back to article UK asks to buy next-gen spy planes from US

The UK has applied for permission to purchase three large, heavily-equipped spy planes from America. The move will fuel speculation that replacements for the RAF's existing, aged Nimrod R1 surveillance/intercept birds will not be British-sourced. Most people who follow defence matters will be aware that the RAF currently …


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  1. Damn Yank

    Nimrod ???

    You've got to be kidding..

  2. Henry

    @ Nimrod ???


  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Joint Rivet and E-3

    Joint Rivet is based on the RC-135 platform that has almost the same airframe as the the existing RAF E-3 Sentry fleet. Providing the same engines are purchased, this will help things from a maintenance/spares angle plus the E-3s are fitted with a refuelling probe so this can be adapted fairly easily to bolt on the "new" aircraft. Of course we could also just develop a Nimrod R.5....

  4. Justabloke


    I suspect "Damn Yank" is one of our American cousins and of course the word Nimrod is used in a scathing manner.. a worse type of nerd if you will....

  5. SkippyBing


    I believe that although in the UK the term Nimrod refers to a Hunter (from the Hebrew) our American Cousins lacking a quality education system use it where we would use the term onanist.

  6. kevin elliott

    Am I being too simplistic?

    Why not just take a few standard big airbuses - like the 340, put in a pile of extra fuel tanks and all the electronics - and air to air refuelling. Cheap parts, a european supplier - and proven range and reliability and low operating costs.

    Oh, silly me, I forgot - BAE Systems (or whatever they call themselves these days) are trying to get out of airbus...

  7. Anonymous Coward

    Rivet Replacement

    the current Nimrods are said to be able to stay up for about 15 hours without re-fuelling and have a range of about 5,000 nautical miles, does the Rivet Joint (who thinks of these names? )do that?

  8. Mark Dowling
    Thumb Down


    Lewis Page - how is a converted tanker (model first flight 1956!) "next gen"?

    If HMS Victory had state of the art sonar and a couple of depth charges fitted, would that make it a "next gen sub hunter"?

  9. Henry
    Thumb Up


    Many thanks SkippyBing, I am humbled by your knowledge of the colonial vernacular. Perhaps we should use the Nimrods to airdrop some dictionaries on the US (Oxford English of course, not those ghastly Websters travesties).

  10. Peyton


    Onanist? erm... no. Wanker perhaps... (but lets face it, one is slang, one is not) I'd say nerd is actually closer - think sort of a clumsy, idiot, nerd though, rather than the brainy variety. I get the impression wanker is more of a pejorative than nimrod.

    I'm now curious as to the origin of the American version (which is not capitalized)... that's a pretty big change in meaning...

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    "lacking a quality education system".

    Yes, Mr Kettle. I see the results of the excellent education system in the UK everyday, yeah?

  12. lglethal Silver badge

    @Kevin Elliot

    Whilst its a nice idea to use an A330 or similar fitted with the right kit, its not actually a particularly easy or quick task to do. Australia have been waiting on the delivery of the Wedgetail AEW&C (based on a 737-700) since 1997 and were still not expecting the first one till mid 2009.

    Hence, the UK has 2 choices, continue with the current Nimrod replacement programme, and accept any additional costs and delays that will likely affect the aircraft's development. Or buy an off-the-shelf system that is already in use and wont require more then a few minor tweaks (such as the mid-air refuelling nozzles) to get it operational for UK forces. Thats really what the decision being talked about here is.

    Still what ever decision they take i doubt the RAF will have an aircraft on its hands before 2010...

  13. Mark

    Article seems to be missing a page

    Or at least a paragraph- I can't beleive that Lewis Page would write an article on British military aircraft and not mention how many Chinooks the money would buy...

  14. goggyturk

    A better idea?

    These kinds of jobs are a stick on for UAVs - AWACS, antisub, any kind of surveillance / comms link. Why not develop a UAV version of the Sentinel (that can be mid-air refuelled)?

  15. Chris Price
    Paris Hilton

    @@@@All RE: nimrod

    You guys can thank Bugs Bunny for the definition change in America. Bugs always called Elmer Fudd "nimrod". Elmer being a hunter and also a bumbling idiot, I guess American audiences just associated the term with the latter since Bugs called him that when he was hunting or not. He also called him an "emb-ASS-sle" and a "maroon".

    It wouldn't be the first time mass American audiences completely misconstrued the meaning of a word.

    Paris because she's been very well misconstrued.

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Helix/Rivet Joint/Spring Time/R5

    "The UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) has been running a thing called "Project HELIX", which was to be to the R1 Nimrods what the MRA4 programme is to the MR2 subhunters. That is, the airframes would be 80 per cent or more replaced - effectively, new De Havilland Comets would be custom built from scratch - re-engined and thoroughly re-equipped."

    No it isn't Lewis. Helix is the next gen mission systems and sneaky beaky kit, replacing the current systems in the R1. That's why the various ideas are now being batted around to decide on the platform to carry Helix. The Rivet Joint is a good front runner, as is Spring Time (you missed that one). The BAES R5 has never really been a goer, and as for the Sentinel, is the Helix kit going to fit into a Global Express? The Aviation Week article talks about using the sigint from the R1 in concert with the ASTOR, I think you imagined the suggestion of a Global Express as the Helix platform.

    Also as the RJ is a Boeing 707 airframe (circa 1950's like the Comet) next-gen plane it is not.

  17. Anonymous Coward

    Rivet Joints??

    Ah, yes replace Nimrods that are getting a bit long in the tooth with an elint platform based on that throughly modern airframe, the Boeing 707....

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters

    Scrap metal

    Would this be a bad time to point out that the KC-135s in question are 20-30 years old, and will be expected to last as long again...? The reason for most of the USAF consternation in the KC-X cock-up is that the KC-135s it's meant to replace are absolutely knackered.

    How about just sticking the Rivet Joint ELINT gear into a new A330? Sort of like the FSTA ones?

  19. EvilGav

    So . . .

    . . . we can find £12billion for a database no-one wants, £25billion for ID cards no-one wants, piss away £12.4billion on an NHS IT project with no end in sight, bail out private companies to the tune of £200billion, but heaven forbid we find less than 1% of that total to replace 50 odd year-old military aircraft.

    Fucking useless government. Which cunt voted them in ?? I know I fucking didn't.

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters

    Nimrod - and aging planes

    In your normal mocking tone of anything from this country you seem to imply that using upgraded or re-engineered Comet airliners is almost comic.

    The only comic element is the appalling project management and "mission creep" that allows almost any UK military project to set target "A", to attempt to change the project as time passes to incorporate A thru Z and then to act surprised to find the cost overruns are similar to the original budget x 4

    Also the UK Govt should wake up to the fact that the private sector have to undercut real prices by 30% in order to stand any chance of competing for a contract in the comfortable knowledge that they can happily inflate the cost as time progresses and make the way to the actual cost.

    It's so easy to forget that the US equivalent, the foundation for Rivet Joint is the KC135 which is nothing more than a military version of Boeing's first jet airliner, the 707 - a plane whose first commercial flight was just 3 weeks after that of the Comet.

    Let us not forget that the Nimrod was the first jet powered submarine hunter with un-rivaled flight duration and one of the best in the world for many many years

    Oh and lest not forget the previous 2 atempts to buy a US airframe "off the shelf" and try to customise it (on the cheap?) to meet our needs.

    Laydeeeees n Gennlemen, I give you Chinook and Cobra. Platforms with "improved" avionics that don't integrate with supplied systeme ensuring that they can only fly during the day and when their is not a cloud in the sky. End cost - several times more expensive than initial outlay (once a resolution has been found and implimented) and probably more expensive than designing and building from the ground up

    And let us not forget those who have given their lives in the service of our country.

    (Oh I am sure some of my figures may be disputed but the overall theme is pretty spot on)

  21. Dave
    Dead Vulture


    It is the Nimrod _Airframes_ that are worn out. There is nothing inherently wrong with the design. Building a brand new airframe to a trusted design is not a bad idea - ask anyone who flies in a Boeing 747 (There are probably much older designs out there, but I'm not that much of an expert.)

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Dead Vulture

    @Dave Re:Idiots

    The airframes themselves are worn out yes, so you could build new ones. But the simple fact is the design is old, for example you cannot fit modern engines to the airframe and the avionics are primitive. There is something to be said for using a trusted design but at some point you have to accept that it is obsolete and must be replaced.

  23. Andy Livingstone

    Affordable defence

    Keep Brown

    Get Airfix.

  24. Matt Bryant Silver badge

    Containerise it?

    Come on, where's the Sunshiners? They should all be bleating about how we can just buy umpteen Sun white-trash IT containers and stick them in the back of existing Lockheed Hercules transports along with some wing-mounted electrickery sensor pods as used on the old EA-6B Prowler.

    Hey, hold on a sec.... not such a bad idea! The Herc has the range and more than enough space, it has wingmounts already (currently used for droptanks). it's already in service and buying more would just enjoy better economies of scale over a new and role-specific jet, and the ability to simply load or unload the core container and pods and stick them on ony other RAF Herc with minor modifications sounds useful.

    Hold on a sec.... no BAe involvement with Hercules.....

  25. Dave B

    @"next-gen"????? engines, just the creaking of wood in sync with the surface conditions - I wonder what the acoustic signature of the Victory would be? Add a passive sonar and a few depth charges and we could well be looking at the next gen sub-hunter!

  26. Michael
    Black Helicopters

    KC-135 ageing

    The proposal is to convert 3 KC-135 to RC-135.

    The KC-135 was built from 1954 to 1965 so will be getting an aircraft which is at least 43 years old!

    The prototype Nimrod first flew in 1967 and entered service in 1969.

    So lets replace an old aircraft with an even older aircraft

  27. Tails

    Just get some damn UAVs

    Next-gen spy planes? Predator series and its variants. Enough said. Or maybe the MoD can stop whining and use their spy sats for something useful for a change, instead of the office flyover boob-pool.

  28. Mr Mark V Thomas
    Paris Hilton

    Re: Just get some damn UAV's

    Why do you think BAE showed off their Mantis UAV concept, at Farnbrough...?

    I suspect that the MOD will use a Sentnel's (ASTOR) datalink to act as a relay, from a Elint equipped Mantis & do the analysis work at GCHQ...

    As for the containerised Elint gear, I suspect that will turnup as a possible A400M payload, whenever that aircraft gets off the ground (if at all)....

  29. Anonymous Coward

    Just to kill off the UAV discussion

    The systems wouldn't fit.

    You could get something of much lower performance into a UAV platform but between the size of the antennas and the amount of processing hardware you need (both RF and digital) for the high performance systems used by things like a Nimrod R1 an airliner platform is a necessity.

    And of course you also need people 'on site' to operate the system and do data analysis, there's just too much information to squirt over a satellite link.

    UAV size systems != Sentinel size systems != Airliner size systems. The basics are similar but the actual products are very different and aren't interchangeable either physically or operationally.

    You could argue that the Comet airframe is old, but with updated production techniques, new avionics, and the new engine fit it wouldn't be too bad. For one thing it has the advantage of being proven in operating environments and scenarios that more 'modern' airframes would consider decidedly hostile; the design goals on modern airframes are decidedly different from those of the old Comet, the backgrounds of the respective design teams may also have something to do with it.

    I wouldn't say it's anywhere near perfect, but those I've met who've actually flown the thing seem happy enough and came up with some good arguments for using the Nimrod airframes over some of the alternatives.

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