Defence Committee - Future Maritime Surveillance - Minutes of EvidenceHC 110

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HOUSE OF COMMONS

ORAL EVIDENCE

TAKEN BEFORE THE

DEFENCE COMMITTEE

FUTURE MARITIME SURVEILLANCE

WEDNESDAY 23 MAY 2012

NICK HARVEY MP, AIR VICE-MARSHAL MARK GREEN CBE and TOM McKANE

Evidence heard in Public

Questions 108 - 216

USE OF THE TRANSCRIPT

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Oral Evidence

Taken before the Defence Committee

on Wednesday 23 May 2012

Members present:

Mr James Arbuthnot (Chair)

Mr Julian Brazier

Thomas Docherty

Mr Jeffrey M. Donaldson

John Glen

Mrs Madeleine Moon

Penny Mordaunt

Sandra Osborne

Sir Bob Russell

Ms Gisela Stuart

________________

Examination of Witnesses

Witnesses: Nick Harvey MP, Minister for the Armed Forces, Air Vice-Marshal Mark Green CBE, Director Joint and Air Capability and Transformation, Ministry of Defence, and Tom McKane, Director General for Security Policy, Ministry of Defence, gave evidence.

Q108 Chair: Minister and gentlemen, welcome to the final evidence session on the issue of future maritime surveillance. We seem to be in almost permanent session, Minister, but you are welcome this week, as you were last week. Would you care to begin by introducing your team?

Nick Harvey: Thank you, Chairman. I have with me Mr Tom McKane, Director General of Security Policy at the Ministry of Defence, and Air Vice-Marshal Mark Green, who is our Director Joint and Air Capability.

Chair: Thank you. You have to answer an Adjournment debate, which begins at 3.45 pm, I gather.

Nick Harvey: The Adjournment debate begins at 4 o’clock.

Q109 Chair: Okay. We shall be finished in time for you to do that. May I begin by asking whether you would regard the United Kingdom as a maritime nation?

Nick Harvey: Yes, I certainly would. We are an island nation with a proud maritime history and a global concern and sphere of influence.

Q110 Chair: Does it strike you as strange that the 2010 National Security Strategy does not include the word "maritime".

Nick Harvey: No, not really, because it firmly acknowledges the point about our being an island nation, about our having global interests and commercial interests around the globe, many of which necessitate maritime transport. It is inherent in pretty well everything that the National Security Strategy says. I think you also need to read the National Security Strategy in combination with the Strategic Defence and Security Review, which clearly referred to the maritime picture at almost every twist and turn throughout the document.

Q111 Chair: As a strategy, though, do you think that it gives the right priority to maritime surveillance and our maritime security?

Nick Harvey: I think, as a global overview of what the United Kingdom’s interests and security concerns are, the maritime nature of both our country and our interests is acknowledged squarely in the strategy. It is simply chance, if you are saying that the word is not used, because I think the meaning is there throughout.

Q112 Chair: In the 2008 and 2010 national security discussions, the parent documents apparently did not mention maritime matters at all.

Nick Harvey: I am not familiar with the earlier of those two. I believe that both our security strategy and our defence arrangements recognise the significance of our maritime trade and maritime defences, and that nobody could really argue that the UK Government were turning a blind eye to the maritime picture.

Q113 Chair: Can we hope that the National Security Strategy, in its next iteration, gives it a greater degree of prominence?

Nick Harvey: It is certainly inconceivable that it would give any less attention to it. It will remain a fundamental part and parcel of our strategic assessment. Precisely how any commentary on that is worded would not be for me to presume at this stage, but I take your point.

Q114 Mrs Moon: Minister, in March 2011, in the Official Report, column 947W, on military aircraft, it was announced that there was to be a capability investigation on maritime surveillance capability. At that time, the Defence Committee was carrying out an inquiry into the SDSR and the National Security Strategy. Why were we not told that this review was under way?

Nick Harvey: We are having some difficulty identifying precisely which review you are referring to. I think Air Vice-Marshal Green now has an answer.

Air Vice-Marshal Green: If this is the wider maritime underwater surveillance study-

Q115 Mrs Moon: No, it was a capability investigation on maritime surveillance capability.

Nick Harvey: There were studies as part of the SDSR work, but those were conducted during the course of 2010. There has more recently been the study that the Air Vice-Marshal just cited. I presume that the reference in 2011 was either anticipating the more recent study, or a reference to some ongoing work from the earlier one.

Q116 Mrs Moon: It was on military aircraft.

Air Vice-Marshal Green: It may be pointing towards the ISTAR performance investigation that was started in August that year-well, that is when it produced its first outputs. It looked into airborne-related assets and how they contributed to the ISTAR picture in both the present and the future. Its primary job was to look at the 2030 time frame and, assuming either that we either had a flat defence budget up to that point or had looked at ways of saving money, at how we could drive greater coherence into our aircraft platforms that actually contribute to the ISTAR arena. That was a broad ISTAR study; it was not merely related to maritime surveillance. I think we spoke about that particular activity-the ISTAR performance investigation-in informal sessions with your advisers.

Q117 Mrs Moon: I can only tell you that in reply to a parliamentary question from me in February 2012, the Minister, Peter Luff, replied, "The Ministry of Defence has completed its capability investigation into its long term requirements for maritime surveillance capability,"-that is quite clear, I think-"but I am withholding the information as its disclosure would, or would be likely to prejudice the capability, effectiveness or security of the Armed Forces." That does not suggest that it is about ISTAR at all.

Air Vice-Marshal Green: That study is the WAMUS study-wide area maritime underwater surveillance. The reason why that was not disclosed more broadly is that a very classified level of detail was in that report, and hence it was not open for broader dissemination at that point.

Nick Harvey: But we have supplied that to you on a privileged access.

Q118 Mrs Moon: You are saying that you have provided it.

Nick Harvey: Yes.1

Q119 Chair: Why then, if it was an underwater surveillance thing, was it included in Hansard under the heading "Military Aircraft"?

Air Vice-Marshal Green: The issue was related to: noting the decision to withdraw the Nimrod out of service, and if the MoD decided that there was indeed a requirement to fill that capability gap in the future, what sort of platforms would be required in order to satisfy it? There are lots of ifs and buts in there, but it presumed that there was going to be a requirement that was yet to be decided. If you assume that there was, what could you use? Could you use unmanned aerial platforms; could you used manned platforms? Could you use hybrid air vehicles and so on? We have already provided details of the conclusion to that. What that work has done is provide us with a level of underpinning research already, which we will then wrap into our capability investigations as we go forward to the Strategic Defence Review 2015. It was a fundamental piece of analysis to support our future direction.

Q120 Mrs Moon: Again I ask why the Committee was not alerted to the fact that this was being carried out when we were carrying out our own investigation into the SDSR?

Air Vice-Marshal Green: It was well after the SDSR that that study was initiated, so I think there is merely a timing issue here. We have obviously provided the report to you now. It was not a study done prior to SDSR; it was done afterwards.

Q121 Mrs Moon: I think I will need to go back and check when we were carrying out our inquiry.

Chair: The report we produced on the SDSR was in July 2011.

Q122 Mrs Moon: And you announced it in March 2011 in the Official Report.

Air Vice-Marshal Green: Excuse me, I have to ask when the report actually concluded.

Tom McKane: 31 October.

Air Vice-Marshal Green: Yes, so the report concluded on 31 October 2011.

Q123 Mrs Moon: It is not about telling us what the report has concluded; it is telling us that the report was under way that would have been helpful.

Nick Harvey: But you were inquiring into the SDSR. With respect, this piece of work was not anything to do with the SDSR. It was considering the future and the sort of capabilities that we might develop in the future. It was not about the SDSR.

Q124 Chair: I thought that the most difficult decision that had to be taken in the SDSR was the decommissioning of the Nimrod aircraft.

Nick Harvey: It was indeed.

Q125 Chair: With consequences that fed into maritime surveillance.

Nick Harvey: Yes. With respect, everything that the Ministry has been doing after the SDSR process was complete is looking to the future-Future Force 2020, the sort of strategic decisions that we will have to make in 2015 at the next SDSR, and at micro-scale the annual budget cycles. I am not clear how it would have assisted your study of the SDSR during the spring of 2011 to have described every piece of work that we were doing looking to the future capabilities that we hoped to generate. The scope of your inquiry would have been endless if we had viewed it in quite that way.

Q126 Chair: No, it would have been reasonable, I think. If this was the most difficult decision that had to be taken by the Government in relation to the entire SDSR it would have been reasonable for you to have told us, "This is something we are considering."

Mr McKane, you were clearly involved in the run-up to the SDSR. I think, following the SDSR, you may have been told that it would be wise to start some work to look at the replacement of the Nimrod aircraft. Is that correct?

Tom McKane: It is correct that I was the lead official within the Department for the SDSR. I was not asked to do further work on this particular capability area after the SDSR. It was always assumed at the time that this was a subject that the Government would come back to at the next SDSR. The work that Air Vice-Marshal Green has described, which, as far as I can gather, was commissioned in the first half of 2011 but did not report until towards the end of 2011, was a piece of work undertaken by the capability part of the Department, which I am assuming, as Mark says, was looking ahead to the next review.

Q127 Mrs Moon: If we had been able to keep the Nimrod MRA4-if the decision had been made to retain that capability-would there have been a necessity or an urgency to carry out the capability assessment that you are talking about here, which may not have reported until after we completed our report, but still was pertinent to it?

Air Vice-Marshal Green: We need to be careful about my response in terms of the urgency. The reason why we did the report is that at the time of the decision, we clearly had an awful lot of expertise that was based around the maritime underwater battlespace environment. In order that we could ensure that we captured that capability before it dispersed, because there was no official requirement for it, the view-I am sure it was my predecessor’s view-was that we should, as I do all the time, commission activity to ensure that we have an audit trail and collate the knowledge, so that we can then get ourselves into a better position to make a decision for the future and, indeed, inform a future SDSR. The work that we are kicking off literally straight after SDSR ’10 is actually to start preparing for SDSR ’15, and this is very much a fundamental part of that foundation work. It fits into our approach to generate seed corn capability, and seed corn is not only people flying other nations’ aircraft; it is also harnessing the intellectual horsepower that sits behind that capability.

Conducting the WAMUS study was merely a way of making sure we knew exactly where we were, what sort of technologies there are and where we should be investing my defence money in the capability area over the next few years to influence our thinking in 2015. If the report had come up with the fact that you could actually use unmanned air vehicles, we would have actually started needing to do some more work to mature our thinking in that area. It was therefore merely a direction-internal work to guide my thinking in terms of where I needed to direct activity in the future. It wasn’t any urgent requirement that came post that decision. It was merely the next logical thing to do to prepare ourselves for 2015.

Q128 Mrs Moon: If I can just go back to my question, would you have needed that report if we had retained the MRA4?

Air Vice-Marshal Green: No.

Mrs Moon: Thank you.

Q129 Chair: The report that we produced on the SDSR came out in July. The report on WAMUS came out in October.

Tom McKane: The end of October.

Q130 Chair: So would it not have been helpful of you, in the Government response to our report, which came out in November, to have mentioned this? Let me help with you the answer-the answer is yes.

Air Vice-Marshal Green: Yes, I think it probably would have been helpful if we had thought more broadly about that particular topic.

Q131 Chair: Please bear in mind that, as a Committee, we feel significantly under-informed by the MoD. We feel you keep too much close to your chests, and it is time that you began to take parliamentary scrutiny a bit more seriously, because it is very important indeed. Please regard it as such.

Q132 Sandra Osborne: We have received evidence from Dr Lee Willett of RUSI, who posed the following question: "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?" What is the Minister’s response to that? Are you prepared to underwrite the capability, as Dr Willett suggests?

Nick Harvey: I can assure you and the Committee that we do take the entire maritime picture very seriously indeed, and we do recognise the importance of maritime surveillance for maritime security as whole. The SDSR was being conducted against a very difficult financial background. We had to decide what to do with the limited resources at our disposal and where, frankly, we were going to take an element of risk. We acknowledged in the SDSR where we were taking those risks. It is certainly the case that we highlighted this area of maritime surveillance as one in which we had taken what we thought to be the least bad option; we acknowledged that we were carrying risk but stated our belief that it was a tolerable level of risk to carry.

Certainly, I would acknowledge in the wider sense that the Navy is going through a very difficult patch while older platforms are working their way out and until newer ones work their way in. I think that we recognised from the outset that the Navy would go through a lean period before the up-curve came back through. That is what we have seen, but so far, despite the tests presented, for example by Libya last year, it has managed, and we believe that the risk we are carrying is acceptable, if regrettable.

Q133 Sandra Osborne: In relation to capability gaps, our report on Operations in Libya noted that, due to the operation, important maritime tasks were not carried out, and that due to the continued high levels of standing maritime commitments, this type of risk taking would occur more frequently as the SDSR was implemented, which I think you have just acknowledged. Given reports that the Royal Navy is unable fully to resource counter-piracy operations due to the Olympics, what commitment can you give to the provision of maritime surveillance assets when other naval assets are being reduced or redeployed?

Nick Harvey: I do not think that I would accept that the Navy has in any way abandoned any of its tasks. One of the points that Dr Willett made when he spoke to you was that some of the work-for example the counter-narcotics work in the Caribbean-has at times not been covered by a destroyer or a frigate but rather by the Royal Fleet Auxiliary, but I think that it has still been able to perform the task. Although I acknowledge and do not shy away from the fact that the Navy’s assets are being heavily used at the moment and that we are taking a degree of risk, I do not think that I accept the proposition that you were putting to me that they have actually had to abandon any of their tasks altogether. They have just had to find other ways of completing them.

Q134 Sandra Osborne: So is it not true that counter-piracy operations have been affected by the Olympics?

Nick Harvey: It is true that during the course of this year the UK is not contributing any vessels to the various international counter-piracy missions. We continue, of course, to exercise command of the EU operation from Northwood, but I do not see why we would, in principle, at all times contribute vessels to those missions. We certainly expect to do so again as time progresses, in rotation with the other partner nations involved.2

Q135 Mrs Moon: We have been told that the capability gap in maritime surveillance is somewhere between a risk, a gamble and a tolerable risk. How do you keep this under review?

Nick Harvey: I say again that we do acknowledge that we are taking a risk here. We did at the time, and we continue to do so, but Ministers and policy makers in the Department are kept apprised at all times of the levels of risk that we are bearing, through an established process of risk identification and management. The Defence Board meets monthly and takes regular risk reports, which flag up on a red-amber-green basis where we are carrying risks. Certainly, if any of the military commanders or policy makers considers that risks are emerging over a period of time, there is there a mechanism by which they can flag that up to us.

Longer-term, strategic risk is an ongoing process between the capability area and defence intelligence, and that is reviewed annually as part of the departmental planning. Any excessive risk would be highlighted within the capability audit process. If we thought we were bearing an unacceptable risk, we have regular mechanisms at our disposal: the annual budget cycle, or, if there was something more immediate than that, we would take decisions in between times. There is a reasonably mature process there, and there is enough flexibility to respond, dependent on the alerts that were being put in front of us.3

Q136 Mrs Moon: If there was a sudden and rapid rise in risk-let us say, God forbid, during the Olympics-what measures have you got in place, not to wait till the next budget cycle or for an urgent operational requirement, but to deal with it there and then?

Nick Harvey: We would have to make swift changes to the way we deployed assets and reassign assets and personnel to different roles.

Q137 Mrs Moon: What are the areas of greatest vulnerability? Where are the risks? Where have you highlighted that we have particular areas of risks?

Nick Harvey: I will be guided by my colleagues, but I would not have thought that we were particularly minded to flag up in an open session where we thought we were vulnerable.

Q138 Mrs Moon: Have you clarified, for your own thinking, those greatest areas of vulnerability?

Nick Harvey: Yes.

Q139 Mrs Moon: Do you have mechanisms to monitor those and cover them should a risk arise?

Nick Harvey: Indeed. As I have described to you, we have quite mature and established risk management processes. They are looked at and refreshed regularly. The Defence Board takes a risk report regularly. If there were things moving up the risk table, as it were, in the relatively short term, those would come to our attention swiftly. If there are longer-term, more strategic things that are beginning to concern us, there are mechanisms in place to deal with those in a slightly slower time. I believe that there are processes there that can deal with both the immediate and the further out.

Tom McKane: The other point that is worth making, just to supplement what the Minister has said, is that risk management is something that imbues almost everything that the Department does, and so in relation to specific operations or specific activities, there will be an examination of the risks associated with that and a plan put in place to manage that, but clearly they are not risks that one would go into in public.

Q140 Mrs Moon: I am not asking you to go into an analysis of the risks in public; I am asking for confirmation and clarification that you are monitoring those risks-you have highlighted the areas at most vulnerable risk-and that you have capacity, if there were an escalation in that risk, to provide maritime surveillance cover. Is that a yes or a no?

Nick Harvey: Yes. We made it clear at the time that the other mechanisms by which the previous Government had decided on a temporary basis to try and mitigate this capability gap would be those we would continue to look to on an ongoing basis. As and when we have needed to deploy the other assets to plug this gap, the decisions have been taken in a timely fashion so to do.

Q141 Mrs Moon: To the Chair’s first question, you acknowledged that Britain is a maritime nation, with a huge maritime economy vital to the success and prosperity of this nation. Would you agree that maritime surveillance should be a sovereign capability?

Nick Harvey: No, I do not think I would agree to such a sweeping statement. There is a great deal we can do in co-operation with our allies and partners. There is a great deal that we do do in the way of co-operation and information sharing, and there are various new initiatives being undertaken in NATO and in the EU that would assist international co-operation in this field in the future. I would certainly accept that there will be elements that we want to keep sovereign, but the proposition that the whole piece must, of necessity, be sovereign is not an analysis I would share.4

Q142 Mrs Moon: So in what areas do you think the capability would better be distributed to and supported by allies? Have you clarified that?

Nick Harvey: We do a lot in co-operation with our allies already. This is a co-operative effort in which we work with several partners. To point to some obvious ones, the US, Canada and Norway are partners with whom we work all the time on this sort of piece. The idea that we-or, frankly, anybody-could afford to do this entirely on our own is one that I just do not think is realistic.

Q143 Mrs Moon: But since the SDSR and the decision to cancel the Nimrod MRA4, what additional arrangements with allies have been put in place to cover the capability gap? Have there been any new protocols or any new agreements?

Nick Harvey: We have understandings with other countries, most prominently the three I just mentioned-the US, Canada and Norway-and when it has been necessary for them to assist us with this, they have done so.

Q144 Mrs Moon: They were pre-existing agreements?

Nick Harvey: Yes.

Q145 Mrs Moon: There have been no additional agreements?

Nick Harvey: No additional agreements, because those in place work perfectly satisfactorily.

Q146 Mrs Moon: Part of maritime surveillance also includes long-range search and rescue. I believe that we relied on French and Irish search and rescue planes to provide cover when there was an incident in the Irish Sea. Was that something that we rapidly had to move to seek their help and support for?

Air Vice-Marshal Green: In the previous evidence session, when the Chief Coastguard gave evidence, he wrapped this sort of issue up very well. When something happens, it is effectively within his authority-the coastguard’s authority-to start to react to that incident, and he will use whatever assets are available at the time and are nearest to the point of the concern in order to alleviate the situation or the risk. In that example, those assets were available. There is no reason to suspect that if a Nimrod had been available, it would have been able to react any faster to that particular incident than those that were actually closer to the incident in question.

Q147 Mrs Moon: We have a series of new agreements with the French. Has any attempt been made to negotiate French support for our maritime patrol capability and surveillance?

Tom McKane: There is no specific new agreement under the UK-France defence treaty that addresses search and rescue, if that is your question.

Q148 Mrs Moon: And no conversation with Luxembourg, which has three MPA? It does not need them because it does not have a coast.

Tom McKane: Not that I am aware of.

Q149 Thomas Docherty: Why have there been no discussions with the French or, indeed, with Luxembourg?

Air Vice-Marshal Green: Long-range search and rescue is a responsibility that we have all signed up to through previous conventions. Consequently, it is the standard protocol that if you are in that region, you will react to that particular incident. There does not need to be a bilateral arrangement with a particularly nation to satisfy a search and rescue need; the arrangements are already in place within a broader arrangement.

Sir Bob Russell: Titanic. That was what they did then.

Q150 Chair: I do not think that that is the question.

You mentioned ISTAR, which is intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance. At the first evidence session, I think, you told us that our ISTAR capability had been skewed by Afghanistan and that, essentially, the funding for our ISTAR capability comes, presumably, from the Contingency Fund-net additional cost of military operations. Is that correct? Is that a fair summary of what you told us?

Air Vice-Marshal Green: I am not sure that I used the word "skewed", Chairman.

Q151 Chair: "If we consider the second one first, Afghanistan has certainly skewed our investment".

Air Vice-Marshal Green: Okay, maybe I did. You are right. The rest of the statement was correct and, indeed, the front part of it was clearly correct, too.

Q152 Chair: So we are withdrawing our combat capability from Afghanistan within the next three years. Presumably the net additional cost of military operations will also be withdrawn. Is that right?

Air Vice-Marshal Green: That’s right. The net additional cost of military operations is exactly that. Unless there is another conflict that we are directed to go and support, the investment in some of the platforms that have provided us with an ISTAR capability-not all-in Afghanistan will be withdrawn. That is the baseline assumption. At the moment, what we are doing is looking at those specific platforms that provide us with ISTAR capability in Afghanistan and deciding whether it is wise for us to bring them into the core equipment programme. Clearly, there has been investment in them to date, and some of them have enduring capabilities. We will need to see where they fit into the overall priority mix for defence as we move forward. They are decisions that we do not need to make today; they are decisions for us in the future.5

Q153 Chair: Where will you get the money for that from?

Air Vice-Marshal Green: From the core programme.

Q154 Chair: So you will have to take that from somewhere else, will you?

Air Vice-Marshal Green: No. The Secretary of State has announced a core programme, which is fully funded. We talk about the urgent operational requirements and whether we bring them into core. They are all for consideration in the unallocated provision that the Secretary of State spoke about in his previous announcement. As we move forward, we must prioritise those equipments that are not part of the core programme, and the debate for us is in deciding where they fit on that priority list and which ones we are going to fund. Clearly, that will be done against risk that we are carrying in current ops, and our contingent ops.

Q155 Chair: So you have already begun to spend that extra contingency that the Secretary of State announced last week.

Air Vice-Marshal Green: No.

Q156 Chair: It sounds as though that is what you are doing.

Air Vice-Marshal Green: No. The first decision point for an investment decision is scheduled for around July. We will make only the decisions that we need to make at that time. If there is not a need to make a decision, or we do not have evidence to support it, we will move it to the right and pick it up some three months later.

Nick Harvey: The intention is to look at the items that are waiting to come into core programme, look at the resources available that the Secretary of State described last week-the uncommitted resources-and to have a single prioritising methodology. We intend quarterly to assign those funds as we go forward to some of the items sitting on the priority list.

Tom McKane: And the point that the Secretary of State made in his statement was that that money would be committed only at the point at which it needed to be committed in accordance with military advice at the time, and only if it could be demonstrated that it could be afforded-both the capital purchase and the support-over the 10 years of the programme.

Q157 Chair: What is the military advice in relation to this ISTAR capability? Do you think that, when we no longer have that net additional cost money coming in, there will be an ISTAR vulnerability unless money is spent on it?

Air Vice-Marshal Green: There is a planning assumption at the moment that we will allocate some of that unallocated provision, which is sufficiently high up the priority order as we sit here today, to ISTAR capability.6

Q158 Thomas Docherty: When the Secretary of State gave his statement on Afghanistan, I asked him what our air commitments to Afghanistan would be beyond 2014, and he indicated that that is something that is currently being considered and that no decisions have been made. Can I draw from that that we are considering extending ISTAR beyond 2014 in Afghanistan?

Tom McKane: No decisions have been taken by the Government beyond those that have been announced, which are that the Government will provide financial support to the Afghan national security forces amounting to £70 million a year from the middle of the decade and that we will fund the Afghan national officer training academy and provide personnel for that academy. Consideration of what else we will do has still to be completed.

Q159 Thomas Docherty: The Minister will tell you that I am a bit slow on the uptake. Just so I am clear, we haven’t ruled out continuing ISTAR in Afghanistan beyond 2014?

Tom McKane: That has not been ruled out.

Q160 Chair: We understand that no decision has been taken.

Tom McKane: Correct.

Q161 Chair: But it has not been ruled out, so consideration is being given to it.

Tom McKane: But there will be no combat role for the Armed Forces beyond the end of 2014.

Q162 Chair: That is understood.

We know that there is going to be no funding for a new maritime patrol aircraft or for a replacement of the Type 22 ships before 2015. I think that is a fair assumption.

Nick Harvey: Yes.

Q163 Chair: We know that there is a seedcorn initiative to keep those capabilities by asking for the help of other nations to use and train our aircrews, for example, in some of these maritime surveillance techniques. Is that correct?

Air Vice-Marshal Green: Correct.

Q164 Chair: Will that seedcorn initiative expire in around 2019?

Nick Harvey: It is currently planned out to 2019, but it doesn’t necessarily follow that it will end in 2019. That is just as far ahead as we have planned.

Q165 Chair: I see. So it is possible that that seedcorn initiative will be extended further than 2019?

Nick Harvey: I would say that the 2015 SDSR seems to me to be highly likely to come back to look at this issue. It is much too early to anticipate what decisions will be reached. I could imagine circumstances in which they might take certain decisions, but a further series of decisions would be needed in 2020. I would certainly think it is well within the realms of possibility that the seedcorn initiative will be sustained through to a point where a 2020 SDSR takes decisions in this field.

Q166 Chair: Do you think it is possible that it will be sustainable until then?

Nick Harvey: Yes.

Q167 Chair: Okay.

NATO has a smart defence initiative in relation to maritime patrol aircraft. Are we thinking of being involved at all in that?

Nick Harvey: We are. We are supporting the Tier 2 NATO smart defence proposal, which is being taken forward through an investigation led by Canada, under the auspices of the NATO Naval Armaments Group, to provide a long-term solution by means of maritime patrol aircraft procurement. The solution at this stage is not determined, but one option would be to have some sort of shared NATO capability, perhaps akin to the AWACS model. An approach of that sort would provide a multinational procurement option delivering economies of scale, so we are certainly interested in that.

Q168 Chair: What is the time scale of that?

Tom McKane: It is looking at a longer-term solution, so it is not something that would come to fruition in the next year or so; it would be a longer-term project. As to exactly when the study work will complete, I do not know.

Q169 Chair: So it is something that the Government is actively considering, and we are considering taking part in that smart defence initiative?

Nick Harvey: Yes.7

Q170 Chair: So when the Scottish National party says: "However it was put on record in a recent PQ that the UK is, ‘not currently planning on participating in this project’", is that incorrect?

Nick Harvey: There is more than one NATO initiative, which it might be worth teasing out. We are not participating in another Tier 1 NATO smart defence project in this area led by Germany that is looking at options to share and pool existing maritime patrol aircraft assets. Because we do not have any, we are not part of that. It is, to be charitable, just conceivable that the Scottish nationalists might have been referring to that.8

Chair: I see. That is a helpful clarification.

Q171 Mrs Moon: I just want to take us back to the gamble and risk issue. How much are we adding to our present security, and how confident can the British public feel about our present maritime surveillance capability, when we are spending £2.4 million a year on keeping personnel flying in Canada, New Zealand, Australia and the United States but not around the British coast?

Nick Harvey: I think the British public understand that a Government Ministry will make a decision that they think that an acceptable level of risk exists in the short to medium term, but while considering the longer-term picture we would want to keep options open. In a sense, it is exactly the same as the risk we are taking in terms of Carrier Strike. We took a calculated risk that we thought this was something we could gap for a few years, but that in the longer run we thought we would need to come back into this. On maritime patrol surveillance we believe we are carrying an acceptable degree of risk in the short to medium term, but we have not, as yet, taken a view that we would not want to come back into this in the slightly longer term. I think the public would understand that, and would understand that it is a perfectly rational use of quite limited resources to be sustaining that expertise as a national asset to us that we might wish to make use of in the future.

Q172 Chair: How exactly is the seedcorn initiative going to work? We are sending our pilots abroad to fly different aeroplanes, under different regulations, on different ships-

Air Vice-Marshal Green: In different aircraft, not ships. These are maritime patrol, so they are not actually on ships.

Chair: You are right. We will come on to that aspect of it later on.

Air Vice-Marshal Green: No doubt. Shall I explain?

Chair: Please do.

Air Vice-Marshal Green: This is a similar programme to the ones that we have with many other nations where we do exchange officer postings or loan service, and where we put people with expertise into other nations’ air forces, navies and armies. This is merely an extension. For instance, the mission systems that were part of the US programme are very similar to the one that was in the MPA. In fact, our UK nationals who are part of that programme are leading the field in terms of expertise and qualifications on that programme. I would not underestimate the influence that that buys. When we are talking about depending on our coalition partners to de-risk future contingencies, having our people within those forces is a significant de-risking factor. We can influence their thinking and how they operate and it is a model that we share right across the spectrum of defence.

Q173 Chair: And it will have to continue way beyond 2020, will it not, if we are going to be realistic.

Air Vice-Marshal Green: It depends on the decisions made. At the moment, it is a funding assumption until that time and we think that it is very low risk maintaining it until that time. As we get to SDSR 2015, as the Minister said, and we shape our way forward, we will relook at that initiative on the back of what has happened with NATO’s smart initiatives and so on to see where we need to go. We have the ultimate flexibility in shaping that as we move forward.

Nick Harvey: It is also the case, Chairman-I can see what you are getting at about different aircraft types, for example-that as well as the flying skills, what are being sustained are the analytical skills and the intellectual firepower to make use of the sort of information that these operations elicit.

Q174 Mrs Moon: I am just intrigued, Air Vice-Marshal Green, that you talk about de-risking our relationships with other nations and building up influence in those nations and so on. I wonder what level of risk you see us having with New Zealand, Australia, Canada and the United States. That is where we have our pilots-20 of them-over the next five years. How on earth are we going to improve our security by having 20 pilots over five years flying with those air forces?

Tom McKane: I do not think that it is so much a question of de-risking the relationship with those countries; it is a question of, if you like, thickening the relationship with those countries through these kinds of exchanges. Also, these happen to be countries that operate the relevant type of aircraft where the seedcorn can be maintained.

Nick Harvey: And it is certainly the case with the US and Canada that these are two of the nations that we look to first to help us with any problems that our capability gap presents.

Q175 Sir Bob Russell: Minister, I am a great fan of unmanned aerial vehicles, so do you see the current capability gap as an opportunity to explore alternatives, such as UAVs?

Nick Harvey: I certainly do. I think that it is an inherent part of the MoD’s capability processes that we can consider a range of solutions to any capability requirement. That is the reason why the study that we discussed in the earlier part of the meeting and which the Air Vice-Marshal described has been looking at this in the broadest possible sense. So yes, I think that you are right that the possibility of unmanned aerial systems playing a part in this in future is a real one.

Q176 Sir Bob Russell: The Secretary of State announced a week or two back the miracle of the MoD budget being balanced after only two years, which is an incredible achievement that we all rejoice in. Even allowing for the tight budgetary controls, what are your priorities in terms of investigating how to fill the gap?

Nick Harvey: As we have described, the 2015 National Security Strategy and SDSR will have to make a further analysis of the threat posed here and the gap that we are taking. By that stage, we will perhaps have a clearer picture of the resources that will be available going forward. The prioritisation across defence-across the three Services and the different operating environments-will be ranked at that time in the SDSR process. And then, with annual budget cycles thereafter, there will be further refinement, according to the current reading of the picture.

Q177 Sir Bob Russell: How important is it-indeed, is it important-that the maritime surveillance assets also have an attack prosecution capability?

Nick Harvey: I do not think that it is essential that the attack capability has to come from exactly the same platforms. It wouldn’t be a bad idea, because it would make things faster, but I don’t think it’s an absolutely essential prerequisite that it must.

Q178 Sir Bob Russell: Going back to UAVs, we have heard in evidence that there are a number of UAV programmes being considered, but there are not many that could operate in a STOVL-short take-off and vertical landing-capacity; I understand that not everybody knows what initials and the pronunciation of them means.

Nick Harvey: The point to tease out here is that if you are talking in the future perhaps about an unmanned combat system that you were seeking to fly off an aircraft carrier with a weapons payload on board, that is a different picture altogether from trying to fly an unmanned system off an aircraft carrier for the purposes of surveillance, with comparatively much lighter equipment on board it. I do not believe it will be difficult to use the carriers without cats and traps on them for surveillance. I acknowledge it would be a rather different picture for aircraft with a weapons payload.

Q179 Sir Bob Russell: I want to pursue that, Minister, because you have almost answered my next question. Given the recent announcement on the new carriers, to which you have just alluded, what are the implications for the use of UAVs in a maritime surveillance role then?

Nick Harvey: It will be possible, I believe, to do so. This is still a fairly new area of technological development, but certainly there are options being developed elsewhere that you could fly off an aircraft carrier without needing catapults.

I do not know if the Air Vice-Marshal wants to add to that.

Air Vice-Marshal Green: No. The only thing I would add is that we are looking potentially at a concept demonstration programme later on this year, which would be flown off the back of a frigate.

Q180 Sir Bob Russell: Off the back of a frigate?

Air Vice-Marshal Green: Correct. So that is actually fired off a rail, flies around for some 14 hours and is then recaptured back to the vessel.

Q181 Sir Bob Russell: Perhaps we should be building more frigates and fewer aircraft carriers then.

Air Vice-Marshal Green: My point is that you don’t necessarily need a runway, a catapult and arrester wire to fly UAVs off maritime vessels.

Q182 Sir Bob Russell: Minister, going back to your answer just prior to the Air Vice-Marshal’s one, are you saying that the decision will have to be revisited in the longer term and, if so, when might that longer term be?

Nick Harvey: I think this is something that will be kept under constant review. The first opportunity, I think, for a fundamental look at it will be in the 2015 SDSR. If that identifies a certain way forward, then, as the Air Vice-Marshal has said, there will need to be further work, developing whatever options seem to be the most attractive at that time, and of course keeping a watchful eye, for example, on the NATO initiative that we have all also described.

The system now is that we have set in place five-yearly strategic reviews, and then we have the annual budget cycle each year in between, which is capable of taking into account current developments in between the five-yearly strategic looks. So I think there is a working methodology there that will offer us the opportunity to come back to this again and again, but I would expect the next fundamental appraisal of it to be in the 2015 SDSR.

Q183 Sir Bob Russell: Coming back again and again. This could be the last question from me: Minister, when will the carriers have an effective maritime surveillance capability?

Nick Harvey: I think that you are making an assumption that this is something that we will do off carriers. I think that there is a good chance that we might, but you would be talking certainly into the next decade.

Q184 Thomas Docherty: Minister, you had the same thoughtful look on your face in response to Sir Bob’s question about UAVs as you had last week when the Chairman asked you about components in cyber-security. Can you confirm whether during the decision to turn the carrier decision around active consideration was given to the impact on the potential for UAVs’ usage for maritime surveillance?

Nick Harvey: It certainly is the case that the implication of the recent decision for the future use of unmanned aerial systems was given deep consideration. That was an important part of the work. Rather for the reasons that the Air Vice-Marshall was just setting out, that cats and traps are not thought essential to the use of UAVs for maritime surveillance, I could not say that that was a major part of the consideration. But the future use of unmanned aerial systems more broadly was certainly something that was taken into consideration.

Q185 Thomas Docherty: So again, because I am probably slow on the uptake, one of the Ministers in the discussions asked the Services, "Does this have any impact on UAVs, on maritime surveillance from carriers, if we change from cats and traps?"

Nick Harvey: I do not think that the maritime surveillance aspect of this was a big issue at all, but the use-

Q186 Chair: Should it not have been?

Nick Harvey: No, because I think that it is possible to do it anyway. But I think that the future use of unmanned aerial systems in other roles was-

Q187 Thomas Docherty: Off the carrier.

Nick Harvey: Off the carriers-I beg your pardon, yes. That use was indeed addressed as part of the decision.9

Q188 Penny Mordaunt: I have a very quick question. Clearly, the decision on the carriers was a judgment about not having that gap in capability cost plus a two-carrier option versus the whole future-proofing debate.

Nick Harvey: Yes, absolutely.

Q189 Penny Mordaunt: I am slightly encouraged by what you say about the surveillance side of things. Looking to the next SDSR, because it is still not clear whether we are going to have two operational carriers, would you say that if we ended up with one carrier that was not future-proofed, that would be the worst-

Nick Harvey: Future-proofed in what sense?

Penny Mordaunt: As in not having cats and traps. So, if you ended up with one carrier, in effect you would have lost the plus of the two-carrier option and that all-year-round capability. If you had lost that plus side, and you had got just limited capability for part of the year but with none of the upside that there would have been with retaining cats and traps, would you say that that was the worst option-the worst of all worlds?

Nick Harvey: That is not a decision that has been taken, and I do not think that it is one that you should assume will be taken. I believe that by the time two aircraft carriers have been built, and that massive capital outlay has been expended, any Government carrying out an SDSR in 2015 is going to feel considerable pressure to ensure that they are used.

Q190 Penny Mordaunt: So, it would be surprising, given the closeness of the next SDSR and the decisions that have been made about the carrier options at the moment, if it were decided at the next review that two carriers were not going to be there.

Nick Harvey: The next SDSR is three years away. I cannot at this stage make any accurate forecast about the sort of security analysis that will underpin it, let alone about the financial climate that will hang over it. So, I do not feel in a position to say what would or would not be surprising. However, I do think, as I said a second ago, that there will be a pressure on the Government at that time whatever their colour.

Chair: What we would really like you to say is, "Yes, of course we need two carriers. It would be ridiculous to have just one." We accept that that may not be the appropriate question to ask for the subject matter of the inquiry today.

Q191 Thomas Docherty: I am really confused, because I thought that the Secretary of State specifically said that the reason for dumping the cats and traps was that it gave us all year round-because we could not afford putting them on two.

Nick Harvey: I believe that the Secretary of State said that he had opened up the possibility of being able to use the two hulls in a way that ensured you always had one in active use, and that that was a decision that a future SDSR would be able to take.

Q192 Thomas Docherty: Turning to the issue of inter-departmental jointery, to what extent do the requirements of other Government Departments-DfT, DEFRA and so on-and Government agencies and the need for home water surveillance drive your thinking?

Nick Harvey: It is certainly right to say that other Government Departments do have material interests here. The UK Border Agency, the Marine Management Organisation for fisheries and the Maritime and Coastguard Agency all have an active interest in this. They perform their own patrols with surface vessels and have contracts for aircraft surveillance. I believe that there is scope in the future for all these things to be done together and where the MoD might get to play a part in that. Certainly, there is an improved co-ordination now across Government. There is a maritime security oversight group, which is led by the Home Office, that meets regularly at an official level. There is an opportunity now, looking ahead, to get a much more co-ordinated picture across these different branches of Government and I would hope in the fullness of time to see that happen.

Q193 Thomas Docherty: I will come back to representations and what that might do in a second. Following up on the point about inter-departmental jointery, can you clarify at a ministerial level how it works? That sounded to me like it was civil servants.

Nick Harvey: Yes, there is a sort of informal network of Ministers under James Brokenshire that look at these things as well. He has the lead responsibility for that, but as this work goes forward and the officials begin to distil options and explore the scope for co-operation, Ministers will come together to look at the work they are producing.

Q194 Thomas Docherty: If, as you go forward with this group, representations were made by another Government Department or agency to change the MoD’s posture on maritime surveillance, for whatever reason, would you as a Government consider it?

Nick Harvey: You are inviting me to speculate. The honest answer is that I cannot really see circumstances in which the requirements of those other Government Departments would lever the MoD against its judgment as to the military requirement into providing a service that it did not otherwise think that it needed to provide. However, if the MoD was moving to a position where it was looking at expanding what it does in this area and if the opportunity to co-operate with other Government Departments to avoid duplication, to multitask and to get better value for taxpayers’ money was to present itself, I could imagine it happening.

Q195 Thomas Docherty: If there were to be a debate, would you see this informal group of Ministers under the Home Office as being the right forum for taking that debate forward?

Nick Harvey: For taking it forward, yes. I would have thought that, ultimately, decisions would be taken by the Cabinet and/or the National Security Council, but I would certainly have thought that-to use your precise phrase, taking the debate forward-as officials were coming up with options and possibilities, that ministerial group would look at those initially, and then I would expect decisions to be taken at Cabinet or NSC level.10

Q196 Thomas Docherty: Turning to the issue of the National Maritime Information Centre, do you think that it and the Maritime Security Oversight Group are sufficiently visible at ministerial level?

Nick Harvey: I think they are visible at ministerial level. I wonder quite what you are getting at.

Q197 Thomas Docherty: Do you think that the work they are doing is fully understood-obviously, you are familiar with it-by, for example, this informal club of Ministers?

Nick Harvey: I think there is a reasonable level of awareness at ministerial level. I, for example, speak from time to time to DEFRA Ministers about the fisheries patrols and so on. There is a greater awareness, perhaps, among Ministers in different Departments about what is going on. I have talked to Ministers of Transport as well. I think I may have undersold to you the extent to which Ministers already co-operate and work together on this. There is a visibility of these issues among Ministers in different Departments.

Q198 Thomas Docherty: And to the wider world? Do you think people are sufficiently aware of the work of NMIC?

Nick Harvey: The NMIC gathers information. It collates the clearest possible picture from what sources of information are available to it, some of it covert, and that information is then available to inform decision makers. I think that that is actually working extremely well and that that is a real resource now to the Government, to Ministers, and to future Governments and future Ministers to take the decisions they need to take.

Q199 Thomas Docherty: On the issue of decision making versus information gathering, do you think there is a case for NMIC taking decisions rather than just gathering information?

Nick Harvey: That would be a big step, I think. If they were to move from what they are doing now into a sort of command and control function for the whole of Government, that would be almost unique in terms of the way Government operates. I am not sure I am convinced by that. Individual Departments retain responsibility and individual agencies do form different parts of the work. It is entirely right that we try and get as common an understanding as we possibly can of the threats and the challenges, but I think that the need for the constituent Departments and agencies to retain their responsibilities would be likely to override pooling of the decision making.

Q200 Thomas Docherty: Mrs Moon touched on the Olympics this summer, and there is the Jubilee as well. Are you content that the MoD’s contribution to interdepartmental co-operation is robust enough and that we are prepared enough to deal with possible maritime surveillance challenges and threats during this rather busy summer?

Nick Harvey: Yes, absolutely. Our contribution to Olympics security is very substantial. We are entirely plugged into all the decision-making apparatus and forums for dealing with Olympics security. It is certainly the case that if anything unexpected should happen that is not within the scope of the contingency planning that we have so far undertaken, we have the necessary authorities to divert capabilities into the task at very short notice.

Q201 Thomas Docherty: Out of interest, from where would you divert those capabilities, given that we are stretched slightly?

Nick Harvey: Yes, we are stretched, but if there were a very short-term requirement-I assume that you are still talking broadly about the subject matter of the inquiry-it would be perfectly possible at short notice and for a short time to redeploy assets to perform these functions.

Q202 Thomas Docherty: From where?

Nick Harvey: It depends on what you need.

Air Vice-Marshal Green: If you look at the existing capability that the SKASaC provides, it is a very competent maritime surveillance platform, which from the east side of London can look well into Europe with its radar. So there is a very limited risk from a lack of maritime surveillance in the Olympic operation.

Q203 Mrs Moon: Listening to the three of you, I am confused about the picture that you are trying to paint. Can you clarify how you see it? Are we playing with increased risk and gambling? Do we have a reduced capability that we are trying to cover by constantly diverting platforms from here to there, leaving other areas unprotected as we do so, or is it that we don’t need it? We can live without it. We do not need maritime patrol capability. We could save over £3 billion, which is what Nimrod MRA4 cost, and the UK would be perfectly safe and secure without that capability. We seem to flow backwards and forwards between those two positions. Which is it?

Nick Harvey: We have been managing without this for two years, because the capability gap started on 1 April 2010. The previous Government indicated to Parliament the means by which they would aim to cover those gaps as and when the need arose. Two years on, I would say that the extent to which we have had to re-task those other assets to cover the acknowledged gap has not been excessive. It has not left us struggling to cover the tasks that those other assets perform.

As we look further into the future, if we thought that the security challenge were greater, it would become difficult to keep doing that by these means, which is why we are keen to sustain for the longer term options to recreate a dedicated capability for this task. But at the moment, the contingency that the previous Government flagged up- diverting other assets as and when necessary-has proved adequate to the task and has not put an intolerable strain upon it.

Q204 Mrs Moon: So, a bit like a household, we can do without a burglar alarm and manage the risk. Is that what you are saying?

Nick Harvey: We are managing the capability gap quite well at the moment. The degree of risk that we are carrying is tolerable, but in future, if the security assessment were to deteriorate and we thought that there were greater risks, we would need to come back into this with a dedicated capability. At the moment, although this was not something we would have wanted to do, we assessed in 2010 that it was the least bad option. So far, it has not proved an unmanageable challenge to cover the capability gap.

Q205 Mrs Moon: If the capability gap were such that you felt, "Right, we really do need to replace this capability," how quickly could you do that?

Nick Harvey: It would require the security assessment to deteriorate very quickly for us to need to consider an urgent replacement of the capability. It seems to me much more likely that the security picture, were it to deteriorate, would do so gradually, and the next opportunity for the Government to make a fundamental assessment of this will be presented by the 2015 SDSR. It is in order to give the Government of 2015 the option of getting itself back into this that the seedcorn initiative was started.

Q206 Mrs Moon: Again, if in 2015 you decided, "Yes, we urgently need to get back into this," how soon could you purchase and replace the capability? We have the pilots and the crews, but how would you get the platforms and how quickly could you do it?

Nick Harvey: If it was decided at 2015 or some other point that there was an urgent need to get back into the business, there are options out there that other countries use. We have shown in the urgent operational requirement process which purchased equipment for Afghanistan that when it needs to, procurement can work very quickly. It might not be the optimal solution for the long term, but in your scenario of an urgent requirement I think we would be capable of getting something going again-I hesitate to be drawn. Air Vice-Marshal, what would you think was realistic?

Air Vice-Marshal Green: I think it is such an open-ended question, because it completely depends on what we decide the risk is. If we are talking about replacing a platform as complex as the Nimrod, that would be quite a long time. If you are looking at a maritime surveillance platform, arguably that is a less complex platform and it can be done relatively easily because they are, effectively, on-the-shelf purchasing. Again, it is a difficult question. Indeed, you can start thinking about leasing options, which we have done with C-17s. It does depend on what the capability is.

Q207 Mrs Moon: Are we looking at that now, or are we going to avoid that issue until 2015?

Nick Harvey: We are not looking at that issue now, because we do not perceive any urgent need to do so.

Q208 Mrs Moon: So in 2015 we could move forward into another five years of thinking, cogitating, planning and weighing before we move back into this capability?

Air Vice-Marshal Green: The route we would follow is that SDSR 2015 would establish whether there was a requirement for us to fill. Let us assume that it did. The next action would be effectively to examine what the options are to fill that requirement, which would mean that we would generate a business case. We would look through and cost each of the different options and we would examine leasing, buying off the shelf and developing new platforms ourselves. We would present to the Government the appropriate option for them to consider, which generates best value for money and provides the answer to the capability. Depending on what requirement I am trying to solve, it could be an off-the-shelf purchase because it has already been built; it could be the development of an existing capability, which would take a bit longer; or it could be building something entirely new that nobody else has envisaged, which would involve a long development programme.

Q209 Mrs Moon: Like the A4?

Air Vice-Marshal Green: The MRA4?

Mrs Moon: Yes.

Air Vice-Marshal Green: Correct.

Q210 Mrs Moon: Ten years.

Air Vice-Marshal Green: Yes. So, are we likely to get into that game? Mark Green’s opinion is, "I don’t think so." Quite where else we are in that spectrum-I cannot provide you with a concrete answer, because we have not got a requirement that we are trying to answer, to answer your question.

Q211 Mrs Moon: Have you had discussions with the maritime insurance industry and with the maritime companies-the commercial fleets-and what is their view of our lack of capability and our lack of capacity? How concerned are they?

Nick Harvey: We are still providing the sort of cover that they would be interested in and concerned about. We are doing it in a different way, but they have not flagged up to us any grave concerns about the current arrangement. Slightly to take that question with what you were getting at in your previous one, the Ministry of Defence does not take the view that the risk that we are carrying through this capability gap is intolerable. It is regrettable, but our assessment in 2010 was that it is a tolerable level of risk to be taking. I have described to you that we do not feel that covering the capability gap is proving unmanageable. While I think that it is highly unlikely that a Government of any political colour would want to go down the route, once again, of devising a complex, but uniquely British solution, I think that we would be well capable of putting together something perfectly adequate in this area, at relatively short notice, if the security assessment or representations from any other quarter led us to the conclusion that we needed to do that.

Q212 Mrs Moon: Minister, I have to ask why it is essential that we withhold the information in the report-sorry, I forget the acronym-

Chair: WAMUS.

Mrs Moon: As "its disclosure would, or would be likely to prejudice the capability, effectiveness or security of the Armed Forces." If it is so bland, why does it have to remain secret?

Air Vice-Marshal Green: Because it is actually pointing to a specific capability in the underwater space. It is not a broader maritime space; it is underwater. Effectively publishing our risk assessment in that area would compromise our security.

Q213 Chair: Work on the next SDSR has already begun, has it not? We heard that from the Secretary of State last week.

Nick Harvey: The work that is now taking place in the Department will essentially start forming the basis-the work streams-that will inform the next SDSR process. I would not say that we have started yet anything comparable to the 40 or 41 specific work streams that contributed to the 2010 SDSR, but a number of quite fundamental pieces of work are now taking place in the Department that will, as the Secretary of State was getting at, be some of the building blocks of the 2015 consideration.

Q214 Chair: Will there be a work stream relating to maritime surveillance?

Nick Harvey: There will be a maritime stream, but whether or not there will be one specifically about surveillance-

Air Vice-Marshal Green: There certainly will be a work strand that relates to our future ISTAR capabilities. That will be led through my post, which, at that point, will be lodged within the Joint Forces Command. We have already discussed ownership of the issue, as part of our broader transformation, and where that issue will sit. The commander of the joint forces will be the defence authority for information. It fits within his portfolio extremely well. He looks across all environments-land, air and maritime-and it is part of that debate. The work that we have done since the SDSR, with the WAMUS study and with seedcorn, allows us to provide the right intellectual horsepower for that debate to ensure it is kept live as a component within the overall ISTAR capabilities.

Q215 Thomas Docherty: Minister, in response to Mrs Moon’s questions, you said with some confidence that we could regenerate relatively quickly. I am puzzled, given that the Air Vice-Marshal has said that no work was done in the 2010 SDSR on how long we would be without-I am not sure when a gap stops being a gap and becomes non-existent-and given that no work will be done before 2015 on looking at how long it will take to regenerate, how can you be so confident that you can do it quickly?

Nick Harvey: The capabilities that Nimrod would have provided, if it had successfully been brought into service, would have been very sophisticated. What the Air Vice-Marshal was saying, and what I meant when I said we could get back into this quickly if we needed to, was that getting some surveillance equipment of adequate calibre to perform the basic function into an aircraft with sufficient endurance to patrol the space we need to cover, is not in and of itself a phenomenally difficult challenge.

If, at relatively short notice, we thought that we needed to get back into having a dedicated capability we could put something together or buy something off the shelf pretty quickly. Would it be of comparable complexity to Nimrod? No. Would it be capable of performing a maritime surveillance function because we perceived the need to get back into that urgently? I think it would.

There are options out there that would be available if we needed to move quickly. In terms of the quality and sophistication of what we got, it would probably be better to wait and see what became, for example, of the Canadian-led NATO initiative, to see what sort of progress was made with unmanned systems. That holds out the opportunity of getting back into this in a highly capable and sophisticated way. The question put to me was whether if we needed to get back into this urgently, we could do so. I am reasonably confident in saying yes, we could.

Q216 Thomas Docherty: Would you anticipate that a quick-not rushed-purchase would be expensive?

Nick Harvey: Some of the urgent operational requirement purchases for Afghanistan have compared rather favourably with some of the MoD’s other procurements. While I would not necessarily claim that they would be cheap, the experience of UORs is that they are quite good value for money.

Chair: Thank you to all three of you for your evidence in this session. It has been helpful and sometimes illuminating. We are most grateful.


[1] Ev 49

[2] Ev 49

[3] Ev 49

[4] Ev 50

[5] Ev 50

[6] Ev 50

[7] Ev 50

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[9] Ev 50

[10] Ev 51

Prepared 19th September 2012