Monday, May 15, 2006

Grounded Seasprites face axe.

This is indeed a sorry tale.

Aircraft are funny things. Military aircraft are even stranger. If you've ever heard an aircraft described as 'obsolescent,' it means it is on its way out. The airframe and engines are very rarely the cause of this - believe it or not, the airframe and engines of a thirty-year-old helicopter aren't all that different from a brand new aircraft. The thing which makes aircraft go out of style are the avionics and electronic systems. Anyone still out there still using a thirty-year-old desktop computer or VCR for anything other than novelty value? Didn't think so. Solution? Buy a cheap thirty-year-old aircraft, then fit out brand new electronics, computers, avionics weapons systems, the works. Result? Brand new aircraft, right? Wrong.

As I understand it, the main problem seems to be getting all the systems to communicate and getting the bugs out of the avionics, meaning Navy can't get the Seaprites certified for night VFR or IFR, or get the fire control software to talk to the weapons and sensors, a severe limitation in a combat aircraft. Seems it's a lot harder than you'd think to get all those complicated systems to work together effectively and reliably. And it has to be 100% reliable, as you don't get any second chances at 50 feet and 150 knots in pitch darkness. More importantly, it turns out to be as expensive as getting a brand new aircraft certified. Which now makes it clear what you are paying for with a brand new aircraft - brand new electronics, computers, avionics weapons systems - all integrated and certified bug free.

Anyone notice anything strange about this photo?

Pretty lethal and scary looking, no? Not really, no. Look at the light source and shadow on the fuselage. A bright light on the right side of the picture. Now look at the light shining on the aircrafts missiles. The light is coming from the left side. Now look at the light shining on the FLIR pod under the nose of the aircraft. The light is shining pretty much front on, from the front of the picture.

It's been photoshopped - both of those elements have been added electronically. Ironic, as it is the electronics which caused so much trouble on the real aircraft.

I think the whole saga is a damn shame. The taxpayer forked over a huge wad of cash, a lot of people worked very hard for a long time and at the end of the day we have very little to show for it.

The question is - do we cut our losses and run, or do we suck it up and spend another $500 million or so fixing it up?

The risk being that another $500 million or so may not end up fixing it at all.


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