The Nimrod MR2 should have been replaced by the new Nimrod MRA4 at least three years before the Afghanistan disaster. Rob says “If that had happened, those 14 people would not have been killed”. British Aerospace (BAe, now BAE Systems) were given the contract for the MRA4 in 1996. It is ten years late because of repeated changes to the specification. Rob says he is suspicious because “People in the Defence Industry and the MOD have been taught for at least thirty years that the agreed specification should not be changed unless absolutely necessary. It is well known that it causes huge delays and cost escalation”.
“The importance of not changing the agreed specification was repeatedly hammered into me when I joined the industry” says Rob. He admits it is hard for people without his training and experience to understand this.
A modern military aircraft like the Nimrod MRA4 contains an enormous amount of complicated electronic equipment, including the aircraft controls, the cockpit displays, and the radar. The MRA4 reportedly has around 5.4 million lines of computer code. The software for these systems is developed using variations of the Waterfall method. Once the specification for the equipment has been agreed, the work involved in changing it grows exponentially as the project proceeds. Making a change near the end of the project can involve 200 times more work than including the same requirement in the original specification. This means that, in practise, the supposed advantage of any change is almost always outweighed by the huge delay and increased cost.
Changing the hardware design is even more disastrous than changing the software.
“Everybody knows this” says Rob, “so how could they allow changes to the specification which doubled the price to around £4 billion, and delayed the introduction of the MRA4 by ten years?”
Rob says some companies deliberately invent excuses to change the specification and massively overcharge. “On one project they even put in requirements which their own technical experts told them were impossible”. In January 2004 Sir Raymond Lygo told the BBC that when he was head of British Aerospace, they regularly put in low bids for contracts with the intention of using changes to increase prices and profits. The following month the Public Accounts Committee asked Sir Kevin Tebbit, the top MOD civil servant, how he could be sure this was not still happening. He tried to blame the problem on Cost Plus contracts.
In March 1987 Dale Campbell-Savours MP, a Labour member of the Public Accounts Committee, accused Marconi of making misleading changes requests on the 1985 BATES contract in order to push up the price. Labour Minister Lord Gilbert admitted in 1997 that this was not a Cost Plus contract, but a Firm Price one, the strictest type of contract the MOD can award. Rob has previously published evidence proving that Lord Gilbert and two Tory ministers all lied to cover up the fact that there had been a huge increase in the price due to changes.
Rob reported several frauds to the Ministry of Defence Police in June 2000. This included the alleged fraud on BATES. Some of the minor allegations received media coverage in The Observer, The Sunday Times and on BBC radio. However, Rob says the enquiry was “worse than the Deepcut Barracks deaths enquiries”. Rob lived close to Deepcut at the time of the enquiries, and at one time used to drive past the Barracks every day on his way to and from work.
According to Rob, the MOD Police investigating his allegations didn't even pretend to be impartial. They accepted several blatant lies by MOD civil servants about different frauds. The Royal Military Police investigating the Deepcut deaths accepted that Private Geoff Gray committed suicide by shooting himself in the head twice, although independent experts said this was impossible. The MOD Police accepted that “The price which was paid for the BATES project was the price which was originally agreed”, although the price was £100 million when the contract was awarded in April 1985, and over £300 million when it was accepted in 1993.
Firm Price contracts only allow for price increases due to inflation or changes to the specification. Under the 1985 contract, BATES should have been delivered by November 1987, and all further costs should have been paid by Marconi. The MOD told the National Audit Office that BATES required three years of extra work due to “Unforeseen Technical Problems”. “I had a reputation for highlighting problems on that project”, says Rob “and I never heard of any major unforeseen technical problems”.
Rob has declined to talk to Charles Haddon-Cave QC, who is conducting the ‘Nimrod Review’ on behalf of the Secretary of State for Defence. “For decades MOD civil servants and government ministers from both parties have been protecting fraud on MOD contracts” he says. “Any enquiry which is influenced by the MOD cannot be trusted”.
© Copyright R.A.McCartney
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