Select Committee on Public Accounts Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 80 - 99)



  80. But we now discover as a result of what you told us last time that 30 naval vessels are equipped, as I understand it, with this air defence radar which is only occasionally effective.
  (Sir Robert Walmsley) No.

  81. All our aircraft carriers, our Type 42 destroyers, they are all dependent on a radar system that you told us does not work.
  (Sir Robert Walmsley) Because of its own air cooling system and now the air is dry and that modification has been put in and I am sorry, I do not know where we stand on all the ships today. It is nothing to do with the radar being inherently unable to work in wet weather. It is to do with the dryness of the air in the wave guides.

  82. Let us come then to the current situation. We have here a series of systems for delivering high explosives to the enemy. How many of these systems have been designed on the basis of using depleted uranium shells, your anti-tank programme?
  (Sir Robert Walmsley) I cannot say. Missiles tend not to be.

  83. What about your anti-tank programme.
  (Sir Robert Walmsley) It is ammunition and I am not sure I can help.

  84. Call it ammunition then.
  (Sir Robert Walmsley) As opposed to missiles which have a warhead.

  85. How important is depleted uranium to you at this time? This is a question which needs to be asked by the Committee of Public Accounts. Suppose that there were a world ban on depleted uranium in a couple of months' time. What difference would it make in terms of the capability of our forces at this time or our equipment and how much extra cost would it impose on you if instead you had to use tungsten tipped armament.
  (Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) There are two areas where we have depleted uranium weapons. One is in some anti-tank rounds, none of which were fired by the British Army in Kosovo, by the way.

  86. No, hardly anyone shot anything at Milosevic's tanks, did they? The Americans would not put their helicopters up in the air and we hardly had a go at them.
  (Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) The impression I have from the press is that quite a number of such rounds were used in the Balkans, but they were not used by the British Army. The other area is in the naval Vulcan Phalanx weapon where, as has been widely reported in the press, they are to be replaced by tungsten rounds. Those are the only two places where depleted uranium is used.

  87. What is that going to cost you?
  (Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) I am afraid I cannot answer that question. It happens to be part of the standard support budget because it is a replacement of existing rounds. I could find out the answer for you, I just do not have it here. The alternative will be replacing the rounds with other depleted uranium rounds so we are talking about the marginal additional cost[5].

  88. Marginal?
  (Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) We would be purchasing new rounds for the Vulcan Phalanx system in any event because the rounds we possess have been expended.

  89. This is very, very important in view of the discussion which is going on about dubiety. I do not pretend to be an expert in this area. I am not here to be an expert, I am here to ask questions. We do not know what is going to happen to the weaponry we are using at the moment or the shells we are using at the moment. Are you saying that it really would not be a significant extra cost to do away with the depleted uranium shells and replace them with tungsten tips because that would be very, very important to the House of Commons at the moment.
  (Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) I am saying that I did not know what the cost was, but I would be in a position to let you know. As far as the anti-tank rounds are concerned, you asked me what the operational impact would be. The depleted uranium round with its particular great weight, is particularly well designed for the purposes of stopping tanks. It is just worth reflecting for a moment, although it is obvious, that the greatest potential harm to our troops in war comes from the enemy. Therefore the ways in which you can stop enemy armour in this case or any other enemy activity is probably the greatest protection we can offer to our troops.

  90. May I interrupt for one second, because you are really the wrong person and it was unfair of me to ask you that question? Of course our financial expert is sitting alongside you, keeping remarkably quiet since he must be bubbling to tell me what you cannot tell me. I am sure he has worked out on his fingers and toes by now in the department what the extra cost will be if we were to use tungsten tipped as opposed to depleted uranium.
  (Sir Robert Walmsley) I have not and one of the reasons for that is that unless we can be absolutely assured that the thing works, then we would not take up that option.

  Mr Williams: Being absolutely sure a thing worked is a relatively new concept for the Ministry of Defence as far as I can gather. I am glad at least that our successive hearings have done something worth while. Chairman, we do not live in vain.


  91. I have been getting a little agitated frankly about paragraph 3.14 and this question of the three Type 45 destroyers. I will read it out to the Committee, just to remind them. "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 the ships affordable and to enable them to be brought into service sooner. The lack of sonar could impose operational and ship scheduling constraints on the initial ships until it is fitted", as Mr Steinberg indicated, probably keeping them in Devonport harbour. The date of this report is 22 November. We have a procedure which requires the Permanent Secretary of your department to sign off these reports. We do not really expect them to be materially different, and this is a material difference we are talking about now, seven weeks later. If they are, we expect to be told before the Committee meets. May I register that point, because it does make a large part of the conversation we are having today completely pointless?
  (Sir Robert Walmsley) I accept the rebuke: it is my responsibility to make sure the report is right. I can assure you that it was right when it was written. I can also indicate to you by way of an excuse—and I do not often use that word—that it is only in relatively recent days that this report has become inaccurate.

  92. In the last few days?
  (Sir Robert Walmsley) I do not know about "few". This year.

Mr Murphy

  93. Welcome again Sir Robert and welcome for the first time Vice Admiral, certainly in my experience. As you are aware, we are looking at four major projects this evening. Just for the record, how late is it perceived that the Brimstone anti-armour weapon is going to be?
  (Sir Robert Walmsley) It is perceived, by the people who are procuring it, as about 15 months late.

  94. How late would it be to the rest of the world?
  (Sir Robert Walmsley) Fifteen months.

  95. The Type 45 destroyer?
  (Sir Robert Walmsley) Five years.

  96. The anti-tank missile TRIGAT?
  (Sir Robert Walmsley) It is not happening. It would have been ten years late, but it would have been perceived as, that is how late it seemed to have got for the frontline forces, somewhere nearer five years.

  97. The BOWMAN?
  (Sir Robert Walmsley) Five years.

  98. How much over budget for Brimstone?
  (Sir Robert Walmsley) All the figures are in the report. You are testing me now to see whether I can remember things.

  99. No.
  (Sir Robert Walmsley) I could look them up. I do not think Brimstone is over budget.

5   Note: See Evidence, Appendix 1, page 36 (PAC 00-01/170). Back

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