The AEW Nimrod Story – A Cautionary Tale
Peter Brook FREng,
and Mike Parnell
We are approaching the 30th Anniversary of the cancellation of the Nimrod Airborne Early Warning (AEW) aircraft, arguably the most traumatic event to befall the post-war defence systems community which cast a shadow over the industrial and the procurement communities for most of the following decade and led indirectly to Smart Procurement.
The technological difficulties are relatively well known and certainly played a part. Less publicised are the many causes of failure resulting from the nature of the system, how it was specified and developed and how procurement was conducted.
This talk has been put together by two people who were directly involved at various times and in different roles in the 10 years leading up to cancellation:
• Peter Brook joined the (then) RSRE in Malvern as a systems scientist, responsible for total system studies and interoperability. After 4 years away on other duties he returned at a senior level and was invited to lead a major audit for MOD and was directly involved in the year leading up to final decision-making.
• Mike Parnell was a serving RAF navigator and flight trials specialist, who was attached for over 4 years to RSRE’s early warning radar research group for radar and systems flight trials of the Nimrod AEW3 and other aircraft – including the AWACS - and has first hand knowledge of technical performance issues and service opinion throughout.
Both have given talks on the subject to academic and DE&S audiences, giving their own perspectives, drawing also on original documentation and the recollection of colleagues, and are joining forces to offer this presentation. The story will be told from start to finish, and lessons will be drawn which are still relevant today.
About the speakers:
Professor Peter Brook FREng
Peter started his professional life as a physicist and joined the AEW project as a systems scientist at RSRE, concerned with whole system performance and interoperability. After a period heading Computer Networks Division he returned as Head of Air Defence and ATC, at which point the project was already in crisis. He led an audit for the (then) Head of Procurement Executive and had a ringside seat during the final decision-making. He has since held a number of senior posts in defence R&D, including Director of Science (Land) and Head of the MOD’s Integration Authority. He has devoted himself to improving professional practice in Systems Engineering – as Director of SE for DERA and as a prime mover in forming the UK Chapter of INCOSE, who awarded him a Fellowship in 2015, one of 4 world-wide.
Mike Parnell BSc, MRAeS, AFRIN
Commissioned into the RAF in 1973 Mike qualified as a navigator and flew the Shackleton AEW2 on Airborne Early Warning and Control (AEW&C) missions with No 8 Squadron. After training as a flight trials specialist, he was posted to the Royal Signals and Radar Establishment, Malvern, to report to MOD contractor trials of the Nimrod AEW3 mission system and was one of the four aircrew of the Flight Evaluation Team who conducted the final competition between the Nimrod and a NATO E-3A AWACS. The outcome is well known.
With the demise of the Nimrod, Mike conducted release to service testing and acceptance of the E-3D Sentry AEW1 communications and data links at the Aeroplane and Armament Experimental Establishment. On leaving the RAF in 1993 he joined the Defence Research Agency – later DERA – as a research engineer for C4I systems, including first use of Link 16 with the E-3D Sentry and F-3 Tornado. Since 2001 Mike has worked as a Programme Manager in aviation, defence and security, delivering IT and business change programmes, including Air Traffic Control installations.