Select Committee on Public Accounts Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 20 - 39)



  20. Has this led to certain problems? Let us just look at one problem which the Chairman has already alluded to, which I should like you to go into more detail about. According to paragraph 3.14, "The first three Type 45 Destroyers will enter service with some capability shortfalls because some capabilities, such as a sonar, have been traded-off to make ships affordable". It was not quite clear from the answer which the Vice Admiral gave the Chairman what sort of sonar these ships will have when they enter service. He did seem to make some reference to sonar, but reading this paragraph, it looks as though they will not have a sonar at all.
  (Sir Robert Walmsley) Things move on.
  (Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) I did not think I was being imprecise. I said that the ship will have a sonar and that is the intention. I am not the author of this paragraph and things do move on. The position as far as I am concerned is that since we first started working on this ship I have always been quite clear that a vessel which did not have a sonar was a non-deployable vessel in any but the most benign circumstances.

  21. Exactly.
  (Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) That is not the way in which the Royal Navy can operate its ships. I have been absolutely clear that they must have a sonar. We have been giving some thought to what the possibilities are. There are various off-the-shelf sonars and there are sonars in our own ships which are becoming redundant as the ships are paid off. We have a range of choices. We intend to issue an invitation to tender next month for the sonar fit for the ship and it is the plan that the first ship will enter service with a sonar fitted.

  22. I am very glad you said that because when one read this paragraph it was, I am sure you would agree, and I accept you are not responsible for this paragraph, rather a shocking paragraph, particularly the statement, ". . . without sonar it is unlikely that the Type 45 Destroyers would be deployed alone to theatres where a significant submarine threat is perceived". From what you have said, the sort of sonar which you envisage being fitted has all been rather done on the hoof. You talked in terms of buying second class ones and all the rest of it. Are they going to be effective in every theatre against every perceived threat?
  (Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) I do not think I used quite the words you are suggesting.

  23. You did not say second class. I am sorry and apologise for that. I think you said in certain circumstances second hand, perhaps ripped out of a previous ship.
  (Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) I said there was a range of sonars available including off-the-shelf sonars which are widely fitted in the ships of a large number of nations and sonars from ships which are being paid off. Those sonars are not necessarily redundant merely because a ship is being paid off, indeed they are widely fitted in ships which will continue in service. Whichever sonar we choose will be the one which is effective and value for money. As the customer I am not interested in having a sonar set which is unable to cope with the sorts of submarine threats we might face.

  24. These off-the-shelf sonars which are available to a number of navies around the world, is this the sort of solution which the Royal Navy has resorted to in the past?
  (Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) Yes; we have done it with a whole wide range of weapons, indeed the ships we have at sea today have purchased various systems from other nations.

  25. Was it ever envisaged by somebody in the MoD that a Royal Navy destroyer would go into active service unequipped with an item of kit which was in our ships, the little corvettes playing around the North Atlantic, 60 years ago? Did anybody in the MoD actually think that ships should go into service without a sonar?
  (Sir Robert Walmsley) I have to take responsibility for the report and to make it quite clear that at the time it was written this was correct. So there is no question about us resiling from this text as it was written.

  26. You actually were prepared to send a Royal Navy ship into service without a sonar which Royal Navy ships have been equipped with for 60 years? That was your aim at one time was it?
  (Sir Robert Walmsley) It certainly was not our aim. I am simply making the point that the report was correct at the time it was written. As you see the words there, they have hit home inside the MoD. It is that which has caused us to have a rethink and it is not that long ago since we had frigates at sea without a gun. These things do happen.

  27. They may happen, but it is almost laughable frankly.
  (Sir Robert Walmsley) But it is not going to happen here.

  28. It is almost laughable that it was ever envisaged. What about Sea Dart, paragraph 3.14? "Designed in the 1960s", as paragraph 3.13 says, "Sea Dart provides limited effectiveness against emerging stressing 21st century threats". That is rather an understatement is it not?
  (Sir Robert Walmsley) It is an exact statement. It still remains a very effective weapon, as long range weapon against aircraft, but it is absolutely true that it was not designed as an anti-missile missile, in particular it was not designed to engage sea-skimming missiles. The modifications which have been undertaken on Sea Dart throughout its life and particularly this new infrared fuse are precisely designed to enhance its capability against sea-skimming missiles.

  29. When you say a system is effective that can mean anything or nothing. Will it actually protect these ships, these very valuable ships, from the perceived threat in the early twenty-first century?
  (Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) It will protect it against some elements of that threat, most notably aircraft and missiles which are not sea skimmers. It is not the only missile system we have in service. Sea Wolf, which is in service widely, has been designed specifically as an anti-missile missile. This is part of a mixed force. The Sea Dart is a medium range missile against larger targets: the Sea Wolf is a shorter range missile and is designed to take on incoming missiles. Nonetheless the point you make is absolutely true and the Sea Dart is a missile whose effectiveness against the most modern of targets is declining, which one would expect with the passage of time.

  30. Is it declining or is it just non-existent?
  (Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) It is fine against those targets for which it has been designed, that is aircraft.

  31. But if your enemy is using sea-skimming missiles, what on earth is the point of having a defence system which is only useful against aircraft? You cannot determine who your enemies are going to be. You were prepared to send in a ship without sonar which would make it completely defenceless against submarines. You are now prepared to send a ship perhaps into service with a clapped out system designed in the 1960s which is incapable of meeting the threat which we all know is there from sea-skimming missiles. What is going on?
  (Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) I have never been prepared to send any ship to sea without a sonar and the Ministry of Defence was not the customer. We happen to have a large number of Type 42s whose worth has been proved, but the reason why it is urgent to bring in the Type 45s and the PAAMS missiles is precisely because the Sea Dart is an ageing missile which is of limited value against the most modern of threats. That is not true of the Sea Wolf which is part of the fleet package and indeed is more widely fitted than the Sea Dart.

  32. What would happen if before 2007 the United Kingdom were involved in an operational scenario similar to the Falklands conflict? Would our ships be able to defend themselves?
  (Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) I would expect so. As I have explained, a range of missiles is available, a range of aircraft is available. It would be surprising if we found ourselves in an operation against that kind of threat without other forces around as well. I should be very surprised.

  33. So we have to rely on other people now.
  (Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) No, we do not have to rely on other people.

  34. You said other forces would be around. What other forces? Our other forces?
  (Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) If we were involved in an operation at the highest level, I should be very surprised if we were the only players.

  35. So that is it. You have admitted it. We are incapable now of defending ourselves if we go it alone, as we did in the Falklands.
  (Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) That is actually the opposite of what I said. I said we would be able to defend ourselves against the sort of threats which we might expect. We have a range of missiles to do it. Sea Dart will take on the targets for which it is designed. Sea Wolf will take on the targets for which it is designed. Other close-in systems will play their role, as will fighter aircraft.

  36. Why did you mention that it was your expectation and hope that there would be other forces from other nations around?
  (Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) Volume of threat.

  37. Carrying on with paragraph 3.13, a programme to update Sea Dart is in progress—fair enough—it is now running eight years late. Can you just give us some idea of what has gone wrong and why this delay has been allowed to happen?
  (Sir Robert Walmsley) I shall first of all start by saying that the contract was placed in 1990 and we had a competition to decide what sort of fuse to put on this Sea Dart which was going to be effective against sea-skimming missiles. We chose an infrared fuse, a new technology coming in and we have talked before about the importance of infrared seekers as on Maverick as compared to radar seekers as on Brimstone. We chose infrared here. It proved to be extremely difficult to get this infrared fuse to work and also, as a result of an engagement during the Gulf War when Sea Dart successfully engaged a Silkworm missile—still in service incidentally in a number of potential threat areas—that was a receding target which means that the missiles had to overtake the jet engine. It is therefore quite important for an infrared fuse that it recognises a jet engine quite a long way away as opposed to the immediate presence of the target missile. A major modification had to be put into the programme following the Gulf War. We then had a number of test firings which showed false triggers of the fuse, that is premature detonation of the missile. It was extremely difficult to establish that this was caused by the natural raising in temperature of the front end of the missile as it flies supersonically towards its target, which caused flecks of paint to come off and wash backwards along the missile and these were detected by the infrared seeker. It took us a very long time indeed to understand, first of all that we had flecks of paint and then to find the right sort of paint which would not come off at these enormous temperatures and vibrations induced in a missile flying at that speed. The next problem was the sun.

  38. The sun has been around a long time.
  (Sir Robert Walmsley) It has. Like many things which have been around a long time, the best people did not understand the effect of the sun on the upward looking component of an infrared fuse. We now have to prove the software arrangements which will successfully discriminate against the sun if it suddenly emerges from behind a cloud just at the moment critique in the engagement. We will prove that next spring.

  39. That is all very interesting but a layman like myself finds it hard to understand why such clever boffins take eight years to realise that the sun is around and comes out occasionally.
  (Sir Robert Walmsley) I did not try to explain it. You asked me to tell you what happened.

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