Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 200 - 219)



  200. Is there a real concern in the Ministry of Defence for the need to save money in the period 2006 and 2012 when the JSF allegedly will come on stream?
  (Air Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup) It is not a question of saving money, it is a question of getting the maximum capability that we can for the purposes for which we need it across defence from within the resources that are available. So we have choices to make. If we spend money on one thing, we cannot spend it on something else. As I said, the amount of money that would be involved in upgrading the Sea Harrier would have been substantial and very high risk and therefore—

  201. Of course, as we know, some of the aircraft are only three years old.
  (Air Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup) That does not alter the risk involved in upgrading them.

  202. May we go back to this capability gap which you acknowledge and the Minister on Monday acknowledged represented a risk. Can I just take you back to some of the points you made earlier. You say that the capability gap is going to be met by some unspecified enhancements to the Type-42 Destroyers. You made the remark, "We do not envisage operating without allies or partners." The truth of that assertion, Air Marshal, is that if the Argentinians were again to invade The Falklands and we were required to take action on our own without the support of the United States, we would be powerless to do so.
  (Air Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup) First of all, I do not think I said that we would not operate without allies and partners.

  203. You said that you envisage operations being with allies and partners.
  (Air Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup) I think I said that we envisage in most cases high intensity combat operations being with allies and partners and that is the case, that is stated defence policy. Of course, since we are required to respond to a very wide range of potential situations and threats across a very wide geographic area, we cannot cover every bet 100 per cent. If I could sit here and guarantee to you that no matter what, come what may, I could guarantee that we have everything absolutely nailed down, then it is quite clear that we would have vastly over-invested in defence and that is not a sensible way to manage any enterprise as we all recognise. So, it is about risk management and, if you narrow down the circumstances to any particular set, you can always find some particular area, some particular eventuality where we would find life a little tricky. That is inevitable. You mentioned The Falklands. We do not envisage fighting for The Falklands but, in that kind of situation —

  204. We did not envisage doing so in 1982.
  (Air Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup) In that kind of situation, it is not only the air defence capability represented by the Sea Harrier that will have changed, all sorts of other capabilities that we possess would have changed as well and we would fight that conflict in a substantially different way.

  205. I think The Falkland Islands would be extremely alarmed to hear you suggest, as we approach the 20th anniversary of the recovery of The Falkland Islands, that that is not the kind of operation that we should be envisaging. Surely the purpose of defence is being prepared for the unexpected. Indeed, that is the whole debate that we are having in the aftermath of 11 September. Let me just take you back to this capability gap that will exist. Can you confirm that the first Type-45 is not due into service until the end of July 2007 and that, once it enters service, it will immediately be withdrawn because it will be undergoing further sea trials and will in truth not be in service until late 2008? The next one is not due into service until 2009. We are not talking about a narrow period here, we are talking about a long period where the capability of the United Kingdom in mounting maritime operations without the support of allies is not going to be possible save at severe risk to our forces.
  (Air Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup) All that you say about the sequencing of ships coming into service is true on current plans. I would just say, though, that were a major crisis to arise then we would, as we always have done in the past, respond to that and bring things into service as they were needed—if necessary without all the appropriate trials that we carry out in peace-time. We have done that in the past. It would not be true to conclude that because the sequencing is based on these particular dates, therefore, no matter what, it could not be available until that had been completed. I would just go back, for a moment, if I may, to the Type-42s because I did refer to those and you mentioned some unspecified improvements. There are going to be improvements to the 966 radar's reliability, improvements to its ability to detect and track targets which will be linked through to the Sea Dart missile and it will have a new infra-red fuse for the Sea Dart, so there are a lot of substantial improvements. However, of course, we need the Type-45, which is why we are procuring it. Again, it comes back to the point: would I prefer to keep the Sea Harrier in if I could—yes, absolutely. But to do so will require a substantial investment which will have to come from other crucial areas. For example, information superiority. We cannot mount any kind of air defence or, indeed, any operation without adequate information superiority, and we must make more investment in those areas. So it is a question of hard choices, it is not a question of not wanting to do something, it is a question of what is within the art of the possible within the resources available.

  Mr Howarth: Or more resources.

  Chairman: Thank you. I think the question of Sea Harriers is a very emotive issue and I do not think the MoD has succeeded yet, if it will, in making the case for their disposal. We would have a number of additional questions to you—and, in fact, my colleague Syd Rapson will continue—but lest you think you have got away with it we have a number of questions and we would be most grateful if you would provide us with substantial additional information, particularly on the cost and the need for upgrading. We have argued very strongly, very, very frequently, that many of the problems with the military forces are problems imposed on it by the Treasury, and if additional resources were made available some of these awful decisions would not have to be made. We have a couple more questions on the Sea Harrier, but we may raise the issue further with the Minister when he visits us shortly.

Syd Rapson

  206. When the announcement was made I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. I was in Yeovilton with a group of dark blue-suited navy pilots when the announcement to scrap the Harriers was made, and it did not go down too well, I must admit. I want to probe the changes in a small detail, as Mr Howarth has covered most of it. The Sea Harriers now are some 30 years old and, no doubt, some of the air-frames have just about worn out, I would imagine, with the hard wear they get . That must have been part of your thinking. What are the specific capabilities that the ordinary Sea Harrier has that the GR7 or 7a will not have. Is it just the Blue Vixen radar and the AMRAAM?
  (Air Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup) That is, essentially, it; the Blue Vixen radar, which gives it the detection capability, and the AMRAAM, which gives it the long-range engagement capability. It also, of course, has a short-range, infra-red missile but so does the GR7 and the GR9. So that will be common to both, but of course the GR7 does not have the radar or the AMRAAM capability.

  207. There is no way of upgrading? The air-frame is restricted on the Sea Harrier compared to the GR7s, which is a larger air-frame, and presumably you cannot integrate and upgrade into the GR7s, along with the new Pegasus engines?
  (Air Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup) You mean put a radar and the AMRAAM on it? It would be entirely possible, I am sure, but it would be a mammoth programme costing a very large amount of money that would take the GR7s out of service. Of course, they are there for a projection of offensive power, which is what we seek from our carriers. By the time it was completed we would probably have the future Joint Combat Aircraft in anyway. So the combination of cost, complexity and timescale means that that is not really an option that we could pursue.

  208. Talking about numbers and your projection of power for the future, the Joint Strike Fighter and our new super aircraft carriers: the present Harrier fleet is 83, when we lose the Sea Harriers it will be down to 51, and we are talking about it being replaced by 150 Joint Strike Fighters. There is a large gap between what we are going to end up with and what we are going to get in the future. Obviously, your planning must be the same. So the gap between having 51 aircraft able to support operations in an offensive capability and the new world order of two bloody great aircraft carriers and 150 very interesting and exciting Joint Strike Fighter aircraft—there seems to be a large gap in the thinking. Can you explain that?
  (Air Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup) Yes. We are not, of course, in the business of replacing an aircraft with an aircraft, so it is not the case that we have got X aircraft which could go out of service here, we must find the same number of aircraft to replace them. We always ask ourselves the question does it have to be an aircraft at all? Is there some better way of doing it? We are about providing capabilities. That is the first point. The second point is that the 150 Joint Combat Aircraft is, of course, a planning figure and we have not let any contracts yet and we have not made any final decisions on the number, but that is the figure we are planning for at the moment. We have to look at that number in the context not just of the carriers but from shore-based operations, because those aircraft, as part of the future joint force, will be, just as the current force is, capable of operating either from afloat or from ashore. We have to look at offensive aircraft in the round, so we have to look at how the Joint Combat Aircraft will tie-in with Eurofighter and Eurofighter numbers, and the future offensive air capability which we are looking towards to replace the capability currently provided by the Tornado GR4s. So the balance between all of those programmes and the capabilities provided with them is an important question and one that we are continuing to address.

  Syd Rapson: That is certainly a very good answer; I did not understand any of it, but I assume that it will make sense when I read it and, hopefully, at some time there will be some written explanation as to our procedures and how we plan to offset one against the other.


  209. I will join in Syd's self-effacement. When it comes to the Joint Strike Fighter, I understand it will be capable of air defence and offensive operations, so you cannot see it simply in terms of Sea Harrier replacement. Is that true?
  (Air Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup) It is primarily about offensive power. It will have an air defence capability but it is not an air defence aircraft. We are, of course, procuring Eurofighter in the air superiority role and the Americans, of course, are procuring the F-22 Raptor. Neither of us are procuring the aircraft for the air superiority role, that is not what it is designed for, but it will have an air defence capability.

Mr Hancock

  210. Does that mean on a new aircraft carrier the complement of the new fighter will only have an offensive role, or will there be specific aircraft on the ship which will enable it to defend itself and other vessels in the fleet, whose only role is air combat in defence of the fleet?
  (Air Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup) That will be a matter for the operational commander and the operational service—the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force between them. They will have a system that will be primarily designed for offensive capability but which will have a defensive capability as well. How they wish to use it will depend on their judgments of the operation environment and the tasks that they face.

  211. If you look at the American configurations on aircraft carriers and the French on the Charles de Gaul, there is a sizeable chunk of the aircraft on board those ships whose only role is to defend the ship and other ships in the fleet. I am rather surprised that we have not got anywhere near positioning ourselves with what proportion of the air-crew on the ship will actually only have the role of defence rather than offensive. It must be taken into consideration now because it is a different type of aircraft, is it not?
  (Air Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup) No, it is the same aircraft.

  212. What the aircraft is actually armed with is different, is it not?
  (Air Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup) What the aircraft is armed with is different but the aircraft will be able to do both roles. I doubt very much that we would have crews on board that will only be able to carry out one role. It may be that there will be some crews that do more training in air defence than in offensive operations, but as I say that is a question for the service involved rather than for me. I am in the business of providing equipment capability, they have to then take it and, together with doctrine training concepts and all the rest of it, produce military capability. All I would say is that what we would seek is the maximum flexibility. There will be circumstances, one can foresee, where it will be entirely unnecessary to have any aircraft in the defensive role. One would not, therefore, wish to be tied down in a particular area with aircraft that could not be used for what the operation is all about.

Syd Rapson

  213. For air defence, if you are going to defend against an incoming missile or aircraft, the aircraft you have got must have radar that can detect that. It would seem that the GR aircraft are not going to have the equipment to identify and pick up the multi-targets that you need. You can have brilliant pilots and good aircraft, but it is no good if you cannot find them up in the sky.
  (Air Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup) That is true, but I would also say that there are other ways of doing it than having just a radar on the aircraft itself.

  214. A mobile telephone?
  (Air Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup) Integrated Data Distribution Systems, for example.

Mr Howarth

  215. What do they fire?
  (Air Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup) What do they fire? They do not fire anything but they tell you where something is that you can shoot at. In terms of the JSF, which is the question we are addressing, the JSF will have a substantial air defence capability, there is no doubt about that.

  Chairman: We will move seamlessly to the Type 45.

Mr Hancock

  216. I was really interested in your response to Gerald Howarth when you suggested that saving money was not the same as not spending money in the Ministry of Defence—when you were talking about why things were not being done. That leads me to the Type-45 and a couple of questions. One is the suggestion that the first set of three that are being built will have a missile capability which will only be projected up to the level of threat around 2007, and development will then continue and as the ships come on station they will have a progressively updated missile system and capability. I would be grateful if you could explain why a brand new ship would actually come in to service with a missile system which is only looking at projected threats at the time it is launched rather than a longer span of time? If we are talking about money, I would be interested to know how that programme of progressively updating missiles for future ships is going to be funded and over what period of time and how you update the first batch of ships? I would also be interested to know what maritime early warning provision is going to be made in the down-time between the Sea Harriers going out and the Type-45s coming in.
  (Air Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup) A number of the questions you pose there, really, are for the Chief of Defence Procurement rather than me, because they are procurement issues rather than capability issues. On the point about why would it only have a capability for a limited period against potential threats and will then have to be upgraded, in a great many systems that we are introducing we are following the path of incremental capability acquisition quite simply because if one were to wait until full capability were delivered then the introduction into service of the equipment would be unnecessarily delayed.

  217. That depends on how long it takes. These ships are not going to be in the water for some time and the progressive upgrading of the capability must be going on now.
  (Air Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup) Yes, but the technology required to provide the capability is under development. The software that is necessary is under development and the integration of the software is under development. All of that takes time. By and large—and, again, I think I am now treading into an area that is much more CDP's preserve than mine—the writing of software and the integration of software is one of the critical paths in equipment acquisition these days. So doing it on a graduated basis rather than a big bang basis makes sense.

  218. What you are really saying, then, Air Marshal, is that the first batch of Type-45s can only go into the water and, possibly, into combat with either an unproven and technically not very superior, immature system, or an obsolete system. That cannot be right, can it?
  (Air Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup) No, I do not think that either of those are true. The first Type-45 will have the capability that we believe it requires to meet the circumstances at the time. It will not be an obsolete capability but it will be a capability that needs to be upgraded as we go along. After all, if I go back to what I said earlier about the tension between platforms and the necessary agility, we need to be able to upgrade capability at short notice, we need capability to be inserted and technology to be inserted throughout the life of platforms. The notion that you can bring into service a platform and all the capability that it entails, which is very much to do with software and other systems, and that it can then remain in service for 25 years and meet all eventualities that might arise, is a false one. So we actually are much more about delivering capability as it is required, because then that gives us more freedom to adjust as we get closer to that particular date.

  219. Would you say that the Type-45 as currently planned to enter service—the original batch of three—will fully cover the deficit left by the withdrawal of Sea Harriers?
  (Air Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup) I would never say that, and I would not suggest it.

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