Select Committee on Defence Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


APPENDIX 24

Further submission from Prospect on Royal Ordnance at Bridgwater (May 2002)

SECURITY OF SUPPLY

  1.  If Bridgwater was not here then explosives would have to be imported from America (or other supplier), this would require a very large stock pile of explosives for production purposes.

  What would the cost be to provide suitable security arrangements to guard the huge amounts of stockpiled material?

  2.  There is an increased risk in safety in transportation in two areas:

  (a) Terrorism and (b) Normal shipping and road accidents.

  3.  By keeping the only military high explosive manufacturing facility in the UK the Government is in total control of its foreign policy ie no foreign Government would be able to interfere with the supply of explosives, as was seen in the Middle East conflict when Belgium refused to lend Britain supplies.

  4.  As already stated there are increased risks in further distances of transportation. What is the cost benefit of transportation of American explosive in comparison to Bridgwater explosive production?

  This needs to include paperwork, packaging, end user certificates, handling etc and also the important point of if/when BAE systems lose the contract to run the American (Holston) explosive plant. This point is developed further under point three of the Political/Commercial situation section.

SAFETY ISSUES

  1.  The Woolwich versus Bachman question, the Woolwich process for the production of RDX produces an explosive that is inherently safer due to the quantity and quality of HMX that is added.

  So are the MOD/RO more interested in the cheapest option or the safest option, if it is cost then it has to be purchased from America as RO has limited overheads due to operating the American Governments explosive plant on contract.

  If it is the safe option then RO Bridgwater should be retained or if RO wants to shut the countries only military high explosive manufacturer down and the UK Government are prepared to allow this to happen then the explosive should be purchased from a country like France, who produce the Woolwich type explosive.

  2.  Insensitive munitions (IM) is the complete weapons system which includes booster pellets, the IM booster pellets require N7 which is only produced at Bridgwater. Bridgwater provides the USA with this product.

THE TRANSPORT OF MILITARY HIGH EXPLOSIVES INTO THE UK

  There are a number of problems with importing HE from the USA into the UK. There are major restrictions on the loading of explosives from US ports the difficulties are so great that we currently use a Canadian port when exporting into the US. This does increase the journey time in winter and spring due to the potential of icebergs and hazardous road conditions. The road journey from Tennessee to Halifax is over 1,700 miles and will rely on two different governments. The journey may well have to be longer to avoid cities such as New York and Boston.

  Imports into the UK are restricted by the explosive limits in some of the UK ports most of the ports can not hold more than 16 tonnes at any one time and no other work is permitted when explosives are being moved in the port area. Ships with mixed cargoes are severely restricted for example a ship with more than 300 kg of explosive is not allowed into Antwerp. Some ships can moor up at a buoy and be offloaded by lighters but each time a lighter enters the port all other work in the dock must stop. The costs of this method of unloading can be very high, as the ship could be immobile for days. The logistics of offloading at Newport can be interesting as explosives can only be moved through the port on Saturdays and again there are limits, such that only one container can be in the port area at any one time. These restrictions will increase the cost of transport and severely limit the rate in which material can be imported into the country.

POLITICAL/COMMERCIAL SITUATION

  1.  The UK Government has signed up to the Ottawa convention, the USA have refused on numerous occasions to sign the convention.

  BAE Systems are a British company operating the American Governments explosives facility at Holston.

  What would be the companies and UK Governments position if the American Government required the Holston Site to Produce explosives for land mines which is in complete contravention of the Ottawa convention?

  BAE Systems has a 25 year contract to run the American Governments explosive facility at Holston, which can be reviewed by either side every five years. If BAE Systems do not play ball would they lose the contract and where would that leave Britain let alone BAE Systems?

  2.  BAE Systems has at most a 25 year contract to run the American Government explosive facility, there will be approximately 15 years at most remaining if the Bridgwater site closes.

  What is the long term thinking and plans for the UK procurement of explosives after that time?

  For information purposes it is rare for a company to win a second term contract with the American Government.

STRATEGIC NUCLEAR REQUIREMENTS

  1.  RO Bridgwater produces certain strategic material for the British nuclear program (this is different from the American program), if Bridgwater closes where would the UK Government source these materials and how would they requalify the system.



 
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