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Defence Committee - Future Maritime Surveillance - Minutes of EvidenceHC 110
HOUSE OF COMMONS
TAKEN BEFORE THE
FUTURE MARITIME SURVEILLANCE
TUESDAY 17 APRIL 2012
MR ROD JOHNSON, REAR-ADMIRAL TONY RIX (RTD), and DR LEE WILLETT
REAR-ADMIRAL IAN CORDER, EDWARD FERGUSON, AIR VICE-MARSHAL MARK GREEN CBE, AIR COMMODORE ROBERT NOEL and CAPTAIN RUSSELL PEGG OBE
Evidence heard in Public
USE OF THE TRANSCRIPT
1. This is a corrected transcript of evidence taken in public and reported to the House. The transcript has been placed on the internet on the authority of the Committee, and copies have been made available by the Vote Office for the use of Members and others.
2. The transcript is an approved formal record of these proceedings. It will be printed in due course.
Taken before the Defence Committee
on Tuesday 17 April 2012
Mr James Arbuthnot (Chair)
Mr Jeffrey M. Donaldson
Mr Dai Havard
Ms Gisela Stuart
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Mr Rod Johnson, Chief Coastguard, Maritime and Coastguard Agency, Rear-Admiral Tony Rix CB (rtd), and Dr Lee Willett, Senior Research Fellow, Maritime Studies, Royal United Services Institute, gave evidence.
Q1 Chair: Gentlemen, thank you very much for coming to give evidence at the first evidence session into Future Maritime Surveillance. Could I ask you to begin by introducing yourselves?
Rear-Admiral Rix: Good afternoon. My name is Rear-Admiral Tony Rix. I served in the Royal Navy from 1975 until 2009 in the warfare operational branch and in my final two years I was the chief of staff to the NATO maritime headquarter in Naples from where we commanded a counter-terrorist and also a counter-piracy operation. I think that is the context within which you have invited me here today.
Mr Johnson: Good afternoon. My name is Rod Johnson. I am the Chief Coastguard. I have a note which may help you to understand the role of the Coastguard in the context of your inquiry if you are happy for me to read that out.
Chair: We will probably get to it in different ways by asking questions. Let us see how that goes and then perhaps at the end you might be able to give us it in writing. Would that be possible?
Mr Johnson: That is fine, Sir. Just to note that Her Majesty’s Coastguard is part of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency and I am a civil servant appearing on behalf of Ministers.
Dr Willett: Good afternoon. I am Dr Lee Willett. I am Senior Research Fellow in Maritime Studies at the Royal United Services Institute with a broad remit to look at all things to do with the use of the sea, from naval all the way through to commercial aspects and everything in between.
Q2 Chair: Thank you very much. There are two groups of witnesses in front of us this afternoon. The first is you and the second group is largely from the Ministry of Defence. Starting with you, what are the main strategic requirements for maritime surveillance and how have those requirements changed and evolved over recent years? Who would like to begin? You don’t all, by the way, have to answer all the questions if you feel that they have already been adequately dealt with. Rod Johnson, would you like to start?
Mr Johnson: In terms of the strategic requirement for maritime surveillance, the particular field that the Coastguard looks after is covered in the Vessel Traffic Monitoring Directive, which is derived from the European Integrated Maritime Policy. Surveillance is an enabler of understanding the risk presented by sea traffic to the marine environment and the safety of the individual and to enable safe sea transport, commerce and the protection of the environment. So I suppose the specific answer to that question would be that surveillance is an enabler of that activity which is designed to underpin the well-being and prosperity of European citizens.
Q3 Chair: That is looked at from the civilian point of view?
Mr Johnson: That is correct.
Rear-Admiral Rix: I will not get into the detailed policy process. It would probably be best if I left that to the experts who are sitting behind me. I would certainly support Rod Johnson in saying that surveillance from my operational perspective, which ended two and half years ago when I left the Navy, was a significant enabler to all operations, particularly those that we undertook within NATO in the Mediterranean and also out in the Gulf of Aden. In terms of the process, I have been out of the Ministry of Defence long enough; I suspect that the process has changed.
Dr Willett: I have a couple of points to make. It is important to state from the United Kingdom’s perspective that, given our position as a global power, one of the most important things that has changed is the understanding of the fact that our requirement for maritime surveillance is global. This requirement is made up of a combination of two elements: the home bit-looking after our own waters-and the away bit, which is looking after everything else as part of our global responsibilities, and our global commitments and interests.
It is important to state that maritime surveillance is not just about air and military assets, but a combination of environments, whether that be air, land, surface and sub-surface. It is a combination of naval and joint contributions, and a combination of the Ministry of Defence, other Government Departments and many others. There is a very important mix. One of the things that has changed, in particular, is the understanding that the UK needs to have a wider global coverage in terms of what it thinks about.1 The oceans are a vast space and, stating the obvious, far larger in geographical nature than, for example, a particular country that we are looking at, at any one time. Our requirement for maritime surveillance is to look at all those spaces all the time. A degree of persistency is required in thinking about it, which I argue is not something that yet resonates in the tenor of the debate.
Geographical scope has increased in terms of our understanding, but also in that of others who use the sea. For example, with recent issues in respect of 9/11, air traffic moves now in a much more controlled environment and it is difficult moving over land borders. At sea, there is not that kind of inhibition. Non-state actors and others realise and recognise that they can move men, matériel and other things by sea far more easily. The sea is a cluttered, moving environment and things on it are very small, so there needs to be a degree of persistence and a degree of focus that is much wider than perhaps had been thought about in the past.
Q4 Bob Stewart: Dr Willett, you made a difference between home and worldwide surveillance. How far out in your estimation is home waters, when you are thinking of the Atlantic?
Dr Willett: That is a good question. One could argue that one’s economic exclusion zone might be the limit of those borders, but there is, of course, a case that the approaches to those areas would be part of that as well. If one is looking at this from a European point of view, one could argue that our membership of the EU requires us to consider the European area. As an island nation, all the areas surrounding our coastline from 12 miles out-even perhaps to 200 miles-would be the starting point.
Q5 Bob Stewart: Out to 200?
Dr Willett: If one thinks about economic exclusion zones.
Q6 Bob Stewart: Not out to 1,200 nautical miles. Is there an area of influence that we are supposed to have some sort of responsibility for that goes out to 1,200 nautical miles into the Atlantic?
Mr Johnson: If I may answer that, the United Kingdom Search and Rescue region extends out to 30° west. It is approximately 1 million square miles of the eastern Atlantic. It is a very interesting question that you asked about our home waters. I think that it is probably easier to consider that concept in terms of time. At an average steaming speed of 15 knots per surface ship, where is home waters? Our area of operation extends out to 30° west to just short of the Arctic circle in the north, and down to an area just north of Cape Finisterre and then down the North Sea, English Channel meridian line.
We do not have situational awareness out to 30° west. In other words, we do not know what is there all the time, right now-only the compliant targets. But it is an area that we look at and, of course, from a search and rescue point of view any British interests anywhere can be involved or can involve us. Some examples of that would be the searches that we do routinely in the Red Sea/Gulf of Aden area. If we get the distress alert through our satellite-based technology, we will deal with it-even the poor chap who was strangled in his camper van in the Brazilian jungle.
Bob Stewart: I do not want to delay, Chair. I will come back to that later.
Q7 Chair: Is the Ministry of Defence good at determining its maritime surveillance requirements? Are the strategic processes that the Ministry of Defence operates effective?
Dr Willett: It is an interesting question. One of the first things is to consider the MoD’s position in the context of wider Government policy. There is a debate about whether we have, at a national level, a clear understanding of what our national maritime security requirement is. There has been a lot of debate in the last few years about the need for the UK to have a national maritime security strategy. That debate has stopped and started for various reasons.
It is really about more than just the MoD’s contribution. The MoD’s contribution within that is very specific, and focused on certain areas. Is the focus joined up enough between Government Departments yet? Certainly, it is better than it used to be. The MoD plays an important part in that. It is one of the agencies that naturally come to mind when one thinks about this, but when you consider the Department for Transport looking after shipping and other things; the Foreign Office looking after Overseas Dependent Territories; the Home Office looking after the UK Border Agency; and the Department of Energy and Climate Change looking at energy issues, there is a lot to mix into that. It is not just about the MoD.
Even internally in MoD, responsibility for surveillance as an issue sits across many desks, which makes it difficult to determine what the requirement should be. The UK is better at it than it used to be. Certainly, the political focus on it at the moment means that there is a good deal of attention paid to getting it right.
Chair: Rear-Admiral Rix?
Rear-Admiral Rix: Things will continually change. In my time in the Royal Navy and, indeed, in the Ministry of Defence, we went from a cold war era, when there was one particular surveillance requirement, and now we are dealing with counter-terrorism and counter-piracy, so the surveillance requirement continually changes. Yes, there is a good eye on that in the Ministry of Defence, and spotting the capability gaps and addressing them is an important part of this. From my operational perspective, the process is pretty good. It is a different question about getting those capabilities into service to fill the gaps and to meet the changing requirements.
Q8 Chair: Talking of gaps, Dr Willett mentioned the fact that it was not simply about maritime patrol aircraft. Do you think the debate has focused too much on that over the last few months?
Rear-Admiral Rix: Yes, I do. My personal view is that it has. The debate needs to focus in capability terms, and find out what gaps there are and what means there are of filling them. These days, there is an increasing number of methods by which one can fill a surveillance capability gap in hybrid air vehicles and things like that-satellite technology. This will be an ongoing process of capability analysis, and then filling those capability gaps, looking across the board. In this context, and to answer your question, it is not just about looking at something like Nimrod, although that might provide a significant capability.
Chair: We will come back to those things.
Dr Willett: Just a quick point. One should point out that a maritime patrol aircraft capability is something that has been important. Without it, there is certainly a gap, because that capability provided an overall glue to the various layers of surveillance capability that we have. There is no current policy, I understand, or funding, I suspect, to replace that directly. What is new here is that we have a persistent wide-area surveillance capability requirement, as I mentioned in my previous comment-the need to be out further, looking at more things, more of the time. We have to find a way of addressing that. One might not necessarily think that one could do that, or afford to do it, with just an aircraft, so, as the Admiral mentioned, UAVs and other concepts are coming very much to the fore.
One of the things to bear in mind is that the MPA programme provided a particular capability to do certain jobs, and that is now gone. We are trying to fill that gap with other things. One of the risks, because of the current challenges that we face-budgetarily, operationally-is that you have a significant problem if you start picking holes in the layers underneath it. You are stretching those layers already-whether they be a Type 23 surface ship, a submarine or something else-to do part of that job. They are maxed out, stretched-whatever term one wishes to use-anyway. If you start chipping away at those capabilities without rebuilding them with another aircraft, UAV or a hybrid air vehicle of some sort, you will start not just to stretch the coverage, but to see some holes in it.
Q9 Sandra Osborne: You have started to address what I was going to ask you in relation to capability. In their response to this Committee’s Report on the Strategic Defence and Security Review and the National Security Strategy, the Government acknowledged that, after cancelling Nimrod, there is "currently no single asset or collection of assets that fully mitigate the resulting capability gap" in the wider-area maritime surveillance. In your opinion, does that constitute a gamble or just a tolerable risk? What is your assessment of the risks involved?
Rear-Admiral Rix: My personal assessment is that it is the former; it is the gamble. It is a risk that we should not be taking for a number of reasons. First, we do not have the surveillance coverage that we used to have. Indeed, trying to regenerate that surveillance capability-the broad surveillance, particularly the wider-area persistent surveillance capability-at short notice would be very difficult. There are some initiatives within the MoD to do that, but for reasons that we have gone into so far, surveillance-wider-area persistent surveillance-is an essential part, from my perspective, of the military world, enabling military operations. It is a gap that we should not tolerate.
Q10 Sandra Osborne: Are there any other views? Does anyone want to add to that? Do you think it is a gamble, or just a tolerable risk?
Mr Johnson: From the search and rescue point of view, and from the point of view of counter-pollution operations, Nimrod was in the inventory and now it is not. Therefore, our operations are simply restructured around not having it. I could not describe it as a gamble, or even a tolerable risk; it is just a change in state, and we operate in a changed state. The principle for mutual assistance between ships at range continues. From the civil maritime search and rescue perspective, from the counter-pollution perspective and from the traffic-monitoring perspective, I do not think I would be able to categorise it as either of those; it is just not there any more.
Q11 Sandra Osborne: Was the Coastguard consulted during the SDSR process about bringing in a capability gap?
Mr Johnson: I am sure you will understand that the decision to withdraw Nimrod was one for the MoD, and not for the Secretary of State for Transport. There were informal contacts at desk level as the SDSR was being generated. In terms of formal consultation, all I can say is that I was not formally consulted, but I am not aware of any activity that might have gone on elsewhere.
Dr Willett: One of the interesting things in this is the language of the SDSR, particularly in relation to this issue. On several occasions it talks in detail about the significant strategic requirement for the kinds of capabilities offered by maritime patrol aircraft and other assets. When talking about the deletion of Nimrod it does not explain why. It does not say, "We didn’t need this"; it quite clearly said earlier in the Review that yes, we did need this kind of thing. It raises the question of what the political and policy considerations were behind why the Nimrod decision was taken.
You could ask whether there was an argument that it was a sacrificial lamb-whether it was making a point to the MoD and the defence industrial complex that you cannot carry on with that degree of overspending and overrunning programmes. Or were there arguments that the Nimrod MRA4 programme was not going to prove to be the one that was required? Of course, the language of the SDSR leaves open the debate about what to do next. Some of the statements made since then have led some to conclude that perhaps what was being done in the SDSR was getting rid of a potentially difficult issue, but leaving the door open for an off-the-shelf purchase of something else in the shorter term.
It is important to bear in mind that the debate has moved on, since we started talking about Nimrod as an aircraft, over the past few years. Our maritime surveillance requirement is about a lot more than just a maritime patrol bit from a MRA4 Nimrod point of view. As the debate is widened, and we think about piracy and wider surveillance, is the argument now that we think about something completely different as a solution, or having a combination of things to provide that solution?
Q12 John Glen: I would like to return to that. I recognise what you are saying: you had it before, and you don’t have it now. There is a new operational reality, and you accept that. You have more than 25 years’ experience in this field. You must have an opinion on what the loss of capability means practically, in terms of whether there is increased risk or not. I recognise that it is an uncomfortable thing to talk about, but the Committee is trying to get to the bottom of what the implications of this decision were for surveillance. I press you again: do you not have a view, given your 25 years’ experience, of what this actually means, in terms of the impact on risk?
Mr Johnson: By way of background, obviously the oceans of the world are very large. The UK plays its part in providing search and rescue by means of its accession to the International Search and Rescue Convention. One of the tenets of that is that assets are shared and declared within the context of a global search and rescue plan.
It is true to say that there was a point at which the UK inventory included Nimrod as a maritime patrol aircraft, which, in the context of search and rescue, was capable of providing a systematic search over a wide area and locating a potentially non-compliant target. What has changed is that with the withdrawal of Nimrod from the UK inventory, there are simply other means at our disposal to provide that capability, if we wanted it. The existing arrangements, which are long-standing, with regard to the obtaining of assets from other Atlantic region states continue. If one of my officers was to come to the conclusion that they required the use of an MPA at range, then our standing arrangements to obtain that capability from other Atlantic basin states would kick in, and we would obtain an aircraft from them.
I understand the direction of your question, Sir, but the point is that we deal with what we have to deal with on the day, with what we have got. There are means of assessing what is available, and we use what is available to do the job.
Q13 John Glen: Yes, but that does not get to the heart of the matter, does it? What you have said is that there are contingencies in place and an array of opportunities to call on other assets in any given situation. What we are trying to get at is the relative strength and weakness before and after the decision, which has a material bearing on the quality of the capability the country has. It seems to me that, with your unwillingness to answer that directly, we are none the wiser.
Mr Johnson: Let me see if I can assist you further, Sir. Out to the extent of helicopter range, Coastguard surveillance aircraft are now in the search and rescue role. They are being refitted with more sophisticated comms equipment to enhance them in that role. That takes us out to about 200 miles from the nearest land. When we get into oceanic territory, it is true to say that there is no current UK standing asset that we would go to as a first choice. We would be going to an asset that is based in Ireland, France, Iceland, the United States or Canada.
Q14 Bob Stewart: May I follow up on that? On this very point, what we are actually looking at is a gap between, say, 240 nautical miles-the limit of a Sea King at the moment-and 1,200 nautical miles, which is filled by other air assets from other nations. Not only is that a problem, but once the privatisation of our search and rescue assets happens, will we have capability even as good as we have now out to 240 nautical miles?
Mr Johnson: The first thing I would say, Sir, is that the word "privatisation" is not an accurate description of what is going to happen. The responsibility for search and rescue provision remains with the Government. The capability to discharge it will be provided by a contractor, which you can find other examples of. The service that will be provided is every bit as good as the service that is there at the moment. There will be no diminution of service once the arrangements change for the provision of SAR helicopters out to range.
Q15 Bob Stewart: Will they be able to identify a body in the sea at, say, 60 nautical miles, as a Sea King apparently can, possibly?
Mr Johnson: The sensor platform for the future SAR helicopters is every bit as sophisticated as what we have at the moment.
Q16 Mr Havard: As the Coastguard, with your search and rescue capability, you are explaining what happens in an emergency. You get a call and you have to respond. There is a series of assets that you can mix and match in order to deal with that particular emergency in that time. Dr Willett talks about persistence. He talks about having the persistent capability to see and-more importantly in some respects, I believe-listen across a wide range of the ocean. That fits back into your role in relation to the other parts of the Coastguard service, does it not? You have a relationship with smuggling, piracy, and all the other sorts of aspects that might come across your desk. Is there a gap, in terms of not necessarily being able to respond to an emergency, which we can do now perhaps by mixing and matching, and this longer-term question about a persistent capability? Is that the gamble?
Mr Johnson: I do not believe you could describe it as a gamble, and I would respond to you in two ways. First, "coastguard" is an interesting word; it means a lot of things to a lot of people. To try to decode that, internationally and within Europe, the activities that are needed to maintain dominance over a wider area such as an exclusive economic zone or a search and rescue region are called coastguard functions. They are customs, border control, pollution response, fisheries control, maritime safety, maritime security, vessel traffic management, accident and disaster response, search and rescue, and law enforcement. No one organisation in any state discharges those activities. In the UK, Her Majesty’s Coastguard discharges six of those 10. Some things do cross my desk, and some things do not, but coastguard activities are not necessarily the purview of Her Majesty’s Coastguard. Other departments contribute.
The second part is this: maritime surveillance activity covers a wide range of spectrum for different purposes. The NATO joint operational doctrine very clearly sets out what maritime surveillance is for military purposes. For civilian purposes, it is slightly different. Although situational awareness for search and rescue and counter-pollution would benefit from being systematic and continuous, it does not have to be systematic and continuous. I would defer to professional military opinion with regard to the requirement for persistent and systematic surveillance for military purposes. I do not feel comfortable answering that one.
Dr Willett: To draw some of those questions together, if I may, and particularly to respond to Mr Glen’s point, we are talking about a variety and number of assets in all environments: air, surface, sub-surface and other. To an extent, all maritime assets, whether naval assets or others, are surveillance assets while they are out there doing their daily task. In response to your question, Mr Glen, about before and after and whether we are better off, certainly when you talk about it from the Royal Navy’s point of view or from the MoD’s point of view, the kinds of capabilities and systems that we have coming online in the future will be better in terms of capability, but there will be less of them. When we are talking about the requirement for an ever-increasing, expanding requirement of surveillance, that lack of assets will be significant. If you are trying to deal with problems up-threat, which the Review and the National Security Strategy talked about, you need to be out there, forward deployed, looking at and listening to things. With less assets, you struggle. The MoD, the Navy and other services are in the service of Government, in terms of responding to what Governments want.
If you look at the Libya operation, for example, it provides quite an interesting little case study on the kinds of challenges that we will continue to have in the future, because we had to go and draw a large number of assets from doing other things into supporting that operation. It was an operation that it was in our strategic national interest to support because of our alliance commitments, our national interest and everything else, but to do that, from a naval point of view, for example, we had to pull ships off other taskings such as looking after the South Atlantic. There were one or two issues to do with the number of assets we could provide for counter-piracy while we were doing that, and even before Libya, the Government announced that they could not provide a destroyer or frigate to undertake the Caribbean guardship patrol task for a while.
You are seeing these gaps appear. You have a web of a number of capabilities-a number of systems-doing different things that come together, but as you are stretching that capability ever tighter, you are drawing out holes that are gaps. You can fill some of those with new systems, and some with alliance contributions, but the question is: from a policy level, do we understand the importance of maritime surveillance for maritime security as a whole, and are we prepared to underwrite the capabilities required to ensure that we have sufficient coverage for what we want to do?
Chair: We have got a lot of ground still to cover.
Q17 Sandra Osborne: Again, Dr Willett, you have pre-empted my question by talking about the use of all these other resources. The Government have said that they will partly fill the gap by maximising all the different assets that are available. What I get from what you are saying is that, in terms of Libya, it was effective, but it meant leaving big gaps elsewhere. Is that a fair assessment?
Dr Willett: Yes. In the work that we have done at RUSI, which is based on publicly available evidence, we looked at what the Royal Navy, for example, contributed to the Libya operation. The Royal Navy was required to pull assets off other tasks that are of significant national importance at the same time to cover that. That is a policy choice that the Government made.
Q18 Sandra Osborne: So it is not really an effective way of filling the gap.
Rear-Admiral Rix: Absolutely. I would argue that the fewer assets you have, the more important it is to have effective, wide-area persistent surveillance. If I look at the operation that I was part of in the Mediterranean-a counter-terrorist operation-that relied heavily on understanding what was going on in the Mediterranean. We had relatively few ships, and I think we were fairly imaginative in how we filled that gap. That operation is now going from a platform-based operation to a network-based operation. Fundamentally, that operation depends significantly on good surveillance, so I would argue that surveillance is even more important than it was when we had more assets.
Q19 Mr Havard: I want to explore this question of Allies and the future. Some of the reliance is on capability that we get from elsewhere in a number of circumstances. Basically, is the reliance on the provision of those other things from Allies sufficient? Is that going to be part of the future mixture, in terms of not necessarily having the things to do it ourselves, and part of the package always being allied provision? Is that sufficient?
Rear-Admiral Rix: Perhaps I can answer that, again, from my experience of the Mediterranean. This was a NATO operation, and we relied totally on force contributions from the nations, in terms of surface ships, the occasional submarine and maritime patrol aircraft. Towards the end of my time, in 2009, we might be lucky to get three maritime patrol aircraft sorties for six to eight hours a month, which did not fulfil our requirement. If we look at that from a national perspective, although our Allies are good, reliable people, there will be times, perhaps for security reasons, when we cannot rely on them and would not want to rely on them. Equally, there will be a time when our interests are not aligned, and our Allies have other priorities and wish to put their few assets to those priorities rather than ours. Relying on Allies, I would suggest, is not the way ahead.
Dr Willett: It can also depend to a degree on the task in question. If you are talking about looking after a deterrent, in my humble opinion, I would want to do that myself. If you are talking about contributing to a coalition operation, of course there is much more you can do, in terms of sharing with others, although if you look at the Libya operation again, the US provided a large part of the enabling layer, if you like, for the operation. What would happen if the US was not there in the future, or if it was, as it is now, overstretched?
If you look at the Olympics, for example, you would want to have a degree of national sovereignty in delivering the security for that, but the French, for example, might have an interest in supporting surveillance in the South-Western approaches. It depends entirely on the task. I also reinforce the Admiral’s point that, of course, being reliant on others leaves you reliant on their decisions and priorities, which you cannot rely upon to be favourable when you need them.
Q20 Mr Havard: One of my colleagues will press you on that later. I was interested in what you said about the current assets being the current assets, that different people have them in different countries and that Allies can mix and match, but what about the changing nature of what you need to look at? You have talked about piracy and counter-terrorism. Are we planning to replace the requirement that was, or are we going to have a combination of things that will do the job that we predict for the future? Is there an opportunity as well as a gap in terms of changing the configuration of what you require for a newly defined set of tasks that you will be forced to deal with on top of-rather than, I suspect, instead of-the previous tasks? Is that thinking happening?
Rear-Admiral Rix: I do not know how the thinking is developing in the Ministry of Defence; I am not part of that now. Nevertheless, this is an opportunity to see what capabilities are available. We know what capabilities we require, but this is about how they might be delivered. In the Gulf of Aden, for example, where the European Union has a counter-piracy operation, we can provide a surveillance capability via either something like a maritime patrol aircraft or, perhaps, a hybrid air vehicle, which would just sit over the top of the Gulf of Aden. There are different ways of doing it these days, so we should grasp this opportunity and provide the surveillance via the best possible means.
Q21 Mr Havard: This is in terms of both seeing and listening, isn’t it?
Rear-Admiral Rix: Yes.
Q22 Mr Havard: At the moment we have satellite imagery and so on, but when the batteries run out and the clouds come in you are in trouble. What is happening in terms of a combination of things to enable us to see the whole picture? We have lost a capability within a capability, in my opinion, namely the ability to listen across the ocean rather than to just see across it.
Rear-Admiral Rix: Something like the maritime patrol aircraft will carry a number of different sensors, which will be looking and seeing and so on. Those sensors can be deployed in different ways these days-UAVs and hybrid air vehicles. How we deliver that capability is important.
Q23 Mr Havard: This is my last question. We are co-operating with Allies in order to retain our personnel capabilities, as I understand it, in the Seedcorn initiative. What is happening in terms of maintaining the ability to work this space-in terms of the people as well as the actual matériel-and what is your assessment of the timetable for the various points at which all of these changes should come together? By when do you want to fill the initial gap? What is your idea of the necessary timetable to put in place these replacements?
Rear-Admiral Rix: I would prefer to defer to the people at the Ministry of Defence. Nevertheless, I would say that that surveillance gap is with us now, so the sooner we can fill it, the better.
Q24 Chair: Do you have anything to add, Dr Willett?
Dr Willett: I would say that, as well there being a surveillance gap with us now, there is also a surveillance risk-the threats that we face are very current. I am sure that the Government and the Ministry of Defence are doing everything possible to ensure that we are covered on a daily basis, but the challenge in thinking about the future and the systems that may come online in five or 10 years is to not only deal with problems now, but retain the flexibility to adapt in the future.
One of the interesting things about this from a surveillance point of view, in terms of thinking about where we are going, is that there is a lot of debate in the EU about surveillance in terms of satellites and imagery, but you also need to have something to prosecute what you find. That requires assets on the ground or at sea-in this case, ships-whether they be coastguard assets, naval assets or others. One of the challenges is thinking about ways in which you can not only get enough information, sift it and disseminate it, but act on it. Again, that comes down to the issue at the sharp end of having assets at sea fully deployed, which you can then use to address the problems. That is something that needs consideration today, as well as for the future.
Q25 Mr Havard: Is it right that, when we talk about information, we really mean intelligence?
Dr Willett: I would not necessarily agree. Intelligence tends to suggest classified sources and everything else, but information comes from a variety of sources, such as just having a ship at sea that can monitor daily patterns of dhow movements-when they are going out to do certain things and when they are not-and noticing the differences. That is just using information that we pick up by being forward-deployed, which is slightly different from intelligence that is gained by satellites or electronic measures and other things. It is that presence that gives you that understanding.
Rear-Admiral Rix: And one will turn that information, through analysis, into intelligence.
Q26 Bob Stewart: Forgive me for returning to the point, but on surveillance-particularly thinking of CSAR-Dr Willett said that we would be better in the future than we were in the past. Am I right in assuming that if you were in a satellite with heat-sensing capabilities, you could in the future see something the size of this document in the ocean? Is that the sort of thing that you are thinking of, because, quite frankly, I cannot see how we can get better in the future unless we actually have an aircraft? Your point, Admiral, was that we cannot rely on Allies to provide this surveillance. We cannot rely on Allies, but it is going to be better in the future, and therefore there is a dichotomy that I do not quite understand. How is it going to be better in the future when we cannot rely on Allies and will not have the aircraft that can look in close?
Dr Willett: If I may qualify my point slightly, what I meant was that one would assume that, from a technological perspective, what we will have in the future will be better as technology develops and your ability to do stuff improves. The technology for looking at things will be better. My point was that, on the one hand, your surveillance will be better in terms of technology capability, but if you do not have the number of assets to then cover everywhere you need to, that is the balance.
Q27 Chair: Do you have a view as to whether the maritime surveillance capability should be sovereign-based or procured off-the-shelf?
Rear-Admiral Rix: My view is that the answer would depend on the investment appraisal. Off the shelf is certainly an opportunity. Depending on whether you mean off-the-shelf new or off-the-shelf second-hand, you might have to spend a lot of money providing the capability. In investment appraisal terms, if that is better than buying something new that might be expensive, then fine. One should look at all options.
Q28 Chair: The Type 22 frigate has been withdrawn, which leaves a gap in capabilities. How should that gap, particularly in listening capabilities, be plugged?
Rear-Admiral Rix: I am afraid that that is not my specialist area. From my perspective, it is also a highly classified area.
Dr Willett: It is clearly a gap, and a very specific capability for electronic intelligence will be lost when the Type 22s come out of service, and one needs to replace that. I am not the most expert on them, but there are systems that can provide part of that. For example, I understand-although I stand to be corrected-that when Rivet Joint comes in, it may be able to provide part of that, but again you need to address the question of persistence. As I understand it, there is some thinking going on about this and about how to meet this gap within the MoD, but, as with all programmes, it is under current pressures-financial and others. However, I am not aware of any specifics as I do not believe that they are in the public domain.
Q29 Chair: Should we buy a new fleet of maritime patrol aircraft if we could find the money? P-8s, CN-235s, or anything else?
Rear-Admiral Rix: I will repeat my answer to the previous question and say that we should consider all options and see which gives us the best value for money in investment appraisal terms.
Q30 Chair: Could the Sentinel R Mk1 do maritime surveillance tasks if it were properly adapted?
Rear-Admiral Rix: I think the answer is arguably, "Yes," but I would be surprised if it stood up in investment appraisal terms. I think there are only four or possibly five of them around at the moment, and I understand, from non-professional perspective, that some significant re-engineering might be required. However, you may wish to ask people currently serving for a better-informed answer.
Dr Willett: Its task is to deal with the very cluttered background ashore. As I understand it, it could therefore have limited application in terms of dealing with a very benign maritime environment, but, of course, the maritime environment is not always like that. Sentinel only gives you a surface capability, not the slightly deeper view that you would have had with something else, as I understand Nimrod did.
An interesting thing to bear in mind, though, is-to reinforce the point-the maritime patrol aircraft capability provided one part of a large number of things that we have in service currently. Going forward from here, when you consider the new technologies available-things like unmanned vehicles, hybrid air vehicles and so on that might, in the fullness of time, prove cheaper and provide better capabilities-you will want to consider a package of options that will give you an overall comprehensive approach. It is unlikely to be the case that one single asset will be able to do everything.
Chair: That is well taken on board.
Q31 John Glen: Building on that, it would be helpful to have your assessment of the use of UAVs and lighter-than-air vehicles. What contribution do they make to maritime surveillance as a free-standing set of assets working alongside aircraft? Can you give a perspective on the future evolution of those capabilities? How optimistic should the Committee be about the potential of UAVs and lighter-than-air vehicles? You might also want to say something about the role of satellites, recognising the context that those things work together, but also that our Allies have more advanced capabilities in that respect. How will that work?
Rear-Admiral Rix: I think that we should be very excited about the future capabilities that UAVs and hybrid lighter-than-air vehicles might offer. What I do not know is the time scale within which those capabilities could be provided to fill the existing capability gap, but I can see a time when our future aircraft carriers will be fitted with unmanned air vehicles, providing a level of wider area surveillance and assistance at both the operational and the tactical level. If you wanted to keep an eye on a particular vessel, you could maybe do that with UAVs.
From what I have seen, hybrid air vehicles certainly need to be looked at. Maybe the Ministry of Defence ought to consider some demonstration programme to see what capabilities hybrid air vehicles can bring. They can now transit at 70 or 80 knots, and can stay up for a long time. You can pack them full of all sorts of sensors. Their lift capability is huge. They are a way of providing capability that ought to be looked at. What was the third part of your question?
Q32 John Glen: The interaction with satellites.
Rear-Admiral Rix: Satellites are all part of the great mix. The trouble with the satellite is that it cannot respond-it is less responsive than other surveillance assets-but it is all part of the mix.
Dr Willett: Two small points, if I may. On satellites, it has obviously been the subject of much discussion that the UK does not have much capability of its own-the US and Europe have significantly greater capability-but we have, through Surrey Satellites, Novostar commercial satellite arrangement. As I understand it, that gives us limited time and access to that information, which limits capability, and also, as the Admiral said, it is very specific, but again, it reinforces the point about a wider layer.
To be cheeky and throw in a point about UAVs and carriers, as I think the Admiral mentioned, there is an important issue to think about going forward from here. You are well aware of the current debate in the press about the carrier decision. I have been looking into it, and one thing that has come out in terms of future-proofing the carriers that relates to the surveillance issue is that the discussion about STOVL or the carrier variant is based in large part around the launching mechanism. The important thing that gives you flexibility on carriers is the cats and traps launching mechanism, because it gives you an interim option in the first place and options beyond JSF for the future.
At the moment, as I understand it, there are numbers of UAV programmes being considered, but there are not many that would operate in a STOVL way. One thing to consider, when one is talking about a carrier, for example, is that the cats and traps thing gives you the flexibility to be able to deploy a greater range of UAVs in the future. It is part of the future-proofing debate.
Q33 Penny Mordaunt: Turning to the National Maritime Information Centre, what is your assessment of the advantages that it has brought? We recognise it is early days yet, but how could it be improved? That is an open question.
Rear-Admiral Rix: The head of NMIC will be providing evidence after this, but from my broader perspective I think it is a fantastic organisation. It will enable us to provide a single picture for maritime activity, with input from numerous agencies. The principle of it is superb. It has just had its first birthday, so it is still relatively new. It is definitely the way ahead. I have no personal experience of its output, so I should not comment any more.
Mr Johnson: HM Coastguard is one of the stakeholders at NMIC. We have a permanent liaison officer now established. The principle is extremely sound in that what may in the normal pattern of life make perfect sense to my organisation will be of interest for a completely different reason to another. For example, it is very often the case that ships coming into the Thames Gateway that are of interest to us because of safety deficiencies are also of interest to the security forces, because safety deficiencies are a proxy for something else. That is a good example of where something that may look perfectly normal to one organisation could be of interest to another. Without some form of meeting house arrangement, that potential cannot be unlocked. That is the real value added that an organisation like NMIC can offer. It is worth noting that many other maritime states have something like NMIC.
It is developing extremely well. Your question was how can it be improved? I am sure Captain Pegg will be able to give you his views on that. From the Department for Transport’s point of view, we are interested in looking at how the service level agreement that we are currently drafting with them can enable NMIC to operate while recognising the roles, responsibilities and liabilities of contributing departments, so that the best possible cumulative picture is presented to decision makers by NMIC.
Dr Willett: Just a couple of quick points from me, if I may. I want to endorse what has been said previously about the importance and success of NMIC to date. Certainly, senior Government officials have spoken publicly about how well it has performed, for example, in Libya. Again, the director of NMIC will follow and correct me if I am wrong, I am sure, but it has been a node for collating and infusing information so far, and it raises the question of what more can be done with that. For example, can it be turned into a centre that then makes decisions about what to do with the information or other things?
On my second point, going forward from here, in the context of the future of NMIC and how it is to be supported and sustained, is there the requisite level of effort to be able to do that? One important point to bear in mind is that NMIC came out of the 2009 National Security Strategy discussions when maritime security was raised as a threat to the mainland for the first time, but of course if you look at the parent documents either side of the 2009 version-the 2008 and 2010 versions-neither of them mentioned maritime matters at all. Quite strikingly for a maritime nation, there was no mention of the word "maritime" in the 2010 version, and only one mention in the 2009 version. The point is that when you have something such as NMIC, which is a new idea that is working very well, but which requires political support and resources, do you have the sustainable political focus on maritime issues to ensure that it and other activities like it are enabled to continue to develop?
Q34 Penny Mordaunt: To follow on from that, what would you say that the MoD’s role should be in providing non-military maritime surveillance in such areas as search and rescue or border control, for example? What should be the lines of demarcation in a situation like that?
Dr Willett: Let me have a think. That is an interesting question, because there are some tasks that are clearly defined as civil and some that are clearly defined as military, and there are some in the middle, in a grey area. A Royal Navy ship at sea can do a number of things relating to a number of tasks. You have made the point about search and rescue, and when that hands over, I think in December 2016, there will officially be no military Royal Navy involvement in it. Sorry, I am not expressing myself very clearly. It depends on the task and how various Government Departments divide up their responsibilities. By definition, what navies and other assets have, by operating every day out at sea, by default, is the ability to provide a degree of surveillance that is non-military. That will be a free good, if you like, that they add.
Rear-Admiral Rix: I think the sharing of capabilities is clearly a way ahead that needs to be looked at, but there will be all sorts of problems in sorting out priorities. One day, we might want surveillance of the fisheries and at the same time the Ministry of Defence might want surveillance of the Mediterranean. It is a very sensible way ahead, but I suggest that one should not underestimate the practical difficulties of achieving something that is effective for all the stakeholders.
Mr Johnson: I would echo Admiral Rix’s point of view here. I would sound a note of caution, however, that, as a meeting house and with everything that that offers, NMIC works extremely well. Picking up on Dr Willett’s point, if you expand the role of NMIC or augment it to being an actor, I would sound a note of caution because what you are actually doing is reorganising the way that the Government currently do their security and safety operations for all things maritime. The participating agencies and stakeholders already have mature and well rehearsed practices for dealing with their particular issues and the value-add is, as I have said, recognising that what might be perfectly normal or appear perfectly normal within the pattern of life for one agency may be a trigger for something else. However, turning that into a decision-making cell would require the reorganisation of Government in relation to maritime. That needs to be carefully thought through.
Q35 Penny Mordaunt: Final question. What do you think of the Australian Coastwatch organisational model? Again looking at greater integration and co-operation, do you see it evolving into something like that?
Mr Johnson: Coastwatch is not something that HM Coastguard has direct experience of, but as a general principle it is certainly an example that we would pay careful attention to and draw what lessons that we could from it.
Rear-Admiral Rix: The one point that I would make about Coastwatch, or the Border Protection Division of Customs, as it is now, is that I think I am right in saying that it covers only the exclusive economic zone. The military requirements for surveillance go way beyond that, as indeed SAR requirements will as well.
Dr Willett: It is a small point, but one of the interesting things about the Australian example is that they have a daily, very public issue in terms of border security and coastal patrol, which exercises the minds of politicians and the public alike: the boat transits across from Indonesia and elsewhere. They have a very high level of political focus on it; it is very current and remains so. We perhaps do not have that degree of public and political focus and they perhaps have a slightly more energised debate than we do about joining it up, co-ordinating it and ensuring that it works effectively, at least in public.
Q36 Chair: Thank you very much indeed. Is there anything that you feel that we ought to know that you have been shut off from telling us? Is there any question you wish we had asked that we did not?
Rear-Admiral Rix: I do not think so, no.
Q37 Ms Stuart: Unless I am really bad at interpreting body language, I wonder whether the Rear-Admiral thought, when we came to the question of UAVs, that there was something more we ought to say.
Rear-Admiral Rix: No. Perhaps I got excited, because I get excited by toys, gadgets and that sort of stuff. My point was that this is an opportunity to look at alternatives.
Chair: Thank you very much indeed. We now move on to our next group of witnesses, and I would be grateful for a speedy turnover.
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Edward Ferguson, Head, Defence Strategy and Priorities, Rear-Admiral Ian Corder, Commander Operations Maritime Operations, Air Vice-Marshal Mark Green CBE, Director Joint and Air Capability and Transformation, Air Commodore Robert Noel, ISTAR Force Commander, Captain Russell Pegg OBE, Head, National Maritime Information Centre, and Group Captain Tom Bennington, Deputy Head Underwater, Ministry of Defence, gave evidence.
Q38 Chair: Thank you to our new group of witnesses for coming to give evidence today. You have been kind enough to give us some informal briefings in the past, which have been most helpful. We appreciate that there may be some questions that we will ask that you would prefer to answer in private, and if that is the case, please indicate. Of course, we would like to keep as much of this in public as is consistent with security, so please bear that in mind, but indicate if it is not possible. Would you please introduce yourselves?
Air Vice-Marshal Green: Thank you very much, Chairman. I am Mark Green. I have a title, which is probably indecipherable for most of the general public, but suffice it to say, I look after information superiority and surveillance platforms, and the networks that join all those platforms together, for the Ministry of Defence.
Rear-Admiral Corder: I am Rear-Admiral Ian Corder, the Commander of Operations at the Naval headquarters in Northwood. My responsibilities are to command, on behalf of the Fleet Commander, all naval operations that do not involve Forces assigned to the Chief of Joint Operations.
Air Commodore Noel: I am Air Commodore Robbie Noel and I was recently appointed to be the Royal Air Force’s ISTAR Force Commander. I have previously had a significant amount of experience, both on maritime Nimrod and also in exchange with the US Navy.
Edward Ferguson: Good afternoon. I am Edward Ferguson, Head of Defence Strategy and Priorities at the MoD. My primary role is to lead the MoD’s contribution to the development of the National Security Strategy and the Strategic Defence and Security Review, but I am also the MoD’s policy lead on the Maritime Security Oversight Group.
Captain Pegg: Mr Chairman, good afternoon. I am Captain Russell Pegg, Director of the National Maritime Information Centre. In respect of being here today, I represent the Maritime Security Oversight Group under the chairmanship of the Home Office, and therefore my comments are not necessarily related to the Ministry of Defence.
Q39 Chair: Thank you. You have heard many of these questions before, and as I say, if necessary, we will go into private at the end of the session. First, what do you think are the main strategic requirements for maritime surveillance? Will that change at all by, say, 2020?
Edward Ferguson: If I may, I will start at the national level and then explain how that translates into the MoD, in the way that we define our own capability requirements. The National Security Strategy set out a number of national security tasks, and that is really the starting point for considering what sort of capabilities Government need as a whole. As your previous witnesses said, this is not just MoD business. Maritime surveillance is delivered across a range of Government Departments and agencies. To some of those national security tasks, for example identifying and monitoring national security risks and threats, and protecting the UK and its interests, there is clearly a maritime surveillance aspect if you drill sufficiently far into them.
Through the Strategic Defence and Security Review we then translate that into the requirements for the Ministry of Defence, and we have seven military tasks, under each of which, I think it would be fair to say, you could bracket maritime surveillance to an extent. There is strategic intelligence, deterrence, defence of the UK and its overseas territories, providing support to civil organisations in times of emergency and so on. All have a maritime component, and we pull it out once we have defined those military tasks and the defence planning assumptions, which are really what the Government are asking defence to deliver. We translated that into the definition of our Future Force 2020, which is then mandated to defence for it to go away and develop.
So, the simple answer is that Future Force 2020 is our best guess at what the current and future requirements, looking out over a 20-year time frame as the National Security Strategy does, are likely to be. Clearly, we need to keep that under review, and we are now signed up to quinquennial defence reviews, which will allow us to do that in a structured sort of a way.
I think that it would be fair to say, though, that if you looked in the Ministry of Defence annals you would not find anywhere where it says, "Here is the statement of the maritime surveillance requirement for the MoD," and I think that that is a manifestation of a capability, which, as your previous witnesses explored a bit, is an enabling capability that sits across a whole range of different platforms and functions, and indeed across the various domains of air, sea and land. So, there is no single person who is responsible for formulating the maritime surveillance requirement in its own right. I do not think that that is necessarily a problem; it is the nature of the capability that it is spread in that way, across platforms the primary role of which is not always maritime surveillance but which can perform a function that involves maritime surveillance.
You asked about looking forward. We will keep things under review as we go forward. Future Force 2020 is our best guess, as I say, but we need to keep a close eye on how the world develops. Counter-piracy is a relatively new phenomenon-it was certainly factored into the priority that was given to some of these factors during the last review-but new things can emerge all the time. I think that all the different factors, including the increasing importance of the Asia Pacific region, including to our Allies and what that means for the capabilities that they are developing, and some of the operational concepts such as air-sea battle, and what that means for our ability to pursue interoperability with our Allies, will need to be kept under close review as we go forward, to make sure that the force that we are building is on track and is going to give us the capability that we need to deliver the military tasks that I mentioned at the beginning.
Q40 Chair: You mentioned no one person being in charge of the various different platforms, but there is Joint Forces Command. What will the role of Joint Forces Command be, and how will it be integrated?
Air Vice-Marshal Green: Obviously, the role of Joint Forces Command is emerging. It stood up on 2 April as a going concern.
Chair: So it is days old.
Air Vice-Marshal Green: It is days old, but going with a pace, if you know its commander.
Its role is to make sure that we have coherence across military capability, especially in the area of information. You could argue that in the past the single Services have neglected priority investment in the networks that join defence together, we, as military officers, have been keen to invest in platforms as opposed to, necessarily, in the information gatherers and then processing that information and turning it into intelligence. The Joint Forces Commander will be the Defence Authority for information, and consequently we now have a single focus person who will be responsible for generating the information that defence needs to do its business. So, for me, and I think for the majority of my colleagues, it is a very positive step in having a single champion to provide that glue in critical areas such as the ISTAR environment.
Q41 Chair: There are two possible suggestions. The first is that because we have been looking at the demise of Nimrod, we have been looking too much at aircraft and that has skewed the debate somewhat, and the other suggestion is that because we have been focused heavily in Afghanistan, there is too much land-based surveillance. Would you say that either of those had validity?
Air Vice-Marshal Green: If we consider the second one first, Afghanistan has certainly skewed our investment, but it must be remembered that the investment in ISTAR for Afghanistan has been through NACMO, so it is additional money–
Chair: Through what?
Air Vice-Marshal Green: The net additional cost of military operations.
Chair: Thank you.
Air Vice-Marshal Green: So it is Treasury money. If you took away the Urgent Operational Requirements out of Afghanistan, there has been no additional investment from the MoD into providing the information required to conduct operations. Indeed, we have actually found strengths in some of our platforms that we probably did not know were there. The Sea King has been a great asset in pursuing insurgent operations in Afghanistan as we sit here today. So Afghanistan has provided us with a focus, but it has not actually skewed the balance of investment.
Going back to your first question, bearing in mind that I have been involved in several sessions with you and your special advisers, we have not talked about Nimrod that much, it has to be said. We have been very much looking forward, in terms of how we see this risk-do we see it as a risk and how do we see ourselves closing that risk in the future? However, there is no doubt that the MoD’s underlying view is that an aircraft is likely, over the medium term, to be the solution should we need to fill the gap that was created when we took the Nimrod out of service. In the longer term-probably 20-odd years further-technology is likely to provide us with the opportunity to use unmanned systems, especially in the underwater space. That is the critical area that Nimrod could satisfy. So it comes back down to an aircraft, and that came out of a study that we have shared with your team, but that has not necessarily skewed the broader debate within the MoD.
Q42 Chair: In talking about the underwater area, are you talking about unmanned underwater vehicles?
Air Vice-Marshal Green: Correct. That is high-end technology that is not even on the feasibility board at the moment.
Chair: Well, lots of companies are demonstrating their wares at the moment.
Q43 Sandra Osborne: What do you mean by the "medium term" when you say that an aircraft is the answer in the "medium term"?
Air Vice-Marshal Green: I look at the rest of this decade and the 2020s, and 2030 and beyond. I can well see that unmanned systems could provide us with capability in the underwater space. The previous witnesses talked about hybrid air vehicles and indeed that is part of our broader information, surveillance, reconnaissance-type debate that we are having about the future, because we have a number of assets that provide surveillance. Clearly, this debate is about maritime surveillance, but we look at surveillance across the complete environment-across the land environment and across the maritime environment. And there are platforms that are not that far away that are unconventional, if you like, to our inventory, but that could help us with that debate. However, they will not provide us with the full cross-section of capability that an aircraft would provide in the next 15 to 20 years.
Q44 Sandra Osborne: In the here and now, you have already acknowledged that the capability gap cannot be fully mitigated at present, but that the use of other assets will be maximised. How is that working out in practice?
Rear-Admiral Corder: As the practical manager of this on a day-to-day basis across many of our areas of business, I would start with the point that Dr Willett made: maritime surveillance is a very complex creature. It is made up of a very wide range of capabilities-in sensors and assets-that overlap in interlocking layers. What we have done with the removal of the maritime patrol aircraft element of that is take one of the bits out of that, which has resulted in a need to compensate from other bits of the tapestry. Has it made the overall layer cake thinner? Yes. Has it actually led to holes? No, I do not think so yet.
To echo what Rod Johnson said a bit, we have modified operational design where necessary in order mitigate the consequences; we have leant more heavily on other surveillance assets; and we have exploited to the maximum potential information from Allies from existing arrangements. Obviously, the details of that tend to border on the highly classified, but I can say that to date I do not think that circumstances have arisen where unacceptable levels of operational risk have accrued due to those changes. Looking ahead, in the short term, I am reasonably confident that I can continue to manage acceptable levels of operational risk, but over the medium to longer term, clearly, as circumstances, threats and Allies’ priorities change, that will have to be kept under constant review.
Q45 Sandra Osborne: Would you be able to share with the Committee any problems that have been experienced, especially where persistence was required?
Rear-Admiral Corder: There is no particular example where I would say that there were overarching problems. I would say that we use the word "persistence" in terms of the MPA; we have many other persistent assets. The uniqueness of the MPA is in its accumulation of a number of attributes. It is about persistence to a degree, by comparison with a helicopter for example, but it is also about speed and altitude, and the capability that it can carry is significant. It is about the intelligent use of that capability, because of the crew you have on board. That is the totality of what an MPA brought to the equation.
I have not struggled with persistence per se. I could give examples from Libya, where we had to modify our operational design to utilise the SKASaC helicopters-the air surveillance helicopters used in Afghanistan. Had we had more MPA support-we did have some MPA support from Allies-we would not have had to depend on the SKASaCs as much. There is no area particularly where I have had an insurmountable problem arising from the lack of the totality of the capability of an MPA so far.
Q46 Sandra Osborne: Previous witnesses appeared to believe that the risks currently involved are a gamble, rather than just a tolerable risk. Do you still believe that the situation could be described as a tolerable risk?
Air Vice-Marshal Green: I think that the situation that we have today is a tolerable risk. If I go a bit further in that analysis, I think we will end up in a closed conversation, so at that point, I think that we had better draw stumps on that particular question, if you do not mind, and we will address it in a closed section.
Rear-Admiral Corder: As the person who wears that risk most of the time, I would firmly say that it is within the bounds of tolerable risk at the moment.
Q47 Sandra Osborne: Thank you. The MoD has undertaken a capability investigation into its long-term requirements. What was the rationale for starting that post-SDSR? Surely that should have been done as part of the SDSR process.
Air Vice-Marshal Green: We were faced in the SDSR with trying to cut our cloth according to our means, and there is no doubt that we had to make some very difficult decisions. An analysis of all the options available to us was done, and at that stage, the analysis was that deleting the MPA aircraft was the least worst option. Analysis was completed that looked at the capability gaps that we would create by deleting that capability. Afterwards, the study allowed us to look at what options there would be in future and whether we needed to fill the capability that we had just deleted, the timeline and the likely platforms. It was primarily financially driven, against a context of the current threat that we faced at the time in the SDSR and our funding priorities. It was a difficult decision that was the least worst at the time.
Q48 Sandra Osborne: So it was not so much a strategic review as a cost-cutting exercise?
Air Vice-Marshal Green: I would not like to comment on that.
Q49 Chair: Would you not?
Edward Ferguson: I don’t mind commenting on that. One of the big innovations of the National Security Strategy was the inclusion of the National Security Risk Assessment, which allowed us to drill into what we saw as the threat environment that we were facing over five and 20 years. That was a key factor in the decisions that we made subsequently about the level of tolerable risk that there could be. There is no doubt as well-the Government have been quite clear on this-that defence could not be immune from making a contribution to the overarching priority of reducing the deficit. We had to take a budgetary cut. That was a major factor in the requirement to cut our cloth, if you like, in terms of our capabilities. When it came down to it, we had to make a call. We had to lose some capabilities from somewhere, and we had to make a call about where we could do that-where the risks were acceptable. Nimrod was a painful decision. There is a capability gap. That has been acknowledged, but it was deemed the least worst of the options that were available against the threat environment that we faced at the time.
Q50 Chair: A painful decision. I think others, possibly even Government Ministers, have said that it was the most painful decision of the SDSR. Would you share that view?
Edward Ferguson: I think it was a painful decision. There were some very painful decisions around personnel as well. If you are one of those personnel, that probably feels quite painful. There were painful decisions that had to be made to get us into the right place to be able to deliver the future force that we are now aiming towards. I would not myself go for a superlative on any one of them.
Q51 Mr Havard: May I ask you where you see this all going post 2020? You have talked about an aircraft as a sort of interim possible solution to certain parts of this, which is new information to us. There will clearly be a great deal of reliance on Allies, presumably up to and post 2020. Could you give us some idea about what thinking there is, in relation to their use, our reliance on them and the questions that raises about operational and other sovereignty of the assets that we would require in that mixture?
Air Vice-Marshal Green: There are two parts to that question. The first is how we address the issue as we go forward. That is very much an SDSR 2015 debate, and the commitment from the MoD is that we will look at this capability gap and assess ways of closing it and its priority within our overall portfolio of capabilities as part of the SDSR 2015. You talked to the previous witnesses about Seedcorn capability. That is very much being put there in order for us to make sure that we have the option and the knowledge to re-grow that capability, should we decide to go back to this sort of capability. We think that we can preserve that without undue difficulty until about the 2019 time frame. It gives us that decision space.
In terms of relying on our Allies-the previous witnesses talked about operational sovereignty-there is no doubt that there are very few nations, as part of our allied community, who actually have the full panoply of capabilities and can conduct any operation without relying upon others. That even goes for our bigger brothers within those communities. Provided that we are able to maintain close links with our Allies-we do that on a routine basis, with liaison through front-line commands, through various communities within the MoD, and through ministerial engagement-the willingness for other nations to help out at times of our joint choosing is deemed to be a low-risk option. Do you want to add anything on the SDSR?
Rear-Admiral Corder: We are using the term "reliance on Allies" a bit in this discussion. I would prefer to say that we collaborate with Allies. We have always collaborated with Allies. As I have tried to bring out, this tapestry of maritime surveillance capabilities on a global basis that Dr Willett talked about is largely beyond the truck of any nation. To do it properly, it is essential to draw together information from, and participate in, information exchange with Allies. It adds greater resilience and depth to the capabilities that we have got, so it is absolutely a common-sense approach, and it is the way to crack a very big problem.
Clearly, there is the degree to which we need a national capability that can enable us to deal with certain key elements of our national interest autonomously, or nearly autonomously, versus the degree to which we have discretionary participation in coalition operations on a global basis; that is a variable scale. Within that tapestry of relationships with Allies, we need to make sure that we manage to maintain the appropriate degree of sovereignty over those elements that really are important to us.
Q52 Mr Havard: I don’t disagree that we ought to do that. What I am trying to find out is how we are doing it, whether we are doing it and when we are doing it. You partly answered the questions about how you regenerate, but it is also a question of how you generate, presumably, because some of these capabilities will be new capabilities.
You started to talk about timetable. That is very helpful, because we expect the next SDSR to be in 2015, unless something else happens. There is a sort of set of milestones that are relatively predictable up to 2020. The nature is changing all the time. On this business about future-proofing-about changes relating to counter-terrorism and counter-piracy, and about having more operations in the littoral, perhaps, than in the deep sea-and all these questions about what asset mix you are going to put together to deal as best you can with these predictable future requirements, what work is taking place on all that, in order to fit it into an SDSR, so that you might buy some capabilities earlier, and buy and prepare for others later?
Air Vice-Marshal Green: Certainly, in this space we commissioned an information surveillance targeting and reconnaissance study in August. This was to look at, over the next 15 to 20 years, the assets that we have to date, and whether we will be able to afford those assets in 15 to 20 years, and indeed ways of getting greater coherence in the equipment. I use the word "equipment" very carefully. You asked the previous witnesses about several capabilities and platforms, and about their ability to operate in different environments. Due to the way the technology is advancing, the opportunity to buy a single sensor that works equally well in a maritime space and over land has become more and more of an opportunity for us. Before, we would end up with bespoke platforms operating in bespoke areas, and that is very expensive. The challenge for my industry colleagues now is to look at opportunities for me to be able to buy a sensor and use it in various platforms-strap it to the bottom of a hot air balloon, put it on the back of a ship, put it in an MPA. I pay for one sensor and one support cost, and it provides me with information across the entire environment.
We are getting to that place, although we are not there yet. The study that we are doing at the moment is, again, going to be feeding the 2015 moment, with regard to how we drive coherence into our range of collectors-Sentinel, E-3D and so on-as we move forward. The maritime surveillance platform-the maritime patrol aircraft-clearly was a sensor, but it was an attack platform as well. We go beyond purely your question when we talk about Nimrod, because it is more than just a maritime surveillance platform. If you want to replace that capability, which is more than just surveillance-it is attack as well-that is where it gets difficult, in terms of future technology, if you step outside an aircraft. As Ian said, everything that we have at sea or in the maritime environment is a sensor. Everyone is collecting information, and whether it is on our vessels or aircraft, or on coalition vessels or aircraft, the challenge for us is to be able to call all that together, fuse it, and provide intelligence. There is a danger that the debate can range from bespoke to broad very quickly.
Q53 Mr Havard: We are trying to get you to help us scope where we are going to be in relation to all that in this Report. Part of the reason for trying to get the questions established is so that we know what questions we can ask at this particular time. You made a point about integration. May I go back to something that the Chairman asked about? Joint Forces Command is about the integration of decisions and understanding now. Is that right? Presumably DIS-Defence Intelligence Staff-are also involved in this, as well as the uniformed services.
Air Vice-Marshal Green: The defence intelligence community-DI-is part of Joint Forces Command, so the Chief of Defence Intelligence is now the Senior Responsible Owner for C4ISR. He sits below the Commander of Joint Forces Command and is effectively on point and responsible for coherent C4ISR, whereas the commander of Joint Forces Command is responsible for information. That exists. In fact, I have two responsibilities, because as you are probably aware, Defence Reform looked at pushing out capability management from head office to front-line commands, and that is welcomed as a way forward.
The only area that we were concerned about was that if you did that within the information superiority space-that is, the C4ISR of the world-there was a danger that you could end up driving incoherence while front-line commands, whether Army, Navy or Land, decided to invest or disinvest in particular areas. You could end up withering an overall capability. Consequently, my job will go into Joint Forces Command in the future, so it will be responsible for a single point of contact for running the information superiority portfolio.
I have two masters. One is in Main Building at the moment, and I have a dotted line to the Commander of Joint Forces Command, to continue to drive coherence in this space. That is positive. I now brief him, before he goes to the Armed Forces Committee, about where we should be seeking greater investment in the information superiority portfolio, and he then is able to fight that corner among the single Service Chiefs prior to going to the Defence Board for a decision to be made about where we invest. We saw positive outcomes from that, even in the short time that we have been operating in that mode.
Q54 Mr Havard: Thank you. I would have known some of that if I had read the papers properly before I came in, but that is my problem. The reason I ask the question is that in future, questions about the operation requirement for procurement and so on will be slightly different. We are trying to get an idea of who will make those sorts of decisions about what the requirements should be, as well as looking at the immediate gaps. You are talking about investment decisions.
Air Vice-Marshal Green: Yes. If the question was along the lines of whether I am more comfortable about whether we will have more joined-up decision making in future, my answer would be absolutely, yes, because of the creation of Joint Forces Command. That is a very positive step in driving coherence, and a champion in this area. The other important point is that the Commander of Joint Forces is also very much the connection into other nations’ Ministries of Defence or capabilities. The person who is the top in driving coalition-type operations is very much part of his remit, just as it is the single Services’ remit, but the information piece is very much his bailiwick. The single Services might go around discussing co-operation in relation to platforms and so on, but the Commander of Joint Forces would go across and talk about sharing information, networks and connecting at the highest level with the intelligence community and, indeed, across the broader community in defence-GCHQ and the other agencies.
Q55 Chair: So the Commander of Joint Forces is the champion for ISTAR? Does that mitigate the concerns you began with, Mr Ferguson, about there being no real champion for maritime surveillance? Am I being unfair?
Edward Ferguson: The point I was making was not about championship. Absolutely, the creation of Joint Forces Command is a really welcome innovation. It is critical that there is a champion role for things that are less exciting than shiny big toys, but that are important enablers. My point was essentially that, at the working level, there is no single capability area that manages the maritime surveillance across the piece. It would not be practical to have that, because capability is spread over so many different platforms and functions.
Q56 Chair: Were you here when Dr Willett said that there was an apparent inconsistency in the SDSR saying both that we need to concentrate more on ISTAR and get rid of the Nimrod platform, which does that?
Edward Ferguson: Yes. That comes back to my previous point. The fundamental context was one where there were tight budgetary constraints, and we had to make difficult decisions against a threat environment. It came down to a question of priorities, fundamentally.
Q57 Chair: But ISTAR was meant to be the SDSR’s top priority, wasn’t it?
Edward Ferguson: There were a number of priorities in SDSR. Nimrod was a valuable platform, as we have articulated, but it was part of a layered provision of capability, as we have said. The judgment that was made was that the removal of that layer would not totally expose us in the way that some other capabilities might.
Q58 Ms Stuart: It may be that my memory is failing me here, but I think it was the Air Vice-Marshal who talked about withering overall capabilities. Is that an area where we have withered our overall capability?
Air Vice-Marshal Green: There is no doubt that we have taken in a capability gap as a result of taking out the Nimrod.
Q59 Ms Stuart: A gap is quite different from withering. Gaps you can bridge, but things that wither have gone.
Air Vice-Marshal Green: I probably used the wrong language, then, and you were right to pick me up. Against the current level of threat, we have sufficient capability to provide us with a tolerable level of risk. That means that we use other equipment where appropriate to provide us with that capability. Again, we are unfortunately getting into a bit of a closed session.
Q60 Ms Stuart: No, we are not. There are some things you can no longer do. If capability has withered, it has gone.
Chair: She’s written it down.
Q61 Ms Stuart: I thought it was a very interesting phrase that you used. If we go from having one capability to someone else doing the same thing and us mixing and matching, that is one thing-or do you want to talk about that later?
Air Vice-Marshal Green: To be fair, we haven’t withered MPA capability, because we created a Seedcorn of individuals, which allows us to de-wither at the appropriate stage.
Q62 Chair: What about the Type 22 surveillance capacity that has been positively taken out of service?
Air Vice-Marshal Green: I think we get into a closed conversation with that.
Q63 Chair: I thought we might. Is there any possibility of buying all the various maritime patrol aircraft off the shelf and adapting them to British requirements, or is that a question of money? I am thinking of P-3s, P-8s, CN-235s-all that alphabet soup stuff.
Air Vice-Marshal Green: To be honest, Mr Chairman, there are a number of capabilities out there, from the high end to lesser capable aircraft-from Nimrod-like to a marginal MPA-like capability that you could probably buy off the shelf. So they exist.
Q64 Chair: Are they being considered?
Air Vice-Marshal Green: They are not actively being considered, because we have not decided whether we have a requirement. There is no requirement to buy an MPA at the moment. There is not a genesis option. All the work that has been done to date has said that if the MoD decides to fill the gap, it would need to buy an aircraft. The question of whether the MoD actually wants to fill that gap has not been answered, and we see that as being part of the SDSR 2015 time frame decision. The challenge for my staff and my colleagues at the table is to make sure that we have the information available as we run into the 2015 SDSR, so that we can have a structured debate about whether we want to fill the gap and what the options are out there in the near term to fill it. We can then have a balance-of-investment decision about where the MoD decides to go post-2015.
Q65 Chair: The more you have to rely on other assets, such as Sentry, now that Nimrod has gone, the harder things will become when Sentry has the sort of problems we have been reading about in the press over the last couple of days. Would you agree?
Air Vice-Marshal Green: No, not necessarily.
Q66 Chair: But if you begin to rely on a thinner layer of assets, that will surely put more of a burden on those assets-the tougher things become, the more those strands will begin to break.
Air Vice-Marshal Green: Ian made the very good point that you are getting into a bit of a layer cake here in terms of capability. If you reduce the thickness of any of those layers-I have got to be careful about the word I use-that will affect their robustness, reliability and persistence in terms of our ability to generate them as and when we choose, so, yes, you are getting yourselves into greater levels of risk. Have we got to a position that is intolerable at the moment? No, we have not. Do we foresee that in the near term? No.
Q67 Chair: When do you expect to take a decision on a maritime patrol aircraft?
Air Vice-Marshal Green: Again, I see that as being a part of SDSR 2015.
Q68 Chair: Do you think you will be able to keep the Seedcorn initiative going until then?
Air Vice-Marshal Green: The plans that we have for people, and the places that we have those people at the moment, give us a capability to 2019.
Q69 Chair: So this fantastic procurement process will operate between 2015 and 2019, will it?
Air Vice-Marshal Green: Absolutely. If you look at whether we have confidence in that, a lot of our Allies are very keen for us to join their programmes on MPAs. As you said, there are existing capabilities on the shelf. If you look at the Rivet Joint aircraft, that is actually a pretty quick flash to bang, because we are taking aircraft off production lines that are already up and running; it is just a matter of getting the people trained and the aircraft qualified to be able to be used in the UK.
Q70 Thomas Docherty: You have already talked a bit about the UAV, but could I just bring you back to it? What do you believe are the relative strengths and weaknesses of UAV systems, lighter-than-air systems and satellites?
Air Vice-Marshal Green: We talked about that a little earlier with satellites. Perhaps we can start with that one. The bottom line is that satellites are pointing where they are pointing, and it will take you a while to get them to look in areas where you want to go. Equally, people know where you are pointing them, unless you have got a UK sovereign capability. Hence, if you are sharing that capability and asking someone to point in a particular direction, that might itself be a risk to national security. Satellites have physical limitations in how they collect their data, how much they can see and when they can see it, so there is always a degree of risk unless you own the capability outright.
If you come down the scale, we have the tactical-level UAV. When I say "tactical", I mean a soldier in Afghanistan who picks up a model aeroplane with a camera associated with it, and it is providing him and his commander with a 2-km range of information on what is going on around his particular space. That is really tactical-level information. As you move up into platforms such as Reaper, they get into the slightly more strategic space, because they can fly for quite a long time-on task for many hours-and they share their information with a collection of people, not necessarily just a single individual. You can put other sensors on such platforms and they can gather signal intelligence as well as the other task. But, ultimately, Reaper flies from a land base-it needs a runway to get airborne.
If you are being specific to the maritime environment, at the moment there is a gap in our capability to have an indigenous-by that I mean that it can fly off the back of a ship-UAV capability that is tactical and under the control of the Task Force commander within that particular environment. That is a capability gap that we are investigating closing over the near term.
Q71 Thomas Docherty: I notice that the Rear-Admiral is wearing his Queen Elizabeth cufflinks, but does the QE class give the Navy an ability to project UAVs to places where you could not otherwise go? Are you shaking your head? Will UAVs be deployed as part of the routine or standard package on the QE class?
Air Vice-Marshal Green: I think we are getting into closed territory.
Q72 Thomas Docherty: Going back to Mr Havard’s question about Allies, what is your assessment of the ability to develop UAVs or lighter-than-air aircraft with our Allies?
Air Vice-Marshal Green: A number of individual Allies are very keen for us to pursue joint programmes. Indeed, there is a high degree of collaboration at the moment with the French: a UK-French medium-altitude air vehicle. I think there are opportunities, and they will exist in the future. What we have got to be careful about, again, is that at the moment we have got quite a lot of platforms in the UAV inventory, but we have got a gap in the maritime inventory. Actually, if you were to say to me-I am responsible for them all at the moment-"How do you see this going forward?", it kind of comes back to that study that I spoke about earlier. We need to get some coherence into the area and to look at the areas that we have neglected-not even withered because we have not even generated them in the first place-to invest in at this stage. Now, that is not "neglected" as in we have ignored it, but the context in which we have been operating post-SDSR has changed, there is no doubt about it.
As we start looking towards reducing our Herrick-type investment, we are going to be looking at building contingent capability. Part of that contingent capability is certainly providing us with a maritime surveillance UAV-type platform within the maritime space. That is work that my staff have got on the books already. There is a plan about how we will develop that over the next year to come up with capability demonstrations, so that we can get our head around the capability, the integration issues and how we see that going forward. That should then provide us with the genesis option to say, "We can buy off the shelf" or, "We need to go and build our own"; I do not see that one as a particularly viable option.
Q73 Thomas Docherty: On satellites specifically, do you think a greater and more effective use can realistically be made of satellites?
Air Vice-Marshal Green: In maritime surveillance?
Thomas Docherty: Yes.
Air Vice-Marshal Green: I would probably go to my experts in maritime surveillance. Are you saying to be able to replace MPA?
Q74 Thomas Docherty: I am not sure which phrase we want to use now, but we obviously have some gaps. Is it perhaps more cost effective to have a satellite?
Air Vice-Marshal Green: Satellite time and capability are not a cheap option; it is an expensive option. Again, a satellite points to where it is pointing. If you look at maritime surveillance at the extremes-for example, we send some fast jets across the pond to America, and before Nimrod’s demise, we used to take a Nimrod with us to provide us with search and rescue cover in that area. It was a huge comfort blanket when you are flying a long way over the water with a single engine, sitting on an ejection seat. Do we still do it? Yes, we do. Would I rely on a satellite to help me out at that moment? No. It is never going to be able to help me out at that moment, but I use other assets that will mitigate the risk to me and the others who fly in that particular environment.
Satellites have their limitations, and they will not provide us with the full panoply of capabilities across the space.
Q75 Thomas Docherty: But if you were to take a vessel of perhaps 40, 80 or 100 people, and you had to sail it 2,500 miles to have a look at something, I guess that it would be cheaper to use a satellite to do that job.
Rear-Admiral Corder: A satellite is a strategic asset, first of all. It is not necessarily that responsive, in terms of re-tasking satellites to do stuff. We do make extensive use of satellite-based information anyway.
The point that I would make-this goes back to the UAV debate and to the interplay between the maritime and the land environment-is that the maritime environment and, in a sense, the surveillance problem, is one of scale, as Dr Willett brought out, and also one of granularity. Many of the lessons coming out of the land-based conflicts that we have had for a while in complex environments have taught us that a lot of the information you need as a tactical operation commander is about quite detailed levels of identification of people, individuals and intent, which is quite a difficult thing to identify sometimes, in a very complex, fast-changing and significantly not transparent environment. That, to a degree, is something that we are beginning to find-we are finding-in the maritime environment. If I look back maybe 15, 20 or 25 years ago to the cold war days, we were largely interested in radar blips: could we attack those radar blips with missiles, largely unconcerned about what other blips were around, because it was a Russian blip? It is much more complex than that now, hence the sorts of capabilities that have been developed for the land environment. As Mark outlined, they are probably where the real value-add and the real step change in enablement would apply in the maritime environment. That is why that is an area that is being actively pursued at the moment.
Q76 John Glen: I have a couple of quick questions about NMIC and how it could evolve.
Chair: You are prepared this time.
Captain Pegg: Yes.
John Glen: I was anxious to bring Captain Pegg in. In terms of this issue that we discussed with the previous witnesses about NMIC evolving into a decision maker rather than an information gatherer, I would like to know your perspective on that. Perhaps, then, Mr Ferguson, in terms of inter-agency co-operation, you could say how you feel that that has evolved over the past year; where the prospects are for that to grow and develop; what some of the shortcomings might be; and what issues you have had to date, if there are any.
Captain Pegg: The birth of NMIC was certainly recognition by Government throughout its strategies-whether it was the NSS, the SDSR or even the context strategy-that no one single Department can do this alone when it comes to truly understanding what is going on in the maritime domain, not only around the areas of the UK but in areas of our national and global interests. I think it was recognition that there was good work going on in Departments-within the stove pipes of Departments-whether it be Defence, Transport, the Home Office, the FCO or whatever. Just bringing that together has brought immediate value to the bigger picture. That was very simply the model that was adopted, and we have seen that value delivered.
The challenge at the moment, which the admiral started to dwell on, is that it is not the dots on the screens. You may have heard me say before that there are no bad vessels. It is more about the context of those vessels; it is about the people, the operations and the practice. Bringing Departments together adds that true value to the bigger picture. Once you have got to that position, you can start really to understand what is important to you today and tomorrow, and start to militate against those risks through a cross-Government discussion, which ultimately will lead to, "What is the decision we are going to take in terms of the action we need to deliver?"
Q77 John Glen: Just quickly on that, obviously you have visited and you have seen all those agencies working together. Would it be a realistic assumption to say that, given the proximity to that information, it would be sensible for decisions to be made in light of that rather than for that decision-making capability to be detached?
Captain Pegg: That would be a very good train of thought, absolutely. I go back to what the Chief Coastguard said, namely that it would change the way in which Government do their business. That is not to say we should not change if it is the right thing to do, and we should certainly look at that as a next piece of work, but that is what it would require. The value we have seen added is just through conversation of having all those people together-those eureka moments have happened. The intellectual argument is over; it is really now, "What is the national appetite to go to the next step if that is what the nation requires to safeguard its maritime interests?"
Q78 John Glen: Mr Ferguson, perhaps you could enlighten us on what the next steps might be.
Edward Ferguson: Just to look backwards as well, there has been considerable progress over the past couple of years. There was an internal review within Whitehall in 2009, which essentially thought we could do this in a more coherent way and in a more strategic way. That led to the birth of two main structures. One was NMIC, which was then signed off in the SDSR at the end of 2010. The other was the creation of the Maritime Security Oversight Group in its own right, which was initially chaired by the Cabinet Office and is now chaired by the Home Office. Really that is about governance. It brings together all the various Departments and agencies at policy level to try to become more coherent in how we do our business. There has been real progress at the operational level, and NMIC is the flagship programme. That greater interaction at the policy level is also really helpful.
There is more that can be done and more areas that we need to explore. For example, and I think this was hinted at in the previous session, aerial surveillance is an example of where there are currently three departmental agencies-the UK Border Agency, the Marine Management Organisation and the Maritime and Coastguard Agency-that have individual aerial surveillance contracts to do different functions. One area that we are certainly interested in looking at is whether we can bring those together into a single contract, which would be more efficient in saving the taxpayer money, and would provide a more coherent product. Another one is at surface level, where the UK Border Agency has five cutters for customs-type duties and the Royal Navy operates three river-class offshore patrol vessels in domestic waters. Again, enhancing the co-ordination of those vessels is important. If we go down that route, the governance and oversight arrangements that allow us to manage those more coherent and single contracts as efficiently as we can will be critical.
That partly gets to the point of that exchange you just had with Captain Pegg, in that the offshore patrol vessels, for example, perform an important maritime surveillance function, but they also have an interdiction function-they can do something about it. Ditto with the UK Border Agency. If we can try to work out how best we can manage those interrelationships and interactions, that starts to get us down the line in specific areas.
Whether we want to do it at a macro level, right across the board-I think it would be very challenging, not least because of the bewildering array of actors in Government, there are a lot of different Government Departments and agencies. As a previous witness said, there are well-worked-out processes and procedures for co-ordinating and de-conflicting between them. It is something we need to look at. We have talked about and we are working on a national strategy for maritime security, which is a vehicle that allows us to explore some of that, but it is a fairly long piece of work to try to get our head round some of this real complexity.
Q79 Chair: There are a few questions-fewer than I thought-that we will need to go into in closed session. Will the public and the press please now leave, so that we can round this off?
Resolved, that the Committee should sit in private. The witnesses gave oral evidence. Asterisks denote that part of the oral evidence which, for security reasons, has not been reported at the request of the Ministry of Defence and with the agreement of the Committee.
Q80 Chair: Commodore Noel, I’m afraid we have not asked you any questions yet, but your time is no doubt coming.
I wonder whether you could please confirm that everyone on the benches behind you is part of your team.
Air Vice-Marshal Green: This is certainly the recognised team.
Q81 Chair: Right. I can confirm from our side. The areas I noted down included the issue of whether it was a tolerable risk; the issue of how the Type 22 gap is going to be filled, if it is; the issue of UAVs off the carriers. There was one other.
Air Vice-Marshal Green: Sea Kings.
Q82 Chair: Examples from Afghanistan and Libya about Sea Kings. Would you mind covering those to the extent that you feel it would be helpful to us for this maritime surveillance inquiry, please?
Air Vice-Marshal Green: I suppose picking them off one at a time, you will probably have to remind me, Chair.
Q83 Chair: Let us start with the Sea Kings, because that came up first, with examples from Afghanistan and Libya.
Air Vice-Marshal Green: Okay. I am trying to remember the context to that question. The way that the Sea King operates in Afghanistan at the moment and the way that it can operate in the littoral environment is by using its ground moving target capability in order to track insurgents as they are moving across open spaces. That capability was developed for picking up vessels, effectively slow-moving targets, and plotting them and interrogating them to find out whether they are friend or foe and whether they will respond, and then providing that target to somebody else. We have found a maritime capability that has a lot of usefulness in our operations in Afghanistan.
Q84 Chair: How long is the Sea King going to remain in service?
Air Vice-Marshal Green: The Sea King comes out of service in 2016 and it will be replaced by the Merlin in its entirety. The programme to replace the radar that is part of the Sea King Whiskey capability is called Crow’s Nest. At the moment that is part of PR12 deliberations about when and if it is going to get funded, and when it will deliver. At the moment there is a programme to replace it. Its status is part of PR12, and unfortunately that is with the Secretary of State at the moment.
Q85 Chair: Thank you. Any questions about that?
You heard what Rear-Admiral Rix said about the removal of Nimrod not being a tolerable risk. You clearly disagree with him and said that we were getting into a closed session on that. Why do you think that it is tolerable to have no maritime patrol aircraft?
Rear-Admiral Corder: I think that across the tapestry of capabilities that I described earlier in my areas of responsibility-defence and the deterrent, general surveillance of what you would call UK home waters, operations in and around the Falkland Islands, contingent operations and operations in the Gulf-the overall collection of assets against the risks as they currently exist, and the way in which the potential risk adversaries are behaving, is manageable. But it is a very finely balanced equation, and it will change over time. The threat will change over time; the capabilities will flow in and out and the emphasis of allies may change. We need to keep it under constant review.
Q86 Chair: Specifically, Russian behaviour is changing. They are becoming more probing and threatening aren’t they?
Rear-Admiral Corder: I think that we’ve got to be very careful about describing intent. ***
Q87 Chair: You are confident at the moment. When we are talking about *** that sounds like a less than ringing endorsement of your confidence.
Rear-Admiral Corder: ***
Q88 Mr Havard: A number of these concerns, as I understood it, were expressed because there was a particular concern about ***. You have helicopters in Cornwall, a boat up in Scotland, and so on. There is a new management task of bringing all the assets together to do this job, and maybe you would do it a little less than you did before, but you do it because it clearly needs to be done. There is a particular problem that needed to be managed initially and that caused a lot of concern. *** The thinner the resources, the more you have this management problem of putting packets and resources together at the time you require them to do the tasks you need.
Rear-Admiral Corder: ***
Q89 Mr Havard: But when they talk about the vulnerability of protecting the deterrent, it is more in that context than it is the context you described of a Russian flotilla going by.
Rear-Admiral Corder: ***
Q90 Mr Havard: Yes, but it has to be more intelligence-led now, presumably. You would do these things routinely in the past ***. Now perhaps you moderate what you do on the basis of the intelligence that you have. You might do it less because there is no perceived threat and because your intelligence tells you that ***
Rear-Admiral Corder: ***
Ms Stuart: Presumably I am allowed to quote from this document.
Chair: In private session I think you are, yes.
Q91 Ms Stuart: It is the Ministry of Defence’s memorandum to the Defence Committee inquiry into future maritime surveillance. Section 5.5 states: "The Department has acknowledged that the decision not to bring Nimrod MRA4 into service has had a number of capability implications." It goes on: "In summary, it has reduced our ability to conduct strategic intelligence gathering tasks, long-range anti-submarine warfare." Can you tell me what is the reduction in our ability to deal with long-range anti-submarine warfare?
Rear-Admiral Corder: ***. For example, if I had the position of a submarine and lost it for whatever reason, I would have had the option of inviting the Air Force to send an aircraft out to re-locate it, and that would have been a very powerful and potent tool to use in that role. I do not necessarily have that option now, so I may have to use a slower asset ***.
Q92 Ms Stuart: ***
Rear-Admiral Corder: I am not entirely sure what you are driving at.
Ms Stuart: ***
Rear-Admiral Corder: No.
Q93 Chair: ***
Air Vice-Marshal Green: ***
Q94 Thomas Docherty: I think we are getting some different body language at the back.
Group Captain Bennington: ***
Q95 Ms Stuart: I have one thought: the Spanish did not anticipate that *** so working on a long-term economic strategy with the Argentines may not be the way in which the Argentines operate.
Rear-Admiral Corder: I would contextualise that last observation. That was a theoretical study.
Chair: Yes, we hope so.
Rear-Admiral Corder: ***
Chair: We were there a month ago and we accept that. [Interruption.]
There is a Division in the House, but I am afraid that we still need to ask you two questions. The first is about the Type 22 *** and the second is about UAVs off the carriers. We will need a quorum of members to return after the Division and we should be back in 10 minutes. I am sorry to keep you waiting.
Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.
Q96 Chair: Right, we have a quorum, so can we continue please?
The gap created by the Type 22 withdrawal: how are we going to deal with that? There was the ***
Air Vice-Marshal Green: ***
Q97 Chair: ***
Air Vice-Marshal Green: ***
Q98 Mr Havard: Is it a direct replacement or does it do a little bit more?
Air Vice-Marshal Green: ***
Q99 Chair: So in any event, it is wrapped up in PR12 and we are waiting to see?
Air Vice-Marshal Green: ***
Q100 Mr Havard: This is a positive aspect of the trade treaty with the US then, is it? ITAR waiver problems or any technology transfers-
Air Vice-Marshal Green: ***
Rear-Admiral Corder: ***
Air Vice-Marshal Green: ***
Q101 Mr Havard: I suspect that the Chairman and I may be asking you questions about co-operation with *** in relation to some of these things.
Chair: I am sure we will.
Mr Havard: We will get to that.
Q102 Chair: I asked the earlier panel about the possibility of adapting the Sentinel R Mark 1. Is there any prospect of that?
Air Vice-Marshal Green: ***
Q103 Chair: What do you intend, or what is being considered to go on the Queen Elizabeth class, in terms of UAVs, hybrid air vehicles and helicopters for maritime surveillance?
Air Vice-Marshal Green: At the moment, there is no plan to necessarily put a UAV on the Queen Elizabeth class. That is not to say that it will not have one. However, there is the plan to operate Crow’s Nest on Queen Elizabeth. So, could you see Queen Elizabeth sailing without Crow’s Nest? No. Personally, I could not see that, unless it was going off into a very benign environment, but something would need to give it that comfort close in.
Mark Green’s view-do I see us flying UAVs off Queen Elizabeth? Yes, I do. Are they part of its inventory today? No, they are not.
Q104 Thomas Docherty: I do not think anyone knows what the inventory is of the carrier today, because that is a separate discussion. However, I am surprised that it is not in the current thinking, given the fact, Air Vice-Marshal, that you said in the public session that one thing that limits the UAVs is that they have to have somewhere to land. Surely the carrier is unique among the Navy’s assets, and it is the only thing that would let you do it. Is that fair?
Air Vice-Marshal Green: Some of our UAVs will land on a dime vertically. Actually, they do not need runways necessarily to land on. However, I suppose conventional thinking is that if you want a UAV that is going to be airborne for a long time, you need to put a lot of fuel in it. If you want a lot of fuel in it, you need to launch it in a conventional manner, and if you want to launch it a conventional manner, is the runway long enough, and so on?
You end up in that little debate that we had earlier with the previous witnesses-you need a catapult and an arrestor wire to do it. Well, I suppose there is a bit of legacy thinking in that game, because actually, if you get into hybrid air vehicles, they can operate because they are effectively an airship, but use forward motion to generate lift. Actually, you get most of that lift off 20 knots across the deck and 15 knots of speed of the carrier, so suddenly you get yourself into something that is actually hybrid, but can carry a big sensor, and carry it for a long time. I do not think necessarily cats and traps, which was my nervousness, and a long runway is a particular challenge if you look to the future.
Rear-Admiral Corder: I think it is also worth saying-as we discovered with operations off ocean in Libya-that operating multiple different aircraft types off a complex large platform, like an aircraft carrier, is of itself quite an interesting deconfliction challenge. The work is still to be done, so it may not be that operating this type of capability off the carrier is the best place from which to operate it. As for operating it off other ships in company with the carrier, in fact, the trial that we are talking about would probably take place originally off one of our RFAs. But it is still an indigenous capability to the group.
Q105 Thomas Docherty: Do we know if the US has any plans going forward to use its carriers for UAVs?
Air Vice-Marshal Green: ***
Q106 Mr Havard: I have a broader question about UAVs. There are lots of uses for different types of UAVs. Some can be weaponised; some might just have a civil purpose or whatever, such as utility companies wanting fly along wires to inspect their pylons. There are all sorts of different types, from little ones to pre-surveillance.
UAVs have now become a whole stretch in terms of the Government’s policy. In terms of procurement, some of these things may have the basic platform that is then adapted in a number of ways. Presumably, there is some sort of broader centralisation and discussion about maximising the potential for this, either through procurement in the sense of buying them, which might be the MOD and the Home Office, or arrangements to lease or require them in other ways. Is there some central discussion like that or is it just too damn complicated at the minute?
Edward Ferguson: Just as a slightly contextual point, as you know the Home Office and the MOD jointly sponsored the White Paper that we published recently on national security through technology. We set out the Government’s policy in terms of how we buy in the national security space. There is to an extent a coming together in the procurement world conceptually around how we should buy things off the shelf where possible, and protect national security where we must. Does that lead directly into a conversation around meeting common requirements? Others will be better placed than me to comment on specifics. That is where we need to get to.
If you look at the SDSR, there are huge opportunities to spot commonalities and all sorts of things that Russell is doing at NMIC. It throws up these areas: a single area of aerial surveillance, as we talked about. There are opportunities to bring things closer together. We need to identify those opportunities and then try to exploit them.
Q107 Mr Havard: A BIS thing.
Captain Pegg: I think that you are slightly disappointed that it is not more joined up. I certainly know of some police constabularies who have some quite active UAV programmes within the European Union, but it is very stove-piped.
Mr Havard: No, I am not disappointed because I did not expect anything in the first place.
Chair: Thank you very much. We have kept you for far longer than we should. We are most grateful. That is the end of the private session, as well as the meeting.
 Note by witness: In terms of how it thinks about maritime surveillance.