Question on British AEW


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19 April 2009
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Quick question for you all. I'm writing a paper on the Nimrod AEW 3. And, I have a gap in knowledge. It was a troubled program, and I'm wondering as to one of the reasons why. Would it be fair to say that Britain lacked expertise in building the kind of long range air-search radar that an AEW aircraft required? I appreciate that the UK was no slouch in other types of radar, but my impression is that the AEW requirement was something that we couldn't immediately deliver and had to spend considerable time and money researching.
Or, to put it another way, what were British radar development's strengths and weaknesses c. 1968-80?

send me a pm and we'll see what I can do.

Hano: what were British radar development's strengths and weaknesses c. 1968-80? That's not a paper, it's a tome and subjective.

Mrs.Thatcher's Memoirs blamed Sec. of Defence Heseltine ("how not to manage {a big project}"). Others have blamed galloping demand for computing horsepower, always ahead of reality. The (GEC? BAe.?) Project Manager committed suicide. This project was funded between 31/3/77 (when we exited the NATO E-3A AWACS team as we "could not wait") and 18/12/86 (when, with France, we ordered E-3D and wrote off £882Mn.) Exactly through that timeframe: a) digital did gallop, and Defence ceased to be its lead sponsor; b) GEC saw themselves as UK's Prime Engineer and sought to takeover BAe.

You will choose the slant of your paper as between techno and politico. But in my cannot, because they are intertwined. No-one was in charge. We, the fond taxpayer were happily paying; GEC had the black box business, BAe. the platform, but who was the integrator, with decision authority? Ah.

You would be ill-advised to conclude that UK avionics industry was incapable of producing this kit (licences with US could be/were secured, as with all other avionics sectors: very few "UK" black boxes were wholly indigenous). You might not be ill-advised to conclude that, like today's Spanish soccer team, the separate resources did not meld into one. 11 ship sets to be built off ginormous R&D effort was unattractive cf. non-Defence prospects. GEC notoriously under-resourced pure-Defence programmes (and would be destroyed by naive efforts into mass civil fields).
Getting into Tony Collins territory there Ken...


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