Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 80 - 99)



Mr Gapes

  80. May I ask you about the decisions about airlift? As you are aware, the Ministry of Defence has had a long-term airlift requirement which was for 45 future large aircraft or their equivalent in C-17s or C-130Js. Last week the Secretary of State's welcome announcement said that 25 A400Ms would be purchased. Can you explain why the requirement was reduced from 45 to 25?
  (Vice-Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) I think we said the requirement was for up to 45 future large aircraft. What we have been doing is a great deal of balance work and as a matter of interest we are trying to replace 51 Hercules C-130Ks. We have already purchased 25 C-130Js.


  81. Are they operational now? I did not realise that.
  (Vice-Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) No, not yet, but nor have any of the C-130Ks gone out of operation yet either.

  82. When is the air force actually going to have them.
  (Vice-Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) It has some now and they are entering service. There has even been a ceremony to celebrate the arrival.

  83. I wish I had known; I would have come. When are the Hercules C-130Js going to be deployed. Could you let us know?
  (Vice-Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) I am afraid I shall have to get back to you with a date on that.[3]

Mr Gapes

  84. When you said "up to 45", 25 is a fair way up from 25 to 45, is it not?

  (Vice-Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) Yes. If I may continue, the 25 A400Ms will carry a great deal more than the 25 Hercules they are replacing, around one and a half times more. So the total amount of airlift available would be significantly greater than it is today. Of course airlift is not the only issue when you are putting a force into some part of the world, not even if it is the Joint Rapid Reaction Force. There is a whole range of equipment and stores which require sealift as well, so we have to achieve a balance between the two. We have to achieve the most sensible balance in the light of the programme as a whole. That balance of investment work, which is one of the important things my organisation was set up to do, has been going forward and we concluded that the right answer, assuming the other parts of the lift, both air and sea, is 25 A400Ms.

  85. Will these 25 be enough to move the Joint Rapid Reaction Force?
  (Vice-Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) The question is not capable of being answered in that way. No aircraft would be enough to move the Joint Rapid Reaction Force because it consists also of tanks and other heavy items which will have to go by sea. It will be enough to ensure that the lead elements of the Joint Rapid Reaction Force can be supplied by air.

  86. If we were deploying the Joint Rapid Reaction Force, over what timescale would such a deployment be possible and how would that compare with the current time it would take to deploy it?
  (Vice-Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) I am afraid I am going to give a rather vague answer again because the Joint Rapid Reaction Force is a large golfbag of forces and those forces add a whole range of different relevances ranging from 48 hours out to a number of days. The elements you select will obviously depend on the operation you envisage and whom you are doing it with and so forth and what elements you have agreed to contribute. The Joint Rapid Reaction Force as a whole may never be deployed anywhere in any circumstances or indeed it may be deployed in three or four different places with different clubs being selected for the purpose. To specify how the Joint Rapid Reaction Force might be moved and in what timescale, apart from deciding where this is and what distance it is at, which is a pretty critical part of any sum like that, is not really something we would engage in. We are trying to answer the question: can we deploy the lead elements, the ones at high readiness, in the timescale of their readiness? The answer is that we shall be able to do so when we have acquired those aircraft.

  87. Let us concentrate then on the heavy stuff. You mentioned tanks. Clearly if we need to deploy things which are heavy, we still would be requiring transport by sea of this heavier equipment.
  (Vice-Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) Yes.

  88. Does that mean that there is not really much flexibility for deploying heavier follow-on forces by air under this requirement?
  (Vice-Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) We have not envisaged deploying those sorts of elements by air and of course it is easier to look at a tank but a tank by itself will not achieve very much; it is usually a squadron or a regiment or brigade of tanks. That also spawns a need for a range of other recovery equipment, fuelling equipment and so forth, all of which is, in terms of its weight and numbers, not suitable for airlift, which is why of course we are providing sealift. Obviously if, as time goes by, we can find faster forms of sealift, and that is a gleam in a range of people's eyes, that will affect the balance between air and sea possibly and it would improve our ability to get things quickly to various parts of the world. We will always need a range of sealift to take the heavy equipment.

  89. As I understand it we are leasing these four C-17s and they can carry tanks.
  (Vice-Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) They can carry one tank each.

  90. As long as we have the C-17s, presumably we could then get heavier equipment into theatre than we shall be able to once the lease has ended.
  (Vice-Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) A C-17 could take one tank, but as I have already said, a tank by itself is not up to much. You have to have a range of other equipment and that was not a factor in our decision to acquire C-17s.

  91. You are not concerned that we would lose the capability to move heavier equipment with a C-17 once the lease had come to an end?
  (Vice-Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) No. If I could move a whole regiment of tanks and their supporting equipment by air, that would be a very convenient thing to do, but I cannot see that is ever going to be a practical proposition. No, I am not worried. It was never part of the early requirement that we should be able to do that.

  92. You do not see a need in the long term for rapid deployment of heavy armour and main battle tanks.
  (Vice-Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) I do and the way I should like to do it would be by fast ship.

  93. Only by fast ship.
  (Vice-Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) Yes, because of the weight of numbers you can get in in a single day lift.

  94. Are you doing any work on the possibility of deploying tanks by air, either in terms of aircraft or by reducing the weight of tanks so they would be more easily deployable?
  (Vice-Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) It is certainly something I am interested in. Clearly there are two parts to deployability: one is the vehicle to deploy things in and the other is a deployable vehicle. If we could solve the problem of having tanks with the same level of protection as they now have but weighing much less, that would be highly desirable. Work is going on in the United States in that area and we are earnestly watching it.

  95. Only in the United States.
  (Vice-Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) As far as I am aware and we are watching it.
  (Sir Robert Walmsley) I would just say that one of those programmes with the United States is the TRACER programme which is for a much lighter vehicle; it weighs about one third of what a main battle tank weighs.

  96. As things stand we are not really able to deploy tanks or heavier equipment by air for the foreseeable future.
  (Vice-Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) No, and we are not alone in that regard.

Mr Cann

  97. At the moment I think we have a very good operation on the ground in Sierra Leone where we have put a spearhead battalion on the ground, the SAS, a company of Gurkhas, we have ships at sea with marines on board, a perfect operation as far as I can see to date, touch wood. What do we want to buy all these aircraft for? Why can we not keep leasing Antonovs and things like that? Has that been gone into? I am not one to argue for privatisation but it does seem to me that this has been achieved in the power projection way that the Government wanted through the SDR, so why do we have to invest in all these aircraft? Please prove me wrong.
  (Vice-Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) As you rightly said, there are some Antonovs on the market now. The A400M is going to be in service in 2030 or 2040, which is probably beyond the Antonov's life. The Antonov was obviously something we considered carefully in assessing our short-term requirement, the one for which we have just announced the lease of four C-17s. I am slightly treading on CDP's toes here but the Antonov has some significant disadvantages when compared with the C-17. In particular it is not nearly as manoeuvrable on the runway and therefore requires much more airport area for a much longer period of time than does the C-17 and therefore in terms of fast deployments in operational situations it is less effective and less efficient than the C-17.

  98. Could we keep leasing the C-17s?
  (Vice-Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) We are leasing the C-17 now, but our requirement does not demand the lift of tanks, which is why the A400M, which has been designed specifically to meet our requirement, is in fact ideal.

Mr Gapes

  99. If we do not need the capability of the C-17, why are we leasing C-17s?
  (Vice-Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) Because we do not have A400Ms today.

3   See p 93 Q5. Back

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