Monday, June 04, 2007

Nimrod reliability - government culpability

I just watched the BBC Panorama program on the state of the current fleet of RAF Nimrods.

The main point of their argument was that the existing aircraft are having an ever increasing amount of faults, particularly with the fuel systems. This in engineering circles is known as the bath tub reliability curve. When a product is new its often unreliable ( the Japanese have thankfully improved this situation with their commitment to quality - but military equipment is mostly UK built ). But after a while the bugs are ironed out and the equipment gives reliable service until a point is reached when the rate of detected faults starts to rise again - hence the bath tub, steep at both sides.

It looks to me as if Nimrod has entered the last phase of its reliability life cycle, and should be withdrawn from service or at the very least have its flying hours vastly reduced.

The RAF and government ministers must know this. What is holding them back ? Perhaps pride in not wanting to admit to the Americans that our airforce is barely functional in this aspect.

My wife and I are watching the West Wing on a DVD collection and there's a great quote about defence that I'll try to reproduce here: " Republicans always want a large military but never want to do anything with it, but democrats want a small military and want to use it all the time." (Tony Sharp gets the quote right in the comments below..)

In our case Labour has cut the defence budgets by 25%, tried to fight wars on peace time budgets and still kept prestige projects whilst letting the basics fall apart. ( EU Referendum has a good set of pointts on what sort of helicopters we should be purchasing/renting in Afghanistan that makes part of this argument.)

Our Navy is mothballed, parts of our airforce is clearly unavailable - or should be, and our best soldiers are war weary and under resourced.

This is adds up to neglect and negligence by the current Labour government and Gordon Brown.

What should we do ? One of two things:

1) Start to increase the military budget - and spend it wisely, not just on prestige projects.
2) Cut back our commitments.

There should also be Labour resignations- though given the rate of change at the MOD its only Tony Blair and Gordon Brown who can be pinned with the overall blame.

See also post from Sept 06: The loss of Nimrod air personnel in Afghanistan and cost to the families.


Other blogger posts on subject:
Martin Cakebread - thinks we should just purchase Orion p8s and get it over with.
It doesn't look much better for the RAF's VC10 fleet (I'm not suggesting hazardous increase in unreliability - but they are getting fewer and fewer ) which is ageing also - see Keiran Daley blog with some personal memories here...


Tony said...

I am a big fan of the West Wing - continuity errors and minor minor mistakes notwithstanding. That quote was from Asst Sec of State Lilly to Will Bailey:

"You know the difference? Republicans want a huge military but they don't want to send it anywhere. The Democrats wants a small military and they want to send it everywhere."

billy said...

We no longer have a reliable manufacturing base that is wholly British and it would be wiser to spend our money on proven products.
The SA 80 is a good case. It would have been much cheaper to buy the Colt M16 and its variants, the choice of our special forces, than the cock up that the SA 80 has proved to be.

Man in a shed said...

Billy - EU Referendum does a great line on what sort of equipment we should be buying. Oddly the right sort for our current tasks is vastly cheaper than what we've got.

I have a lot more faith in British Engineering - see Rolls Royce Aeroengines, envy of the world - but the current RAF aircraft are just too old and include VC10s, Tristars, Nimrods (I'm not sure about the age of the Hercs).

To give you a clue - I used to fly out to Hong Kong when I was about 2 years old on RAF VC10s - I'll be 40 very soon. (Transport command used a super VC10 variant with a normal body by large tail for extra range. The other VC10s are the ones bough back of African countries and converted for air to air refuelling duty.)