Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 260 - 279)



Mr Viggers

  260. I recently read an article about concern being expressed over the stability of stealth designed ships. I wonder if this has caused you any concern or whether you noted the comments?
  (Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) As a matter of fact I have no concerns about that. I am clear that this ship will be built not like the Vosper stealth models, it will be a more conventional hull, a development from what we have previously done.

Mr Hancock

  261. Can I just go back to the points you were making on Bowman and the lessons you have learned. Are you absolutely sure you have tested the Type-45 against your new criteria to make sure that what you were seeking was what you were going to get and the customer was actually asking for the right product here bearing in mind the experience of working in co-operation and the whole thing falling apart? There were very good reasons for that happening, I am sure, but we are now left with the Type-45. Are you and Admiral Blackham convinced that this is the product that the navy needs? Is it of the quality that we should have?
  (Sir Robert Walmsley) Let me answer in terms of transferring lessons. The structure we have got in Archer now and the way it works is basically the PAAMS model from the Type-45 programme being imported on to Archer. We do not often have new ideas, we look at ideas that we already have and we transfer them. So there is that connection between the PAAMS success and the Bowman consortium and that has been very important. Is it the right ship? From a solution point of view this ship is built to carry the PAAMS missile. I am absolutely happy that that is the right missile system. Britain has a very good record of building ships. We have perhaps a less glittering record in terms of weapons systems. I have no doubt that we will do this ship well.

  262. As we are talking about ships and I have a constituency or city interest in Vosper Thornycroft, are they involved in any way in the Preparation for Demonstration work?
  (Sir Robert Walmsley) Very much so. We have achieved starting benefits for the Royal Navy and for the Ministry of Defence through the use of competition for ship production. This has not been just grinding down the price, this is innovation, this is doing things in new ways, and nobody more than Vosper's espouse that principle. What they have achieved in terms of productivity improvements on the single role Minehunter order has been most gratifying and they are to be hugely commended for that. As the Chief Executive himself quite cheerfully admits, this is because they had to win the order. So competition does in many ways stimulate innovation. We have learned from that and we will insist on competition for the Type-45. As you know, many years ago it was designated that the first Type-45 would be built at Yarrow. You cannot have a fair competition between one shipyard that has built one and one shipyard that has not. We have worked on that. Although BAE Systems are the prime contractor, having been appointed in November of last year, an absolute condition of that is to involve Vosper's in the design team first of all to give Vosper's absolute transparency on what is going on in terms of designing the ship. It is no good if some cunning component of the design means that it could not be built at Walston, say, because the cranes are not big enough to pick it up. That is a trivial point. One way and another, by having Vosper's present in the design team we will ensure first of all that this ship will be built, can be built, at both shipyards. We are also now moving to quite an interesting idea, that bits of the first ship, which we call intermediate products, that is to say blocks, large chunks of hundreds of tonnes, could be built at Vosper's. We have not settled that yet. We thought that might be quite a neat way of getting them into the construction processes for this ship. People are very good now at moving chunks of ships around on barges, it does not cost anything compared with the actual work of doing the build. That way we think we can envisage a strategy for building these ships where there is competition both for final assembly and to build these intermediate products. I think we might get Vosper's involved in the first one. For sure, there is far deeper involvement by them in this first of class than we ever envisaged for an alternate shipyard.

  Mr Hancock: I think that is excellent news. Your outline of that concept begins to redeem you in some way in my eyes.

  Mr Cann: That is the nicest thing he has ever said to anybody.

Mr Hancock

  263. It will not last, I am sure. What you are actually saying is that the design of the ship is such that it is compatible to be built at Yarrow and at Walston and for that matter at any other suitable British yard if they wish to succeed?
  (Sir Robert Walmsley) The word "suitable", yes, but not any other British yard, no.

  264. Any suitable yard. As a final point on this one, can you tell us how the French and the Italians are doing without us, so to speak? Is their commitment to ships in the water as big today as it was when we were collaborating?
  (Sir Robert Walmsley) My information is that the programme is going on better than as well as can be expected. I was about to say something rather ungenerous. I think they have had some difficulties but my information now is that programme is pretty secure.

  265. You support that?
  (Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) I can speak much more for the French than the Italians but that is my understanding.

  266. If I could just go back to what Peter Viggers asked you about the stealth thing. I am sure I read somewhere recently about the American stealth ship that they have constructed which is a fairly large ship. I understood that the Royal Navy were involved in taking part in some of the trials of that ship.
  (Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) We keep watch on a great deal of American technology and, as I think you know, they are quite generous with it. We are involved in their technology certainly. This is the class of ship that we do not want to build when the technology has been evaluated in five years' time, we want to start building it this year, as Sir Robert has already said.

  267. Are there not some lessons already being learned from the construction of that ship and its performance in the water that leads you to believe that we ought to be incorporating some of the stealth qualities of that ship into the Type-45? As Sir Robert said, it has a very big radar capability which makes the ship in some ways vulnerable.
  (Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) We will incorporate suitable stealth techniques. Obviously I have an interest in the ship being as stealthy as it can be made but, with things like a very high powered large radar, they are going to give themselves away by other means than the design of the radar itself.


  268. On the French and Italian programmes, are their numbers the same as they signed up for with HORIZON?
  (Sir Robert Walmsley) No.

  269. They have reduced them?
  (Sir Robert Walmsley) Yes.

  270. As they might have done with HORIZON?
  (Sir Robert Walmsley) The thought crossed my mind, Chairman.

  Chairman: We really do think alike.

Mr Cann

  271. I want to talk about missiles more than anything else. Is the Type-45 going to be as capable of naval anti-aircraft work as the 42s were, or more so or less so?
  (Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) I hope it is going to be significantly more so.

  272. Is there a case for the design of it to include the capability of land attack missiles, like Tomahawk?
  (Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) There could be. One of the things about the world as it is now, about technology as it is now, is that events can change quite rapidly.

  273. The ships cannot though, can they?
  (Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) They can if you think about it before you start and if you provide space. For example, it is possible to consider launchers for the missiles that can launch more than one kind of missile, and we are thinking about it.

  274. So it is in the specifications that we could reasonably easily mount Tomahawk on these ships?
  (Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) It is not specified that we should but it is certainly one of our intentions that we should be able to do that and, indeed, other things should that turn out to be the right thing to do.

  Mr Cann: Thank you, Chairman.

  Chairman: We will now move on to the carriers and the Future Carrier Borne Aircraft. As you know, we are coming down to visit you, Sir Robert, in Abbeywood on 4 July and, not as born sceptics but as people who have acquired scepticism on the basis of experience, we view this programme as being eminently adjustable by the Treasury in future years. We are absolutely determined to follow progress on an annual basis to ensure that there is no prevarication or being pushed to the right even though obviously we know—there is no need to state it—the Ministry of Defence are totally, totally committed to the programme. So we have a number of questions on this programme and I will ask Julian Lewis to lead on this

Dr Lewis

  275. We understand that not only is the Joint Strike Fighter the preferred option at the moment for future carrier borne aircraft but that the short take-off and vertical landing version of it is preferred additionally. It has been suggested to us, however, that the conventional take-off and landing version is making better progress in development than the short take-off and vertical landing version. Is that correct?
  (Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) I think you are ahead of me, Dr Lewis, because we have not actually made the decision yet as to what the aircraft should be and, in fact, there are about half a dozen potential competitors, of which the Joint Strike Fighter is one. We are not due to make the decision to down select to a single type of aircraft until later this year. When we make that decision that will be a decision whether or not to go with the Joint Strike Fighter programme. There is then a separate issue as to whether, if we do do that, we should go with the VSTOL version or the carrier version which is being developed. The nature of the Joint Strike Fighter programme with both companies who are involved in that competition is that the conventional aircraft will be the first to fly. They are developing both, conventional and vertical take-off aircraft and the VSTOL one will fly later, around the turn of the year I hope. It will be a separate decision as to whether to go for VSTOL or to the carrier version, having first decided whether JSF or something else, a derivative of Eurofighter, the advanced Harriers or F18 or some other aircraft might be the right answer. So we are actually some way from deciding what the aircraft ought to be, although it is true that we have an involvement in the Joint Strike Fighter programme to ensure that we can exert some leverage on it.

  276. We are well aware of the fact that decisions have not yet been taken, indeed one of the later questions I want to put to you is to ask you if you can tell us a little bit about some of the other options that are being considered besides the Joint Strike Fighter. What I am trying to get at here is in terms of JSF having been described as a front runner in this competition. Is it true, as has been indicated to us, that the reason for the differential times in the progress of these two versions of the JSF is a result of problems with the short take-off and vertical landing version, or is it more, as you seem to be implying, that it has always been planned that that version will be coming along further down the line in comparison with the conventional take-off and landing version?
  (Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) Sir Robert may want to add to this. The vertical take-off arrangements for the two candidate JSFs are quite different from each other. One is of a relatively conventional sort and the other is very novel. The programme is not our programme, the programme belongs to the United States and they have determined that it shall run in the order that I have described: conventional aircraft should take off first, which is perhaps not surprising, it is in some ways an easier thing to engineer, and the VSTOL one should come second. No-one should doubt the commitment of the United States to the VSTOL aircraft.

  277. It is not the case then that the VSTOL aircraft has run into problems, it is just planned to come later down the line?
  (Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) Indeed.

  278. Moving on to the JSF programme in general, how well do you think that is progressing? Are there any indications from our membership of the JSF programme that it may have to be delayed? Are there any other problems with the programme of which you might be aware?
  (Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) As I said to the people involved in the programme, that is giving us a considerable amount of leverage. We have agreed a joint operational document with the United States, the UK have, and we are involved in the full details of the programme. This is a new aircraft and it has not yet flown, so we do not yet know what some of the problems might be, but I anticipate that the thing will fly in the summer as planned by both consortia. I visited both factories myself about two months ago and came away rather heartened.

  279. I am glad you are heartened and I do not wish to be a Jeremiah but we also have to consider what happens if things do not go according to plan. Supposing there were to be a delay in the JSF programme, a significant delay, what would the effect of that be on our Future Carrier-Borne Aircraft programme and, perhaps more important than that, on the Future Carrier programme itself?
  (Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) If the JSF were significantly delayed quite clearly it would be available to us later. I think that is obvious. I have no reason to suppose it will be and we are not going to be the determiners in that, there are far bigger interests involved than ours in this programme. I am pretty confident that a huge amount of effort will go into keeping it on track. Indeed, the Programme Director of the JSF, who is a US Marine Corp General, is one of the most energetic people that I have come across. I can see no reason why this programme should be markedly different from others, but of course there is a degree of risk in it. From our point of view the design of the new carrier depends pretty critically on the aircraft that we select and on the type of aircraft that we select. In other words, is it a conventional take-off or a vertical one? We will have to make that decision in the not too distant future. Obviously if there is a serious delay to the VSTOL aircraft, having selected that particular version, this could give us difficulties which we will have to manage but we are used to managing risky programmes, indeed we have been talking about it for the last couple of days.

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