way away as 250 a long way. The soaring radar stop could then warn whomever necessary, and also act as a control and control system of its own, capable in war of 'managing' its own fighters to counter-attack the raiders.
By the mid-Seventies, in america, Boeing and Westinghouse radar got just finished a long, painfully expensive development of such something. They 'married' a special radar to the military version of the Boeing 707 plane and called it AWACS (Airborne Early Alert and Control System). AWACS has a huge, ugly radar scanning device perched such as a mushroom on its backside and a stomach packed with the most sophisticated avionics (radar) and electronics. By 1977 the system was working and on offer to NATO. After much politicking, lobbying and haggling, Washington offered the AWACS to NATO at an extremely generous price. Britain's talk about would have been 228 million (1977 pounds).
So, if we'd enjoyed our cards right, we're able to will have full AEW coverage in Britain for only 460 million (1985 pounds).
In reality, Britain had made a decision to become a member of the NATO AWACS project. The Royal Air Force liked the plane, and the government actually wanted a built-in NATO AEW system. However the moment in time that that decision was used by the then Labour government, a powerful lobby started to blowing wind itself up to get the decision reversed in favour of an all-British AEW system. United kingdom Aerospace (Bae) happened to acquire several old Comet airliner frames lying down around: three were former mate RAF, eight have been built by the Labour authorities for no goal whatsoever save to keep work up, thereby reducing the taxpayer of 24 million. And Marconi Avionics (now GEC Avionics) had been working on the introduction of an AEW radar and acquired already received 'trickle funding' of 14 million. If Britain were to opt from the NATO AWACS offer, it would need 11 of its AEW plane - to be called Nimrods.
Defence Minister Fred Mulley found himself under substantial pressure from Little Englanders, backbenchers, carefully organised trade union delegations and prolonged Bae and Marconi lobbying to reject AWACS and purchase British. Not only, it was argued, would this appearing technology continue to be ours, but also, a lot more importantly, the deal would create 7, 000 much-needed jobs. The first debate was sound; the second was poorly thought through. In fact, the People in the usa were offering a generous offset deal to NATO if it bought AWACS. The highly profitable agreement for marrying the radar to the plane would have gone to British Aerospace, and the fleet of 27 NATO planes would have been based in Britain. Indeed, in the permanent Britain may possibly have created more benefit itself by buying in to the AWACS deal. The only real jobs that we could have lost - some 2, 000 specialist avionics and electric and computer technical engineers - were among several the most employable people in the Western world. But this argument was not observed in the House of Commons when Mr. Mulley was ceaselessly harried to buy Uk and buy now. Little by little the Nimrod lobby gained power. Its greatest asset was a NATO ministerial Council that dragged its supply over which country should pay how much for AWACS. The West Germans specifically were delaying a choice, partly because their own defence budget inflexibility managed to get difficult to divvy up quickly, and partially because Defence Minister George Leber thought he could pressure a little more out of the Americans.
Faced with the requirements of the lobby and assurances from his Ministry advisers that Nimrod was capable of being provided by November 1981, Fred Mulley enforced a deadline on the NATO Ministers: agree on AWACS funding by March 1977 or Britain should go it together with Nimrod. The historical version of what ensued would be that the Germans persisted to procrastinate, and still left Mulley no choice but to withdraw. However, there continues to be some misunderstanding about the reality of that. Western world German Defence Minister George Leber says he left his good friend Fred Mulley 'in without doubt whatsoever' that he would join the NATO AWACS program which it was only a question of your energy (indeed, the Germans do join 18 months later).
Nevertheless, Britain drawn out of the best AEW offer it could ever before have struck, and opted instead to use the long, dark road of discovery and produce its own highly complicated AEW system, not, as the Us citizens had done, in 15 years, but in an astonishing four years. 'We just couldn't realize why you guys made a decision to reinvent the steering wheel', said an agreeable Westinghouse man.
Marconi had been developing a different kind of AEW radar. Rather than mounting one big scanner on the back of the airframe, they would build two small scanners, one in the nose area and one in the tail. The rotation of the laundry would be synchronised and the alerts processed consequently. Theoretically the system would be better over water than AWACS (and could yet be), even although old Comet airframe is a third smaller than the Boeing 707.
Just how undeveloped Marconi's radar is at 1977 seems not to have been completely liked by the Ministry of Defence researchers who studied the idea of the procedure and seemed admiringly at a rather basic ground-working screen. Why anyone actually assumed in the 1981 deadline is similarly mysterious. If Nimrod was to have only the same number of problems as the AWACS acquired in its development then it couldn't be on train station before 1987.
The agent for the huge deal was the Ministry of Defence Procurement Exec or MOD PE. The customer could be the Royal Air Make: British Aerospace would source and convert 11 Nimrods and integrate the avionics (radar), which would subsequently be produced by Marconi Avionics (now GEC Avionics). The Ministry guaranteed that the first interim version of the Nimrod would be up and about in 1981, and the whole squadron go on-line by 1985. The cost? Parliament was never advised: in reality just how Parliament has been cured about Nimrod is little lacking a national disgrace. In fact, the shape was 306 million.
The MOD PE decided to develop a 'Cost Plus' agreement for Nimrod - the largest single systems contract of its time. Cost Plus means that the contractors fee the taxpayer what the item cost to make, plus an agreed income (Marconi say this was three percent but I really believe it was more). The system might have been contracted on the 'Fixed Price' basis, this means the MOD PE sensitive out, then agree to a fully given contract at the price the contractor prices. (It's worth remembering, incidentally, that Marconi was the only radar game in town for Nimrod). Unless rigorously supervised, Cost Plus may become a bottomless pit. Nevertheless, the MOD PE argued that Nimrod would need to be contracted Cost Plus as a result of unknown amount of development the machine would entail. Marconi says that that was fine but an expense Plus agreement ran effectively gave the MOD PE control and responsibility over everything. In the case, the four-year Cost Plus agreement ran to a decade.
Normally it would have made sense to appoint a primary builder to oversee the work and take responsibility for presenting the MOD PE with a done and working Nimrod on time and on cost. This way, to place it inelegantly, someone gets the power and specialist to 'kick arse'. But no primary service provider was appointed. Why? The MOD PE thought that Bae didn't then have the experience to do it (but do now), nor have Marconi know enough about airplanes to do it. (English Aerospace now say privately they wouldn't have become prime companies for love nor money once they'd seen that absurdly early MOD deadline).
So, recover unrealistic deadline, with no prime company, and with a set of specs and requirements which, to be reasonable to Marconi, must have been just a little imprecise, to place it mildly, the MOD PE and both contractors tripped down the long, dark road of discovery. And the problems began.
First, Bae experienced commercial disputes which created some time-slippage. Marconi, too, found some problems in producing the radar as quickly as they would have liked. They suffered specialist recruitment problems - radar designers aren't two a penny in Britain. The 3rd spouse, the MOD PE, also stumbled. Within a 1979 review (for the new Tory authorities), they learned their original cost estimates had been away by a little matter of 20 per cent. A blissfully ignorant Parliament was told that Apr that Nimrod was now 'in full development, with the look work very well in hands'.
In the early eighties, more pain. A moratorium on defence spending harmed Marconi for many months, resulting in more slippage; wage restraints allowed a few of their best technicians to be lured out of the country. Bae got caught up with the slippage to a certain degree, but were now finding problems in their factory in the working romantic relationship with Marconi. To make matters even worse, the MOD PE acquired created a two-committee bureaucracy for the Nimrod task. One committee looked after the airframe and one following the avionics. Whoever acquired the work of coordinating, integrating, talking to and smoothing out the recurring problems wasn't gaining any medals. MOD PE task directors came up and travelled, on normal rotation. Nimrod was now slipping badly promptly and costs, and nobody appeared to want to crack the whip.
Finally, by May 1983 - the initial deadline now well and truly inactive - a Nimrod plane with a radar set was flown to the Ministry's screening grounds at Boscombe Down. MOD experts, RAF officials, Bae and Marconi men eagerly anticipated the first air travel trial of what was fast becoming the priciest plane in the world. Reputations were at stake.
During the first six flights of the plane, the radar scarcely worked well by any means. When it finally performed, it produced a radar picture that was 'militarily unusable'. Nimrod failed its test. Angry and astonished protagonists reported the bad reports to their head offices. By Sept, when the plane again failed its studies, Geoffrey Pattie, an early on and vociferous person in the original Nimrod lobby, was now Minister of Defence Procurement. The buck rolled into his sixth-floor office at the Ministry of Defence and ceased there.
On Oct 23 1983, Mr. Pattie was anticipated to make his first formal trip to Marconi's Hemel Hempstead stock where they were making the radar. The very best brass waited in the boardroom, a particular lunch have been ready and the employees all had neatly pressed overalls. Mr. Pattie attained 9 am for a five-hour visit - and stormed out thirty minutes later. What took place in between, regarding to a witness, was 'an incident in the megaton range'. Mr. Pattie, furious at Marconi's progress, was driven back to Whitehall and purchased that funds for the AEW radar be withheld. The abuse lasted almost a year.
Meanwhile, NATO's AWACS were being provided as guaranteed (the complete 18-plane delivery will be completed earlier than guaranteed and with money left to spend on a little 'gold-plating' too). NATO obligingly started to expand its AEW cover to include the north flank that Britain got agreed to cover with the Nimrods that haven't arrived. Last September, a public kick off of the first interim Nimrod was happily announced by British Aerospace. The defence correspondents were preparing to reach for their superlatives whenever a deeply embarrassed Ministry of Defence cancelled the launch. The radar was still not acceptable to the client, but at least the storyline had started to drip out.
When, Labour MP Bruce George, a member of the House of Commons Select Committee on Defence, dared ask the government's new Procurement Minister Adam Butler when the Nimrod would be completely operational, what it could cost, and how much the amount differed from the original estimate, he received the following helpful and interesting answer: 'It is neither our coverage to uncover the dates which defence systems become totally functional nor to divulge information which is commercially private'. Well, that's how very seriously a lot of people treat the home, and it's really certainly the way billion-pound bungles stay snugly concealed inside Whitehall data files.
What the Minister should have been able to uncover was an evergrowing catalogue of Nimrod horror stories. In February 1985 the system suffers from the next problems.
1. The main GEC 4080 computer is now so overloaded it can only just offer with half the targets it was originally required to deal with. The demand on the computing fill has increased by 400 % since 1977: consequently the computer must work more slowly. This isn't what is required during an aerial challenge when micro-seconds matter. The computer cannot presently accept any more programs. There are some temporary ways of increasing its recollection store, but it simply does not contain the fifty % spare capacity the RAF sought. It cannot therefore latest much longer in its present state and will eventually need changing.
Stay with the present saturated computer, adding thoughts, slowing its functions;
Buy an immediate replacement (expensive) which itself will never be state-of-the-art.
Wait for the experimental computer
Buy abroad the model you want and spend some 500 computer-man years rewriting the program.
'It is', said a depressed Ministry man, 'a bit of a bugger's muddle'.
2. The radar's transmitter has had problems linked with the 'purity' of the sign it directs to the prospective. If that signal is electronically impure, then, on its return, those impurities read by the overworked computer as it can be goals (which, of course, they are not) further overloading the computer.
3. There remain some endemic issues with the radar, which imply that natural 'spaces' in the coverage may be widened too far. There are reliability problems in the critical section of tracking and having low-flying fast-moving plane - the planes Nimrod needs to observe. Very about, on the bad day, there's a significant shortfall in the radar's required efficiency.
4. The Nimrod's current data and communications system, with which GEC Avionics experienced no involvement, is not really a modern one. This implies it cannot, in an emergency, complete huge quantities of data altogether security to wherever the info is needed - another airplane, a ground station, etc. It had been always guaranteed that Nimrod would be inter-operable and appropriate to as high a qualification as possible using its sister NATO AWACS planes. That is not the case now. Nor will Nimrod as presently configured have more than a very basic command word and control over its fighter make.
If it is ever before to match up to its first requirements, Nimrod must be fixed with an extremely sophisticated data transmitting system called JTIDS (again, GEC Avionics aren't involved in this). The architectural and software changes, alongside the capital costs of putting in JTIDS, will cost extra millions of pounds.
Whatever happens now, Nimrod will have to be accepted by the RAF as a bargain in terms of what it called for and what it expected. Just how large the compromise must be has been argued between your MOD PE and GEC Avionics. Whatever remains to be done will never be done on the Cost Plus contract. In the meantime, Secretary of Condition for Defence Michael Heseltine, who has to pay the ultimate bill, is sitting at his workplace, reading the information and milling his pearly whites. What he reads won't go down well in Cupboard. Just to stop the haemorrhage and get something in the air that works after a fashion will require an extra 300 million - coincidentally the very price of the initial 1977 contract.
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