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MoD Hawk Synthetic Training Service

Category: Defence

"Q: Do you think it's value for money? A: If it wasn't, we wouldn't have signed the contract. It's a dazzling deal for the MoD, it is outstanding value at 23% less than the public sector comparator and included significant risk transfer and real cash savings."

Ian Dex, Lead Negotiator and Project Manager, Defence Procurement Agency

October, 2002

The Hawk Synthetic Training Service (HSTF) is the MoD's first equipment PFI. It was completed on time and opened for service in December 1999. The facility is being used for training exercises that are taught on the actual Hawk aircraft from basic disciplines such as stalling and spinning to more advanced tactics such as ground attack and air to air combat.

BAE Sytems's 18-year contract is to provide a completely new facility with four simulators fully staffed with instructors and maintenance teams. It has already won Flight International's first place in the training category.

The PPP Forum interviewed Ian Dex, lead negotiator and project manager for HSTF, E3d Sentry Aircrew Training Service and FIASTS at the MoD's Defence Procurement Agency (DPA).

The RAF have always been proud of their fast jet pilots, there must have been some concern that PFI may put their front line service personnel at a security risk?

"There are always security concerns but the MoD incorporates provisions in it's contracts to ensure that security aspects are adequately dealt with covering both the contractor and it's sub contractors. The contractor has an obligation to ensure that the MoD is happy with their involvement."

HSTF is the first MoD PFI equipment programme, did you approach this differently?

"Yes, essentially, we were trying to manufacture something that had not existed before with completely different contractual arrangements. There were monthly meetings during which we would measure progress against pre-set milestones and we would always give information to try and help the contractors. Ultimately, however, it was up to BAE Systems to deliver the product however they wished as long as it met our output specification."

I understand the old simulators did not have any visual displays; these new facilities must be a vast improvement?

"It's like comparing a dolby surround sound TV with a valve radio!! It's a massive advance on what we had before."

The project was delivered on time and operational immediately. On delivery day, five sorties were undertaken in the simulators, what were the first impressions?

"The users loved it. It was vastly better than before. The availability went through the roof with four simulators running at nearly 100% and fully staffed. Previously, we had problems with recruiting and retaining instructors but now they are there when we need them. There is also great support from BAE Systems as they have long term vested interests in the HSTF due to the length of the contract."

How well does the RAF work with BAE systems?

"It is pretty seamless. The skill is running projects with all the right people with the right attitudes on both sides. There is a foot of contract paperwork, which both sides can resort to if there are problems, or you can reach a solution by working together. On HSTF we worked together which was a large contributory factor to its success."

The private sector has always worked with the MoD, do you think PPPs have made that relationship less adversarial?

"Yes, there is a lot of visibility with PPPs, especially on costs. You can see how well or badly the contractor is doing and the information is a lot more open. It becomes a much more trusting relationship."

Each pilot now spends 60 hours on the simulator compared with 27 on the old analogue system. The first set of trainees began their 9 - 10 month course in 2000, what assessment has been made of this batch of students using the new equipment?

"Good - I believe, better than before. It is difficult to judge empirically as there is no hard statistical data, but the feedback is that these students are far better prepared and there is less need to go through the basic steps in the aircraft."

This is a design, build, operate and maintain contract. How much involvement did the MoD have in the design?

"We gave a quite a lot of input into design and there were a few lively sessions at some of the progress meetings but we did not specify the design solution - in PFI that is the Contractors responsibility. The progress meetings provided an opportunity for the MoD to ask questions, which helps the contractors as they may not have considered certain aspects. Through our procurement activities, we get exposed to a lot of best practice and some of the worst. We try and use this experience to help them.

Ultimately, we give them the requirement and it is down to them how to go about it and if we had a huge fundamental problem with their plans, we wouldn't have placed the contract with them. There are some grey areas but whilst it is BAE Systems' problem to sort out, these are not problems the MoD has to worry about as in the past!

In the debriefing suite, there are laptops to replay sorties, do you think the IT resource is adequate. Were there such facilities before?

"There was nothing like that before. Instead, when trying to explain to pilots what they did, there was a lot of gesticulating!

The new facilities are extremely clinical. The instructors must be careful in their criticism because you can now identify all the errors and this can become demoralising to the pilots! However, things like printouts of actual target hit points is extremely useful

Do you think it is value for money?

"If it wasn't, we wouldn't have signed the contract. It's a dazzling deal for the MoD, it is outstanding value at 23% less than the public sector comparator and included significant risk transfer and real cash savings."

You have said that the HSTF means that the MoD is buying trained pilots and not equipment to train - this places great responsibility on BAE systems to train to the level the RAF require. Do you think it's working?

"Yes. The partnership is really working and if we were not happy with an instructor for instance, we can voice our concerns. If the pilots that came out of the programme were not up to scratch, we would work together with BAE Systems and look at the whole system, the instructors, simulators, management systems etc. There is a closed loop control and if there are problems these will be looked at and changes can be made so that the programme is effective."

What happens with unused capacity?

"We use it 100% or more. The simulators are operating 12 hours a day: it is pushed. The students really appreciate the facilities and the fact that instructors are there when they need them. For instance, as a result of true partnering, we reached a deal with BAE Systems whereby students are now able to use the cockpit trainer on a Sunday to fit in more with their need to "practice" in the device on their own. It's a great deal."

Were there any problems with transfer of staff to the private sector?

"No. We made sure they were ok and all were transferred under TUPE."

Do you feel that the 18-yr contract is restricting in any way?

"No. If anything, the longer the contract is the better value the project becomes. The contractor knows that they are in the contract for the long term and therefore their approach is much more of a partnership. BAE Systems are not making supernormal profits, but are doing well enough. Everybody wins and that is the best situation to be in."

The student drop out rate has decreased since the launch of the HSTF. How do you think the project has helped?

"It is a lot less stressful for students. For instance, with the cockpit trainers, they can practice as much as they want, whenever they like and the staff are there to help them. The instructors want them to pass as much as we do.

The students really value the facility and we no longer have to cattle prod them into the simulators

There have been other simulator projects since HSTF, do you think that the success of HSTF has been encouraging to those who were not too sure about PPPs?

"Yes, definitely. Everyone quotes the project and it's success. We have had a lot of our contract copied elsewhere and some of it is seen as best practice."

What do you think are the main benefits of the PPP?

1) "Confidence in delivery dates
2) Confidence in cost
3) Confidence in performance
4) A one stop shop for the end user, no more multiplicity of contracts, budgets, priorities etc.
5) Significant risk transfer
6) Savings due to innovation, efficiencies and third party revenue

It's challenging and enjoyable!"