UK Chinooks: $150 million for Hope over Experience Software?
While Boeing may be having troubles with the Dreamliner, according to a story in the UK Computing it is to receive a Â£90m contract to rectify software and avionics problems for eight brand-new Chinook helicopters that have been sitting in hangers at RAF Odiham for the past nine years.
This has been one strange defense program from the beginning, which goes back some 13 years. Below are excerpts from the 2005 UK Select Committee on Public Accounts report that gives some background to the story:
"In July 1995, the Department [UK Ministry of Defence] decided to upgrade eight of the 14 Chinook Mk2 helicopters it was procuring as part of its requirement for a Medium Support Helicopter. The upgrade to an enhanced Mk3 standard would include improvements in range, night vision, and navigation capabilities. The project was scheduled to cost more than Â£250 million and the forecast inÂservice date was November 1998. A subsequent change to the requirement led to an avionics upgrade programme being put to contract in 1997, which entailed a hybrid solution, incorporating elements of the existing analogue cockpit and new digital systems and displays. The need to test the airworthiness of the aircraft together with some programme slippage led to the setting of a new In-Service Date of January 2002. When the aircraft were accepted from the contractor in December 2001, the Department found that it was unable to demonstrate that the flight instruments met United Kingdom Defence Standards, as this requirement had not been specified in the contract. Consequently, the aircraft could not be used other than for limited flight trials."
"The Department said that there were three main reasons why the helicopters remained grounded and were unfit for their operational task. First, without access to the source software codes held by the United States, the safety parameters of the aircraft could not be tested in its current configuration. One of the main contractors has now indicated that it would allow access to some software data. The process of analysis is, however, time consuming and expensive and there is no guarantee of success because the legacy software is not amenable to the techniques required to confirm the robustness of the software design. Secondly, the specialist role envisaged for the aircraft had changed since they were acquired. Finally, the aircraft needed to be fitted with Health and Usage Monitoring Systems, a range of systems that seek to monitor the progressive wear of engines, and better Defensive Aids Suites."
"Despite the fact that all the aircraft accepted from the contractor met, and in some cases exceeded, the contract, the Department accepted that the taxpayer had not been well served by the procurement of the Chinook Mk3."
According to Computing, the Chinooks should be ready by 2009, 11 years late. I guess that is a bit longer than the Australian Super Seasprite avionics upgrade program. At least the Chinook program hasn't been a continuous cock up like the Seasprite, though.