Equipment Procurement

Discussion in 'Tanks, planes & ships' started by Ramillies, May 12, 2003.

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  1. To reply to Gravelbelly's points on equipment procurement from the War Office forum-  and for all those interested a link on the main points re smart procurement is here:

    I agree hardly ever. A bad PM can keep the project on track until he departs. In practice what happens is that a bad decision is made which saves the day now, but comes back to bite his successor in the future. Accountability is what we need. Put someone in who will see the project through to its conclusion. You can then be sure that his decisions will take the long term view !

    As GB says we want better technology. But to be fair, measures are taken to ensure that new technology is risk reduced to such an extant to make sure that it will eventually work. Example, the current BOWMAN trials are checking that the new technology being offered does work before further equipment is produced for the troop trials later in the year.

    There is balance between short procurement programmes and getting new technology in quickly against cost of development and proper trialling.

    At the end of the day even if the risk of failure (financially) rests with the contractor, soldiers expectations and lives could be at stake. Therefore the balance of cost, capability and time is a delicate one.

  2. Ventress

    Ventress LE Moderator

    I was under the impression that 99% of our kit was from the lowest bidder and who gave the retiring  Colonel the best Directorship?
  3. Gents,
      Some excellent points all round.  I hope that you won't mind a sideways walking crustacean offeing our own perspective regarding some of the issues raised...

      Firstly, we are all our own worst enemies in the Services.  If we stopped all trying to score procurement and budget points against each other, collectively we'd be a whole lot better off.  Do the RN want 2 supercarriers?  Do us crabs want 232 Typhoons?  Do you guys want a digitised battlespace and MEU style rapid deployability?  Of course we do!  But we all know that the money just isn't there, and we are all just a huge pawn in the politicians far bigger game.

      Typhoon is a classic example.  We genuinely do require a replacement urgently for the woefully limited Tornado F3 and aged Jags.  However, 10 years back we could have purchased 232 F-15E's, giving us a superb swing-role aircraft for considerably less than the Eurofighter budget.  Unfortunately, that would have effectively killed the UK and European aerospace industries; something that the politicians will not accept.  We have expected to loose Tranche 3 of the Typhoon order for some time now.  However, in reality these are attrition replacements for the aircraft that are inevitably lost during peacetime trg. Therefore, the effect will be to reduce Typhoons service life.  Most ironically, any Typhoon order reduction will hold few if any benefits. This is due to the fact that the 4 Eurofighter nations signed up to a contract that if any member reduced his order to affect workshare, that nation had to meet the costs that the other partners would incur in the subsequent unit cost price hike!  Bugger!

      Additionally, whilst the Typhoon will eventually mature into a versatile and effective swing role aircraft, it's a scandal that British Waste of Space (oops...I mean British Aerospace) is once again being allowed to deliver an aircraft below spec that will essentially be limited to the air-air role for its first couple of years.

      In the previous War Office thread, PartTimePongo raised some points that I can fully understand being made from the Army's perspective:

     This is a common argument against such highly expensive platforms as the FA-22 and Typhoon, given that few adversaries will engage in the purely air-air arena these days.  However, the reason they don't is because they know that we can establish and maintain air supremacy (that was certainly why the Iraqi AF didn't play during TELIC).  However, we also know that the reason Serbia hid 30 odd MIG-21's in a near impregnable limestone cavern during ALLIED FORCE was that they intended to employ them in the CAS role against NATO troops had we attempted a ground invasion.  My point is that we cannot assume that an enemy will not put aircraft up against us.  The French, Russians and Chinese are all too willing to sell excellent aircraft that technically are equal and in some cases more capable than F-16's and even F-15's (and most certainly Tornado F3's).  Unless we can guarantee air superiority, we cannot provide effective CAS, Interdiction, SEAD and SH etc for you guys.  Yesterday the enemy hid 30 MIG-21's.  In the next war it could be 30 SU-37's or Rafale.  If we were going to buy F-15's, it should have been done 10 years ago; you don't keep ahead by standing still.

      AS far as buying cheaper CAS aircraft such as Hawk 200 and A-10's, I'm afraid that this argument is also flawed.  Small platforms such as the Hawk offer extremely limited weapons carrying capability and (more importantly) extremely limited endurance.  The sortie rate and tanker requirement to keep puddle jumpers like the Hawk over the battlefield would be huge.  Similarly, while the A-10 is useful, it is hampered by it's lack of sensors.  Consequently, it is limited almost exclusively to day/VFR ops and has a limited weapons capability.  It is perhaps not surprising that the A-10 has been involved in some tragic frat incidents when it is not able to ID his target with decent sensors.

     The only way that we can guarantee effective CAS and BAI for you guys is with platforms with all weather sensors and PGM's to enable rapid identification and accurate engagement of targets in all weathers.  I recently spent 2 months flying AWACS missions over Iraq coordinating CAS for ground forces.  I can assure you that the only way it was effectively carried out was with platforms like the F-16, F-15E and even B-1B.  A-10's were extremely limited in their utility, Hawks would have been next to useless.

      Longer term, the only way we in the Brit military can optimise our increasingly limited money, is by improving our 'political coordination'.  Each of our services have our own preconceptions about how the others work, and what kit the others need.  Inevitably, procurement that may seem outrageous to another service has, in reality, either a sound utility or (regrettably) a political background (or sometimes both!).

      Hope that this Crab perspective is welcomed.  

      Walks rapidly sideways out of firing line...!

  4. maninblack

    maninblack LE Book Reviewer

    I will back up the last posting from my experience. I ended up working on Tornado MLU (mid life update) Eurofighter and Nimrod 2000 amongst other projects. The design requirements are somewhat extreme at times but the role requirements are equally arduous. What would cut the budget drain is if someone would get a grip of the commerical organisations that build these things and introduce some sense of reality and urgency.

    I was at meetings in the 80's for Eurofighter and the thing is still not in service.

    The idea of using a vast number of Hawks in air defence or strike is fundamentally flawed as it is the equivelent of issuing all taxi drivers with a Nissan Micra in order to reduce the budget.

    More bangs for bucks and less ivory towers please!
  5. Hmmm. Likewise, personal experience - I spent 11 years doing software design for fighter radars (SHAR FA.2 and EF2000). Yes, commercial management at first was fairly pish, but it improved fast.

    Take Eurofighter. By 1997 it had four years of "not missed a deadline" and "within a week of a more-than-four-year-old delivery plan".

    But the politics didn't help. We sat around for two years, going through "Best offer? Best and Final Offer? The German Defence Minister is making a play for political leadership, and is refusing to sign?" while the pols tried to carve up the contracts across Europe.

    Thankfully, the Engines/Airframe/FCS/Radar contracts went to the best bids (i.e. people who had actually designed/built them before), it just annoyed the Germans that those firms leading the consortia were all British.....

    The reason these things take so long is because they're so damn complicated. If you want a big shiny radar for service in 2004, it's got to fully working and tested and be in the trials aircraft by 2001 (say), which means its got to start flight trials in earnest in 1997 (say), which means it's got to be fitted to the IPA a/c in 1995 (say). You thus have to have it built by 1994, etc, etc.

    It's not a PC which will be replaced every three years, it's a piece of kit that has to work from -30 to +50C, suffer horrendous G and shock forces, and last for twenty years.

    Because these trials aircraft have to test every permutation of load, weapon use, navigation, flight envelope, etc, etc. Think about the complication of testing a new radio headset against every other piece of kit on issue, and the risks of not doing it properly ("Corporal, the headset doesn't fit under a size XS helmet") Now multiply that by several powers of magnitude.

    (There's a reason why one F-22, and two Gripen, crashed in trials........ ahhh, PIO in the FCS)

    You've got 4000 man-years of engineering effort in the radar alone (the Channel Tunnel took 7000 man-years); but you've got something that can pick up a large aircraft at 400km, and a fighter at 200km (source: Chief Engineer, interviewed in Flight International). Amongst other stuff.

    Bang for bucks? Wait and see. When the Blue Vixen / AMRAAM combination came out, the Spams were muchly annoyed on PURPLE STAR 96 that SHAR was taking out F-15, F-16, and F-18 with impunity......

    Everyone goes "oooh, ahhhh" at the F-14 Tomcat, not everyone realises that it's a huge maintenance drain and a total hangar queen. It takes 450ish people to maintain a squadron, vs. 250ish for a squadron of F-18s, and the F-18s have a significantly better availability rate. Each of those extra 200 people costs you $100,000 a year to employ. Minimum. Do the maths.

    The effort that went into reliability and maintainability of EF2000's radar was incredible, but it's going to pay off. The Eurofighter is looking for 9ish maintenance man-hours per flying hour, versus 27ish for a Tornado.
  6. MM, Gravelbelly, excellent posts! BTW MM, mine's a Stella, you're buying coz you're a crab. Harsh: but fair  ;D

    Perhaps part of the problem (and this is not helped by politics, but let's assume all other things being equal as far as that is concerned for the sake of simplcity) is not so much the delivery timescales, but the constantly changing brief.

    The armed forces (in the 10 years I have been associated with it) has changed beyond recognition from what it was in the 80's. I did my pre-RCB with the RCT who no longer exist, and the same can be said of many Capts who did their Pre-RCB with a cap badge that no longer exists, and many will have done SMC/SGC long before the existence of CCC and yet still be in their late 20's and early 30s.  The changing direction and political pressures have resulted in numerous doctrines and operational requirements that didn't exist 15 years ago when the Berlin wall was still up and we were staring down the Red Army aling the Rhine.

    So then, we have an issue: rapidly changing and modifying scenarios that require a solution and long and extended T&D times between concept and prototype. The issue then is that the procurement cycle cannot keep pace with the change in demand.

    So how do we cope with this conundrum? Most often it is by changing the output specification of the brief (It used to have to do A, B, C, and D by the end of the year, now it has to do A, D, we are adding E, B, and C are redundant and we need it next month for the same money) which adds its own constraints. Most of the PFI support services and equipment supply contracts I have worked on/with have had woeful change control processes, and little concept by the civil servants driving the projects of the process changes and design issues that such random changes to the specification bring (is it any wonder that PA Consulting make so much money out of the MoD and that many of their PM's are ex SSC officers from all 3 services?). To ease the pain the Office for Government Commerce introduced PRINCE 2 as a project management tool (very similar to the Combat Estimate and Orders processes if you examine them closely enough) and the Gateway review process to make sure that changes to contract specifications were clearly thought out and justified as well as consequence-feedback by the contractor being a mandatory and contractual factor.

    Has it worked? Well it is too late to have any major impact on BOWMAN, EFA, FLA, and other projects, but perhaps it may hold the key to quicker procurement routes in the future with less waste and a more user-specification driven output based on quantifiable operational need rather than notional design concepts.

    In order to move proicurement forward, the services/MoD need to consider in more detail:

    1. Having projects headed up by a senior officer (or RO) who will understand the operational use of the procurement when it is in service, and who will see out the life of the project and not move on ever 2 years (I know this has already been said elsewhere).

    2. Look carefully at the civil servants on the project. It is a nonesense that in this day and age the civil service sees your job as a function of your grade, and if a PM job is graded "X", then anyone in that grade (irrespective of the fact he may never have seen a project in his life) can be selected to head the project team. The civil service then get their knickers in a twist appointing "delivery teams" of even more under-qualified and experienced people to sort out the mess created by the previous lot of underqualified pen-pushers. The MoD has to recruit/second PMs from commerce with the skills and experience needed to deliver the projects on time, on quality, and on cost.

    3. Identify more closely the user specification. If it can't be defined for a given role over a given period of time then we should buy OTC boxed products and modify either the product or the doctrine on using it. We spend too much time and too much money on bespoke white elephants that do not work (F3 being a prime example) and are delivered years too late.

    4. Invest more in R&D for smaller procurements and form partnerships with commercial companies who will deliver the end product (and can sell it on to others for a hugely inflated price) rather thean forming partnerships with European countries who blow hot and cold with each change in their domestic political climate. EFA/Typhoon could have been delivered much faster and much more cheaply if the consortium had been left alone to get on with it without political demands being made on the process of manufacture, the spec being changed to meet new political demands, or countries pulling out and coming back in again. Eurocopter did remarkably well with the Tiger, and that was mostly developed mostly with consortium money without a national involvement.
  7. Agreed; although things are improving. Personally, ISO 9000 was frustratingly bad (too easy to pay lip-service to); a far better approach was the SEI's Capability Maturity Model.

    But yes, change control was one gap.

    Another problem with the large contracts is their duration; namely, if a project will last twenty years (rather than six months) you can bet that there will be staff turnover (rather than pray that there won't). This means that everything has to be written down, and everything has to be specified to outrageous detail, and individual freedom of action is rather limited. Think of it as the difference between Mission Command, and what we had in the mid-1980s.

    The danger is that the defence firms then treat their engineers as replaceable "cogs in the machine", so come the first opportunity to leave for a nice job in the telecomms industry, they do ;)

    The defence industry is not generally the highest-paying sector of the market; it needs too many engineers to be truly selective; and while there are some very very good people in there, there's an awful lot more good people figuring out how to make the battery in your Nokia last longer, or how to fit three more games into it.

    The problem is that to get an improvement in capability, you generally need an increase in complexity - in design, if not in product. That complexity means more people, more time, more money. We team with European countries because that way we share the high costs. Saying "we will make the next generation of equipment cheaper" means you trade in one of the great engineering maxims:

    "Quick, cheap, or good - pick two"
    "On time, to budget, or meets specification - pick two"

    The opportunity for "selling on for a huge price" is limited; developed countries like to home-grow (or at a minimum home-build) their military kit. Can you see the French allowing a major manufacturer to fold, so as to buy British? What British kit do the Germans, French, or Italians actually use?

    As for the developing world, I think we've seen the end of the big contracts like Al-Yamamah. Countries will buy American, because they get American support to own it, and they earn American political favour by doing so. There's a reason why the Israelis fly F-15 / F-16 and carry M-16s; it's because the US gives them the money to buy them. And so it is with lots of Eastern European countries.

    I don't know what the answer is, but I suspect that we will end up with what seems to be going on; fewer, bigger, multinational defence contractors, who spend a lot of money on political lobbying.

    Example: Newt Gingrich (important punter in US Congress, IIRC) spent a lot of time rubbishing the US' "Stryker" programme, making all sorts of claims about how awful it was. When the US Army did a deployment demonstration to counter the claims he was making, it turned out that not only had he never seen a Stryker, but that he had (as well as his information) from a competing manufacturer.

    It's worth wondering exactly why "rubbishing" stories appear in the press, from time to time......
  8. [​IMG]

    New American ICV.......
  9. msr

    msr LE

    I wonder what their bergans smell like .... :D
  10. Some excellent posts here which make intersting reading as MOD procurement sagas have been going on for sometime in and out of the media.

    Thank you to MM for his contribution and I accept my argument is one sided ! We need the best FGA money can buy and we must of course have air superority. My point is that by not having one expensive aircraft, we can significantly improve the military capability of the infantry beyond all our expectations !

    How very true !! I would add that so often the military procureres know what we need and yet we have to waste time and money going through a series of hoops to ensure financial and procurement propriety. If we know that COTs meets the specification then we should buy it and get it into service ASAP to maximise the capability it provides.

    Woopert - some very valid points concerning improvements to our procurement system. Just to add that helping with R&D is already ongoing. There is a budget and a research programme consisting of a number of packages which examines emerging technology and its possible military uses. This can be in isoloation or in partnership depending whether there is a partnership arrangement or not.

    Any chance of an internet link for more info please ?

    Keep the procurement stories coming as there are lessons here for all  :)
  11. Essentially, the US DoD got rather peeved that over 50% of its software projects either never finished, or didn't work. They started by setting up a common project documentation approach (DoD-2167), but also set up the Software Engineering Institute - who went out to the people who were delivering things on time,  watched what they did, and learned.

    Rather than ISO9000 (which basically says "whatever you do, you must have a documented procedure for it" but doesn't actually audit effectiveness of that procedure), the SEI looked at things differently.

    The CMM doesn't mind if you write your procedures down, but it does audit the effectiveness of your processes. Example: rather than saying "Show me your change control procedures, now prove that you do it that way" (ISO9000 audit), they say "how do you solve problem X".

    Details are at - note that while it started off for software engineering, it's spread from there.

    A summary can be found at

    (Don't get me started on the subject of using the Unified Modelling Language as a notation for describing military operations - I'm a UML enthusiast, as well as a CMM assessor)

    A cynic might point out that in a less, errr, committed organisation, the people given the job of writing the ISO9000 procedures are those with time on their hands, ie not your best people.

    Then, everyone ignores them (because they're too busy), and when the procedure turns up, it's either one person's solution or a jack-of-all-trades.

    After this, no-one even reads the procedure until ISO9000 audit time, at which point there's a frantic scrabbling for proof in case the auditors descend upon you as an individual.....
  12. Woopert:  Happy to stand you a beer if you ever find yourself co-located with us Command and Control Airborne Crustacians!  I'll PM you with my Bar No sometime!!

    Ramillies:  I fully understand your post about what could be achieved infantry wise for the cost of a single Typhoon.  It must be massively frustrating for the average Army guy when he sits down and works out what he could do with the price of a single wonder jet.  I'd like to think that us light blue (or whichever service was placed in this situation) would be willing to compromise.  Unfortunately, this is where inter-Service rivalries, contractual and political issues really hurt us and are self defeating.

     As various posters have stated, the timeline for modern projects, and the complexities of testing and contracts are immense.  I think that we in the Services are starting to become more aware about how to write contracts without getting screwed over by the companies.  Sometimes, we even get one over on the multinationals (eg when the RAF persuaded BAe to give us design authority for the Jag!  Since then we've improved it no end at next to zero cost).

     My favourite procurement story was when the RN saw their first Merlin prototype at Westlands.  Allegedly, the conversation went something like this:

    Fishhead:  'Err, were do the torpedoes go?'
    Mr Westland:  'In here' (pointing inside the rear cabin).
    FH:  'But how do we drop them?'
    MrW: 'You didn't ask to be able to drop them in the specification.  You just requested that the Merlin could carry 2 x Mk48's!  If you want to be able to drop them as well, it'll cost you money!!'

     The story may well be apocryphal, but illustrates the pitfalls that exist for the unwary that will be exploited by contractors to screw money out of us.  And to give some idea of the cost of modern system mods, if we want Boeing to even look at a software change request on our AWACS, it's about $1m for starters.  That's why companies will not give up design authority readily!

  13. The web site for MOD SMART Acquistion is here:

    Lots of detail and a cure for insomniacs.  ;)

    There is not much on trialling - development or user trials which in my view is a big disadvantage because ae we have heard in this forum, the sooner the user is involved with the contractor the better.
  14. Agreed. The problem is that there is a difference between the customer (MoD) and the user (forces), and each may have entirely different opinions about what makes a successful product. Contract lawyers don't care much about usability beyond "meets spec", they care about timescale and cost. The users don't care about cost.....

    Ferranti (may it RIP) had a reasonable rep for going out and mugging pilots to find out what they wanted; and changing what we built to fit the need of the user. We got bought by GEC (after Ferranti went bust, probably through not being financially ruthless enough), who were far more, err, ruthless, in how they charged for modifications. There was a culture change at the engineering level as a result.

    However, for EF2000 we did have a team of users on-site from nearly the start of the project; the International Air Forces Field Team, who had "go anywhere, ask anything" access, and who had actually seconded engineers to work on the project :) So something was going right.......

    There's a story about one of the Luftwaffe reps being asked why his ID badge said "GAF" - he replied
    "because we weren't sure you would understand 'Luftwaffe'",
    at which point there was laughter, and much pointing out of the window at the 1941-vintage bomb shelters still visible by the front gate to the site......
  15. "That's why companies will not give up design authority readily!"

    It is also true to say that the DPA/DLO do not wish to accept Design Authority these days.  Accepting the DA role means that you are liable for all delays, cost overruns, accidents etc caused by shortfalls in the product.  

    Now that crown immunity has gone this raises the possibility of senior civil servants being jailed if it all goes horribly wrong (as it always used to) - and so the DPA has moved over to Prime Contracting as their purchasing strategy rather hurriedly.  The DLO tends to buy DA expertise in via support contracts.  

    This also tells you why getting solutions out of the DA costs such a lot - you are paying them to take liability so they make very sure that the solution will work.  

    Of course if some chap in a RAF uniform can be persuaded to sign the change off then he's personally liable - a la Jaguar - then no-one's too fussed.  Except the chap in question if something untoward happens, even after he's left the post.