Coroner grounds entire RAF Nimrod Fleet Des Browne another Scots politician , part time Defence Minister ready for a lonely walk in the countryside ?
We brought attention of our readers on Wednesday, May 07, 2008 to the start of the inquest into the deaths of 14 servicemen, who were killed when their RAF Nimrod MR2 XV230 crashed in Afghanistan on 2nd September 2006 is being presided over by Oxfordshire assistant deputy coroner Andrew Walker - RAF Nimrod MR2 XV230 crash Inquest opens today.
This provided the reader with a brief introduction to the principal problems highlighted in the official RAF crash enquiry. It is worth noting that immediately after the crash all air-to-air refuelling on the Nimrod fleet was suspended and that suspension remains in force. Nimrod was named for the 'mighty hunter' described in the Bible (Genesis X, 8-12) . Nimrods in Afghanistan operate in their Intelligence Surveillance Targeting Acquisition Reconnaissance (ISTAR) role. This will have a crew of 12 or 13 depending on the role and the RAF claim fly for around 9 hours without air-to-air refuelling. The plane is based in the Gulf States and does not operate FROM Afghanistan so much of the time in air is flying to and from work.
This week the BBC reports that a senior engineer from BAE Systems told the inquest that his predecessors, who made the Nimrod some 40 years ago, failed to fit a fire protection system on a key area of risk on the aircraft.
Subsequently BAE's Head of airworthiness Tom McMichael when giving evidence claimed that if the evidence heard was correct, the Nimrod fleet were at the time of the crash and for 37 years been flying in an unairworthy state . The fact that the dry bay was not fitted with a fire-suppressant system meant it should never have been passed fit to fly, he said.
At an "acceptance conference" in August 1968 it had been decided the Nimrod was airworthy.On the 2nd October 1969 the RAF took delivery of its first aircraft, the Maritime Operational Conversion Unit (MOCU - later 236 OCU) at St Mawgan in Cornwall .
As a consequence, yesterday Mr Walker, Assistant Deputy Coroner for Oxfordshire, (whose writ does not extend to the skies over Afghanistan) said he was considering a number of safety recommendations, including the grounding of the entire Nimrod fleet.
Thirty recommendations were made after the 2006 crash report and Des Browne in a letter to Westminster SNP leader Angus Robertson, who represents the Nimrod home base of RAF Kinloss, said that said 21 were being implemented, three considered and six put "on hold" "because they were related to air-to-air refuelling. "
Angus Robinson is quoted by the BBC saying ""The secretary of state has assured MPs that Nimrods are safe, however as he makes clear in his letter not all the necessary changes have been made.
"It must be concluded from Des Browne's letter that current risks to the Nimrod aircraft are not 'as low as is reasonably practicable', and this is not acceptable."
Coroner determines that entire RAF Nimrod fleet should be grounded
Coroner Andrew Walker today , recorded narrative verdicts on the deaths of the airmen .
In summing up he stated that the Nimrod fleet had "never been airworthy". Mr Walker said that opportunities to spot inherent dangers on the 37-year-old plane were missed and that a design fault which led to it exploding went unnoticed.
Mr Walker said in his view the entire Nimrod fleet had "never been airworthy from the first time it was released to service" nearly 40 years ago. The men could not have known this on the day of the crash, he added.
The BBC's Rob Watson said the ruling was "quite extraordinary" and would clearly be embarrassing for the government.
"Clearly his judgement creates a huge problem and embarrassment for the Ministry of Defence, which has declared the aircraft safe and which sees the surveillance plane as vital to the mission in Afghanistan," our defence and security correspondent said.
On BBC4 World at One News , Retired Air Vice Marshal Tony Mason , now a professor at Birmingham University said the coroner's remarks were "well founded" .. and pointed to the unique role of the Nimrod in Afghanistan which can only be partially replaced by unmanned craft (now deployed) , and space satellite observations.
It is worth remembering what Ian Liddell-Grainger MP (Con. Bridhewater) said on Tuesday 17th April 2007 after a visit to Afghanistan .
" .....the wreckage of the RAF Nimrod that came down last September was still in the desert. The plan was to lay a wreath there for those killed in the accident, but the last resting place of this huge aircraft was slap bang in the middle of an effective Taliban firing range. So I had the great honour of laying a wreath at the memorial in the Kandahar base on behalf of the Knight family...."
Lord Patel discussed at length the problems facing the replacement of Nimrod. Wednesday, January 30, 2008 AirTankers - MOD PFI financing suffers from Ambac credit rating downgrade - will / can the banks agree a financing deal ?
No 1 . Nimrods need re-fuelling - which has had different problems.
In 1996 the RAF were told that they could have 24 converted Airbus A310s re-fuelling tankers. This has now been whittled down to 14 owned by PFI partners - 14 available at any time and the rest with a notice period. The aircraft are to be owned by the private sector partners, who are meant to be able to charter them out whenever available.(See MOD Press release 6/6/07)
Now the Government / PFI funding of a desperately needed new fleet of Airbus tankers for the Royal Air Force - a 27 year 13 Bn projecty has hit the buffers. The AirTanker consortium (Cobham EADS, Rolls-Royce, VT and Thales) - will supply the Future Strategic Tanker Aircraft (FSTA) based on the supply of A330-200 aircraft with banks led by Deutsche Bank, the initial £2.5bn expected to raise a combination of bank debt and a bond issue supported by guarantees provided by Ambac.
In January Fitch's Ratings credit re-rating of Ambac below AAA - and maybe followed by further downgradings has made those guarantees unattractive to bond buyers. Spreads on monoline-wrapped bonds have suddenly shot up with market concerns about the ability of the insurers to stand behind their commitments.
That suggests the Government and the AirTanker consortium are likely to revert to the original plan to finance the deal solely through bank debt - involving a higher (and probably variable) interest rate.Discussions continue unresolved.
The Nimrod (MRA.4 ) replacement program is now 8 years overdue and 800Mn over budget and introduction has been delayed delayed until 2010 (at least) . It is worth remembering that these originated in the 1993 ASR420 issued calling for a Replacement Maritime Patrol Aircraft (RPMA) for the RAF, the initial name of Nimrod 2000 was quietly dropped as production delays set in.
A fixed-price contract was awarded in December 1996, under which existing MR Mk 2 aircraft fuselage and empennage structure would be re-lifed and reassembled, with redesigned wings and current technology BR710 turbofan engines. The most controversial decision taken by BAe to reduce costs in their study to determine the design for the MRA4, was to refurbish and reuse the fuselages of a number of old Nimrods for the new aircraft. This contract was determined to have In-Service Date (ISD) of April 2003 in 1999 with "re-baselining talks with BAE a new ISD of March 2005 was agreed.
Fortunately under the Smart Procurement Initiative, the Nimrod MRA4 had been identified as one of the pilot Integrated Project Teams (IPTs) in November 1998, led by Air Commodore Barry Thornton. (It was the same Barry Thornton who was reported saying on BBC 4 news today at 3 pm saying the Nimrod fleet was "safe" to fly.)
It was 2003 when assembly of the first prototype MRA.4 (ZJ516) to be carried out. Unfortunately, when the second set of Airbus-build wings were offered up to the second prototype fuselage, it was found that they didn't fit.
The first prototype MRA.4 took to the air on 26 August 2004 . In September 2004 a round of politically inspired defence cuts sponsored by far sighted Gormless Gordon at the Treasury resulted in the planned order for MRA.4 being reduced from 18 to 'about 12'.
On March 27th the Times reported New maritime reconnaissance and attack aircraft, Nimrod, should be scrapped, MPs say. The Commons Defence Select Committee in their 10th report had just suggested that the new Minister for Defence Equipment and Support [Baroness Taylor of Bolton] needs to look closely at this programme to assess whether it is ever likely to deliver the capability that our Armed Forces require within the timescale needed.” If it doesn't , the MoD should withdraw from this programme, they add. The MPs are concerned that the MoD “does not appear very alarmed” by the rising cost of the programme.
For those who enjoy reading the deviousnes of public oficials put under the cosh to explain cost overruns we recommend the section where the Committee draw their attention to the Nimrod MR4A.
One fascinating bit is when DE&S Chief Operating Officer, Mr Gould explained that Regarding the age of the MRA4 aircraft, Mr Gould told us that most of the aircraft was new, such as the wings, engines and undercarriage. The fuselage was not new. - Indeed it wasn't. It finds it's origin in the original Comet (circa 1950's) upgraded by the brainy boys at (then AVRO) BAE Chadderton who sklapped on a lower fuselage bubble in the early 1980's.
Or enjoy Para 129. " At the end of 2006-07, the Nimrod MRA4 programme had experienced a forecast cost increase of some £687 million, almost 25% greater than the approved cost, and has experienced further cost growth in 2007-08 of some £100 million. Given the huge cost growth seen on this programme, we are concerned that the MoD does not appear very alarmed by the additional cost growth in 2007-08, referring to it as "just a little less than three per cent of the total programme cost". The programme has also experienced further slippage in 2007-08 which now totals 92 months, some 7.5 years. "
"This is a programme that has been beset by one problem after another and neither the MoD nor the contractor appears to be able to get a grip on it. We hope that the new Minister for Defence Equipment and Support will look closely at this programme and consider whether it is ever likely to deliver the capability our Armed Forces require in the timescale needed. If it is not the MoD should withdraw from the programme."
Watch this space.
When (if) the MR4 gets into service it should have a range of over 6000 miles, an endurance of over 15 hours, carry a much wider range of offensive weapons and have a significant ISTAR capability.In service it will add precisely the Network Enabled Capability sought by the MOD and considered essential for the type of conflicts that UK forces are likely to be involved in over the next 3 decades.