Examination of Witnesses (Questions 400
WEDNESDAY 8 MAY 2002
WALMSLEY KCB, AIR
KCB, AFC AND MR
400. It is not a decision for you or the Minister
to take whether this aircraft should be upgraded or not?
(Sir Robert Walmsley) It is certainly not a decision
for me. All the decisions are taken by Ministers, as you well
401. I am trying to be helpful to the Minister.
I am trying not to give him a hard time.
(Sir Robert Walmsley) I am not passing the buck but
explaining that, of course, Ministers have an interest in such
decisions. There are perfectly sensible answers to that question.
You know that this new engine is hugely important for operations
in hot countries. We only have (more's the pity) relatively small
aircraft carriers at the moment and you know perfectly well you
cannot put all our GR7s or GR9s on our two serviceable carriers.
40 does not sound a completely stupid number but it was not my
decision and that is just a comment.
402. It will mean that we will not have what
was designed to be a commonalty of fleet with 70 aircraft with
the same engine. We will have 30 with the one engine which has
enhanced capability and 40 aircraft with engines with a more limited
(Sir Robert Walmsley) That is true but of course any
modification programme takes a while to execute. We are thoroughly
used in the Ministry of Defence to coping with different configurations
inside one fleet while the modification is brought into complete
service. You only have to look at the Tornado GR4 and how long
that has taken to evolve from the GR1. It is not as nice as having
a common fleet but we know how to do it.
403. Is it a cost-cutting measure?
(Sir Robert Walmsley) I have no idea but it would
be a cost saving.
404. When you are all in a position to tell
us then please write a letter as soon as you can.
(Lord Bach) Certainly, Chairman.
405. Just coming back to the broad range of
NATO's equipment requirements now and in the future, I also meant
to askand I believe Sir Jock Stirrup is due to give a lecture
that might touch on some of this shortlyabout what consideration
has been given in the new DCI or whatever of 11 September and
the new chapter of the Strategic Defence Review that is currently
in the process of being written and the questions that certainly
11 September raises about the equipment needs to tackle and deal
with international terrorism even more effectively than at present?
(Lord Bach) As you know, the Department is right in
the middle of deciding what should be in the extra chapter to
the Strategic Defence Review and, of course, the reason for the
extra chapter is really 11 September and the world after 11 September.
If Sir Jock is giving the lecture perhaps he can give a précis
(Air Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup) I would need to know
to whom I was giving the lecture; I was not aware of it.
406. I may be wrong. It is the whole issue of
doing a critical review of equipment needs in view of 11 September
as well as a whole variety of issues.
(Lord Bach) The fault is mine. Of course, as I understand
it, the extra chapter is likely to include comments about equipment
need following 11 September and that will of course link in with
what we were saying earlier about the need for the Defence Capability
Initiative to take account across NATO of the world as it is after
11 September in terms of equipment.
(Air Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup) We will clearly encompass
the outcome of the new chapter, when we know it, in our equipment
Chairman: We would prefer to have the Sir Robert
Walmsley of Germany answering the next questions but in the absence
of such a person we will have a deal with you, Sir Robert, because
we are going to have some questions on the A440M.
407. I regret we will not have the time to explore
this subject as deeply as I would have liked. Obviously it follows
seamlessly on from discussions on the Defence Capability Initiative
and the Helsinki goals to talk about A440M and whether or not
the theory of our European partners all pooling in together is
matched with the reality of the sort of commitment in defence
budgets and so on that we would like to see, and I am sure everyone
in the room would like to see. What is the latest position on
Germany's difficulties in signing up to its full A400M commitment?
At what point will you call it a day with the A400M and go with
the solution on which the RAF seems to lobby us constantly which
is to hang on to their lovely C-17 which they seem to love and
want to tell us how much they love at every opportunity.
(Lord Bach) Let me start on this but you are right
to mention Sir Robert in this context because he has been involved
in the, some might say, protracted discussions about A400M for
a long period. Just a word of caution before we get too excited
about this. This is seven or eight countries, depending whether
you count Luxembourg which is part of the Belgium order, in joint
co-operation on what I believe will be an absolutely outstanding
aircraft. It would be ridiculous to suppose that such an aircraft
can come into being without there being difficulties at all stages.
There is bound to be; it is in the nature of the beast, I would
argue. I do not think the Committee or anybody else outside should
get too excited about the fact that it has taken rather longer
than we would have liked. As we understand it, there is no question
about this, the Germans are committed to the A400M project and
we are expecting that the contract will be signed or will come
into effect in the very near future. As we sit here today that
is our expectation.
408. Your memorandum suggested March 2002. I
recall that has been and gone. Is there any indication as to when
that financial commitment might come from the Germans?
(Lord Bach) The financial commitment has come from
the Germans and has satisfied the other partners, which is why
the other partners are in the process of signing up to the agreement
that has been reached. I would hope that we would be able to put
into effect the contract very soon indeed now. Of course, I cannot
resist the comment that one of the reasons for the hold up is
under the German system their Bundestag Committee which is perhaps
in some ways almost equivalent to the HCD but perhaps not the
exact equivalent of the Select Committee, has considerable power
409.We would like those powers, if you
could do anything for us!
(Lord Bach)which although this Committee has
huge powers, it does not at the moment have. There may be some
envy, I do not know, but that is a point just worth making. My
serious point is this: We are absolutely committed to the A400M.
We think it is going to work out and what we have needed, what
everyone has needed, what we all need on these collaborative measures
is one quality and that is patience.
410. I have been very patient. I remember waiting
for the Future Large Aircraft. I was very slim and had a lot of
hair in those days and we seem to be no closer. Patience is something
which I am afraid has been running out. I do not know what the
German word for commitment is. What is it, Sir Robert? Does it
begin with a K or a C? The Germans said they wanted 72, now the
number has been pared down.
(Lord Bach) Their number is still 73.
411. 73? Are they going to sign up to 73, Sir
(Sir Robert Walmsley) Can I say something about the
timetable because I do not want you to think because I was joking
that there is no German word for commitment that we do not in
the MoD at official level and of course at ministerial level take
the urgency of this project extremely seriously. It is also fair
to say it is not just Germany who have not signed unequivocally.
There are two other countries we have to get into the corral,
which simply underlines the difficulty of getting a seven or eight
country partnership under way. As to timetable, I think the question
was "and when will you decide that enough is enough?"
or words to that effect. You underlined that, Chairman, in your
remarks by talking about the urgency of satisfying this requirement
and getting the show on the road. The alternative to the A400M
is the C-17. I think everybody is aware of that. It is my job
to make sure that I have in my back pocket a financial proposal
that we could quickly convert to a contract at a known price for
two C-17s. I have that arrangement in place and it remains valid
for some time to come. The C-17 aircraft can be procured essentially
off the production line. I am sure we could come to an agreement
with the United States Airforce and I am in absolutely no doubt
whatsoever that we can bring C-17s in on the date required by
the Royal Air Force for the A400M. That should be almost beyond
dispute because it took us a year to get the first four from the
moment the decision was announced and it is many years from now
before the A400M is due to come into operational service in the
Airforce. We have got the back door covered against the A400M
collapsing. The much more difficult decision of course is how
long do you continue waiting. What I would say to that, Chairman,
is announcing a deadline in public is simply backing yourself
into a corner when we, the United Kingdom, then have to agree
to other people's conditions. There may well be, as you can imagine,
tiny residual work share issues just between some other nation's
pen and the paper beneath it. We are not going to back ourselves
into a date deadline so that we then have to give some of our
work share to another nation. That would be an example of how
foolish I think it is to announce a date. So long as I have got
this backstop offer in my pocket I do not feel I am running the
Royal Air Force a risk of failing to provide the aircraft they
412. In terms of the capability of European
partners do your counterparts have that deal ready so we are not
the only ones with this capability as we seem to be at the moment?
(Lord Bach) Of course I do not know the answer to
that question. I am clear that we have the most mature back pocket
offer in place. We along with France and Belgium were the ones
who wanted this competition between the C-17 and A400M which is
why we got this offer. We took it to a degree of maturity because
of the seven to nine year lease of the C-17s, which the other
two nations did not. As far as I know, the then five countries
(because Italy was then involved) did not pursue alternative procurement
fall back arrangements. I am quite clear that they will be thinking
in their own minds, "What on earth are we going to do if
the A400M does not work", because with eight countries it
is not solely within one nation's control to make the project
413. With all of the prevarication there seems
to have been with all partners on this project about how many
they want and what they want and so on, it would appear that the
perspective in the price has gone up in that time. To what extent
has this forced you to delay the United Kingdom in-service date
and the level of capability it will have in the first few years
of operation? We are led to believe that some of the capability
will not be there until a little later.
(Sir Robert Walmsley) That is true but that is completely
separate from the delay. The price has gone down a little bit
but what we require is specialist national add-ons. I honestly
cannot remember the detail but it is a tiny proportion of the
aircraft. I think we have made some sensible economies to say
we will not do all that on day one. It is back to the evolutionary
acquisition principleget the plane into service, learn
what it can do and improve it steadily through its life.
414. I am very pleased to hear your comments
and I know that workers at Filton and Broughton will be delighted.
I hope that the MoD can be brought round to being pleased as well
since the excellent performance we have had of the C-17. For our
part are we in the United Kingdom absolutely firm about the number
of aircraft we need? How can you be sure how many we need if you
have not yet worked out its concept of employment in the RAF,
as we have been told. In your memorandum it says: "No decision
has yet been taken on the exact make up of the A400M fleet. The
concept of employment is currently being developed."
(Lord Bach) I do not think any concept of employment
that is being still developed necessarily means that we do not
know how many of these aircraft we will actually need. We have
said for some time now, well before I ever came to the Ministry
of Defence, that 25 was the number that we needed as part of our
(Air Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup) The concept of employment
is more to do with what tasks you are going to use it for, where
it is going to go, and to an extent that will drive the requirement
for special equipment and capabilities on the aircraft itself,
not the aircraft numbers.
415. I hope the A400M proceeds. It was this
Committee that proposed a long long time ago that we should go
down the half Lockheed and half the European option. I still hope
that part of the deal will be feasible but a point may well come,
which I hope it does not, when some very, very serious decisions
are going to have to be made because we went through that process,
Minister, over the Eurofighter which because of delays added very
considerably to the cost and the prime concern is not in my view
the Europeanisation or the Americanisation of it, it is not even
employment, it is what the Royal Air Force requires and I hope
that the various companies and countries engaged in procuring
the A400M will make their decisions in time for the Air Force
to get this heavy lift aircraft it requires.
(Lord Bach) Can I agree with you, Chairman. It is
absolutely about capability; it is not about anything else in
416. Can you let us have a note on why the competition
for the engines was relaunched and whether there was any link
with the Italians withdrawing and so on?
(Sir Robert Walmsley) I do not think I can. I absolutely
do not mean that in an obstructive sense. The decision to relaunch
the competition for the engine was a matter for the private contractor.
If I get involved in that then I have got my fingers deep in a
mangle which I do not want to be anywhere near.
Jim Knight: You need them clean to get in your
back pocket, I know.
417. Mr Jim Crausby on BVRAAM and Meteor. A
nice easy one for you, Minister! Why did you take this job, that
is what I would like to know? Why did you take it on such a ridiculously
low salary? You should be Minister of State. Pass that on to the
Prime Minister please!
(Lord Bach) I do not know if I can tell the Chairman
of the Select Committee that sounds a bit like a kiss of death!
418. The plan was to sign a contract for the
BVRAAM missile for Eurofighter in mid-2001, the MoD selected BMDA's
Meteor in May 2000, so what is the hold-up to getting the Meteor
(Lord Bach) Again a very good question, if I may say
so. I am going to start off my response by saying, very similar
to the response I made on A400M, when in this case six nations
collaborate it is very unlikelyimpossiblethere will
not be difficulties with signatures including some delay. The
reason why it has not been signed yet is because your German equivalent,
or something like it in the German Bundestag, has some decision-making
powers in relation to when and if the German Government signs
first the MOU, which they said they do not want them to sign until
the contract is ready. As I understand it, the draft contract
is absolutely ready. It is now up to this Bundestag committee
to give the go ahead because, as I understand it, the German Government
has renewed its commitment to Meteor and we are waiting to get
that German MOU signature as urgently as you are and we want to
get it before the Federal election recess, which will take place
in the summer leading up to the September elections. So the next
couple of months are absolutely critical and we are putting on
what pressure we can on the German Government in order to get
this signed and Meteor on the road. Of course, the amount of pressure
that one foreign government can put on another country's Parliament
is strictly limited and can be jolly counter-productive unless
you are careful. But that is the reason why this MOU, which has
been signed by all other countries, and the contract that will
follow from it has not been signed. If I have got that wrong or
if there is something that needs to be added to that, again Sir
Robert has been very closely involved with this project.
(Sir Robert Walmsley) I could add any detail you want
but that is the story, that is exactly how the situation is.
419. Can we proceed without the Germans on board?
(Sir Robert Walmsley) No.