back to article Two drones, two crashes in two months: MoD still won't say why

A damning Ministry of Defence report into the UK government department's safety oversight systems has revealed when two unmanned aerial vehicles crashed into the sea off Wales. The Watchkeeper WK450-series drone fleet, built and partially operated by French defence contractor Thales, has been marred by a number of crashes in …

  1. @JagPatel3

    MoD relies on spin and secrecy to deflect criticism

    Honesty is not a virtue that comes naturally to people at the Ministry of Defence.

    The political imperative of needing to put a positive slant on everything the Government does or will do, irrespective of whether it is true or not, is the reason why spin has become the centrepiece of this Government’s communications strategy. And because Government has got a monopoly on inside information (enabling it to maintain extremely tight control), it uses spin to divert attention away from the key issues that really matter to citizens and consequently, succeeds in suppressing alternative views and criticism from those on the outside, including Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition.

    The Ministry of Defence is particularly apt at this dark art of spinning – a skill perfected whilst defending a particularly appalling record of performance, over the last several decades. Increasingly, there is a lack of trust in the claims made by MoD about its work and achievements. MoD is able to get away with blatant lies and cover-ups because it relies on spin as its primary tool to deflect criticism – reinforced by the weapon of secrecy.

    Indeed, there is a massive gap in the minds of interested observers outside the Ministry of Defence such as those in the Treasury, the Cabinet Office, BEIS, the National Audit Office, academic institutions, think tanks and the press & media on how it supposedly functions on a day-to-day basis, as depicted in official UK Government publications (which remain within the editorial control of MoD), and how it actually operates in reality.

    In addition, the culture of intense secrecy within MoD has not only allowed its leadership to extend this discrepancy even further, but also conceal appallingly poor policy-making and huge failings in its defence procurement procedures, from select committees of the House of Commons – such as the Public Accounts Committee, Defence Select Committee and Public Administration & Constitutional Affairs Committee – severely undermining their parliamentary function of scrutinising the performance of MoD.

    What’s more, MoD discourages free thought and self-criticism of its internal business processes, and is consequently completely reliant on outsiders to identify, and point out shortcomings in its defence equipment procurement policy.

    The more secretively it works, the more incompetent it becomes. The simple fact of the matter is that secrecy breeds incompetence, whilst openness breeds competence.

    @JagPatel3

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: MoD relies on spin and secrecy to deflect criticism

      MoD discourages free thought and self-criticism of its internal business processes, and is consequently completely reliant on outsiders to identify, and point out shortcomings in its defence equipment procurement policy.

      And those outsiders are ignored, their questions deflected, and business proceeds as usual.

      In the case of Watchkeeper, the programme unit cost is about £22m each. I accept that's (supposedly) a whole life cost, but Watchkeeper is based on the Hermes H450 that the Israelis had flying back in 1998 and that has a publicly reported unit cost of $2m. I struggle to see how MoD manage to make it cost so much.

      And worse still with this spate of crashes, it isn't as though we haven't used similar drones already - MoD leased a fleet of H450s and these racked up 86,000 hours of lying in Afghanistan, losing 8 of them (so one per 11,000 flying hours in a war zone - that doesn't look too bad?). Meanwhile, in the hostile badlands of mid Wales, the Watchkeeper programme has lost 4 so far, and with the reported 146 hours of active duty, that's roughly one per 36 hours of duty. Does anybody spot anything odd there?

      1. herman Silver badge

        Re: MoD relies on spin and secrecy to deflect criticism

        Reason? Trainee pilots.

        They need a better flight simulation system.

        1. Cuddles Silver badge

          Re: MoD relies on spin and secrecy to deflect criticism

          "Reason? Trainee pilots.

          They need a better flight simulation system."

          Except the article notes that there is no actual piloting involved, the "pilot" simply puts waypoints on a map and the drone itself does all the flying. This was over the sea, so no chance of accidentally telling it to fly into a mountain, and I'd hope the software would complain if it's given a negative altitude, so it seems virtually impossible for the controller to actually cause a crash, no matter how inexperienced they might be.

          1. anonymous boring coward Silver badge

            Re: MoD relies on spin and secrecy to deflect criticism

            "so it seems virtually impossible for the controller to actually cause a crash, no matter how inexperienced they might be"

            I think you are underestimating the levels of incompetence that is available.

      2. Missing Semicolon
        Devil

        Re: MoD relies on spin and secrecy to deflect criticism

        ..the only odd thing is the inability to spot who in the MOD gets nice NocExec directorships at Thales.....

      3. rh587 Silver badge

        Re: MoD relies on spin and secrecy to deflect criticism

        MoD leased a fleet of H450s and these racked up 86,000 hours of lying in Afghanistan, losing 8 of them (so one per 11,000 flying hours in a war zone - that doesn't look too bad?). Meanwhile, in the hostile badlands of mid Wales, the Watchkeeper programme has lost 4 so far, and with the reported 146 hours of active duty, that's roughly one per 36 hours of duty. Does anybody spot anything odd there?

        The H450s in Afghanistan didn't have to deal with dragons.

        1. Tom 7 Silver badge

          Re: The H450s in Afghanistan didn't have to deal with dragons.

          Or perhaps the drones are having trouble with drones!

          I remember many happy hours hill walking in Wales where throwing a rock off a cliff could easily have taken out a state of the art fighter and can easily imagine some photographer enjoying the freedom of the hill to take a sweeping drone shot of a valley and being a victim pauli's exclusion principle.

      4. John Smith 19 Gold badge
        Coat

        "Meanwhile, in the hostile badlands of mid Wales, the..programme has lost 4 so far,"

        Taliban Cymry?

        Clearly more active than their counterparts in Afghanistan.

      5. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: MoD relies on spin and secrecy to deflect criticism

        Doesn't work in rain -- very little in Afghanistan, plenty in mid-Wales.

      6. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: MoD relies on spin and secrecy to deflect criticism

        " I struggle to see how MoD manage to make it cost so much."

        I see you do not understand Modonomics.

        E.g. 14 people all from the same establishment going to the same meeting in 14 separate cars so they could all claim mileage.

    2. Mage Silver badge
      Black Helicopters

      Re: MoD relies on spin and secrecy to deflect criticism

      HMS Sheffield, Falklands

      Sinking of the fleeing Argentinian ship.

      Earlier: Deliberate targeting of German civilians in WWII so Hitler would switch from attacking aerodromes. Continued use so Hitler would waste resources on V weapons. Dresden.

      Selling of Harriers, pointless naval procurements. F35.

      Rent nukes from USA and cancel UK nukes and UK space program.

      Mistreatment of recruits, esp. women and then cover-ups.

      Mistreatment of Cadets.

      1. DamnedIfIKnow

        Re: MoD relies on spin and secrecy to deflect criticism

        @Mage

        Please could you state in each case what wrong you think was done, and by whom? We aren't all tin foil hat wearers as you seem to be.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: MoD relies on spin and secrecy to deflect criticism

          @ DamnedIfIKnow, I did not write the original post but then again I haven't been sticking my fingers in my ears and shouting "la la la" whenever the news mentions MOD failures

          "HMS Sheffield, Falklands" MOD buys the idea of warships armor made out of materials normally associated with fireworks

          "Sinking of the fleeing Argentinian ship." sunk even though outside of exclusion zone, not really MOD fault as the order to send (from UK government) came after target had already left the zone.

          "Earlier: Deliberate targeting of German civilians in WWII so Hitler would switch from attacking aerodromes. Continued use so Hitler would waste resources on V weapons. Dresden." clear enough if you can read, I didn't hear about this one but given politics of the time it would make sense and I wouldn't put it past them.

          "Selling of Harriers, pointless naval procurements. F35, Rent nukes from USA and cancel UK nukes and UK space program" shutting down homegrown technology and relying upon a different country to provide your solutions, this is an IT forum need I say any more about how that worked out?

          "Mistreatment of recruits, esp. women and then cover-ups, Mistreatment of Cadets" turning a blind eye to the perverts in your ranks and then using "if we tell you why we have to kill you" to prevent discovery.

          1. Anonymous Cowerd
            Facepalm

            Re: MoD relies on spin and secrecy to deflect criticism

            ""HMS Sheffield, Falklands" MOD buys the idea of warships armor made out of materials normally associated with fireworks"

            Except that contrary to aluminium-foil-hatted myth, Sheffield's superstructure was made entirely of steel.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: MoD relies on spin and secrecy to deflect criticism

              @AC "Except that contrary to aluminium-foil-hatted myth, Sheffield's superstructure was made entirely of steel." and yet aluminum foil was one of the ingredients of the fore mentioned "light weight" armor perhaps they were waiting for the iron in the steel to rust so they had a thermite clue as well as the Standard Fireworks logo on the side.

              I was not aware that any steel superstructure details were of consequence once the armor started burning. Whole episode was like a take on the Emperors New Clothes

          2. Bliar003

            Re: MoD relies on spin and secrecy to deflect criticism

            All bullshit. You can't even spell "armour".

            Forget the "exclusion zone", the two nations were at war. The exclusion zone was for INTERNATIONAL ships. Active Argentine Navy ships anywhere were obviously going to get sunk.

      2. Mooseman Silver badge

        Re: MoD relies on spin and secrecy to deflect criticism

        what exactly is your point? HMS Sheffield caught fire after being hit by an exocet. Most of the crew were rescued.

        The Belgrano wasn't fleeing anywhere - it was beyond the exclusion zone yes, but a potent weapon within a few hours sail of the Falklands (where our very small fleet was waiting) is a viable target in wartime.

        Tinfoil hattery re targeting civilians - any citation for that or just revisionist hearsay? German bombers were under strict instructions not to bomb civilian targets until they accidentally hit London. Hitlers V weapons were developed as a last gasp attempt to swing the war in the Nazis favour, far too little and too late, nothing to do with a deliberate policy by the UK, unless you're suggesting we have access to intelligence in 1940 that somehow let us know they would develop the V2. Germany, specifically Hitler, refused to build enough fighters to counter the allied bombing campaign, and by the time they relalised it was too late, their infrastructure and industry was shattered. Dresden again? Have a look where your casualty figures come from. I assume you're going to quote 250,000 ? Interestingly those figures were created by Goebbels to whip up international revulsion - he multiplied his own ministry's casualty figures by a factor of 10. Sadly Dresden suffered no worse and in some cases far less than many German cities in 44/45.

        That aside, the MoD is renowned for making massively expensive and dubious procurement decisions. I agree, selling the Harrier to the US is a stupid shortsighted idea. Yet again, follow the money and see who gets a fat salary as a consequence.

        The Uk space program was cancelled as we couldn't afford it, preferring to spend money on things like pensions. It's also cheaper to have US built nuclear missiles than spend money developing our own. You can argue the foolishness of both these ideas and I'd agree with you.

        As to the treatment of cadets and women, that's a whole different matter - the Army has a very closed mindset about training. What worked in the past must surely still work, or so they like to think. The Deepcut business was buried to keep the army's reputation intact, and has become so ingrained they now cant even consider revealing what happened.

        1. Bliar003

          Re: MoD relies on spin and secrecy to deflect criticism

          Except they're British nukes, not US. The casing origin is irrelevant. And the UK already has its own space programme as well as being the leader in the ESA.

      3. Bliar003

        Re: MoD relies on spin and secrecy to deflect criticism

        Wtf are you on about? There aren't any nukes "rented" from the USA. And building new ships is pointless naval procurements? Yeah sure it is.

        Hitler bombed cities before the RAF ever did you imbecile. Meaning the RAF couldn't have, and didn't, deliberately target civilians to divert his attention.

        Complete fucking idiot.

    3. PNGuinn
      Mushroom

      Re: MoD relies on spin and secrecy to deflect criticism @JagPatel3

      "Honesty is not a virtue that comes naturally to people at the Ministry of Defence."

      Especially, it would appear, when looking after the safety of the soldiers at the sharp end in combat zones.

      No, the welfare of the blood suckers (literally) in the defence industry are MUCH more important.

      A lot of civil servants and their defence contractor pals need to be on murder / manslaughter charges.

      Or conscripted and made to use the equipment they specified / provided ....

  2. This post has been deleted by its author

    1. Steve K Silver badge

      Re: "temperatures on the day averaged about 9°C."

      Absolutely - I'm not sure whether the article is saying "Duh! Why are they testing anti-icing if the temperature is 9°C!"

      A statement that "temperatures on the day averaged about 9°C" tells you nothing without knowing the altitude of the drone, its airspeed (i.e. airflow over its flying surfaces and hence chill) and whether icing conditions were prevailing at that time (e.g. humidity).

      Also - being pedantic - the period of the "average temperature" is important too - it could have been 9°C for 24 hours, or 0°C for 12 hours and 18°C for 12 hours or any other combination....

      They may well have proved that the airframe is prone to icing, and/or the deicing does not work (twice!) but the fact that they are saying nothing implies it is more stupid than that (e.g. out of fuel, batteries ran out on drone, flew at negative altitude over the sea for too long, wings on back-to-front).

      1. gazthejourno (Written by Reg staff)

        Re: Re: "temperatures on the day averaged about 9°C."

        I agree with you. If I'd been able to find public METAR data for 3rd February I'd have quoted that for daylight hours, but sadly a generalised summary for Aberystwyth was the best I could find.

        Assuming the usual British temperature distribution, we can probably assume the temperature that day peaked in mid-afternoon. But as the MoD refuses to say anything at all about the Watchkeeper's flight profile, the cause of the crash could be anything.

        If the MoD had lost nearly 10% of a manned aircraft fleet we'd be seeing a lot more transparency. But here it seems to be NHI, NFI.

        1. Eddy Ito

          Re: "temperatures on the day averaged about 9°C."

          It certainly does sound like a case of the anti-icing equipment they were testing failed and the drones iced up and dropped out. Perhaps the MoD don't have the telemetry to tell them definitively and since the drones are now the property of Davey Jones the best they can do is say the cause is uncertain as they have no absolute evidence. One day there may be an explanation that involves the phrase "more likely than not".

      2. Cynic_999 Silver badge

        Re: "temperatures on the day averaged about 9°C."

        "

        (i.e. airflow over its flying surfaces and hence chill)

        "

        Airflow will *increase* the temperature of the airframe (from friction). "Chill factor" applies only to things that are hotter than the air (e.g. warm-blooded animals, soldering irons etc).

        1. John Arthur
          Thumb Up

          Re: "temperatures on the day averaged about 9°C."

          Have an upvote for soldering irons!

        2. YARR
          Boffin

          Airflow will *increase* the temperature of the airframe (from friction). "Chill factor" applies only to things that are hotter than the air

          If the airframe is hotter than the air due to friction, the "chill factor" will cool it back down again.

          Since flying in cold air is a unique technical challenge that no previous aircraft have mastered, perhaps the answer is to copy nature and give it a warm furry coat?

          1. m0rt

            @YARR

            "...perhaps the answer is to copy nature and give it a warm furry coat?"

            Feathers, surely?

            1. Muscleguy Silver badge
              Boffin

              Re: @YARR

              "Feathers, surely?"

              Bats use fur quite effectively, though interestingly not much on the wing membranes. Though they probably regulate wing temperature through blood flow. Bats are not great gliders and soarers, so they flap the wings generating muscle heat which could be radiated through the wing membranes reducing the need to sweat.

              Alternatively they could be like penguin's feet and have a counter current heat exchange mechanism by which cold venous blood is warmed by incoming arterial blood so little to no heat is lost. How King and Emperor penguins manage to stand for long periods on very cold ice. The bottom of their feet are the same temp as the ice, with antifreeze.

        3. Seajay#

          FTFY

          e.g. warm-blooded animals, soldering irons an airframe that contains an engine etc

          1. SkippyBing Silver badge

            Re: FTFY

            'an airframe that contains an engine etc'

            The engine is hotter than the air, the wings and fuselage not so much. The problem with icing is that it changes the shape of the aerofoil adversely affecting its lift characteristics. At the speeds the Watchkeeper is going I wouldn't think friction would give much of a heating effect, the main problem is usually an airframe/wings that are cooled below freezing which then flies through a cloud or rain leading to a rapid build up of fairly solid ice.

            I don't know off the top of my head what sort of anti-icing system the Watchkeeper has, some aircraft heat the wings and other vulnerable area, either with engine bleed air if it's got a gas turbine, or heating mats. Others use pneumatic boots which have to wait for ice to start forming and then expand to break it off.

        4. John Smith 19 Gold badge
          Unhappy

          "Airflow will *increase* the temperature of the airframe "

          Not in any major sense below Mach 1.

          Concorde (and any M1+ vehicle) got pretty hot due to skin friction, but it's a very minor factor sub sonically.

          Mind you if you're going to fly over Blighty at high altitude (or indeed anywhere at high altitude) and fairly slowly anti-icing gear sounds like a good thing to fit as standard.

          1. Cynic_999 Silver badge

            Re: "Airflow will *increase* the temperature of the airframe "

            "

            Not in any major sense below Mach 1

            "

            Not major enough to be a design consideration, but it is certainly not insignificant. At normal light aircraft cruising speeds the increase in the airframe temperature due to air friction can be several degrees C - certainly the difference between ice and no ice in many situations. In larger subsonic aircraft, ice can appear when the aircraft reduces speed from, say, 250kts to 150kts even though the outside air temperature has not changed. I have taken off in a light aircraft having de-iced the wings mechanically as best I can, and watched as the remaining ice melts away after a few minutes' flying, despite the fact that I have climbed into colder air.

    2. AmenFromMars
      Trollface

      Re: "temperatures on the day averaged about 9°C."

      "then the temperature decreases by about 5.4°F for every 1,000 feet up you go in elevation."

      Shouldn’t that be in approved Vulture Central units? “then the temperature decreases by about 3.5Hn for every 2178lg up you go in elevation.” You’re welcome.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: "temperatures on the day averaged about 9°C."

      So in other words we bought a UAV designed for desert warfare, presumably so they would buy some of "our" stuff.

      Basically tax payer provided bribe so UK arms dealers could make a profit, hmm not really news is it

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The two drones, tail numbers WK042 and WK043, crashed within seven weeks of each other, in February and March this year. Both "remotely piloted aerial systems" (RPAS) were lost in Cardigan Bay, immediately west of West Wales Airport, Aberporth

    I would start by looking for a guanera island in the immediate vicinity. If it happens to be owned by a crazy German-Chinese ex-gangster with prosthetic hands calling himself Dr. No, you've hit the jackpot.

    And yes, as much as I like Sean Connery, I much prefer the book to the movie.

    1. Pen-y-gors Silver badge

      Close, but no coconut.

      Those of us who live here are aware of the legends of "Cantre'r Gwaelod" - the sunken land. Cardigan Bay used to be dry land, with people living there, but it was protected by a large wall to keep the sea out. One night, the gatekeeper (name of Seithenyn) was drunk and forgot to close the gates and it was lost to the sea. On a quiet night you can still hear the bells ringing under the sea.

      There's also a semi-submerged causeway running out into the bay north of Aberystwyth, Sarn Cynfelyn.

      I reckon they were just using out-of-date maps.

      1. Steve K Silver badge

        Daft question here:

        If the gates had to be closed to keep the sea out, then at any point they were open, it would have flooded - drunk gatekeeper or not.

        If the tide had to be in for the gates being open to matter then surely he would just leave them open then to let the tide go out and everything unsubmerged, but damp.

        (I am also sometimes referred to as a legend - I am getting old and no-one really believes in me any more....)

        1. Pen-y-gors Silver badge

          @Steve K

          Look, it's a legend. It doesn't have to make sense!

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Thomas Love Peacock

        "One night, the gatekeeper (name of Seithenyn) was drunk and forgot to close the gates and it was lost to the sea."

        "Seithenyn ap Seithi, the valiant, the bold

        Drinks the wine of the stranger from vessels of gold..."

        In Peacock's book, The misfortunes of Elphin the flooding is due to government incompetence, maintenance failures, and corruption. In fact, it could be a satire on the MoD, had there been one at the time.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    As the article mentions, the Watchkeeper avionics, sensors and software seem to have been designed as if the aircraft will only ever fly in perfect sunny weather.

    It struggles to deal with the realities of the Welsh climate, especially when in the landing phase, where its Laser altimeter gets very confused if flying over water, more so if it's windy and raining.

    For these reasons, landing at Aberporth, where the final approach is over Cardigan Bay, is, you might say, sub-optimal...

    It therefore doesn't much surprise me that the drones have successfully landed in the sea a few times.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      As the article mentions, the Watchkeeper avionics, sensors and software seem to have been designed as if the aircraft will only ever fly in perfect sunny weather.

      Possibly. The weather in Afghanistan is pretty hostile, with significant rain and snow in winter, cold temperatures, and the added joy of dust storms and summer heat, but the predecessor Hermes UAV was used successfully in 'stan.

      So you have to wonder WTF have Thales and MoD done that has screwed up something that should have been an off-the-shelf purchase?

      1. Pen-y-gors Silver badge

        The weather in Afghanistan is pretty hostile, with significant rain and snow in winter, cold temperatures, and the added joy of dust storms and summer heat

        So, even worse than West Wales then?

        1. phuzz Silver badge

          "So, even worse than West Wales then?"

          Yeah, but the locals are friendlier if they find out you're English ;)

          1. DamnedIfIKnow

            I was about to correct you, when I realised you didn't mean that the locals in West Wales were friendlier. My East Wales friends don't like them, and prefer us English bastards, which is saying something!

    2. ilmari

      Laser altimeter is the kind of thing a hobbyist would use, since hobbyist radars make ofcom/FCC/etc annoyed. GPS and barometric sensors aren't that good for approaching the ground at a ensured survivable rate.

    3. John Smith 19 Gold badge
      Unhappy

      "seem to have been designed as if the aircraft will only ever fly in perfect sunny weather."

      Toulouse, where a lot of the French aircraft industry is based perhaps?

      Probably not bad over large bits of the Middle East as well.

      Not so good over say Northern Europe, like that US "stealth" plane bought down in the former Yugoslavia when it's radar invisibility coating rusted.

      1. phuzz Silver badge

        Re: "seem to have been designed as if the aircraft will only ever fly in perfect sunny weather."

        "like that US "stealth" plane bought down in the former Yugoslavia when it's radar invisibility coating rusted."

        It wasn't that the stealth coating was damaged (I'm pretty sure anything iron based would make a terrible radio-wave absorber so 'rusted' is definitely the wrong word). Instead it was a combination of the F-117's using the same routes night after night, and modifications made to the radars to use longer wavelengths.

        The predictable routes (and poor radio discipline) allowed the Serbs to site their AA battery right under the flightpath, and their older radars weren't the sort of system that the F-117 was designed to guard against.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: "seem to have been designed as if the aircraft will only ever fly in perfect sunny weather."

          "allowed the Serbs to site their AA battery"

          A technical term which has somewhat changed its commonest meaning over recent years.

          Mind you, at supersonic speeds an AA cell could do quite a lot of damage.

  5. kryptonaut

    Strange goings on...

    Two drones downed over Cardigan Bay, and then this:

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-south-west-wales-41790482

    Coincidence? I think not.

    I, for one, welcome our betentacled cephalopodic overlords.

    1. Joe Harrison

      Re: Strange goings on...

      I have always been sceptical of the ridiculous claim that these drones are fully automated and remotely controlled. Now we see the real pilots who ejected and were washed up onshore.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Strange goings on...

        By 'pilots 'you mean the octopuses that have been washed up in New Quay, a mile or two from Aberporth?

    2. Mark 85 Silver badge

      Re: Strange goings on...

      What I see as strange is the sequential numbers of those two the article mentions. Bad batch of some critical part or is there a secret order like "don't fly in the rain or over water"?

  6. frank ly

    "... sympathy for trainees cocking up a landing, ..."

    Does the landing phase involve any element of 'stick and rudder' work or is it also largely automated?

    1. A Non e-mouse Silver badge

      Re: "... sympathy for trainees cocking up a landing, ..."

      See previous El Reg article on the matter: The poor drones struggle with a phenomenon called "rain".

    2. SkippyBing Silver badge

      Re: "... sympathy for trainees cocking up a landing, ..."

      'Does the landing phase involve any element of 'stick and rudder' work or is it also largely automated?'

      It is completely automated, there's literally no way to directly control the flight surfaces. It has even on a few occasions surprised people by taking the long way to make a turn, e.g. to change from a Northerly to a Westerly heading it turned through East and South first.

  7. rmason

    Drugs are bad, MMMMKAY?

    If they are anything like their counterparts in nuclear submarines, then it's probably simple.

    Bored operator out of his tiny little mind on some form of snort-able or smoke-able narcotic.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Sharks with Lasers

    Obvious really, they both went down over the sea and sharks live in the sea, oh and they were North Korean sharks using Russian lasers.

  9. Paul Westerman
    Black Helicopters

    It makes people disappear

    The Barmouth Triangle!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: It makes people disappear

      Arrr, many a salty sea captain has lost seaman in those waters.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    They call them 'flying lawnmowers' locally in Ceredigion.

    I was there walking this week, a big school of Dolphins near LLangrannog was fantastic to watch. They were jumping right out the water and making large bellyflops, with the loud crash sound taking a second or two to reach shore. It has been pretty good weather all in, that 's unusual too.

    The flying lawnmowers have been out every day this week from Aberporth, annoying the peace and tranquility of the landscape.

    Ominous things in the flesh. I'd rather be surrounded by Octopus than Watchkeepers, they come inland too, then head back out to sea.

  11. SkippyBing Silver badge

    Accident Investigation

    'Civil aviation has long grasped this essential point and the Air Accidents Investigation Branch is proactive with publishing interim reports into civil aircraft crashes and malfunctions. In contrast, the Military Aviation Authority says very little on matters of public interest.'

    Strictly the MAA has no knowledge of the investigation until the final report is published by the Defence Accident Investigation Branch (Air) (DAIB(Air)), the same is true for the CAA and the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB). The investigators are independent from the regulators to ensure that where regulation, it's enforcement, or associated assurance activity, are found to be at fault there's no temptation to cover it up.

    The DAIB(Air) final reports are made publicly available, with minimal redacting, they don't often do interim reports though, although if they find something that needs to be acted on immediately they will inform the appropriate chain of command.

    1. AndyS

      Re: Accident Investigation

      Skippy, interesting comment.

      Do UAVs fall into the DAIB's remit, and is it likely that these crashes are subject to such an investigation? In which case, how long is the usual delay before publication? And why, when the author of this article contacted them, did the MoD not explain that?

      1. SkippyBing Silver badge

        Re: Accident Investigation

        Yes they do and yes it is. In fact it's beyond likely that they'll be investigated, although the lack of physical evidence makes it hard to come to solid conclusions.

        The average DAIB accident report seems to take about 18 months to 2 years to be completed.

        I'm guessing the bit of the MoD Gaz contacted simply didn't know so fell back on a standard response, bearing in mind you can't just ring up any old bit of the MoD for a response and the bits you can ring up may just give you their understanding of the situation rather than doing any investigating for you.

  12. Adrian 4 Silver badge

    FFS

    So the MoD can spend £20 million on drones and be unable to tell why they crashed.

    And we're happy to let the police fly drones over populated areas, unlike amateur users, because what ? They're better trained ? Have better drones ?

    When one crashes, as is inevitable, will they be able to determine why ?

    Do we even have a report on the manned aircraft crash on that glasgow club ? Last I looked, they still hadn't come to any useful conclusions.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: manned aircraft crash on that glasgow club ?

      "Do we even have a report on the manned aircraft crash on that glasgow club ? Last I looked, they still hadn't come to any useful conclusions."

      Helicopter operating on behalf of Police Scotland crashed into Clutha Vaults on 29 Nov 2013, ten fatalities? That one (was there another?)?

      If that one, then the final AAIB report was issued 2015.

      Find via e.g.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2013_Glasgow_helicopter_crash#Final_report

      "It found the main cause of the accident to be mismanagement of the fuel system by the pilot. This resulted in the engines flaming out due to a lack of fuel despite there being 73 kilograms (161 lb) of usable fuel remaining in the main tanks. A failure to follow emergency checklists and land within ten minutes of the first warning of low fuel was a major contributory factor. Seven safety recommendations were made."

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: FFS

      So the MoD can spend £20 million on drones and be unable to tell why they crashed.

      £20m? Total programme cost is around £1.2bn and climbing. But you seem to be correct that they don't have much of a clue to why the latest two crashed. The two earlier ones they do know. So 50% success rate in knowing why they crashed, and a cost of around £90m for the four pranged drones (of course, they may have lost more, but be reluctant to admit it).

    3. DamnedIfIKnow

      Re: FFS

      'And we're happy to let the police fly drones over populated areas, unlike amateur users, because what ?'

      I didn't know we did. I'm not happy.

      Mind you, I bet the yanks were amazed to discover that the FBI had a permanent fleet of over 100 planes spying on their fellow citizens a while back. Wonder if they still are.

      You need 100 planes to stop people being run over by vans. Obviously.

  13. Borg.King

    Target practice

    That range off Aberporth has been used for target practice in the past. No mention if the wrong 'target' got in the way.

  14. handleoclast

    Scaremongering

    From the article:

    For all the public knows, the next Watchkeeper crash could result in one of these million-pound airframes landing in their back gardens – or even a built-up area.

    Yeah, but right now they're being flown from West Wales Slightly-Better-Than-A-Mud-Airstrip. If they do crash in a built-up area, it's going to be in Wales' second-most sparsely-populated county, Ceredigion. So if the Watchkeeper costs £22 million (as one commentard said) then the total damages will amount to £22,000,001.47. And I'm being generous in my estimate by assuming it crashes in one of the big population centres (big by Ceredigion standards, tiny by English standards). There's bugger-all in Ceredigion of any significant value (I include myself in that).

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Scaremongering

      There's bugger-all in Ceredigion of any significant value (I include myself in that).

      But imagine the social problems if it landed on Lidl in Aberytwyth? Or Vapourlicious on Terrace Road?

      1. handleoclast

        Re: Scaremongering

        @AC

        It would have plenty of opportunity to crash in Aberaeron and New Quay on the way. Not much in either of those, except for the council offices in Aberaeron. So no loss.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Scaremongering

          It would have plenty of opportunity to crash in Aberaeron and New Quay on the way. Not much in either of those, except for the council offices in Aberaeron. So no loss.

          What about Calon Cariad in Aberaeron? Decent lingerie shops are few and far between, so that'd be a loss to the world? And there's two or three very good chip shops in Aberaeron? And the Harbourmaster pub does very good food (if you can tolerate the middle class customers).

    2. SkippyBing Silver badge

      Re: Scaremongering

      However it is due to be operated, and indeed has in the past operated, from Boscombe Down over Salisbury Plain Training Area (SPTA). That's a bit more densely populated, in fact they have to activate an extra segment of restricted airspace to allow Watchkeeper to climb high enough over Boscombe Down that when it comes to cross the A303 it's high enough that it can glide over it in the event of an engine failure. In fact all its operations over SPTA are designed so that it can recover to a safe position in the event of an emergency. I mean safe for people, I think the drone could end up in an impact area for artillery training...

      1. handleoclast

        Re: Scaremongering

        @SkippyBing

        You make my point. It was operated from Boscombe Down. Then they realized how dodgy it was so they relocated to somewhere it couldn't do much damage. If they ever manage to get it to work properly, it can go back to Boscombe Down.

        1. SkippyBing Silver badge

          Re: Scaremongering

          The move from Boscombe was at least in part due to the faff mixing with all the other traffic there and the difficulty getting good enough weather to do what they wanted. There's not much chance of causing too much damage crashing on Salisbury Plain as most of its an active range.

          To be clear my personal opinion is that it's one of the most appallingly run programmes of recent times. They've spent 1/3 of an aircraft carrier for literally no capability. The short deployment to Afghanistan was a PR effort that is hard to justify in retrospect.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Scaremongering @SkippyBing

            To be clear my personal opinion is that it's one of the most appallingly run programmes of recent times.

            I say old chap, you don't think you're overlooking other epic MoD achievements? What about half a billion for a squadron of Chinooks that gathered dust for a decade whilst the forces really needed them? Or cutting the number of Astute class subs to save money, then delaying the programme so that the costs went up by the amount that would have paid for that last submarine? Nimrod MRA4 - £3.5bn wasted in return for.......nothing. The carriers - signed off at £3.65bn for both, with an outturn that hasn't yet been declared, but looks to be at least double that, with past whispers from the PAC that it might be around £12bn. The ridiculous mess made buying offshore patrol vessels that weren't needed, and which add zero to the Navy's military capability. The £2.6bn overspend on the unreliable Type 45s that spend more time being repaired than working. The failure to replace Harpoon in 2020, meaning the RN will have no anti-ship missiles until 2030. The €4bn+ mess that is A400M. The unknown billions spent adapting the unsuitable Typhoon to have bombs sellotaped to its wings. The half a billion frittered on the Bowman radio system. The whole F35 debacle. Leasing C17s at a higher cost than if we'd bought them outright (probably the same for the Voyagers). £125m overspend on Brimstone missiles.

            And that's mostly off the top of my head, as somebody with no professional involvement, no current or recent contacts in MoD, forces, or their suppliers.

            1. SkippyBing Silver badge

              Re: Scaremongering @SkippyBing

              I did say one of! Bar Nimrod MRA4 the other programmes have at least got a usable asset at the end of the day, even if that day wasn't the one originally scoped. Also you shouldn't believe everything you read in the press, for example Typhoon was originally planned as a Jaguar replacement so air to ground was always part of the plan, it was just less of a priority than air to air after the end of the Cold War.

    3. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge
      Paris Hilton

      Re: Scaremongering

      Bon-dai (Alistair Dabbs) battles mysterious Dr. Nac, a scientific genius bent on destroying the UK Watchkeeper Drone program. As the cost of the program spirals out of control, Bon-dai must go to Ceredigion, where he encounters beautiful shepherdess Paris, and confronts a megalomaniacal villain in his headquarters under a Welsh mountain, after slaying a fire breathing dragon that was keeping inquisitive locals away

  15. Steve 114
    Boffin

    Balance?

    Doubt if these things cost what's claimed - someone's just 'apportioning' fixed/sunk cost. Years ago on certain MoD contracts there were lots of trials, quite a few of them unsuccessful (which is why they were called 'trials') and no outsiders ever got told. That was the nature of the work, and we were still close enough to wartime for people to understand.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Balance?

      Doubt if these things cost what's claimed - someone's just 'apportioning' fixed/sunk cost.

      Maybe. But we still have a problem that the Moronistry of Defence have spent £22m per asset on something they could just have bought off-the-fucking-shelf for a couple of mill. And no matter how you arrive at £22m a pop, that's still been spent in cash terms at some point.

  16. Oldgroaner

    At least he doesn't have to worry about it any longer!

    This is one thing Fallon (now politically RIP) won't have to worry about. Always look on the bright side of life!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: At least he doesn't have to worry about it any longer!

      "This is one thing Fallon (now politically RIP) won't have to worry about. "

      Was it the Hartley-Brewer knee (not a desirable object in my opinion) or was it an excuse to get out before the Budget?

      1. Roj Blake Silver badge

        Re: At least he doesn't have to worry about it any longer!

        Apparently there's a long list of things he's got up to, including a drunken incident with a Russian lady. Allegedly.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Yugos are safer and airborne more often

    2 crashes in 146 hours of operation? I would crash my car about once a month at that level of performance.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    1.2bn for 146h

    Is that about £822000 p/h?

    As long as us plebs keep paying the taxes and watching the BBC fear porn they are fine.

  19. Potemkine!

    Perfidious Albion

    Watchkeeper WK450-series drone fleet, built and partially operated by French defence contractor Thales

    "The Watchkeeper WK450 is based on the Elbit Hermes 450 UAV and is built in the UK by a joint venture company, UAV Tactical Systems (U-TacS), set up by the Israeli company Elbit Systems (51% ownership) and the Thales group. "

    Does playing the old anti-french sentiment still pay in british media?

    1. Andy 97

      Re: Perfidious Albion

      "Does playing the old anti-french sentiment still pay in british media?"

      It's all Brexit fodder...

      In the real world we've forgiven them for most things including: fixing the targeting algorithm on Exocet missiles used against us by the Argentinians during The Falklands War.

      http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-17256975

      1. Potemkine!

        Re: Perfidious Albion

        "a French technical team - mainly working for a company 51% owned by the French government - stayed in Argentina throughout the war."

        As mentioned in the article: this technical team stayed - meaning they were there already, and for weeks before the invasion.

        When the embargo was decided, nobody among the deciders thought about this team, and there was no easy mean to exfiltrate them easily and safely from Argentina after the embargo was in place. Because the people in charge didn't want the team to disappear as it happened too many times in Argentina, they decided the best solution (or better the less worse one) was to do nothing.

        So no, it was not a revenge for Mers-el-Kebir.

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Clear The Flight Deck

    Have they checked the airspace over the bay to verify there are no unmapped obstructions? Dark Towers, bay bestriding collossi, parked aircraft, dead birds, etc?

  21. Chairman of the Bored Silver badge

    Odd.

    In the late 90's worked with some decidedly British target drones. Meggitt Defense Banshee 400s. IIRC about 50 grand an airframe. Full authority digital autopilot... radar alt for sea skimming, etc. Very, very good kit. Highly reliable, and did everything we expected it to do. So I know you guys can do a proper job of this, must be something odd going on.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: must be something odd going on.

      The target systems piece of Meggitt was sold to Qinetiq late in 2016:

      http://www.telegraph.co.uk/business/2016/12/21/meggitt-sells-drone-targets-business-qinetiq/

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