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RAF Airseeker - Why Not An A330 Variant  
User currently offlinebthebest From United Kingdom, joined Jan 2008, 518 posts, RR: 0
Posted (1 year 9 months 2 weeks 1 day 21 hours ago) and read 7429 times:

Recent reports have given an update on the RAF's Airseeker programme in which they are replacing 3 Nimrod R1s retired in 2011 with 3 RC-135W configured KC-135s from USAF.

RAF's first Airseeker conversion on track, MoD says

The aircraft is due to enter service in October 2014 with all aircraft delivered by 2017 at an acquisition cost of $1 billion and through life support costs of a further $1 billion up until 2025.

Why are the MOD replacing aged and inefficient airframes with even older, second hand airframes? The 3 KC-135 being modified were first built in 1964 - 10 years before the Nimrods entered service. It would make more sense to acquire new platforms that have lower support costs and that represent a modernisation of the fleet.

I propose that an A330 derivative would have been suitable: newer, yet still proven aircraft; commonality with MRTT fleet; equal or lower acquisition cost; indigenous technology.

An off-the-shelf A330 goes for around $200 million. Lets say a further $100 million development & conversion costs per aircraft and your're looking at $900 million for the fleet. Assuming overspending and you get roughly equal acquisition costs to the Airseeker - but with brand new, twin-engined, aircraft that will have significantly less support costs. If they'd made the decision back in 2010 and got on with it, you'd even be looking at a similar timeline.

[Edited 2013-02-10 02:14:31]

[Edited 2013-02-10 02:55:17]

34 replies: All unread, showing first 25:
 
User currently onlineThePointblank From Canada, joined Jan 2009, 1815 posts, RR: 0
Reply 1, posted (1 year 9 months 2 weeks 1 day 18 hours ago) and read 7346 times:

Quoting bthebest (Thread starter):
Recent reports have given an update on the RAF's Airseeker programme in which they are replacing 3 Nimrod R1s retired in 2011 with 3 RC-135W configured KC-135s from USAF.

RAF's first Airseeker conversion on track, MoD says

The aircraft is due to enter service in October 2014 with all aircraft delivered by 2017 at an acquisition cost of $1 billion and through life support costs of a further $1 billion up until 2025.

Why are the MOD replacing aged and inefficient airframes with even older, second hand airframes? The 3 KC-135 being modified were first built in 1964 - 10 years before the Nimrods entered service. It would make more sense to acquire new platforms that have lower support costs and that represent a modernisation of the fleet.

I propose that an A330 derivative would have been suitable: newer, yet still proven aircraft; commonality with MRTT fleet; equal or lower acquisition cost; indigenous technology.

An off-the-shelf A330 goes for around $200 million. Lets say a further $100 million development & conversion costs per aircraft and your're looking at $900 million for the fleet. Assuming overspending and you get roughly equal acquisition costs to the Airseeker - but with brand new, twin-engined, aircraft that will have significantly less support costs. If they'd made the decision back in 2010 and got on with it, you'd even be looking at a similar timeline.

Because the RC-135W already exists, and all you have to do is procure the aircraft and systems and put them together? A newer clean sheet replacement using existing gear and a new airframe will require extensive testing and development to make sure the various bits work together as planned in a new airframe, plus certification for airworthiness (very costly). If you are looking to get quick, easy and cheap capabilities, going off-the-shelf makes sense. Remember that the Brits got bit in the past trying to make a unique variant of a existing Chinook, and the end result was that the avionics were completely uncertifiable for airworthiness. They eventually converted the aircraft to the existing standard Chinooks that they already operated.

FYI, the Nimrod R1's airframes are of the same vintage as the KC-135's being converted; 1960's. They were conversions of existing Nimrod MR1's.


User currently offlineZANL188 From United States of America, joined Oct 2006, 3563 posts, RR: 0
Reply 2, posted (1 year 9 months 2 weeks 1 day 18 hours ago) and read 7345 times:
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How would the, not insignificant, risks associated with a new airframe and contractor be mitigated?

Is the RAF prepared to go it alone on future upgrade costs & risks vs sharing with USAF?



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User currently offlinebthebest From United Kingdom, joined Jan 2008, 518 posts, RR: 0
Reply 3, posted (1 year 9 months 2 weeks 1 day 16 hours ago) and read 7274 times:

Quoting ThePointblank (Reply 1):
If you are looking to get quick, easy and cheap capabilities, going off-the-shelf makes sense.

That's part of the problem from my perspective - they're not really planning for the future just doing what they can now which will ultimately cost more and just leave them in the same position in 30 years time.

Quoting ZANL188 (Reply 2):
How would the, not insignificant, risks associated with a new airframe and contractor be mitigated?

Is the RAF prepared to go it alone on future upgrade costs & risks vs sharing with USAF?

Again, it's just the easy way out. British industry has the capability to design & manage these systems and procurements - if the government is willing to support them as necessary.

Sharing is another problem - USAF and American defence contractors are extremely reluctant to let others know all the details about their equipment (and fairly so), which leaves a massive dependence on them which a country of the UKs stature shouldn't let happen.


User currently offlineZANL188 From United States of America, joined Oct 2006, 3563 posts, RR: 0
Reply 4, posted (1 year 9 months 2 weeks 1 day 16 hours ago) and read 7260 times:
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Quoting bthebest (Reply 3):
Again, it's just the easy way out. British industry has the capability to design & manage these systems and procurements - if the government is willing to support them as necessary.

Doing things that way hasn't worked out terribly well for the RAF. If the idea is to provide corporate welfare to British aerospace entities it's a great idea, If the objective is to provide working capability to RAF at a reasonable cost then not so much.

[Edited 2013-02-10 07:27:59]


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User currently offlineSpacepope From Vatican City, joined Dec 1999, 2969 posts, RR: 1
Reply 5, posted (1 year 9 months 2 weeks 1 day 15 hours ago) and read 7243 times:

Quoting bthebest (Reply 3):
That's part of the problem from my perspective - they're not really planning for the future just doing what they can now which will ultimately cost more and just leave them in the same position in 30 years time.

When operating equipment in tandem with the USAF, you can get them to do the development for you. Operating only 3 aircraft does not really provide you with any economies of scale.

Quoting bthebest (Reply 3):
Again, it's just the easy way out. British industry has the capability to design & manage these systems and procurements - if the government is willing to support them as necessary.

Indeed. We saw that success story in the Nimrod MR4A.



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User currently offlineStitch From United States of America, joined Jul 2005, 31239 posts, RR: 85
Reply 6, posted (1 year 9 months 2 weeks 1 day 15 hours ago) and read 7229 times:
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Quoting bthebest (Reply 3):
That's part of the problem from my perspective - they're not really planning for the future just doing what they can now which will ultimately cost more and just leave them in the same position in 30 years time.

The USAF will almost assuredly develop an RC-135 replacement using the 767-2C platform for commonality with the KC-46. The RAF could acquire some of those, themselves, I imagine.


(The E-10 MC2A (based on the 767-400ER platform) would have replaced the E-3 Sentry, the E-8 JointStars and the RC-135 RiverJoint.)


User currently offlinekanban From United States of America, joined Jan 2008, 3728 posts, RR: 27
Reply 7, posted (1 year 9 months 2 weeks 1 day 11 hours ago) and read 7105 times:
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Quoting Spacepope (Reply 5):
Operating only 3 aircraft does not really provide you with any economies of scale.

Economies of scale don't apply easily to military aircraft or programs..it's primarily a commercial operators concern.

However they may be saving up for some P-8s.


User currently offlinerc135x From , joined Dec 1969, posts, RR:
Reply 8, posted (1 year 9 months 2 weeks 1 day 6 hours ago) and read 6985 times:

Quoting Stitch (Reply 6):
The USAF will almost assuredly develop an RC-135 replacement using the 767-2C platform for commonality with the KC-46. The RAF could acquire some of those, themselves, I imagine.

This.


User currently offlinebthebest From United Kingdom, joined Jan 2008, 518 posts, RR: 0
Reply 9, posted (1 year 9 months 2 weeks 1 day 6 hours ago) and read 6969 times:

Quoting Stitch (Reply 6):
The USAF will almost assuredly develop an RC-135 replacement using the 767-2C platform for commonality with the KC-46. The RAF could acquire some of those, themselves, I imagine.

So why couldn't the RAF and Airbus work to develop a replacement based on the A330 MRTT platform for commonality with other RAF aircraft - and other MRTT operators? Suppose this could still happen.


User currently offlineZANL188 From United States of America, joined Oct 2006, 3563 posts, RR: 0
Reply 10, posted (1 year 9 months 2 weeks 1 day 6 hours ago) and read 6968 times:
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Quoting bthebest (Reply 9):
So why couldn't the RAF and Airbus work to develop a replacement based on the A330 MRTT platform for commonality with other RAF aircraft - and other MRTT operators? Suppose this could still happen.

I expect the RAF wants something that works sooner than 10 or 15 years from now...



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User currently offlineSpacepope From Vatican City, joined Dec 1999, 2969 posts, RR: 1
Reply 11, posted (1 year 9 months 2 weeks 1 day 2 hours ago) and read 6905 times:

Quoting bthebest (Reply 9):
So why couldn't the RAF and Airbus work to develop a replacement based on the A330 MRTT platform for commonality with other RAF aircraft - and other MRTT operators? Suppose this could still happen.

Technically, there already is some commonality with the Sentry fleet.

Perhaps more can be built in with Sentinel, since evidently they now aren't being scrapped in 2015.

One question: why don't you think trying to get other MRTT operators to add capability to their tanker-only airframes will save any money?



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User currently offlinebthebest From United Kingdom, joined Jan 2008, 518 posts, RR: 0
Reply 12, posted (1 year 9 months 2 weeks 20 hours ago) and read 6803 times:

Quoting ZANL188 (Reply 10):
I expect the RAF wants something that works sooner than 10 or 15 years from now...

I suppose the problem lies with those who didn't plan far enough ahead in advance. They started thinking about the MRTT capability in 1997 with project award in 2005-2007 - the plan of which was to replace the VC-10s (and Tristars) of similar heritage to the Nimrods. Maybe if they'd thought about the long term prospects of the Nimrod then, we might be looking at such an A330 now.

Quoting Spacepope (Reply 11):
One question: why don't you think trying to get other MRTT operators to add capability to their tanker-only airframes will save any money?

I would think these aircraft are typically busy enough in their MRTT roles, plus adding all the equipment for these systems would reduce their capabilities in the MRTT role.


User currently onlineThePointblank From Canada, joined Jan 2009, 1815 posts, RR: 0
Reply 13, posted (1 year 9 months 2 weeks 20 hours ago) and read 6796 times:

Quoting bthebest (Reply 12):
Maybe if they'd thought about the long term prospects of the Nimrod then, we might be looking at such an A330 now.

They did; Nimrod MRA4. That didn't turn out so well. In fact, the program was an utter and complete disaster. Many technical problems from practically every angle, and a significantly blown budget for less airframes than originally planned. It is expected that the Brits will review their MPA needs in time for the 2015 Defence Review. Probable options will either be the P-8 MMA or the SC-130J.


User currently offlinebthebest From United Kingdom, joined Jan 2008, 518 posts, RR: 0
Reply 14, posted (1 year 9 months 2 weeks 18 hours ago) and read 6764 times:

Quoting ThePointblank (Reply 13):
They did; Nimrod MRA4. That didn't turn out so well. In fact, the program was an utter and complete disaster. Many technical problems from practically every angle, and a significantly blown budget for less airframes than originally planned.

Exactly my point, that was a bad decision from the start because they're building on an outdated airframe, which ultimately ended up causing most of the problems and extra costs. Hindsight's not that helpful though.

On a tangent, why do militaries tend to keep airframes much longer than commercial operators? I understand they do less hours and cycles typically, and historically they're not as concerned with efficiency. Higher development costs?


User currently offlineSpacepope From Vatican City, joined Dec 1999, 2969 posts, RR: 1
Reply 15, posted (1 year 9 months 2 weeks 17 hours ago) and read 6728 times:

Quoting bthebest (Reply 12):
I would think these aircraft are typically busy enough in their MRTT roles, plus adding all the equipment for these systems would reduce their capabilities in the MRTT role.

Exactly, and an excellent reason not to do it. Even better than the costs of getting a bunch of people on the continent to try to agree on anything.



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User currently offlinebthebest From United Kingdom, joined Jan 2008, 518 posts, RR: 0
Reply 16, posted (1 year 9 months 2 weeks 15 hours ago) and read 6681 times:

Quoting bthebest (Reply 9):
So why couldn't the RAF and Airbus work to develop a replacement based on the A330 MRTT platform for commonality with other RAF aircraft - and other MRTT operators? Suppose this could still happen.
Quoting Spacepope (Reply 15):
Exactly, and an excellent reason not to do it. Even better than the costs of getting a bunch of people on the continent to try to agree on anything.

Sorry, confusion in my post. I didn't mean combine tanker and reconnaissance roles, but a reconnaissance variant of the A330 military airframe. My referral to the MRTT was that they managed it successfully for that function so a recon variant shouldn't be a huge leap - although it will be more complicated.


User currently offlineStitch From United States of America, joined Jul 2005, 31239 posts, RR: 85
Reply 17, posted (1 year 9 months 2 weeks 13 hours ago) and read 6624 times:
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Quoting bthebest (Reply 9):
So why couldn't the RAF and Airbus work to develop a replacement based on the A330 MRTT platform for commonality with other RAF aircraft - and other MRTT operators?

I would not be surprised if the RAF looks into this. The French Armée de l'Air will eventually order the A330MRTT to replace their C135FR fleet so perhaps the UK and France can also work on an A330 variant that can replace the E-3D and E-3F Sentry fleets.


User currently offlineGDB From United Kingdom, joined May 2001, 13239 posts, RR: 77
Reply 18, posted (1 year 9 months 2 weeks 9 hours ago) and read 6546 times:

There has been some talk already in MoD circles about adding some intel capability to the A330's, albeit the existing/planned fleet.
Yet a couple of RR powered, ex BMI, relatively low cycle A330's face being parted out for spares.
You'd think the MoD would snap them up.
Either to supplement the tankers with minimally modded 330's for transport/VIP/training, or as potentially more advanced intel platforms.


User currently offlinemoo From Falkland Islands, joined May 2007, 4044 posts, RR: 4
Reply 19, posted (1 year 9 months 1 week 6 days 19 hours ago) and read 6404 times:

Quoting Stitch (Reply 17):
I would not be surprised if the RAF looks into this. The French Armée de l'Air will eventually order the A330MRTT to replace their C135FR fleet so perhaps the UK and France can also work on an A330 variant that can replace the E-3D and E-3F Sentry fleets.

EADS has already flown a C295 AWACS variant, so the basic platform exists to work from if they want to move it up to an A330 base - but would an A330 be too large for the platform? Wouldn't an A320OEO/NEO be a better base?


User currently offlinescbriml From United Kingdom, joined Jul 2003, 12785 posts, RR: 46
Reply 20, posted (1 year 9 months 1 week 6 days 18 hours ago) and read 6376 times:
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Quoting moo (Reply 19):
Wouldn't an A320OEO/NEO be a better base?

You would think so, especially as the P-8 is based on a similarly sized frame.



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User currently offlinemoo From Falkland Islands, joined May 2007, 4044 posts, RR: 4
Reply 21, posted (1 year 9 months 1 week 6 days 18 hours ago) and read 6368 times:

Quoting scbriml (Reply 20):
You would think so, especially as the P-8 is based on a similarly sized frame.

I wonder if it would be possible to combine the bulk of the AirSeeker and AWACS platforms into one A330 sized base for a capability bump for those that want to operate one or the other.


User currently offlineBthebest From United Kingdom, joined Jan 2008, 518 posts, RR: 0
Reply 22, posted (1 year 9 months 1 week 6 days 18 hours ago) and read 6357 times:

Quoting moo (Reply 19):
EADS has already flown a C295 AWACS variant, so the basic platform exists to work from if they want to move it up to an A330 base - but would an A330 be too large for the platform? Wouldn't an A320OEO/NEO be a better base?

With the MR2/MR4A gone, RAF are looking at maritime recon replacements with both the P-8 and C295 mentioned. P-8 costs rougly 4x C295 but is more capable. With the C295 being and Airbus Military product, I'm not sure they'll look at an A320neo variant as well - especially as delivery slots for the airframe are so valuable.

Like its been said though - A330 might just be too big for both Recon and AWACS roles, although a combined one might work.


User currently offlineStitch From United States of America, joined Jul 2005, 31239 posts, RR: 85
Reply 23, posted (1 year 9 months 1 week 6 days 16 hours ago) and read 6329 times:
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Quoting moo (Reply 19):
EADS has already flown a C295 AWACS variant, so the basic platform exists to work from if they want to move it up to an A330 base - but would an A330 be too large for the platform? Wouldn't an A320OEO/NEO be a better base?

I would guess it depends on the capability desired.

Japan went with the 767-200 platform for their AWACS, but they used the same system found on the E-3. A decade later, advances in computers and the move from passive to active electronically scanned arrays allowed Australia to use a 737-700ER platform.


User currently offlineDevilfish From Philippines, joined Jan 2006, 4936 posts, RR: 1
Reply 24, posted (1 year 9 months 1 week 6 days 8 hours ago) and read 6207 times:

Quoting Bthebest (Reply 22):
being and Airbus Military product, I'm not sure they'll look at an A320neo variant as well - especially as delivery slots for the airframe are so valuable.

Like its been said though - A330 might just be too big for both Recon and AWACS roles, although a combined one might work.

They had been looking at it for the longest time.....

http://www.defenseindustrydaily.com/images/AIR_NATO_AGS_lg.jpg
http://www.defenseindustrydaily.com/images/AIR_NATO_AGS_lg.jpg

http://www.globalsecurity.org/milita...world/europe/images/a321-tips1.jpg

http://www.globalsecurity.org/milita...world/europe/images/a321-tips2.jpg


They might bite the bullet...however, going it alone may not be the best way forward.                 

[Edited 2013-02-12 15:24:56]


"Everyone is entitled to my opinion." - Garfield
25 KC135TopBoom : For one thing, EADS does not buyild extremely complex aircraft like the RC-135. The A-330 does not have the electrical power needed, without heavy mod
26 Bthebest : Some good technical points. Does the C-135 electrical power come in part from having 4 engines? Was surprised about the fuel burn but then the weight
27 moo : There is an exceptionally good reason to "reinvent the wheel" - lower dependence on the US. Buying an RC-135 based platform comes linked with a heavy
28 Post contains images Stitch : Considering the US-sourced content in an A330 airframe, choosing Airbus would still result in a rather heavy dependency. It also looks like the RAF w
29 KC135TopBoom : The KC-135 has generators on 3 of the 4 engines, other versions of the C-135 might have generators on all 4 engines. The capacity of the generators c
30 BilgeRat : What's a KVW?
31 Revelation : There were plenty of unfortunate decisions to chose from. Wiki says "BAE discovered that the Nimrod airframes supplied by the RAF were not built to a
32 135mech : He most likely meant KVA (Kila-Volt Amp), just a simple typo. Regards, 135Mech
33 BilgeRat : That's what I was thinking too. I remember when the decision was announced to retire the Nimrod R1 and replace it with the RC-135 a lot of noise was
34 KC135TopBoom : Then given the fact that the Nimrod was a direct-spin off from the Comet-I/II/III/IV and the KC-135 was the first spin-off of the B-367-80, even befo
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