Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence


Examination of witnesses (Questions 140-153)

WEDNESDAY 2 MAY 2001

SIR ROBERT WALMSLEY KCB AND VICE-ADMIRAL SIR JEREMY BLACKHAM KCB

  140. Have you had any second thoughts about not buying the Block-4 Tactical Tomahawk?
  (Vice-Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) We have, as you know, bought missiles to replace the ones that we fired in Kosovo. Your question refers to the TacTom. The answer is that we are doing some work to see what will be necessary to make it possible to use that missile from our existing submarines because, as I am sure you know, it launches a different way, it is a vertical launch as opposed to a horizonal launch missile. The cost of converting submarines to put vertical launch arrangements on them is substantial and the design problems are substantial. It may well be that the missiles can be used in a tube launch fashion and some preliminary feasibility work is being done that in area.
  (Sir Robert Walmsley) I think we are pretty confident that is going to be all right, it just means spending money.

  141. That brings me straight on to the next question which is the issue of the relative mix required, the balance you are seeking between air-launched and sea-launched cruise missiles.
  (Vice-Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) I am going to be repeating myself again if I am not careful. The issue here is what is the weight of fire that we are trying to put down on whatever targets the commander ashore wants. There is an investment study being conducted by my manoeuvre capability area, who are the customers, the recipients, of fire support of all sorts, to see what they would most like to have. If the conclusion of that is that we need to have a heavier weight of Tactical Tomahawk missiles from surface ships then we will see whether we can put that into the programme. There is no technical reason at all why we should not do so, the Type 45 has been designed with both the deck strength and the magazine capacity to do that.

  142. I am going to back, if I may, to my earlier line of questioning. Is there not something rather incongruous about the fact that for a generation now we have been spending far more on the air defence of the Royal Navy than the air defence of the United Kingdom, at least against missiles? I was recently privileged to be present at a demonstration of the V2, a weapon based on technology nearly 60 years old that killed 2,500 people. We now have hugely greater conventional ballistic missiles in the hands of growing numbers of people which can already reach Southern Europe and in another few years will reach Britain. Is there not something rather odd about the fact that we are spending a fortune on a range of air defence systems for Royal Navy ships to enable them to deliver anti-ground systems of one sort or another, and yet we spend almost nothing on protection against conventional missile threats to the United Kingdom?

  Chairman: He is not going to answer this one.
  (Vice-Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) I used to be in the Royal Navy so you would expect me to say it was a jolly good thing. As a matter of fact, by a long way the most expensive project in the entire defence calender at the moment is the Eurofighter, which seems to me like providing air defence.

Mr Brazier

  143. Against ballistic missiles?
  (Vice-Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) No, no, no. We are also proposing to spend a lot of money, in fact I think it is the second largest programme we have got, on an offensive air capability which would certainly be directed, amongst other things, at potential missile launchers. I think I feel fairly confident that we are spending a lot of money in these two areas. As far as the question of ballistic missile defence is concerned, obviously that is an issue we will have to look at as and when we are directed so to do.

  Mr Brazier: Thank you.

Chairman

  144. The question could be answered by Baroness Symons. If there is no election on the date that everybody anticipates then the second advantage, or disadvantage, will be that the Minister will be coming in and I am sure Mr Brazier can ask the question of her because it is very much a political decision. Three brief questions. Press reports of the C-130J having difficulties again, are these exaggerated?
  (Sir Robert Walmsley) The only press reports that I have seen, Chairman, were associated with the deployment of paratroopers from the aircraft. I have no knowledge of what led to the press report which was about the hang-up consequences for a paratrooper. It is true that we did try to deploy dummy paratroopers and it is true that there was a contact between such a dummy and a fuselage, but at no stage was this associated with trials of simultaneous drops from the two side doors on both sides of the aircraft. I just think that the report is a bit of a muddle and, as usual, there is just a tiny element of truth in it. We are absolutely confident that the C-130J, which is only flying at the same speed as the other so it has got the same thrust as the other aircraft, as the C-130K, will be satisfactory for this. It is also simply not true, as one of the press reports said, that the RAF had asked for ten extra C-130Ks to be kept back in the inventory for paratroop drops. In fact, we have reduced the number of C-130Ks we are going to keep, partly as a result of our confidence in the C-130J.

Mr Brazier

  145. When is it coming in?
  (Sir Robert Walmsley) The C-130J is in service with the Royal Air Force now and is doing its enhancement capability trials to prove all these various different components of its capability.

  146. What is the target date for it to be operational?
  (Sir Robert Walmsley) I cannot remember the date for the full operational capability. It is on its way.

Chairman

  147. Fifteen are already accepted. Maybe we can volunteer some names for other than sacks of something to be thrown out of the aircraft to test. Maybe the Lockheed Martin executives to prove that everything is perfect. This was the cause of the problem initially, I can recall, why Lockheed Martin had considerable problems five or six years ago when they threw some sacks out of the side simulating a parachute attack, so it is rather ironic that this same problem appears to have cropped up, although you have squashed any suggestion that there is much validity in this, and I hope that is right. On another issue far closer to you, the Tornado GR1/GR4 update.
  (Sir Robert Walmsley) It is not a success story, Chairman, but it is going to be. The operational capability of the aircraft will come through starting from the summer of next year in full and we expect to see Brimstone and Stormshadow and a number of other weapons completely integrated on the GR4 aircraft by the end of next year. It is a matter of enormous regret, and I know that does not cut any mustard here and nor should it, but it simply has been much more difficult on integration than we expected. I think one of the first questions this morning asked me why were we going to spend £600 million on Joint Strike Fighter for UK national programmes. It is recognition that the integration task of weapons in combat aircraft is absolutely the opposite of trivial; it is a huge job. We need to recognise that and devote more resources to it than we did in the case of the GR1 to GR4.

  148. Are the ones which have been delivered so far okay? Is the whole programme jeopardised?
  (Sir Robert Walmsley) As with all these things, most of it is software. The ones we have so far have a certain capability and by the end of next year they will have a far greater capability as the advanced software is loaded into their systems.

  149. So the ones accepted so far will have to go back to be completed?
  (Sir Robert Walmsley) I suspect the work is quite capable of being done at operational stations. It is not hardware modifications, I think it is just loading more noughts and ones into the aircraft.

Mr Viggers

  150. How does this relate to the introduction of Enhanced Paveway, because Enhanced Paveway is intended to be deployed with GR4? If GR4 is being delayed, does this delay the in-service date of Enhanced Paveway?
  (Sir Robert Walmsley) I cannot remember the integration date for Paveway.
  (Vice-Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) I am afraid I cannot either. We will let you know.

  Mr Viggers: Thank you. You did tell us, Admiral, that Enhanced Paveway would be in service later this year, the previous documentation said October 2001, and obviously if GR4 has been delayed and this delays Enhanced Paveway we would like to know that.[2]

Chairman

  151. I could not quite hear what was said a little earlier and perhaps you can help me. Are we considering buying the Tactical Tomahawk?
  (Sir Robert Walmsley) Only if we should use any of the missiles we currently have and use enough of them so the Government and Admiral Blackham or his successor decides we should need to do so.

  152. When we met you a year ago you were a little down-beat on the success in major procurement projects, and you were about to be criticised by the National Audit Office, less so by us, if I recall. Are you up-beat, down-beat, no mood swings? How would you say the whole process has gone? I know we have picked on a few where we have been critical but overall how satisfied are you that the Smart procurement project is working or is likely to work? More successful in the future?
  (Sir Robert Walmsley) I try not to be too up-beat because I always think people would think, "Does he really know what is happening?" The answer is, I am quite confident we have the right prescription. I am really pleased with the energy exhibited by the integrated project teams. It is a delight to see. Of course, Chairman, we welcome you coming to see them again any time. People who come down say, "Wow, that is different from how the Procurement Executive used to seem." It has energised, empowered—ghastly word—really ambitious integrated project teams. So that is going well. The National Audit Office—and actually I have heard Sir John Bourn even say this in public—is quite cautious but when it says there are signs of improvement, I regard that as at least one pat on the back. We take enormous encouragement from that, my staff take encouragement from that. We genuinely do have in the Defence Procurement Executive a performance management system which means we know what is going on month to month in a way which I think would be recognised by somebody running a business, in a way which would not be recognised by somebody who had served in the Procurement Executive under previous arrangements. So actually I am up-beat but I try not to show it in case people think I do not know what is happening.

Mr Brazier

  153. Could we have that list of the 28,000 seafarers, because if you are relying on the Whitstable fishing fleet, I am afraid it has almost disappeared.
  (Sir Robert Walmsley) I will go back and have the number investigated.[3]

  Chairman: I do not think Julian wants all the names!

  Mr Brazier: Just the break-down!

  Chairman: That is our last session on procurement unless the Baroness is dragged before us screaming in two weeks' time. Thank you very much. We have always found your evidence refreshing because you are on the back foot most of the time but displaying a degree of honesty that is not necessarily replicated on every single occasion. We wish you the very best of luck. We will be watching very carefully, whether we are on the Committee or not, the success with which we manage to procure weapons for our Armed Forces in the future. Thank you both for coming along.



2   Note by witness: The recent difficulties on the Tornado GR4 Mid Life Update, which have now been resolved, have not delayed the in service date of Enhanced Paveway. We are confident that the Enhanced Paveway will be in service by the end of October 2001 and that we will have the aircraft to operate them. Back

3   Note by witness: CDP's statement that 28,000 UK seafarers currently serve was drawn from the United Kingdom Seafarers Analysis 1999 (Centre for International Transport Management, London Guildhall University, ISBN 1899 764 16X) which stated that, as at 30 June 1999, there were 28,085 UK Seafarers comprising of 15,897 Officers, 779 Cadets and 11,409 Ratings.

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