Select Committee on Public Accounts Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 120 - 139)



  120. So when the tender was asked for, what was the spec which was given? If we can afford sonar we will have it. If it is too expensive we will not.
  (Sir Robert Walmsley) No it was not like that.

  121. Forgive me for saying this, but that is what it looks like to me.
  (Sir Robert Walmsley) The specification did not call for a sonar. But we know how much a sonar costs and we know how much it will cost to fit it and we know we can have a change to the contract in order to fit it.

  122. The spec did not stipulate that you wanted sonar on any of these destroyers.
  (Sir Robert Walmsley) The technical phrase would be "fit to receive" or "fitted for but not with" In other words the ship is designed to accept a sonar. We knew that in later ships of the class we were going to put a sonar in. I am now happy to be able to confirm that we will put sonars in ab initio.

  123. Vice Admiral, I do not want to put words in your mouth, because based on today I know you do not enjoy that. To paraphrase what I think you said, you would not send a ship to sea without a sonar. We have been told by Sir Robert that it was not envisaged at all to have sonar on these ships.
  (Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) I am a customer and my job is to say what I want and to say what I want on the basis of consultation with the services. I then have to go along to the supplier, in this case the CDP, and say this is what I want and this is the budget I have. He then says, "Done. You can have one", or he says, "You must be joking", or he says, "I don't know. We'll have to think about that". Then we will begin the negotiation.

  124. Was that a cause for concern or something stronger when you were told you were not to have any sonar on any of these destroyers?
  (Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) I have always believed that a ship should not go to sea without a sonar.

  125. In your view would it have compromised the safety of the staff complement and that ship to go to sea without a sonar?
  (Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) No. It might have affected the way in which you operated it. I never envisaged that the ship would not be able to take a sonar or that we would not in due course fit one. That was certainly never envisaged. The question was: when?

  126. Paragraph 3.15, the second point, says, "the First of Class will have no on-board torpedo launch capability but, as the Type 45 Destroyer will not be a dedicated Anti-Submarine Warfare platform, this is not regarded by the Navy as a critical shortfall"—"this is not regarded by the Navy as a critical shortfall". You have already spoken about that earlier on in your comments, but is there some part in your mind that privately hopes—and I am sure we all hope—privately fears that in five or ten years time you will be asked about these words again and to justify how wrong we were?
  (Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) I feel happier about this. As it happens, I am a former Captain of an AAW destroyer and if there is one thing firmly fixed in my mind—and I apologise for being anecdotal—it is that AAW ships have no business getting involved in ASW action. It is extraordinarily intense in command time and it is bound to stop them doing their main role which is to develop an air picture and conduct air defence of the fleet. I feel less concerned about this but you will see the same paragraph says that the ship will have on board a torpedo magazine and a helicopter which can deploy torpedoes and that is by a distance the best way to deal with submarine threats. It says here that that is the view of the Navy and it is the view of the Navy.

  127. I acknowledge your experience and I hope and pray you are right. Further down in this same paragraph 3.15 it says, "the Type 45 Destroyer's main gun armament meets some, but not all, of the Navy's requirements". Could you expand on that?
  (Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) I find myself in a similar difficulty here to paragraph 3.14. As I said a little while ago, the main purpose of a gun on a ship of this sort is to provide naval gunfire support to troops ashore. That is an Army requirement, not a naval requirement. Whilst it is true that there will be a number of people in the Navy and the Army for that matter who would like long range guns, heavier ammunition, smarter ammunition, more precise ammunition, it is only when I have conducted the full balance of investment into the ways in which support is applied to our troops that I shall be sure what is the best mix of weapons to meet this task. Whilst it is true that the Navy would like to be able to provide gunfire support further and with more precise and heavier shells, I am personally not yet convinced that that is the best answer to the entire problem.

  128. Earlier on this afternoon Sir Robert said that it was not so long ago that we had a frigate at sea without a gun. When was it we sent troops to sea without a gun?
  (Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) Quite a number of times. All the earlier Type 22s had no gun.

  129. When did that finish?
  (Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) Some of them are still in service.

  130. There are still some frigates without guns on board.
  (Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) Yes. None of our aircraft carriers has had guns since the 1950s or early 1960s.

  131. Will all the newly commissioned destroyers have some?
  (Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) The intention is, as I think this paragraph implies, that there will be a gun on the Type 45. Whether it will be the same gun which will continue throughout both the range of the class and the life of these ships . . . It is worth remembering that this ship will be in service on all past form until about 2040. It will be extraordinary if it has not had a large number of changes to its weapon systems in that time, given the pace of modern technology. I could not assure you that that gun will be installed in all the ships for their entire life.

  132. In terms of the BOWMAN digital communications system, depending on which date you believe, it is up to ten years late and £183 million has been written off. The reason, as I understand it, is because the existing CLANSMAN is error prone. What percentage of signals in that system is prone to error? What is the critical mass in terms of the proportion of errors?
  (Sir Robert Walmsley) I am sure you have the text. I do not. It refers to the manual coding system being prone to error. Therefore, if you do not use manual coding you either compromise the information by sending it in clear or you compromise your own ability to know what is going on by not sending the information.

  133. You are now certifying the BOWMAN to US military standards, which I understand are a little less rigorous. Why is that?
  (Sir Robert Walmsley) Only in some places. We have looked at purchasing, perfectly sensibly, off-the-shelf equipment and I should just correct part of your previous question. We do not have a write-off approaching £180 million. We are between £35 and £104; it depends on the choice of contractor. The reason we want to be ready to look at accepting United States' standards is that if we are going to buy equipment off the shelf we have to look very sensibly at the cost of imposing UK standards. In this case, the only people who needed -55ºC were the Royal Marines and we found that we can provide that degree of protection to the equipment with special covers for the radios and the rest of them can have -40ºC and that will save us millions of pounds; off-the-shelf US radio.

Mr Campbell

  134. Can you, as a starting point, tell us what the size of the procurement budget was in 1999-2000 and what percentage of that budget is produced collaboratively or spent on equipment which is produced collaboratively?
  (Sir Robert Walmsley) It is in the region of £5 billion. I do not have an exact figure for collaborative spend but it will be in the region of between 15 and 25 per cent.

  135. Is that figure growing, is it declining, or is it fairly constant?
  (Sir Robert Walmsley) We think it is going to grow and it will certainly grow during Eurofighter production. Unless we actually deliver collaborative programmes to the point where we commit to them, then it will not grow. We are determined that it should, but equally we are determined to secure value for money, so occasionally we walk away from collaborative programmes, as we did with TRIGAT.

  136. Please feel free to answer this in any way that you wish, but is there a political dimension to this, that there is a will to produce more collaboratively?
  (Sir Robert Walmsley) There is a will to stick with a programme once you have started, because clearly if you walk away from a programme unless there is a good reason, you annoy the people you have partnered with, just as we felt let down by the nations who did not sign TRIGAT after years of wondering whether to or not. I am not aware of any political direction to seek collaborative programmes for their own sake, in fact the very opposite. Value for money both in the initial acquisition, where you share the R&D costs, where you get the benefits of economy from scale, and perhaps increasingly in the future during the support phase of the equipment, where you can share the support facilities required to maintain the equipment, value for money has been the dominant reason for us undertaking collaborative procurement.

  137. Yes, and I am sure the Committee is gratified to hear that. But if you take the Common New Generation Frigate and you also take Eurofighter, which is a great deal more, if there is, let us say for the sake of argument, 20 per cent of the budget—and 25 per cent of £5 billion, if my maths is correct, is £1 billion—you are talking about an awful lot of money, there can be a great deal of money. From your comments very much earlier to the Chairman, I detected an element of concern in some of the answers you were giving and I wonder whether there is a particular concern that it is difficult to ensure value for money in projects such as these, particularly because by their very nature we do not have as much control over them perhaps as we would do if they were being nationally procured.
  (Sir Robert Walmsley) There is less of a concern over value for money, where we do impose pretty strict disciplines on them and where in any case you have the benefit of the shared R&D costs which moves it into a better value for money region. Less of a concern over that than there is over the ability to secure agreements between the partner governments and if necessary between international industry, in order to deliver the programme to a predictable timetable. This afternoon we have talked a lot about delays. I can absolutely assure the Committee that whatever difficulties we have with national programme delays they have an additional element in a collaborative programme which is that it takes two to tango. You cannot guarantee to secure an agreement with another party. That is why we walked away from a programme called TRIMILSATCOM in the summer of 1998, because we saw that that programme was going to be subject to all sorts of uncertainties. One of the programmes where you absolutely must meet the in-service date is a satellite because the ones you have got up there stop working and you have to be sure that you are going to replace them in good time. So we decided to walk away from an international programme on those grounds. Timetable would be my worry.

  138. I want to go back to this question of delays and slippages because it seems, even without collaboration, that we have enough to worry about there. Some of the figures you quoted earlier did not exactly line up with my understanding when I read through. Correct me if I am wrong. My understanding is that Type 45 destroyers, if they enter service in 2007, will be about five years late, but if the replacement for the BL755 comes in in 2002 it could be as much as 11 years late. BOWMAN was due in 1995. Now we may have it in 2003 at the earliest, again about eight years late. There seems to be this question of roughly eight to ten years of slippage. It could be a lot worse with TRIGAT from what Mr Williams said. My memory, if it serves me correctly, remembers a trick which was pulled by Bismarck—I do not remember this personally because I was not there. He set up the Second Reich and he did not want politicians to interfere in the Army. He made sure that Army estimates were only debated once every seven years and because the Reichstag changed every five years, it was only alternate Reichstag's which could ever get their money and therefore any control over what was going on with the Army. It seems to me that we have invented, perhaps not deliberately in the way that he did, a new form of frustration in the form of eight years' slippage. It seems to me that Secretary of States coming into office are faced with a very simple choice. How do you explain away huge losses which are being made and how do you deal with a lack of capability or inability to control money, or how do you simply make do with what you have. There is very limited room for manoeuvre, is there not?
  (Sir Robert Walmsley) No, I do not think there is. The decision to walk away from the Common New Generation Frigate was a decision which was very much inspired by the then Secretary of State for Defence who wanted to introduce certainty into the programme. I was unable to provide him with a certain timetable, so he said we should do something about it. At the same time we secured the collaborative Principal Anti-Air Missile System programme which was a fundamental need for the United Kingdom and the Royal Navy. The Secretary of State does have an ability to direct it and in that case I am quite clear in my own mind that he was a hugely strong influence on our decision to move away from the frigate programme. I should just like to say that on the air-launched anti-armour weapon, it is quite true that in the 1999 report that is characterised as 18 months late. I also explained that during the gestation of that project, it stopped and started as the Cold War ended, as the new situation developed, as we looked at the possible threat range, at the volume of threat. In this year's report I mentioned 15 months in answer to an earlier question but actually I look at the paper now and see it is 13 months late. That is because I believe drift on in-service date is now very sensibly being measured from the main investment decision point and I accept that this is 13 months late. I also accept that the frigate is five years late. The Secretary of State did take action, he was not denied that possibility, and there is no doubt that Lord Robertson played a big part in that decision.

  139. Nevertheless Secretaries of State who have perhaps served some time in Opposition and have seen decisions being made in the expectation that certain equipment will be there, very often find when they come to office that it is not there and that it is not going to be there for some time and the best that they can hope for is an upgrade on the weapons system that they have. You quoted examples there of where the Secretary of State was able to influence events by making a decision, but there are plenty of other examples of where in a sense he has to play the hand which has been dealt for him.
  (Sir Robert Walmsley) Part of that hand would be the arrival into service of HMS Ocean, a new helicopter carrier, an enormous success of value for money procurement. I do not think anybody would say that was not a very welcome hand which was dealt to the then Secretary of State.

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