Letter of 18 January 2002 to the Chairman
of the Committee from the Minister for Defence Procurement
You will recall from the closed evidence session
of the Public Accounts Committee on 10 December that the Chief
of Defence Procurement, Sir Robert Walmsley, was confident that
we would soon be able successfully to resolve our dispute with
the missile manufacturer MBDA UK Ltd (formerly Matra BAe Dynamics)
that had prevented the new Advanced Short-Range Air-to-Air Missile
entering service with the Royal Air Force last April as planned.
I am pleased to be able to confirm that we have now achieved this.
As you will know, we had planned for ASRAAM
to enter service in April last year but were obliged to reject
the missile because it failed to meet the performance standards
specified when it was ordered. The missile's performance fell
short in four of the 10 Key User Requirements, covering target
acquisition and tracking, lethality in key engagement conditions,
and performance against countermeasures. You will, I know, understand
that I am unable, for security reasons, to divulge here the exact
nature of the shortfalls and the technical solutions to them.
In April last year, my predecessor as Minister
for Defence Procurement, Baroness Symons, called for a clear and
robust route map to achieve the full operational capability required.
MoD officials, in particular those in the Defence Procurement
Agency, have worked constructively together since then with MBDA
and I am delighted that we have now achieved precisely what Baroness
Symons called for.
The first batch of ASRAAM missiles will be delivered
to an interim standard beginning later this month. These missiles
will offer our pilots a significant improvement over their current
Sidewinder missile. Delivery of missiles at a higher interim standard
will start in mid-2002. Thereafter, there will be a continuous
development programme, involving further software upgrades, leading
to the achievement of full operational capability. We hope to
achieve this by the end of 2003 but certainly by no later than
MBDA will be carrying this work forward under
its existing contract and at its expense. MoD has, however, recognised
that MBDA will have to carry out additional trials, and we have
agreed that the company can minimise their costs by tying this
work in with the Service Evaluation Trials that MoD was already
planning to carry out. I am particularly pleased that the arrangements
we have agreed will not incur any additional costs to the MoD.
The robust stand adopted by my predecessor last
year, and which I have been only too happy to embrace, has undoubtedly
paid dividends. The ASRAAM missile is now entering service and
will provide a major advance in our short-range air-to-air combat
capability, giving our pilots the decisive edge in air superiority
well into the future. This, I hope you will agree, is an excellent
Minister for Defence Procurement
Ministry of Defence