Commons committees CHINOOK C3 - input from Arrse

Today I happened to tune in the telly to a live session of a Commons Select Committee dealing with a Defence issue - the Chinook C3 contract (about which I know nothing, but those being interviewed by the Committee were the experts - the PUS, Sir Bill Jeffrey, Chief of Defence Materiel General Sir Kevin O’Donoghue and Lieutenant General A C Figgures, Deputy Chief Of Defence Staff (Equipment Capability)). Thoroughly boring stuff to someone long departed from things military, but I soon perked up when one of the members quoted an anonymous writer on an "army website" in his question to the three named officials.

Up to that point, and subsequently, during questioning by other members, there was a lot of huffing and blowing about whether Boeing or the Ministry was at fault for what has been, apparently, a catastrophic contractual cockup. Richard Bacon MP quoted at length from the unnamed website, using the straightforward language used therein ("I wouldn't put it like that", said the PUS), the gist being that the MoD project team had had its' head firmly up its backside for the duration of the contract's life, resulting in an extremely poor return for taxpayers' money and a squadron of duff choppers sitting in a hangar for seven years (After a pointed question or two, it was admitted that nobody had been sacked for the ballsup).

The contextual ins and outs of it all are of great interest to many here, I'm sure, but what gripped me was the extent of the influence that an anonymous poster on a website (who knew what he was writing about) exerted over a particularly important element of our parliamentary institutions; those officials (including a couple of very quick Generals) were put firmly on the spot, and the results of that session I have no doubt were strongly moved by the quotes put up by Bacon.

I haven't found the relevant post on ARRSE (it might be elsewhere, of course), but it all says to me that the nature of British parliamentary democracy is being changed and improved by the likes of ARRSE, which isn't abridged by a Letters Page sub-editor or censored by a grey Ministry man with a rubber stamp. Long may it be so.
Thanks for the Tracer WB , I'll stick on Parliamentary TV and see if I can find it, Of course he may have been referring to PPrune, but I can think of at least 3 posters with sufficient gravitas , knowledge and scathing wit to merit quoting :D

Did he mention Light Attack Helicopters by the way?


Book Reviewer
From memory (never a reliable indicator) it was possibly the last 'Helicopters' thread that Sven took down in flames.

Can definitely remember those points being raised on Arrse though.
Bingo, PTP: Brighton Hippy's eloquence shone through the Committee Proceedings, as related by Mr Bacon:

the mk3 is supposed to come with an all singing ultra gucci "GLASS COCKPIT"
like the dutch ones.
pilots saw that went cool we'll take it.

MOD looked in the back of the brochure saw the poverty spec that ripped half the glass out replaced with old stuff.
Boeing went er hang on you sure about nobody buys that spec ever its not as good as the extra gucci version
MOD went but its cheap we'll have that

boeing built it but cause nobody else uses the weird mixture of cockpit controls the software that runs the whole thing isn't up to the job hence not fit to fly.
MOD sues boeing boeing goes you got what you asked for even though we told you it was a stupid idea.
MOD goes oh dear oh well its only helicvopters not like we need them or anything
Cue much General-Officer-type shuffling and coughing and PUS doing goldfish impressions (well, not quite, but I was clapping).
...didn't mention Light attack helicopters; I think they were up to their codpieces with the big choppers. The Tory members were rational and penetrating, as was Austin Mitchell and someone from the LibDems, but some Glaswegian affecting a Haymarket Scotsman accent (I started to count the 'divnae's and 'havenae's) was being chippy for the sake of it, with a poke about Royal junketing...

It'll all be in Hansard!

Edited for idiocy
Incidentally, PUS intimated at one point that he, too, lurked on a 'military' website or two in search of wisdom.

Wotcher, Bill!
Indeed , evening Bill and Nick ;)

Oh and various others who stalk the corridors of Arrse.

Brighton, you're a hero, can we have an autograph? :D
Good spot WB - well done, and "right-on" to Brighton Hippy. Magic Mushroom made some detailed posts as well - we are fortunate to have more "expertise" on-tap, than Westminster can muster.

Question is; If they're reading Current Affairs, how many will own-up to visiting The NAAFI on a regular basis? :)
WB - I know of at least one Tory MP who uses the site for intel (not the naafi, neither). And don't forget the mention of arrse in a Lords debate about getting the armed forces to register to vote back in 2005. Lord Garden said:

26 May 2005 : Column 599

"There was one beacon of light in all this: there was an unofficial, if somewhat irreverent, website called the "Army Rumour Service", where volunteers posted information to encourage servicemen to register to vote and to get out and vote. This was done in a totally non-partisan way, and links were made to all the electoral registration offices so that registering could be done on a voluntary basis. That is the kind of thing that the MoD should have been doing."

And, of course, half of Fleet St reads it and pinches copy from it as well.
Silly me. This post by Magic_Mushroom was also quoted extensively by Bacon:

I met one of the test pilots who was involved in this sorry saga. In his view the blame lay wholly with the RAF who put out a difficult specification, and then proved reluctant to listen to the advice of the test pilots.
Utter hoop.

1. RAF wanted to purchase off the shelf MH-47Es as used by USAF SOCOM from the outset.

2. Budgeteers insisted MH-47Es were a 'gold plated' solution above that needed by the UK.

3. IPT fall for Boeing offer of cheaper hybrid analogue/digital system based upon contract with loop holes so big you could drive a large ocean going liner through it.

4. Boeing deliver said helicopters compliant with pants IPT spec.

5. Helos delivered and one damaged during off loading at port!

6. Realisation dawns that HC3s are not fit for purpose.

7. Long period of legal wrangling begins. MoD: 'our new helicopters don't work, we want our money back'. Boeing: 'they work as you requested them to, sod off'.

8. MoD pretty much give up and elect to convert hybrid HC3s to analogue HC2 standard.

9. Most likely the cost incurred (not assisted by the fact that HQ Land have managed to reduce funding priorities of SH since assuming responsibility with JHC) to 'downgrade' HC3s to HC2 standard will mean proposed upgrade of analogue HC2s to a digital cockpit will get canned.

This sorry state of affairs is hardly new news. As with most cases of such procurement cockups, the majority of the fault lies with the IPTs within DES. These are mostly staffed by civilians with little or no experience of the systems they are contracting for. What military experience there is tends to be biased towards engineering rather than personnel with front line operational experience of what is needed. The situation is aggravated by IPTs who 'go native' and become too influenced by contractors.

Rant off.

There was some consternation about the term "pants".

Gen Figgures should really get off the use of terms such as 'Green Army' in this company, which he used at least three times. It's the sort of thing which will be picked up by Parliamentary Walts and used by them to demonstrate their military coolth. /DS mode
Moments like this make me feel CA is returning to it's old self :D
Link to the uncorrected transcript of the hearing. Clicky

The question which refers to the 'army website' is Q54-Q56.

Q56 Mr Bacon: There must be somebody who knows whether this is what the RAF wanted to start with. Let me just summarise for you. I have found a wonderful summary- at least I think it is and there are others that have contributed to this website since who agree - that the RAF wanted to purchase off-the-shelf MH47e helicopters as used by USAF SOCOM - I suppose that is the Special Operations Command - from the outset. The budgeters insisted the MK47e helicopters were a gold-plate solution above that needed by the UK. The IPT, that is the Integrated Project Team, fall for the Boeing offer of a cheaper hybrid analogue digital system based upon a contract with a loop so big you could drive an ocean-going liner through it. Boeing said that the helicopters that they delivered were compliant with what the website calls the "pants" IPT specification. The helicopters were delivered, one was damaged during the off-loading at the port, the realisation dawns that the HC3s, that is the Mk3s, are not fit for purpose and then there is a long period of legal wrangling. MoD said "The new helicopters do not work, we want our money back". Boeing said "They work as you requested them to, sod off". Finally MoD pretty much gives up and elects to convert the hybrid HC3s to the analogue HC2 standard, in other words back to the old Mk2s and of course, as we all know, in the process spent a great deal of money. Now what is actually fundamentally flawed or inaccurate about that summary, apart from the fact that a "pants" specification is probably not the way the MoD would describe it?

Sir Bill Jeffrey: It is very graphically expressed, but as you will have heard me say earlier, I am not questioning for a moment that the handling of the Mk3 project, in the period up to the point at which your predecessor Committee, with you as a member Mr Bacon, addressed it, was a badly handled project.

Q57 Mr Bacon: Is there anything largely inaccurate about that?

Lt Gen Andrew Figgures: I do not think there was an IPT in 1995.

Q58 Mr Bacon: You do not think there was an Integrated Project Team?

Lt Gen Andrew Figgures: No, not in 1995.
Thanks Countryman,

I was reading some of that with my hands over my face, Dr. Who v Cybermen stylee. Some of the exchanges make very uncomfortable reading, and bear out remarks previously made by knowledgeable posters here.

It also becomes very obvious in the exchanges, that the committee do read this forum.
The bit I like the best* is that the only problem Gen Figgures had was that the IPT wasn't in place in 95:

Q57 Mr Bacon: Is there anything largely inaccurate about that?

Lt Gen Andrew Figgures: I do not think there was an IPT in 1995.
Does go to show how good Arrse can be, when you've got senior officers accepting the analysis posted here.

*For varying values of like and best.
Lt Gen Figgures is quite correct in stating that IPTs did not exist in 1995. My friend Bakersfield had corrected me regarding that fact via PM.

More importantly, does this make me a Govt mandarin/spin doctor worthy of a significant pay rise and a free fitted kitchen upgrade in my grace and favour Kensington flat?!

General Figgures was correct when he said there was no IPT in 1995. So what? When Directorates, or sections within Directorates, were formed into IPTs (in about 1999) the vast majority of Service and Civilian staff remained in post doing exactly the same job.

EX-STAB referred to a post I made on the subject, when I referred to the 2 Star, his gong and him being retired. It is a 2 minute Google job to find out who this is and his pre and post-IPT job titles. What I find disturbing is that these committees moan and bloody groan about such cock-ups, but don't seem to have the will or authority to follow their criticism. MoD largely ignores them and carries on as before.

It must be clear as a bell to them who the people in charge were, but they continually claim they can't be identified or the decisions were made by committee. But anyone who knows anything about MoD committees will understand that a knowledgeable Sqn Ldr who waves the red card at a cheapo plan is going to be completely ignored if the beancounters insist on cost-cutting. When this happens, it falls to the 1 or 2 Star to resolve the conflict and earn his corn by making a decision. The conflict resolution is based on escalation - if he's in a quandry he pushes it upwards. This decision process must surely be a matter of record?

Looking at it the other way, it is the same 2 Star's responsibility to ensure his project team is resourced properly, including money, competence and staffing levels.

Whichever way you look at this one, I reckon you very quickly get to the 2 Star level, or one either side of him. And, as I said, the same post covered Nimrod RMPA / MRA4. According to the committees, that's well over £1Bn down the pan on just two projects under his direct control, each about 10 years late. That, my friends, would buy a lot of Support Helicopters, body armour, Mastiffs, working radios and the like, not to mention the capability we didn't have for the last 10 years.
Yep, you're probably correct there ROR.

Time for an extended holiday in Argentina perhaps?

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