Enigma Variations…..the Fantasia of the British Nimrod Suite

And speaking of Broken Britain, another Tory ghost of the past came back to haunt them with the Nimrod MR4 maritime patrol aircraft. Not only did the government cancel the contract after spending £4.7 billion on them, but they are paying £200 million to have them all scrapped 88|…that’s got to be the most expensive scrap metal in history :no:! It would seem sensible to me to simply mothball them for the time being.

Of course the excuses put out by the government don’t stack up “oh it would cost too much to mothball them”…Ah!…. all you need to a few padlocks and 2 men and a dog, push the aircraft into a hangar, stuff another one full of all the tools and jigs, etc. lock-em up and let the guys and the dog guard ‘em. Hardly going to break the bank now is it? And if you don’t want to even pay for the hangar (or the guards) have a wee chat with the Yanks. Up in the high deserts of Arizona and California they have these open air storage facilities where they have mothballed many thousands of aircraft in the open, taking advantage of the extremely dry desert air to reduce corrosion. They still have aircraft from the Vietnam war in open air storage up there. Either way, I doubt its going to cost more than the £200 million spend breaking them up!

The other excuse related to Nimrod, worries about crew safety are a bit of weasel words statement. As far as I’m aware there have been no major structural issues related to a Nimrod (or its Comet predecessors) since the 1950’s, so long as the aircraft are properly maintained (there was one crash a few years ago due to a maintenance failure). There is an issue with crew escape procedures, but this is an issue with all maritime patrol aircraft, not just the Nimrod. Indeed could someone with experience in this field confirm something for me, do they give you parachutes in these things? I’ve seen photos online of air crew in an Orion with no parachute, nor survival suit, nor an ejector seat. Surely not! Since the 1930’s I was under the impression that all combat aviators were issued with parachutes and some means of escape from they’re aircraft in the event of an emergency. But like I said, this is a problem which all maritime patrol aircraft suffer (well aside from the Russian ones!) so not really a genuine excuse.

The reality is the seeds for the Nimrods destruction were sown back in 1996 when the then John Major government made the decision to build the Nimrods (funny how the Mail and Telegraph have bashed the labour party over this but not once mentioned it was a Tory government who made the decision to build them). Back then, it was a three horse race, the BAE Nimrod, the American P-3 Orion (either new or a “Ryanair option” from Loral to refit ex-USN Orion’s) and the French Atlantique. The Tories were in a bit of a pickle, they were behind in the polls, and they had a few years earlier plumbed for the US made E-3 sentry over the BAE AEW so it wouldn’t look good to pick another American plane over a British built one, let alone pick a French built one (yuck :oops:!). However, simple economics means it would probably have worked out far cheaper to buy an off the shelf aircraft than pay the development costs of redesigning the MR2 (1950’s technology) up to MR4 standard. On the other hand, with many heavy industries being decimated by the Tory’s Lassie-Faire policy it would look sort of bad (and hypocritical) for them to effectively give what amounted to a huge subsidy to one British industry, while not giving any to another. So BAE, probably egged on by they’re Tory supporters made out that they could make the MR4 a superior aircraft to either of its rivals, and that allowed the Major government to give them the contract.

I suspect that at the time there was probably a unspoken understanding by BAE and the MoD that there was no way that the MR4 was going to come in on time or within budget. However, I’m equally sure than neither had any idea then just how late it would be and how much over budget (ironically, they originally called it the Nimrod 2000!). If they both knew what we do now back then, I suspect that things would have panned out differently (probably with BAE proposing to license build or refit one of the other two designs fitting with British equipment), but hindsight is a great thing, if we only had it for real!

It is also now, in fairness, questionable how useful these Nimrod aircraft would actually be. I suspect that if the Russian subs started becoming more aggressive in the North sea (or Chinese subs even showed up!), that it would still be cheaper to just buy a load of Atlantique’s or Orion’s or the new Japanese P-1’s. Although the problem here is the time lag involved (the French, Jap’s or Yanks, can’t just pull 12 ready to go aircraft out of they’re arses). By at least keeping the 5 already flight ready Nimrod’s in storage the RAF would have something to deal with a crisis.

Yes, storing them will cost money, but it would sort of be like buying insurance against a future crisis. The current Tory government doesn’t seem to realise that enemies rarely ring you up in advance and ask if they could schedule a war for next Tuesday (no? not good for you?…. well don’t worry, let’s do it sometime next year when you’re ready!). As Rumsfield once put it “you go to war with the army you’ve got, not the one you’d like to have”. And right now the Brit’s best not pick a fight with the Irish because even the Irish Air Corps outnumber the Brits in the field of maritime patrol aircraft (we’ve got 2, ye’ve got none!). We’ll be invading Rockall pretty soon, just you wait ;D!


2 thoughts on “Enigma Variations…..the Fantasia of the British Nimrod Suite

  1. Pingback: UK defence spending review: U-turns and spin | daryanblog

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