Australian Super Seasprite Software Problems - A Record?

Australian pals of mine clued me in on the latest program problems with the Australian Department of Defence's Super Seasprite upgrade program. Begun in 1997, the program was meant to upgrade the electronics and some other bits of 11 of these 1960s-era helicopters (Defence calls them "mature helicopters") over five years for an original cost of AU$745 million; the cost to complete is now estimated to range around AU$1.5 billion. Up until a few weeks ago, the Australian Defence Department said their Super Seasprites would become operational in 2008, but that date has now been slipped to 2011.

Software problems related to the Seasprite's avionics and flight control software have been at the root of many of the delays and cost overruns. The problems have been so severe that last year the helo was grounded because, according to Defence Minister Brendan Nelson, "You could not have 100 per cent confidence in the software program that supports the pilot flying the helicopter to 100 per cent safety."

According to Department of Defence's Portfolio Budget Statement 2007-2008, "The main sustainment risks to the Super Seasprite include the automatic flight control system issue, mission computer shortcomings, and a lack of customer confidence in the platform brought about by the extended flight suspension and ongoing technical issues." Oh, that's all?

The latest schedule slip was due to software testing and integration problems to the helo's mission system software. IT mercy rule, anyone?

I don't recall any other defense program of any nation being delivered 9 years late due mostly to software problems (other than maybe the Strategic Defense Initiative). Anyone have some other candidates?


Risk Factor

IEEE Spectrum's risk analysis blog, featuring daily news, updates and analysis on computing and IT projects, software and systems failures, successes and innovations, security threats, and more.

Robert Charette
Spotsylvania, Va.
Willie D. Jones
New York City