Nimrod: endless development, never delivering

Aerospace and Defence programmes are formidable undertakings full of complex developments, new technologies, changing requirements that make them difficult to manage and keep in control. This is not new and lead Norman Augustine to write his famous “Augustine’s Laws” of which I already wrote a post in this blog.

Few months ago I was having lunch with my colleagues while we were discussing about some current defence programmes with sound cost overruns and delays. One of us challenged the rest with the question of what was the programme in the direst situation. Among the answers came the British Nimrod Maritime, Reconnaissance and Attack (MRA) Mk 4 aircraft programme.

The programme called for the upgrade of existing Mk 2 aircraft. The upgrade involves extensive (80%) reconstruction of the airframe, plus incorporation of many new components, including engines, wings, landing gear and general systems, as well as new flight deck and detection systems. The contract was awarded in January 1997. The original order was for 21 aircraft.

Nimrod modifications.

One of my colleagues jokingly said “that programme is just the perfection of the British A&D business model: charging money to the tax payers without delivering a single aircraft, being paid simply for developing”. We all laughed at the comment, sure.

In 2002 the contract was reduced to 18 aircraft. In 2004 the in-service fleet requirement was reduced to 12 aircraft, including the 3 prototypes. By 2008 BAE had only been contracted to for 9 aircraft in addition to the development contract. In 2009 the Defence Equipment Minister announced that it was not necessary to upgrade the 3 development aircraft.

When first ordered the programme had an estimated cost of 2 billion pounds; by 2006 the estimation was of ~3.8 billion pounds (+90%). When ordered the first delivery to the Royal Air Force (RAF) was scheduled for 2001, with the Initial Operational Capability (IOC) in 2003, on the delivery of the 7th aircraft.

BAE Nimrod.

Last week we could read in the British press that the air force chiefs to the Strategic Defence and Security Review had proposed to cancel the Nimrod programme in order save money under current budgetary pressures. The measure would “only” save now 200 million pounds, as most of the development and acquisition costs (~95%) have already been paid. The savings would come in the longer term, due to the saving of operation and support costs related to that fleet.

If this cancellation becomes effective, that would be consummation of that model: being paid (180% of initially estimated costs) for developing of a fleet of aircraft (along a period twice as long as initially expected) to end up not having to deliver those aircraft (not 21, not 18, not 12, not 9… not a single one).

Aside from this humorous note, that would be a very sad happening for BAE engineers, managers and technicians.

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5 Comments

Filed under Aerospace & Defence

5 responses to “Nimrod: endless development, never delivering

  1. Inda

    Very interesting post. I wonder if any newspaper in the UK has published something similar; but if not ¡they should!

    I would feel outraged if I was an English tax payer.

    I am sure it wouldn’t be too difficult to find similar situations in our country :S

    • We’ll see whether it is indeed cancel and then I guess there will be different reactions.

      I agree with you, it shouldn’t be difficult to find similar or even worse situations here…

  2. Jorge Seoane

    I don’t think anybody ever really considered making money out of a military program…
    I guess goverments are happy enough to inject money and keep the wheel of military technology turning…
    Americans are wiser, they just go ahead and apporve military development programs for american companies that are never intended to go on production. Then they complain about subsidies and loans to Airbus…

    • Probably you’re right with your second comment… though I am still naïve enough to think many programs are conceived to be profitable.

      I fully agree with your last comment on the double game of complaining to the WTO and at the same time pouring billions in military technology programs which indeed are dual technologies ending up being used in commercial aircraft… protectionism at its highest…

  3. Pingback: Airbus Military private party « The Blog by Javier

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