OK, I'm getting bored waiting for the Scotland Office to actually put out the new version of their oil / budget balance paper, instead of giving us multiple teaser press releases on it.
Here's something I've been sitting on for a while.
"Carrier starts to take shape
The ships are probably beginning to look familiar – you will have seen them, in various guises, in computer-generated graphics over the last few years.
The ones pictured on this page are about as close as we will get to the real thing, because the main structural elements have been finalised. Only the details are liable to change.
But the two Queen Elizabeth-class carriers are more than just digital images. They have started to take physical form.
In shipyards and workshops around the country, parts of the new carriers are under construction, and even at this stage, geographically scattered as they are, recognisable sections are approaching completion.
Under the auspices of the Aircraft Carrier Alliance – the main players being BAE Systems, BVT, Thales, Babcock and the MOD (as both customer and participant in the process) – and their sub-contractors, the bulbous bow is nearing completion at Appledore in the West Country, work on Lower Blocks 1 and 2 has begun on the Tyne and Lower Block 3 is under way at Govan on the Clyde, with the same yard starting on Block 4 next month.
Construction of the rudders and stabilisers is well under way, as is work on the sponsons.
The massive aircraft lifts and diesel generators are all completed.
There has also been a good deal of work on infrastructure to cope with the new ships, with one of the main projects being the preparation of No. 1 Dock at Rosyth, originally built in World War I.
The £35m project, due for completion next summer, will include 120 m-span crane which is due for delivery early next year, and by then the dock will hopefully have a name with more resonance than No. 1 Dock.
So the hulls are in hand, but it will be years before the diverse units are welded together into a recognisable ship.
A similar, parallel path is being trodden by those responsible for the ships' systems, with integration being the mantra on everyone's lips.
There are two aspects to the systems side of things.
The first is the actual engineering – the development of hardware and the associated software to achieve the desired results, and how each system fits into the steel hull and interacts with other such systems, whether mission control, communications or myriad other crucial computer-driven functions.
But the second is just as important – training sailors to use these systems.
The beauty of the approach employed by the Aircraft Carrier Alliance is that these two aspects are symbiotic – as systems are developed and refined, people are more adept at using them, and as the people become more familiar with them they can feed observations or criticisms back into the system, identifying problem areas or ironing out wrinkles as they occur.
That philosophy exists at all levels of the carrier project in what some might consider the acme of 'smart acquisition'.
Regular meetings between members of the Alliance allow potential problems, possible design improvements and a host of other build issues to be aired as soon as they come to light – a means of 'de-risking' the process in the hope that no nasty shocks appear when it is more costly or difficult to rectify them - “plenty of wonders but no surprises” as one manager put it.
As Navy News went to press the focus was on de-risking joint air operations using a mix of sophisticated computer-driven simulations, and a sin-bin... more about that in our January edition.
Similar work is being carried out elsewhere – the communications and radar suites are the responsibility of BAE's Coronet facility on the Isle of Wight, and where possible each separate system will be hooked up to the others to ensure they can 'talk' to each other and operate together with no interference.
The ethos of openness and honesty between commercial partners and the customer extends across the Atlantic, where levels of industrial co-operation have pleasantly surprised some of the more experienced workforce on the Alliance teams.
And it is not just the war bit of these warships which require an in-depth, integrated approach.
A carrier is certainly a floating airfield, allowing the UK to carry out autonomous operations wherever the politicians and military decide.
But it is also a floating office block for around 1,500 people who need to be connected to a reliable integrated IT system.
It is also a floating town, with the need for power, water supplies, sewerage, health services, recreation facilities and so on.
Components for the first ship, then, are taking shape right now.
But because of the requirements for niche expertise and sheer weight of engineering and manufacturing capacity, HMS Prince of Wales will be built subsequently – it was simply not practical or cost-effective to 'surge' production on two ships through the yards and factories."
And before there are any sarky comments about these beauties being cancelled, my contacts in the know are pretty clear that the institutional memory of the cancellation of CVA-01 in the 60s is so strong that between them, the Navy and Big-And-Expensive-Systems plc have made damn sure that it would cost any government more to cancel the CVFs than to build them.
Huzzah! Especially for various places like Govan and Rosyth.
Not something that would be happening in an "independent" Scotland, would it?