Select Committee on Defence Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Letter from the Minister of State for Defence Procurement (10 April 2001)

  I am writing to inform you that, later today, Geoff Hoon will be answering a Parliamentary Question, regarding the progress of the Advanced Short-Range Air-to-Air Missile (ASRAAM) towards its in-service date (ISD) of April 2001.

  ASRAAM is a fast, highly agile, fire-and-forget missile for short range air-to-air combat, to be fitted to the Tornado F3, Harrier GR9, Sea Harrier FA2 and, eventually, to Eurofighter. However, the prime contractor, Matra BAe Dynamics (UK) Ltd (MBD) has not yet achieved the missile performance level required by the Department. The company has encountered a number of technical problems, which have caused some delay to the programme and mean that ISD will not be achieved.

  Whilst MBD has continued their efforts to improve the missile performance, the Department believes that the performance currently offered is still unacceptable, and is not prepared to take delivery of any missiles until MBD can show that an acceptable standard can be met.

  Our new Smart Acquisition policy means tackling problems like this head-on, and we are working closely with MBD to resolve the problems. We are seeking to agree a credible and robust programme that will achieve the required level of performance, even if this means changing the current design and takes some time to implement. Only when there is confidence that there exists a robust incremental route to full operational capability might the Department accept limited numbers of missiles to an interim standard for ISD, in line with incremental Smart Acquisition principles. The aim is to ensure that MBD devise the necessary solutions to identify a clear route to full capability, which would then enable a new in-service date to be set. This route map should be agreed with the company during the summer. It is therefore not possible to define a new ISD at this stage, but I will keep you informed of our progress.

  We are also determined to draw the lessons from this programme when we sign the contract for Meteor, the new Beyond Visual Range Air-to-Air Missile for Eurofighter, which will also be built by MBD, to ensure that they deliver the standard missile we require when we need it. As the Secretary of State announced last year, the Meteor contract will include a series of key technological milestones, failure to achieve any of which may lead to the termination of the contract with all money being returned to the partners. A taut contract for Meteor, including the requirement to demonstrate that these milestones are achieved, will ensure that any performance shortfalls will be identified and tackled during the development programme.

  ASRAAM uses advanced, cutting-edge technology which inevitably carries risk, and delivering the high standard of capability required is a tough challenge for MBD. Many UK jobs depend on this type of advanced technology: 4,000 in the case of ASRAAM and 1,200 for Meteor. If the UK is to retain its leading role in this area, it is important for companies like MBD to get it right. And I am also determined that our pilots should get the missile they deserve to maintain air superiority into the future.

  We are confident that, once we are able to accept ASRAAM into service, it will provide a significant contribution to achieving and maintaining air superiority. Until that time, Tornado F3, Harrier GR9 and Sea Harrier FA2 aircraft will continue to have an effective short-range air-to-air capability using Sidewinder AIM-9L missiles. This delay will have no impact on Eurofighter's operational capability.

previous page contents

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2001
Prepared 14 May 2001