Examination of Witnesses (Questions 200
WEDNESDAY 17 JANUARY 2001
WALMSLEY, KCB AND
200. I was not thinking of that. I was thinking
of the prevention costs. I know you have not had the findings
of the board of inquiry, but do you have any measure of the extra
costs that you might need to incur?
(Sir Robert Walmsley) There is no reason why there
is any technical work having to be done on the aircraft at all
201. None at all?
(Sir Robert Walmsley) I do not think so. Very unlikely.
202. We may remind you of that. Paragraphs 2.4
and Figure 11 show that the Department has not yet set targets
for its performance measures for the assessment phase and does
not yet even have a measure in place to show whether risk is reduced
sufficiently to enable a sound decision to be taken at Main Gate.
Why is it taking so long to set performance measures and targets
to judge the success of the assessment phase and when will you
have them fully in place?
(Sir Robert Walmsley) We will have them in place by
the start of the next financial year, in about three months' time
in other words. Why it has taken so long is partly because it
is a very difficult thing to doand I will explain that
in a momentbut I would also like to emphasise that this
is not just MPR assessment phase projects, this is all projects
in the assessment phase. The first thing I want to emphasise about
the assessment phase is that cutting the costs of the assessment
phase is not necessarily a good thing. We do not want to produce
a perverse incentive which would mean that if people were to discover
technical problems during the assessment phase, in order to meet
a target, they would refuse to own up to this and would refuse
to ask for the extra money in case they broke their target. Where
I think we are going is, first of all, to say that the assessment
phase of work must underpin a robust decision at Main Gate, and
so the first target that we have set and agreed is that for the
next year 85 per cent of assessment phases must produce a decision
at Main Gate which does not require any extra information or work
to be done, and we will raise that to 90 per cent in succeeding
203. I appreciate that this is not an easy task,
Sir Robert, but we are three years from Smart procurement's first
announcement and two years after its formal launch and you would
think that it is a pretty important component of the process to
be bedded down.
(Sir Robert Walmsley) I think I have said I will have
them ready by the end of March. If I could just mention the other
point which is to treat the assessment phase as a mini project
in its own right, and the tables here point out that there is
a huge variability in compliance with the approved cost and time-scale
targets for the assessment phase, particularly costs, and one
in there which is a very big one and is a very interesting one
is the fact that the BVRAAM costs have gone up very substantially.
The reason they went up very substantially, which would normally
be regarded as a bad thing, is that when we had the bids back
we decided there was too much risk in what the contractor was
proposing. We deliberately paid both the contractors extra money
and gave them extra time. We paid for it and that, of course,
counts as extra assessment phase work and therefore generates
extra costs. I am absolutely convinced it was the right thing
204. I am going to ask you in a moment about
the year-end incentive but you led me neatly into another issue
which relates to paragraph 1.13 which says that the Department
will plan at 50 per cent and approve at 90 per cent confidence
levels. Can you explain to the Committee your rationale and how
large, on average, at Main Gate you expect the resulting risk
provisions for cost and time to be? What I have in mind is the
Multi-Role Armoured Vehicle which is reporting a 31-month negative
in-date variation because of the difference between those two
estimates which is very large, and it seems to me that there is
a great deal of risk of you introducing a level of self-deceit
into this process and thinking you are doing well when you are,
in fact, giving yourself a slack target. Can you tell us a little
(Sir Robert Walmsley) First of all, I totally accept
the concern; it has been one that has worried us too. It will
not do my organisation any good if we have got slack targets to
work to. The first thing I would say is the 50 per cent level
is the level that is most likely to happen and is the level on
which we budget and on which we plan for the introduction of a
new capability. In previous days we used to seek approval for
the 50 per cent level but have a 20 per cent tolerance or a two-year
tolerance before we had to go back and tell anybody that things
were going wrong. We have put that behind us now and instead we
ask for the 90 per cent figures which are effectively set at the
approval level. If we bust that we have bust the approval and
we have to go back and seek re-approval. So no project should
break its approval and that is the logic in comparing a most likely
event with the approved event. The difference between the 50 and
the 90 per centwe would expect a decrease as the project
moves through the assessment phase and then, of course, into the
full-scale development and manufacturing phase. The absolute levels
of the difference, I agree, are very variable and I think I have
had bad luck in that one of the first projects to appear under
the new regime, MRAV, is a collaborative programme with two nations
in it. I very much hope that, about 15 months after we signed
the contract, on 5 February next month, that the Netherlands will
sign a contract amendment to bring a third nation in. That has
been a risk and has clearly caused uncertainty. It is a risk we
were able to foresee. There will be a number of other international
factors that I predict with great confidence will bedevil this
programme as we move through development. Typical, would be acceptance
of the result of the reliability demonstrations on which the United
Kingdom has insisted, learning from our experience with the Challenger
2 tank, for which we have programmed a very substantial amount
of time on approving the basic vehicle. On the assumption we get
through that, we then have the question of integrating the various
United Kingdom mission-specific systems into the vehicle and each
of those imposes its own separate set of integration risks. We
break the programme down into the various components, we look
at the estimates of each one and then add up what they could turn
out to be. If you do it arithmetically the 31 does not look a
generous allowance of time to me.
205. Given that it is an international collaborative
project, I suspect we are not going to argue with you, but it
does make you think it may be a good idea to keep a running monitor
on the aggregate difference.
(Sir Robert Walmsley) I agree but the Sea Wolf situation
where we predicted three months (and we have used up that and
more already) shows me we are not institutionally generous to
206. Can I ask for a note on BVRAAM, Future
Transport Aircraft and the Type-45 Destroyer and the two levels
of confidence limit for each of those?
(Sir Robert Walmsley) Certainly.
207. When we were taking evidence in the 1994
Report the Committee was assured that three-point estimating was
now used routinely on all projects and undertaken thoroughly.
Given that three-point estimating is a fundamental aspect of Smart
acquisition, can you explain to the Committee when the National
Audit Office investigated it at 31 March of this year that only
two of the ten assessment phase projects had reliable three-point
cost and time estimates?
(Sir Robert Walmsley) I cannot justify it. I could
explain it in great detail for each one and I think the Report
makes it clear that there are now only three outstanding and each
of them has their own story to tell. You know that we have changed
the procurement strategy for BOWMAN and we have asked as part
of the bids that are due back from the companies on 7 February
that they will provide us with enough data to support three point
estimates. We simply did not have the data from the current competition
in order to put any sensible figures into this report, which was
signed off in November. We will have that in February so we will
get those in for next year. And, Chairman, if my book had not
fallen to bits because of the new binding adopted in this year's
ReportI apologise to the Comptroller and Auditor GeneralI
would be doing much better in finding my notes. This is called
"perfect" binding as opposed to last year's which was
slot binding and which worked.
208. Let's not worry about the binding. What
concerns me here is a problem we see in Whitehall quite often
(not necessarily with the MoD) which is that when the NAO comes
along and looks at something, suddenly the performance changes
and here you have the three point estimating which had been supposedly
the norm in your Department for six years, and we find in only
two out of the ten cases here has it been pursued until the NAO
looked at it. You can realise that that gives us a little dent
in our confidence about the use of the system.
(Sir Robert Walmsley) I understand. I would also place
on record that my finance staff over the last year have changed
to resource accounting and budgeting and they are the people who
have to implement all these changes and evaluate them and they
have had the busiest year of their professional lives. Of course,
it is not satisfactory that we gave you an assurance to do something
and we failed to do it, but over the last year the people involved
in preparing this work have worked harder than they have ever
209. I will take your word for that. You will
ensure of course that we see the BOWMAN estimate when it is available.
This is not meant to be a mischievous question, but we spend all
our time looking at your worst cases; is there a major project
that you are proud of?
(Sir Robert Walmsley) Yes.
210. Which one?
(Sir Robert Walmsley) Trident, Tomahawk and Challenger
211. Trident and Tomahawk are interesting, largely
off-the-shelf and ones where you did not have a great deal of
scope to alter the spec.
(Sir Robert Walmsley) The nuclear propulsion plant
did not feel off-the-shelf to me, Chairman.
Chairman: I will mull on those during the course
of the meeting and I will widen it out.
212. Sir Robert, I would like to ask you some
specific questions about projects. I want, first of all, to go
back to one which the Chairman mentioned which is the Merlin Mk
1 and paragraph 1.9. If I heard you correctly, you said that you
do not expect any further additional costs on technical grounds
because of what has happened to the helicopter so far, but I want
to look at it more widely than that. Can you give us an assessment
of what the effect of the problems with Merlin has been on, firstly,
its availability and, secondly, your capability for moving both
people and stores?
(Sir Robert Walmsley) Admiral Blackham will talk about
the operational capability, but Merlin Mk I is essentially an
anti-submarine warfare helicopter and does not have a primary
role of moving people or stores, that falls to the RAF Merlin
Mark 3. The Merlin development programme, which of course includes
both aircraft types, has not been a good experience on the grounds
of cost or delay. There is no doubt that it is attributed across
a far smaller number of aircraft than was originally envisaged,
but I repeat what I said to the Chairman about this last crash,
from what I know of the likely findings of the board of inquiry
there will be no requirement to undertake modifications to any
aircraft. We have learnt an enormous number of things from the
programme, including accounting for inflation, and being very,
very cautious about getting into a programme where there are four
different authorities providing money. The complexity of the financing
is part of the reason why we made a number of accounting errors
(which I am happy to acknowledge and have done before) in preparing
the costs for this programme. You will see from MPR 2000 that
it has not been delayed any further this year. So the Merlin programme
is now reaching the front-line and I will leave Admiral Blackham
to talk about its operational capability and what that does for
the armed services.
(Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) The first thing
to say is that the Merlin Mk 1 is flying again and started flying
before Christmas. It will not fly over the sea until we are quite
certain what the board of inquiry has to say about the flotation
bag arrangements, but my understanding of the board of inquiry
is exactly as CDP has just explained it. I expect that the first
Merlin squadron will embark on time in the early part of this
year and I expect that when it gets to its planned embarked operational
capability check, which is early next year, that it will show
itself to be a very substantial improvement on the Sea King Helicopter,
which is of course what we would expect it to be. Speaking as
a naval officer, which I am not really supposed to do, this is
a very exciting prospect. This is a very substantial improvement
and a helicopter which will be the most advanced anti-submarine
warfare helicopter anywhere, so I am extremely optimistic about
213. Let me ask you about the Apache Attack
Helicopter which, as I understand it, there was a requirement
originally for a generic air-to-air missile but according to the
Report, one is no longer deemed to be necessary. Why is that so?
(Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) The Air Defence
Programme is an integrated programme, if I can put it that way.
What we are interested in defending, by and large, is the airspace
within which we are going to operate, so any particular weapon
or defensive system is part of a whole and the Apache would fly
within our overall air defence umbrella, so to speak, and the
Apache we are getting has a substantially improved defensive aid
suite over that which the United States deployed to Kosovo and
we have, as a result of studies we have done, concluded that we
do not need the air-to-air missile and that the money that we
might spend on that is better invested in other parts of our air
defence overall capability, and that is the reason we have taken
214. Let me pick up a similar point. Paragraph
1.12 says that there has been a saving of £32 million by
deleting the gunnery requirement on the Eurofighter. Similarly,
why is that no longer necessary?
(Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) I have tried very
hard to discover when a gun was last used by a fighter aircraft
and I have identified two cases during the Gulf War when an A10
used a gun against a helicopter. To the best of my knowledge,
and my staff's knowledge, those are the only two examples in the
last ten or 15 years in which a gun has been used. Our conclusion
is that, given the effect that a gun has on an aircraft, it provides
additional stress and wear for the aircraft itself, it requires
additional training and, given the fact we are purchasing a missile,
the ASRAAM, whose purpose is to be highly agile and to be useful
in close combat, in the, I suspect, rather rare circumstances
in which close combat is likely to take place in the highest levels
of warfare, given all of that, we have concluded that it is not
the best investment for our money. I cannot find, apart from the
two I quoted you, any case where a gun has been used by an aircraft.
215. You mentioned ASRAAM, and that is mentioned
in Figure 10 showing delays to ASRAAM, and one of the results
of the delays is that the RAF is still using, as I understand
it, Sidewinder, which is a much less effective weapon. What are
the implications of this?
(Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) The implications
are that it cannot do what ASRAAM will be able to do. The position
we have got at the moment is a position we have had for a number
of years and planned to have. We would have a combination of Sidewinder
missiles and ASRAAM missiles. Obviously I regret the delay in
ASRAAM, but I want it to work properly when it arrives and I am
fairly confident the work now being undertaken will achieve a
high degree of compliance with KURs, although I am not sure that
we will get full compliance.
216. The point I am getting at, and correct
me if I am wrong, is that any delay or deletion from a programmes
means that that capability has to be made up from somewhere, so
there is a cost implication that goes beyond the cost of putting
right or overcoming any technical problems. There is a cost implication
of keeping equipment in service longer than you would have expected.
That is not just a financial cost but it is a cost in terms of
capability, is it not?
(Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) It is certainly
a cost in terms of capability.
217. And a concern?
(Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) And I regret the
delay of arrival in-service of any system. I am also aware that
we are always operating right at the cutting edge of technology
particularly in the areas of system integration. We are demanding
standards to enable us to take on the world's best systems. So
whilst I regret it, I cannot claim to be wholly surprised when
we have some of these difficulties. As far as financial costs
are concerned, we did not plan to dispense with the AIM 9 Sidewinder
missile in any event, but we will still be operating them on other
aircraft well beyond the date at which we are expecting to accept
218. Let me take you from the air to the sea
then because Figure 10 says that it will be three years before
the Landing Platform Dock (Replacement) will enter service. You
talked about "cutting edge" of technology but the fact
is that as long as you rely on the steam-powered HMS Fearless
we are not at the cutting edge of technology. Does it not inevitably
mean that for the period we have been waiting for the Landing
Platform Dock Replacement there is a capability gap?
(Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) We have less capability
than we would have had if we had the thing on time, absolutely.
It means that we will have to increase the length of service of
HMS Fearless. You have already remarked that is a unique system
within the Navy and that has training costs and it has financial
costs, and I regret it, but I still want the LPD to work properly
when it arrives.
219. I do not know whether this is a question
for you or Sir Robert, but what is your estimation of how many
naval vessels, whether they are replacements or entirely new systems,
are held up somewhere in the pipeline by financial considerations,
in other words they are not being brought forward as perhaps had
been anticipated, as opposed to technical difficulties?
(Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) I ought to check
this but I am not aware of any that are held up by financial considerations
at the moment. The LPD is not held up by financial considerations.
(Sir Robert Walmsley) I think Mr Campbell is talking
about the wider budgetary implications of paying to run on Fearless
and wondering how that travels through the system. You have heard
me say today about Sting Ray having to face up to budgetary consequences.
I do not think it is easy ever to attribute a specific consequence
to a specific extra cost.
1 Note: Not printed. Back