Fans of distressed aerospace programs, look away now. After over a decade of tortured development, the days of the planned upgrade to the little jet airliner that couldn’t, the Nimrod MR4A, are numbered. The program — previously known as Nimrod 2000 — was meant to have been introduced either side of, you guessed it, the year 2000, but it’s 11 years on and only now is the first plane ready for flight testing. Sadly, the economic crisis and shocking incompetence at Britain’s Ministry of Defense has meant that the nine MR4A planes will be culled, which has enraged elderly retired generals and unions. The work is taking place at the BAE Systems plant at Woodford, Manchester. While the cull will save £2 billion, the entire program to date had put the U.K. taxpayer back roughly £4 billion.
After securing use of the Black Sea port of Sevastapol, the Russian navy plans to expand its facilities there. Russia also hopes to modernize its navy, adding a new destroyer, several frigates and a brand-new French Mistral-class amphibious assault ship. This happens during a period of renewed tension between Russia and the Ukraine, in whose territory Sevastapol is located. Originally, Ukranian president Viktor Yanukovich agreed a deal with his Russian counterpart Dimitry Medvedev, renewing the base lease in exchange for a big fat discount on natural gas. Since then, Russia has been dragging its feet on the deal.
In a multi-national defense project, everyone is expected to pull their weight. For example, in the F-35 program America expects everyone involved to buy lots and lots of F-35s. In the case of the troubled European transport plane, the Airbus A400M, everyone is expected to sell as many as possible. Germany is leading the way as it plans to sell 13 of its fleet after already dropping its original order of 60 down to 53. This seems to be the price of the German government funding its share of the A400M. The idea is good in theory, but carries a big risk. If they can’t sell them, the German taxpayer will be stuck with 13 transport aircraft they don’t want.
Showing that the E.U. is not afraid of China, the emaciated supra-national bloc has agreed to stockpile certain rare metals — most of which come from China — that are required to make some of Europe’s most high-tech defense systems. The European Commission has identified at least 14 rare metals that may need to be stockpiled. They have also warned that it will suspend “from the General System of Preferences (GSP) countries that apply unjustified restrictions to raw materials,” which means that nations that block the export of rare metals will be struck off the E.U’s list of preferred trading partners. This in turn sparked off a whole new furor, as many free-trade campaigners have pointed out that in the European Commission’s rush to look hard and tough in the face of China, they may also jeopardize many Third World nations that depend on the export of rare metals.
The world of defense blogging welcomes a newcomer in the next few weeks, as venerable weekly The Economist plans to unleash its own defense blog. They’re calling on the general public to submit their ideas for the blog’s name, just so long as it “accords with our style and 19th-century origins — and, preferably, not begin with a ‘b’ (as many of our blogs and columns do, for entirely accidental reasons).”