Select Committee on Public Accounts Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 240 - 259)



  240. Right, fine. Can you confirm that one of the main reasons that the Antonov bid was not successful was because basically it was not a tactical plane and the C17 was chosen because it was a tactical plane?
  (Sir Robert Walmsley) No. I think the main reason was assured access.

  241. Would it be fair to say that the C17 is a tactical plane?
  (Sir Robert Walmsley) I think the United States categorises it as a tactical plane but it looks pretty strategic to me. It has tactical capabilities but it looks strategic because it has got long-range huge capacity and can use large airfields and has got these very attractive features of being able to move on the ground and requiring no ground support.

  242. Is it true the C-17 cannot carry out a low level flying parachute, air dropping of equipment, casualty evacuation, hub and spoke evacuation and forward air strips.
  (Sir Robert Walmsley) Some of those it can do and some it cannot. The aircraft which we are leasing, the terms on which we are leasing them do not allow them to do low level operations[4]. Of course they can do casualty evacuations, it has enormous capacity for lifting casualties; of course it can do hub and spoke operations, it has a very good rough field landing capability.

  243. Under the leasing arrangements were you restricted from conflict?
  (Sir Robert Walmsley) Definitely not.

  244. Are there any major issues that prevent the aircraft from entering service later this year?
  (Sir Robert Walmsley) No. Later this year, I am not sure if it is later this year, they will be on service as planned.

  245. What is "as planned"?
  (Sir Robert Walmsley) We may get one or two this year, and the rest during 2002[5].

  Mr Burns: Thank you very much.

Mr Williams

  246. Sir Robert, may I say I think that rather inadvertently you have damned your staff with justifiable praise, because you commended them for never having worked so hard as they have on resource accounting. I looked at the Treasury bench at that time and I saw glee come out of their eyes. I suspect in 18 months time there will be a demand for cuts in establishment within your department and it will all be on your head. I just say that as a kindly warning so that you can think of alternative uses for the staff you have. Outside I asked you a question, which I think I would like to repeat to the Committee, because I think it is important, when we make decisions on changing procedure we should look at it from both points of view. I asked you, rather, if it made enormous difference to you our switching from dealing with the major projects in more than one session, of which I was guilty of, having sat here for years and seen the department buried in an avalanche of statistics on large numbers of projects I felt that the Committee was utterly incapable of doing its job. From your point of view, what difference does it make? Has it imposed hardship on the department that you think we should be aware of?
  (Sir Robert Walmsley) First of all, I would like to say how hugely grateful I am, apart from one or two exceptions, we have not been looking at the MPR 99 in detail on Monday or today. If Monday was, as I originally thought, going to have dealt with MPR 99 in the traditional way and today with MPR 2000 in the traditional way I would have found that too difficult to handle. They are different financial regimes. I might be able to do that in a normal year but not in a year when we switched to resource accounting. I absolutely admit that when this proposition was put of two hearings, two days apart on different cash systems I said I do not think I feel comfortable with that. Somehow, magically, MPR 2000 then descended on both days and I have to say that I find it just as easy to come twice in a week as once. I would also say that I find it much easier to the come twice in a week than once one month and once the next month.

  247. That was the other point I made about the time gap. I think we note that point. When you look at the department over the years you will see an enormous amount of money that has been wasted in the MoD, I do not ask you to accept that, and the enormous delays on contracts, which would be truly unacceptable in any other government department, the variation on contracts, and so on. We have the NHS Executive here quite a few times a year and it does not seem to impose too much of a hardship on them. At one time when Sir Duncan Nichol was the head of the NHS Executive I argued he was Whitehall's answer to Sylvester Stallone, because I have never known anybody else to appear so often with exactly the same script. If you are feeling a little hard done by in having your work load doubled, it is less than doubled, I just wanted you to have a chance to put your view on it. I now switch to the main questions. I am not a technical man, but my assumption is there must have been something awfully wrong with the earlier model of the Apache because the Apache did not take off once against the tanks in Bosnia, and my understanding is that that was a move that was requested by the Europeans, was vetoed by, as it their right, by the OMS. Since Milosevic's tanks came out unscathed I was left wondering why they had such a great reputation as being tank busters when they did not seem to be busting much there? Are you satisfied that the version you are getting now, which you said is improved, will achieve what you want it to achieve?
  (Sir Robert Walmsley) It is a different version. It is called the Long Bow Apache, it has greater reach. It was one of our decision criteria when we ran the competition. I will ask Admiral Blackham to comment on the operational utility of it.
  (Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) It is a different aircraft. It is technically different. Sir Robert has already mentioned the Longbow radar, which is a different order of radar than the US ones had. I have already mentioned the improved defensive aids suite. Not only that, there is quite an important issue of training. The flying in Kosovo in extremely mountainous terrain is extremely demanding and for perfectly good reasons the United States crews when they arrived were not adequately trained in this. We had the advantage of seeing that experience in designing our training package, which is a PFI training package, and making quite sure the pilot training is up to what is required. I am pretty confident about that.

  248. That is a Naval perspective. I must admit that looking at it in the land use I am still not one hundred per cent satisfied. Perhaps you can drop me a note on that rather than spending more time on that. I want to move to Eurofighter.
  (Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) I would very much regret it if you thought I was giving you a Naval perspective. I am in a purple job and I spend a great deal of time trying to ensure that I understand the other environments[6].

  249. That is a legitimate point taken on board. As I understand it, the intention is, that we are going to end up with the Eurofighter, perhaps, in various versions but as basically a single strike aircraft, from what I have read in the documents. In this respect I am puzzled. Going back to the question of the cannon, we are told that the Eurofighter was designed for something completely different. It was not designed for what it may have to face some time in the future. The situation with the cannon seems singularly a strange one, since we are told that it will have, which it was never intended to have, a ground support role. One can understand an aircraft that is going to be involved in dog fights with air-to-air missiles not wanting a cannon, but in ground support one can imagine they would. If you are going to tell me that it does not why, then, did the Americans have it on the aircraft the Chairman referred to and why do some of the other people who will be using the aircraft want to have a cannon? Is it just for decoration or is it something they can stick a flag in the end of?

  (Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) You will have to ask them why they want one. The Eurofighter was procured predominantly, as you know, as a fighter aircraft, that is the fundamental role for which it has been designed.

  250. Whose aircraft is it going to fight? Our role is going to be primarily, or very considerably, in an EBS-type role. We are more likely to be involved in Kosovo-type situations now than in major international confrontations, where we will be taking on one of the major air forces of the world. How relevant is it?
  (Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) If you are correct, Mr Williams, my job would be a great deal easier. The fact remains that I am still tasked to provide the forces with a capability to counter the worst threats that we might potentially face. That is the task that is laid on me. In doing that I must look at the potential of those people whom I am directed to.

  251. I accept that entirely. I am not being rude, do you not also have a duty to ensure that you can meet the threat you are most likely to encounter? What I am asking is, is the Eurofighter relevant to what we are most likely to encounter in the political and military scenarios we face at the moment?
  (Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) If I can be allowed to answer in full. Firstly, I believe that it is. One can speculate, but amongst the reasons why we have established air superiority in the operations we have conducted and why we have not found too much opposition air, we like to think, is the level of capability we possess in the area. In other words, anybody who wants to fly against us must be prepared to challenge the level of capability we have.

  252. With respect, I must interrupt there, but it is the level of capability that the Americans will supply that they were afraid of, not the level of capability we had. If it had been dependent on the amount of air craft we had it might have been a very different outcome there. It was the air defence systems that caused enormous problems for our aircraft, they did not go in low enough because of Milosevic's very good air defence systems.
  (Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) Fighters do not go low to attack the ground.

  253. This is an all-purpose aircraft.
  (Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) It is designed as a fighter.

  254. It is designed to replace the Tornado and the Jaguar. It is going to be the all-purpose aircraft.
  (Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) I said it is designed as a fighter, and it has been so equipped. We now find, as you pointed out, that the kind of operations which we take part in the most have changed. We now have to find a way to meet both the most difficult operations and the most likely. That means that we have to look at a range of our equipment to see how we can swing roles so they can do other things. The Eurofighter clearly has AD rating and ground attack. They are not the only aircraft we have for ground attack, we have Harriers and Tornados lasting until 2018, or so. We have announced today we will replace the Joint Force Harrier with a JSF, an aircraft specifically designed for ground attack. There will be a range of options. The Eurofighter will be able to contribute to that, it will be able to carry appropriate missiles. We have not found in all of the analysis we have done a satisfactory use for a cannon.

  255. We will consider that. Let us then turn to table ten, our page 12 of the 2000 Report. This deals with the operational impact of the in-service delays. It is a very worrying scenario. Let us just take the second one, the delay in the HVM introduction date has resulted in the first UK armoured division having no specific, very short range air defence capability. That is a very serious gap in terms of the modern armour not having such a defence capability.
  (Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) It is. As I have already said, more than once this afternoon, I always regret the delay in service of any equipment for which we specify the need.

  256. This is every bit as bad—if you happen to be a member of the tank crew—as last Monday's going to sea in a ship without a sonar. It cannot do much for the morale of our tank crews.
  (Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) The weapon is in service now.

  257. It took 81 months, or beyond, the time it was due to.
  (Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) I agree it is unsatisfactory. I am a customer, I want the capability I ask for when I ask for it. Obviously I regret the delay.

  258. What worries me, back to one of my hobby horses from Monday, is of all of the money we poured into defence over the Cold War period and yet looking at this equipment at any one time how inadequately our troops or our servicemen were served by the quality of the equipment that they had available to them and that, in effect, we were going to be shunted behind—which is one of the things the Americans have been shouting about, they want burden sharing but they do not want the European defence system—American capability rather than our own capability.
  (Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) You were advocating a moment ago that we should shelter behind American capability as far as air-to-air is concerned.

  259. No, I was not. I was pointing out that that is what we had to do.
  (Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) I had understood you to say that.

4   Note by Witness: The C-17 is potentially capable of all the roles mentioned, and there are no restrictions in the licensing, support arrangements or contract which would prevent their use for these tasks, including low level operations. However, as stated in the answer to Q296, the UK has no requirement. Back

5   Note: See Evidence, Appendix 2, page 37 (PAC 00-01/62). Back

6   Note: See Evidence, Appendix 2, page 37 (PAC 00-01/62). Back

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