Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witness (Questions 280 - 286)

WEDNESDAY 1 MAY 2002

AIR MARSHAL SIR JOCK STIRRUP

  280. That is a very good, diplomatic reply. Would you ask somebody to tell us what the real picture is in due course? Where are the delays? I do have enormous respect for our German allies, but there are delays for all sorts of weird reasons, often political, the position of the Defence Minister, the unwillingness of maybe the Bundestag to take the right decisions, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera, and it is damaging the credibility not only of our German allies but those associated with the same programme. Could you ask people to write to us and tell us whether there are avoidable delays which could be overcome?
  (Air Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup) If I may, and without wishing to dig the pit for him, I believe CDP is coming with the Minister (Defence Procurement) next week, and that might be an opportunity to quiz him on that.

  Chairman: You have read all the manuals, Air Marshal, I can see that! There will be a few questions on this, quite clearly.

Mr Howarth

  281. Air Marshal, you are getting very experienced at avoiding missiles. It seems that we do have quite a large number of aircraft programmes underway which do have similar capabilities. Obviously, we have the Eurofighter, which is principally an air-to-air air superiority fighter but will ultimately have a ground attack role, we have the JSF, the Joint Strike Fighter, which is, as you have described, carrier-based but with a multi-role capability, and in the longer-term the Future Offensive Air Capability system, FOAS or FOAC, to replace the Tornado GR4 ground attack aircraft. Does your organisation have a role in reducing unnecessary proliferation of platforms? Can you share with us some of your thoughts, particularly given your background in the Royal Air Force, as to the rationale behind these different platforms from a capability point of view?
  (Air Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup) Just on a point of detail, you have referred to the Joint Strike Fighter as a carrier-based aircraft, the Joint Combat Aircraft is a system which will be used from afloat or ashore—

  282. I am sorry, I meant to say that.
  (Air Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup) We want as few different types as we can possibly manage. We are in the business of expeditionary operations which need to be characterised by speed, precision and force protection. We need to minimise our logistic footprint and the logistical support role, so reducing types not just in the air but in all environments is critical to that. The Eurofighter is an aircraft, the Joint Combat Aircraft is an aircraft which is looking like the JSF, so there are two aircraft types there. The Future Offensive Air Capability is just that, a capability. We do not know yet, we have not decided, how it is going to be met. There are all sorts of options, manned aircraft, unmanned combat aerial vehicles, stand-off missiles, all of them may well have their part to play. So it is not a foregone conclusion that the Future Offensive Air Capability is going to involve a new and different aircraft type. That is the first thing. The relationship between them and the balance between them is something that interests us greatly because it does drive our requirement for numbers and it is something we look at extremely closely. Maintenance of air superiority and air supremacy, the ability to seize and maintain control of the air, will, I think we all agree, be fundamental to military operations in the future as it is now. Eurofighter is a system that is focused on that. It has capabilities that will not and cannot be provided by the Joint Combat Aircraft as envisaged. Of course, we want to be able to have flexibility in Eurofighter and we want to have a degree of offensive capability in it, nevertheless as currently envisaged Eurofighter will not provide the sort of offensive capability which we expect to get out of the Joint Combat Aircraft. So there is a degree of overlap but only to the extent that we need for flexibility in operations. It will not be the case that one can easily do the other's job. We still, though, have to decide upon the balance between the two of them and that is an on-going question. As I say, the Offensive Air Capability itself remains a completely open question.

  283. Given the extraordinarily long gestation period of the Eurofighter, to the extent it is not going to enter into service until effectively another two or three years as a fighting force, how would you respond to people in some quarters who suggest that because of this delay perhaps we do not need the full complement of 232 Eurofighters when the Joint Combat Aircraft and the Joint Strike Fighter are scheduled to come into operation in 2012, although perhaps that is an ambitious target in itself?
  (Air Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup) I would say that our requirement remains for 232 Eurofighters but we always keep these things under review, as I said earlier, because the environment changes, circumstances change, technology changes, and we need to be agile in responding to this. That remains our requirement at the moment.

  284. But you could see a possibility that there might be a reduced requirement?
  (Air Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup) It is possible that all sorts of things might change. I would not want to speculate about specific platforms. The point that I would want to stress is that we do not take a decision and then bury our heads in the sand and forget about it.

  285. You also hold very firmly to the view that the Eurofighter provides a capability that the proposed JSFs will not supply?
  (Air Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup) The Eurofighter and, as pointed out, the missiles that go with it and the other parts of the system will have a capability that cannot be matched by the Joint Strike Fighter aircraft.

  Chairman: I forbid members to deduce from Mr Howarth's last question possible reductions of Eurofighters in those many constituencies where British Aerospace are operating, in advance of tomorrow's local elections!

  Mr Howarth: I have to intervene at that point to declare my interest in that I represent the headquarters of the company which manufactures the aircraft, so I can assure you that I have a very strong vested interest in the success of this aircraft. The Air Marshal pointed out that it has a capability that even a projected aeroplane will not be able to deliver.

Chairman

  286. That is clear. Thank you very much. I will not patronise you. You have performed incredibly well. All I suggest is that you look at any video of Sir Robert Walmsley, who is the consummate appearer before select committees. He has a quality that you will not yet need to develop—that of putting your hand up in the air and admitting to occasional mistakes. Fortunately, your tenure is reasonably short to ensure that there will not be too many occasions when you will be able to admit to mistakes. You will be well retired before then. Thank you very much. It was a very pleasant and informative session. I am sure we will meet again.
  (Air Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup) Chairman, thank you very much. I enjoyed it.





 
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