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SDSR - The end of UK T&E as we know it?

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SDSR - The end of UK T&E as we know it?

Old 20th Oct 2010, 18:31
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Question SDSR - The end of UK T&E as we know it?

I am concerned that the SDSR will have an adverse effect on UK T&E, potentially risking loss of a huge amount of corporate knowledge and experience, particularly at Boscombe Down. The cancellation of the MRA4 and Harrier programmes is a huge loss to RAF capability but is also a huge loss to QinetiQ, which now has to decide what to do with the large teams of dedicated and talented people who were supporting these programmes.

With the planned early withdrawal of Sentinel and C-130J, and with VC10 and Tristar already due to be withdrawn once FSTA is in service, heavy aircraft T&E work is going to be reduced to almost nothing in terms of on-going in-service support, with the only remaining work coming from FSTA and A400M once they are in service. The fast jet side has also taken a big hit with the Harrier going out of service, even though it is nearing the end of a largely successful upgrade programme. Ongoing Tornado GR4 and Typhoon work is likely to be fairly limited, particularly once the Afghanistan withdrawal is completed, and on F-35 the UK T&E contribution is fairly small, hanging on to the coat-tails of the much larger US development T&E effort. With so many platforms leaving service, the TP requirement is likely to reduce too, which won't particularly help ETPS either. It seems the only area to have escaped fairly unscathed is rotary-wing, with Puma LEP and ongoing Merlin and Chinook work.

So is there a future for T&E in the UK? I would suggest it will be limited, and with very little practical trials work unless you work for a major manufacturer or are on the rotary-wing side of life. I suspect the number of redundancies already announced by QinetiQ will increase, because the large teams of people who were working on MRA4 and Harrier will now have nothing to do. It is a sad, sad day for military aviation in the UK. And my sympathy also is with personnel in the RAF and at BAES who are also likely to lose their jobs as a result of yesterday's announcements.

The other thing that really hasn't helped is the way traditional developmental T&E has slowly moved away from Boscombe Down and into the OEUs, often because the MOD budgetary arrangements cause OEU work to be "free" to the DE&S project teams, whereas QinetiQ work costs them. I am staggered that this budgetary distortion has never been properly resolved, and I think the quality and efficiency of UK T&E has suffered because of it. After all, what other nations have physically separated their OEUs away from the national centres of T&E expertise? The French have not, the Americans have not, so why on earth do we think we know better?

Sadly, I think that as a result of policy-driven anomalies such as these, added to the the less-than-sensible idea (IMHO) of including Boscombe Down within the QinetiQ privatisation in the first place, and as a result of the SDSR, UK T&E may now be in a terminal state of decline. A very sad end for an industry sector within which the UK used to be a world leader

What do other forum contributors think?

Last edited by WeekendFlyer; 20th Oct 2010 at 18:38. Reason: Minor typos and clarifications!
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Old 24th Oct 2010, 15:39
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We no longer make aircraft exclusively for UK Forces. We buy them from other countries, predominately the USA.

If say, we ever get the F35, why do we need T&E of our own ? Not knowing the precise ins and outs, to the outsider (me) it looks a lot like taking a perfectly good aircraft, in use by other countries and their forces, and then picking fault with it "as it does not meet UK standards". And then spend millions to customize it so that it's late, over budget, unreliable and incompatible with every other variant.

This is strangely reminiscent of British Rail and its infrastructure in the 1980's which prevented any economies of scale in it's procurement.

Without the UK facility what exactly do we lose ?
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Old 24th Oct 2010, 15:52
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I'm, very much, surprised that there hasn't yet been a reply to this thread... probably because there's too much truth within it!

Well said WeekendFlyer.

Do you think that there will ever be any 'lessons learned' from the disection of FJTS... I suspect not! The 206(R) TPs will eventually become very tired of an almost daily commute back and forth between Brize and BCE.

I suspect that the age of the UK (RAF) Experimental Test Pilot days are numbered; and, along with it; the future of T&E at BCE.
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Old 24th Oct 2010, 17:37
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TCF, I think you may be right about why there have been so few replies.

Another factor is likely to be PPRuNe contributors' previous schizophrenic attitude to Boscombe and QinetiQ.

Half the time it is viciously accused of being a handbrake on progress (an attitude which applied before the creation of QQ, I might add), and the other half acknowledges the sustained & effective contributions made to a far from perfect airworthiness and fleet flight safety process . (See Nimrod/Chinook threads, for several detailed examples).

The former attitude never bothers to acknowledge the highly committed SMEs and test aircrew whose primary aim has always been - and remains - the safe an effective deployment of military capability in accordance with JSP55x, Def Stan 05-123 etc etc.

Likewise, it almost always refers in dismissive terms to "QinetiQ" alone, as if the ATEC partnership, and its superb military/civil strengths, has never existed.

This forum is likely far more enlightened than the other on PPRuNe that commonly discusses UK Military T&E and Procurement, and here we understand what the UK, and MOD, might be in danger of losing.

A timely thread, WF. I hope it does develop, ideally with contributions from the wider MOD and which also discuss the pros and cons of what properly planned and implemented OEU/Development T&E integration might look like.

Last edited by BossEyed; 25th Oct 2010 at 17:23. Reason: Dire typing and even worse proof reading.
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Old 24th Oct 2010, 22:06
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The end of UK T&E

This has already happened. It began with the move of the OEUs away from Boscombe (always their natural home) and was confirmed in the symposium at the FJTS disbandment dinner in the Spring. There, it was actually described as progress to have "single type" TPs! As anyone who has ever been a tp knows, it is the cross-fertilisation and exposure to differing characteristics which comes from flying many different types that helps the aspiring (and even the experienced) tp to form opinions which he can then defend when necessary.

Sadly, I fear that the anti-Boscombe scoffers in the RAF have won. Tragic.
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Old 25th Oct 2010, 12:42
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Sadly, I fear that the anti-Boscombe scoffers in the RAF have won. Tragic
I think it's more than that - the RAF appear to be anti anything that isn't their own. I work in industry and we've suffered by the OEU being able to do everything better and cheaper than industry/ATEC attitude that exists within the IPTs. Sometimes it turns out they can, others it turns out they can't.
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Old 25th Oct 2010, 13:03
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The recent amalgamation of the OEUs and Test Sqns was in my opinion a move that was way over due and would potentially offer significant synergies. I do however think that the dispersing of the T&E functions over multiple sites will undo much of this potential. The ATEC/Qinetiq partnership whilst well understood at Boscombe suffered in the wider MOD/RAF community due in part to not being part of an easily visible RAF command chain (eg AWC).
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Old 26th Oct 2010, 10:02
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I think it comes down to how things are packaged:

The OEUs find out how things work.

The T&E sqns, with the support of a phenomenal amount of scientific experience, find out how things fail.

As long as everything fails 'safe', which package, do you think, gets accepted most readily.
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Old 26th Oct 2010, 10:44
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Snow Dog

I'm sure you're right. However, the unwritten assumption behind your comment is that all aircraft and equipment as supplied by the makers will always fail "safe". Sadly, many years of experience prove that this ain't the case.

The aim of the manufacturer is always to turn the biggest profit, while delivering kit that just meets the Spec. The aim of T&E is to check that, first, it does meet the Spec (not always the case!) and secondly, that it can be operated safely and effectively. Only at that stage can it go to the OEU for them to find out "how" best to do the job with it.

In my days at Boscombe (several decades ago now, alas!) there were no OEUs. This meant that our only direct link with subsequent users was through the inappropriately named Handling Squadron. I say inappropriately because the unit did no "handling". It was an office job, putting together Pilots Notes/Aircrew Manuals from paperwork generated mainly by the makers and to a lesser extent by Boscombe.

I was delighted to learn of the creation of the OEUs, as they provided that "missing link" between T&E and the users. How sad that this obvious benefit has gone unappreciated by the decision-makers.
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Old 27th Oct 2010, 23:00
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I am still not clear what we lose.

If we buy a US aircraft, after it has been through US T&E and it is in operational what more do we need to do?
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Old 29th Oct 2010, 17:20
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If we buy 'off the shelf' we have to accept the inevitable issues.

A wise friend of mine said 'if we want to play with the big boys' we have to come with an equally big stick. I just don't think we can afford it now :-(
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Old 29th Oct 2010, 18:01
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Well without an impartial T&E set up (Boscombe) you would have to take the manufacturers word for it all, or hope the US test and operate their assets in exactly the way we do ! For example shall we leave the AAR trials for the A400M to Airbus. MMMM A400M reciever (Airbus) oh and FSTA tanker (Airbus). I am sure they would be open and honest about that ! Having been in the T&E business for many years I can tell you that the manufacturer will tell you exactly what you want to hear and on more than one occasion when looking for a safety case the Americans hadnt actually done any of the trials
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Old 29th Oct 2010, 21:01
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I think it comes down to how things are packaged:

The OEUs find out how things work.

The T&E sqns, with the support of a phenomenal amount of scientific experience, find out how things fail.

As long as everything fails 'safe', which package, do you think, gets accepted most readily.
As I like to tell the people I work with (and for): It's not the job of Flight Test to break the aircraft, it's our job to point out where the aircraft is broken
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Old 29th Oct 2010, 22:07
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FSTA is sheduled to arrive at BCE during early 2011 to conduct AAR trials. As for the A400M; I somehow doubt that it will ever be seen at BCE; hence, beyond 2011, I forsee that all T&E work will be conducted from Brize Norton. The ATEC (read LTPA) will still exist; however, it will be somewhat of a disjointed affair. Boscombe (QinetiQ) will become even more expensive to maintain i.e. Heavy Aircraft R&D trials (on the BAC 1-11 and the Andover), plus, ETPS and RWTES, will become the sole operators at BCE.

I forsee that Experimental Test Pilots will become 'single type' test pilots and that each operational squadron (at Brize or Waddington) will have one, or more TPs, to complement each squadron. Hence, there will be no requirement for the existing TPs to remain current on various types. This will innevitably have a 'knock-on' effect within ETPS, inasmuch that the RAF will no longer require Experimental Test Pilots.

QinetiQ will keep their own 'pool' of Staff Pilots to conduct routine R&D flying laboratory work on it's small fleet of 1-11s and Andovers.

Meanwhile, the 'single type' TPs will be constantly on the go; commuting between Brize/Waddington to Boscombe in order to liase between Project Managers and the like. A less than ideal situation; however, the savings would be astronomical (in not having to keep TPs multiple-type current). The 'bean counters' will, eventually, win; at the expense of delayed projects, UORs etc.

As for QinetiQ... the Company must move forward; or disintegrate! Let's not give QinetiQ a bashing; QinetiQ emmerged from the ashes of DERA; the privatisation of a joint Civil/Military organisation that shifted the financial balance of that of the MOD to the private sector i.e. from the taxpayer. I'm not entirely sure that it's been a success; probably not!

Quite how the (fragmented) future of Military T&E will be managed; I'm not sure. It's my hope that there will be 'lessons learned' from the disbandment of FJTS... perhaps not!

That's my 'two-penneth'... comments invited.

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Old 31st Oct 2010, 09:32
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Interesting, thanks for the clarity - it is the answer I expected.

If I could paraphrase the answer somewhat harshly "only we are competent to undertake T&E and all others cannot be trusted, nor relied upon".

So, if that is somewhat close to the situation, why are none of the vast range of US military aircraft failing regularly?

Or could it be that most of our T&E capability is marking others homework, after it has been corrected by another teacher and while we do find things that we do not like, it rarely if ever, is of any substance.

So, back to an example. Once the F35 is in service with the US, why on earth should we be testing it ? It flies, it works, it doesn't drop out of the sky, so why do we decide whether it is fit to fly?

Sounds like another excuse to spend money to me!
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Old 31st Oct 2010, 09:41
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It could be said we were buying an American aircraft in the Harrier II AV-8B / GR5 ; There was still a lot of UK development to do, and it certainly didn't feel like it was being done for the sake of it !

If we really accept things off the peg, there will be tears if such kit ever actually has to be used ( but it would be fine parked behind a politicians' dias or wazzing past at airshows ).

However I sadly feel the overall gist of this thread is probably accurate; the rot set in when RAF accountants overcame BAe accountants by making out OEU work is 'free' which it clearly isn't, as well as introducing penalties such as this state of capability decay.
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Old 31st Oct 2010, 12:19
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Just duplicating efforts


You may have hit upon something here fella. I reckon we can save loads of money:

We don't really need to pay for representation in the EU as they're probably extremely competent - in fact, let them run the Euro and we'll just adopt it.

We actually don't need armed forces as we're pretty well protected on all sides by someone who knows what they're doing.

Hey, you can read it across other levels - we don't need local governmental representation, I'm sure London is doing fine. Local education authorities, local ... well, anything really.

If someone else states that it is good enough, why ever ask the question?

Ah, unfortunately, Mr Haddon-Cave has made a bit of an issue about the UK not taking this sort of stuff seriously. The MoD has, therefore, decided to establish an MAA to take this seriously and that MAA is rather insistent that all equipment procured for UK forces is certified to UK acceptable standards. It also seems that the US have slightly different criteria within their standards and aren't likely to adopt ours.

In simple terms, have you ever been at an electronic retailer outlet with a teenage child. They want to buy the kit, their mates (their closest advisors) want them to buy the kit and the retailer certainly wants them to buy the kit. Unfortunately, you know that they'll be disappointed in the long run!

In this world, no-one is doing the 'right thing' out of a sense of moral duty; they are doing it only because there is an independent process overseeing them. While that demonstrably flawed process is being addressed, there are, worryingly, many who have already forgotten the lessons.
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Old 31st Oct 2010, 21:20
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All interesting points, but still I see the British attitude that only we have it right and everyone else cannot be trusted to do a good job. While I completely agree that there are certain circumstances where in a new platform, one must be cautious, are we REALLY saying that everyone else is wrong and we are the only honest and competent assessors out there?

Another circumstance perhaps - thousands of Chinooks with perhaps millions of flying hours without a relevant incident, and the UK decides to spend 100m of taxpayers money stripping out verifiably safe systems, evidenced by said millions of flying hours, to put back an earlier generation of system "because we haven't approved it".

This is all reminiscent of British Rail in the period up to 1990 when everything was to specific BR standards and as a consequence, the kit worked, but was unreliable, impossible to maintain, unique and hence ridiculously expensive. The doomsayers were around but when BR started to adopt ALARP with emphasis on the R , then costs dropped, reliability improved and safety events reduced as the benefits of using the same standards as everyone elses brought the safety benefits of economies of scale.

Perhaps this is the way of T&E - not taking the sarcastically suggested approach of blindly believing the salesmen, but for once, insisting the T&E community provide evidence themselves on why others standards are actually wrong, rather than just different.

We could buy F15, F35, F22 and have a superb air force, and hardly need any T&E as we we would be buying proven, in service technology. Yet somehow I suspect our industry would object on the basis that such leading aircraft were insufficiently tested and the millions of flying hours without incident were irrelevant.

We do not have a bottomless Defence budget and I for one would vote for body armour and vehicles on the ground, rather than unnecessary duplication of aircraft testing where adequate evidence already exists, but is ignored "because we are British and Johnny foreigner cannot be trusted".
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Old 1st Nov 2010, 10:33
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Well Graham i guess when you go and buy a car you dont test drive it then ! Somebody else said it was ok so it must be Of course we could just do as you say but we would then have to use only the kit delivered on the platform as we could not clear or use anything of our own and when our friends and allies wont give us a capability they want only for themselves what should we do ?
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Old 1st Nov 2010, 11:25
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Don't forget that Boscombe isn't just about testing aircraft, there's all the system and radar development testing that used to be done at Bedford as well.
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