Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 100 - 119)



  Q100  Mr Viggers: The first tranche of Typhoon is 55 in an air defence role initially. Will they be multi-role before entering service and when will they enter service?

  Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup: Well, of course the Royal Air Force is already operating Typhoon. We have ten aircraft in our colours now and in the hands of our pilots and that number is increasing all the time. The question of introduction to service is not a black-and-white state because we will be introducing capabilities in an incremental way over the next several years. The initial air defence capability we expect to be fielded within the next few years, certainly in the second half of this decade. What we have done is advance our air-to-surface capability which we were expecting to introduce quite a bit later and we have now brought that forward into the final batch of tranche one aircraft, so our ability to be able to use the aircraft in a multi-role sense will help us much earlier than we had anticipated.

  Q101  Mr Viggers: And the latest on the gun saga, the cannon which was phased out and replaced by a lump of concrete and now we are getting the gun back again, what is the latest position?

  Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup: I think the position with the Typhoon gun is an excellent example of where we want to be across the board with our equipment capability. We cannot foresee with any accuracy the nature and/or scale of all the threats and challenges we might have to face in the future, so for us adaptability and agility, the ability to react to an unforeseen future is crucial. We cannot do that by investing in everything we can think of because we certainly will not need all of those things and anyway we could not afford them. Our thinking up to now on the Typhoon gun has been that we will not require it because of the advances in short-range missiles and various other tactics and techniques and procedures, but we could get to a situation which we have not foreseen where we will require it. Well, we have a gun in Typhoon and we are not planning to fire it because it would cost us quite a bit more money in terms of ground support equipment, fatigue on the air-frame and so on, but if we decided that actually we did need it for something, we could bring it into operation in very short order, so we have complete flexibility as far as the Typhoon gun is concerned.

  Chairman: I am sure some people are very happy with that. I can recall ten years ago arguing the case and we were totally, totally dismissed. However, our procurement policy would have failed quite miserably, but I can imagine some scenario where a plane has been shot down and is surrounded by hostiles when perhaps it might be necessary, so I am pleased to hear of flexibility in the decision-making.

  Q102  Mike Gapes: Can I ask you about the second tranche of Typhoon. The contract has not yet still been agreed. Why is that? What are the issues that are holding it up and when do you expect the contracts to be signed?

  Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup: I think I would have to refer you to the Chief of Defence Procurement for a definitive answer to that question.[1] All I would say from my perspective, as the head of the Royal Air Force, is that we want tranche two deliveries, but we want the right aircraft delivered at the right cost. From my perspective, that has been the ongoing issue over recent months. As the Secretary of State has said, the United Kingdom is committed to tranche 2, subject to satisfactory negotiations on performance and cost.

  Q103  Mike Gapes: It has been reported that agreement was reached in Athens a couple of weeks ago. Is that true?

  Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup: I have no idea.

  Q104  Mike Gapes: And you could not give us any idea whether we are likely to have the signing of the contract within the next three or four weeks, as has also been suggested in some quarters?

  Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup: I have no knowledge whatsoever of that and I would have to refer you to the Chief of Defence Procurement.

  Chairman: His appearance before us has caused some consternation so I think it would be in his interests not to appear before us for a while until the storm clouds have drawn away!

  Q105  Mike Gapes: Can I carry on, Chairman. The tranche 2 aircraft when it is finally there will be multi-role. Exactly what does that mean? What capabilities will it have?

  Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup: First of all, I would just reiterate the point I made a few moments ago which is the last of the tranche 1 aircraft will be multi-role capable so we do not have to wait for tranche 2. It is one of the good things that we have negotiated into this programme. We have advanced our multi-role capability. What does it mean? It means that we will have an aircraft that we can employ in a wide variety of roles. Now, we will not be able to employ them in that full variety of roles right from day one because it depends what has been integrated on to the aircraft. The key thing to remember about Typhoon is that it is very software intensive. The key to Typhoon's capability in the future is the software because that is what governs the integration of different sensors and weapons. If I may just take a moment to say I have seen a lot of what I regard to be ill-informed comment on Typhoon over recent months, for example that it is a Cold War legacy. It is the case that major platforms in all three environments from initial conception to out-of-service date are going to be in service for anything upwards of half a century and over that period things are going to change many times so the key is that our platforms in which we invest a lot of money and which we need in service for a long time to amortise that cost must be adaptable. We must be able to change the nature and/or scale of the capability we mount from those platforms, and these days that is increasingly about software, so that is at the heart of the integration of sensors and weapons onto Typhoon. We have not made up our minds yet beyond the next four to five years on precisely the order in which we wish to integrate these weapons because we have not had to. The key decisions we have made are to bring forward the integration of laser-guided and GPS-guided precision weaponry onto Typhoon because that is the most important capability we need in addition to air defence to give us the kind of multi-role responsiveness we need today. Beyond that we will decide our priorities in due course.

  Q106  Mike Gapes: Will those laser-guided precision weapons be capable of ground attack at night in low cloud and in all weathers?

  Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup: Yes.

  Q107  Mike Gapes: Good. What about the reconnaissance role? What is going to happen to that?

  Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup: Of course we already have the Tornado GR4 with its raptor pod which provides us with an excellent tactical reconnaissance capability. The role which is currently fulfilled by the Jaguar will be taken on by the Harrier which can carry the joint reconnaissance pod. We have other more strategic reconnaissance assets of course and in due course we plan to incorporate the reconnaissance role into Typhoon. At the moment that is not at the top of the priority list, but it will be there in due course.

  Q108  Mike Gapes: That role that is currently Jaguar will be taken on in a different way?

  Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup: It has been taken on by the Harrier in the short term.

  Q109  Mike Gapes: But only by the Harrier?

  Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup: The Harrier will be operating the reconnaissance sensor that the Jaguar currently operates alongside the Harrier. We already have the Tornado GR4 which will continue with its raptor pod and then in due course we will feed in the reconnaissance capability of the Typhoon as well.

  Q110  Mike Gapes: How do you envisage the role of the Typhoon in operations such as the US Airforce is currently undertaking at Fallujah? Would it have a role in operations of that kind?

  Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup: I would not want to comment on specific operations or Fallujah. What I would say is that Typhoon would have a role across the operational spectrum. It will have a precision attack capability, it will have an air defence capability, in due course it will have a reconnaissance capability, and our intention is to build out of this programme a highly capable, adaptable, agile aircraft that we can use across a wide range of situations.

  Q111  Mike Gapes: Assuming that a decision or an agreement is either here or imminent and the signing is imminent or not too long away, when would you expect the tranche 2 aircraft to actually be operational?

  Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup: I am not sure I can answer that question and I am not sure that it is, if I may say, the nub of the issue which you are seeking to get at. The issue of operational employment is an issue of software. At the moment air frames are being built. Tranche 2 aeroplanes will be somewhat different from tranche 1 aeroplanes but the key to the operational deployment, whichever tranche they are, is the software standard that is built at that particular moment in time so it really is not an issue of tranche 1 versus tranche 2; it is an issue of software development.

  Q112  Mike Gapes: We have got 55 at the moment in tranche 1 and we have got 89 to come with tranche 2. Do you think we will ever have a tranche 3?

  Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup: The UK has signed a Memorandum of Understanding for 232 Typhoons. That remains the position. From my perspective tranche 3 is not yet on my radar horizon. I am interested in tranche 2 and in the delivery of the capabilities through the software build standards and integration that we need on those tranche 1 and 2 aircraft.

  Q113  Mike Gapes: We have been told as a Committee that decisions do not need to be taken before 2007 on tranche 3. It may not therefore be on your radar understandably at this moment but nevertheless do you think it would be a good idea if tranche 3 were to be cancelled, postponed, moved to the right? Do you think we need it?

  Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup: I do not think that we are in a position to make that judgment at the moment. The contract is not due for signature until at least 2007 and we are constantly reviewing our position, our balance between numbers and overall capability, and all of those deliberations will no doubt influence decisions taken in 2007. I really do not think that this is the moment to be worrying about that. We have other things to worry about which are much more immediate, like tranche 2 and the capability of build standards.

  Q114  Chairman: I can think of many arguments why it is not imperative to make any decision on tranche 3. One question we have not asked is are there any financial penalties for not proceeding? The concept of financial penalties seems to be more directed towards the Germans pulling out.

  Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup: I think that the answer to that depends upon so many variables that I would have to once again refer you to procurement experts.[2]

  Chairman: Okay, right. Dai Havard?

  Q115  Mr Havard: We were originally told by the MoD that there was going to be no gap between the Jaguar and the Typhoon's introduction and then in Future Capabilities we were told that that had been revised and in fact there is going to be a gap because the Jaguars are going to be taken out of service two years earlier than was originally planned and told to us. The first question I suppose is how long is that gap going to be?

  Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup: There is not going to be a gap between the final end of the Jaguar force and the beginning of the Typhoon force.

  Q116  Mr Havard: There is no gap?

  Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup: There is not going to be a gap between the final end of the Jaguar force and the very beginning of the Typhoon force. What we are not doing is taking each squadron and as it goes out of service with the Jaguar replacing it with the Typhoon squadron at that same moment in time. We do not actually do that anyway because if you were to do that, during that transition period you would need twice the number of people you have to man both because you have got to work up one force while you are still manning the other. So there is always an element of feathering the two together but, as I said earlier, we had originally anticipated that we would not be able to reduce our total number of offensive aircraft for example in the case of Jaguar until we had the capabilities that we were seeking in Typhoon. However it has become apparent through the improvements that we have made through the years that the qualitative advances we have achieved enable us to run down those numbers ahead of Typhoon coming into service. Typhoon will build on those qualitative advances and give us the additional flexibility of a true multi-role aircraft but it does mean we are able to advance the out-of-service dates of the Jaguar and one of the F3 squadrons.

  Q117  Mr Havard: There seems to have been an assessment then of what the threats are today. You made a point about predicting the future is a very uncertain thing to do but what you seem to be saying is that Tornado and Harrier are going to be that much more capable than was originally envisaged and that Typhoon will slowly be introduced into that package as well. Against today's assessment of what is required that is going to be sufficient, is it, for this period of time because one of the questions that seems to come is that 62 Jaguars are going to be dispensed with because the Tornadoes and Harriers combination is going to be that more capable yet very quickly afterwards we have to have 89 Typhoons to plug the gap that was left by 62 Jaguars. We are getting very confused about exactly where these gaps and enhancements in capability and in protection not only for today's threats but other predicted threats will be. So are you going to have this capability?

  Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup: I am sorry, I do not recognise the numbers that you have quoted because we do not have 89 Typhoons replacing 62 Jaguars. But what I would go back to is the point about capability—effect not numbers and what can you actually do—and we are able to do much more with our aircraft now than we have been able to do in the past. I go back to the example which I cite fairly frequently. In Iraq last year we deployed only 70% of the number of fast jets we used on Operation Granby in 1991 and yet our force in Iraq last year was considerably more powerful and capable than its predecessor of 12 years earlier because we had invested in things that made that smaller number more capable overall than the larger number. That is what we will continue to do and what we plan to do for the future. So it is only logical if you take that progression forward that you can now achieve your effects with a smaller number of aircraft.

  Q118  Mr Havard: You see this as a seamless process then that will provide this capability? There is a suspicion on this side that this is largely driven and where you have a spectacular example is where you may have, say, twice as many aircraft as you have got pilots and it is to do with whether or not you can find people properly to fly these assets. The other thing is these aircraft are £23 million a copy or whatever it is. There are lots of boots and people to put in boots that you can provide for £23 million. So decisions about how many of these you can have and what they can do and what capabilities they can provide, as you will understand, is quite a serious sort of question, so is it going to achieve this trick?

  Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup: Yes it is. You posed a number of implicit questions in what you just said and made some statements with which I would fundamentally disagree and I am very happy to address those if we want to pose them as specific questions. In this instance from my perspective the issue is not the number of Typhoon replacing the number of Jaguar. The issue is not will advancing the out-of-service date of Jaguar create an operational capability gap; the issue is managing the people. We have to move from a Jaguar and F3 force to a Typhoon force. Those people who were on the Jaguar and F3 forces—pilots, the weapons systems operators, the ground crew—have to move from one job to another, and managing that transition is my key challenge. So in looking at those out-of-service dates what I have had to consider is does this fit in with the flow of people from one force to another because that is what maintains our capability, and the answer to that is, yes, we have tailored this specifically to achieve that.

  Chairman: We have to go out and vote to protect your pensions. Please forgive us for departing.

  The Committee suspended from 3.40 pm to 3.59 pm for divisions in the House.

  Chairman: An unexpected time out. I am afraid there will be another vote so you will have to be patient, so sorry. James Cran please.

  Q119  Mr Cran: Air Chief Marshal, on to the subject of training in a specific sense, you will not recall but I will read out the quote to you from our report on the lessons of Iraq where we said: "However, we feel that the shortcomings in the practice and training of close air support by the RAF and land forces which have emerged in recent operations must be urgently addressed." We then go on to say in our view what has to be addressed. Perhaps you will recall that. Could you bring us up-to-date with where that is?

  Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup: Absolutely. We have a project of which you will be aware, Project Conningham Keyes, to address specifically those issues and it incorporates all three front-line commands, not just air and land but maritime as well. As I said in response to an earlier question, we found that the issues boil down to three specific areas. The first one is the structure and organisation for running air/land co-operation. We have a structure, we have had it for many years, but our conclusions are that a) it is not big enough and b) it does not have sufficient clout, it is not run at a senior enough level, and that we need fundamentally to improve that. The second area concerns the whole question of doctrine. There are undoubtedly in UK doctrine, in NATO doctrine, in US doctrine some gaps which have emerged as capabilities have changed over the years. That has to be addressed. Our view is that if we put in place the right structure and manning for our air support organisation they are the people to do that and to take that forward jointly between the three Services. Then the final area is the one of training because you can have processes, you can have procedures, but your people have to train if they are to be effective and they have to train together using the skills they will need in combat. There are two strands of work addressing this. First is the longer term strand which incorporate these issues and this kind of training in our overall defence exercise programme so that it is institutionalised in what we do but, secondly, we have identified a number of areas where we can get some quick wins, where we can insert this training in exercises that are already planned, bring assets together, and make use of the potential synergy that we have, and that avenue is being explored as well. So we are making considerable progress on all of those three fronts. I would only add as one rider that quite a bit of this requires additional resource.

1   Ev 160 Back

2   Ev 160 Back

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