Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 300 - 303)



  300. We are visiting the Italian Defence Ministry shortly so we shall pass on your message to them. I am interested in the concept of wild card questions and the winner is Mr Viggers who was not here yesterday. He is going to ask a question you could not possibly have anticipated for this morning's session.
  (Sir Robert Walmsley) WEAG you do not want to know about, Chairman, is that right? You asked me about that.

  301. Oh, yes, WEAG.
  (Sir Robert Walmsley) The Western European Armaments Group involves the WEU nations plus, I think I will get this right, three observers: Austria, Sweden and Finland. Rather curiously, just as we see the umbrella treaty begin to pass into the deep freeze at the last WEAG meeting, which was in Porto just nine days ago, Sweden and Finland and Austria, all with various degrees of firmness, expressed their intention to join WEAG. So I think it is a flourishing organisation because people see it as the father of the potential European Armaments Agency. WEAO, the Western European Armaments Organisation, is a body whose legal personality derives from the WEU Treaty which allows it to place research contracts. It is the only field in which it operates. The present situation is we are not quite sure how these bodies will find a new, so to speak, home in the new environment you describe. Pro tem there is no difficulty with retaining the WEU Treaty as the legal basis for those organisations continuing until we find a better home for them and that is what we are thinking about.

Mr Viggers

  302. The Defence Committee meeting yesterday clashed with a meeting I was due to go to with my leader, William Hague, and also tea with my constituents. I know where the true power lies so, of course, I was having tea with my constituents. That is why I would like, if I may, to ask a question about the Eurofighter-Typhoon Mauser cannon. I feel very concerned about this. I know that the concern is shared by many in the Royal Air Force. I think the decision to eliminate the cannon from the Eurofighter Typhoon is a mistake. It is a multi-role aircraft and its roles, of course, include ground attack as well as air to air. Whilst it does have missiles it is possible, of course, to divert missiles and, indeed, we are ourselves procuring a towed decoy to fox missiles and to seek to divert them. As the role of the Ministry of Defence in foreign affairs changes I can envisage very many circumstances in which a pilot would wish to have a gun on his aircraft, many circumstances in which a gun would be extremely useful. The F4 Phantom was procured without a gun and it was retrofitted at considerable expense. The Lightning fighter was procured without a gun and it was retrofitted at considerable expensive. On current procurement the French are fitting guns on the Rafale, the Russians are fitting guns on their Sukhoi 27 and Mig 29. The Chinese have guns on their aircraft. The United States are even fitting guns on their F22 Stealth Fighter. Our partners in the Eurofighter Typhoon project, Germany, Italy and Spain, are fitting guns on their Typhoons. Therefore, I put it to you that the deletion of the gun from the British Eurofighter-Typhoon is clearly a bad decision and one which in due course will have to be rectified. I put that to you, Admiral, as a rhetorical question. I do not expect you to change your mind but I am glad to have the opportunity of putting that question on the record.
  (Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) Thank you. No, I have not changed my mind.


  303. Since yesterday afternoon.
  (Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) Since yesterday afternoon. One of my staff, Air Vice Marshall Nicoll, wrote to the newspapers, you may have seen this letter, in which he explained what he very generously claimed was his decision but of course it was not it was mine, so I have to be accountable for it. I must say that I have more difficulty in seeing where such a weapon would be used and perhaps more importantly my RAF 2 Star has even more difficulty than I do in seeing where it should be used and does not have any difficulty with the notion we should dispense with the gun. I think a number of things have changed of late but perhaps the most important thing that has changed is that we have now got a very much higher level of confidence in our missile technology than we used to have and we are procuring a missile, the ASRAAM, specifically for short range combat. I think that is a very important change in recent years, we have got a much better confidence in our missile technology. As far as ground attack is concerned, we have a range of other options for ground attack which we are constantly reviewing. We are looking, indeed, at quite a complex programme of ground attack of all ranges from short to very long for which we are providing a range of weapons. We do not envisage the Eurofighter having a role as a ground attack striking aircraft.

  Dr Lewis: A brief comment. You will recall, Admiral, I was taking a very similar line to Mr Viggers yesterday and I would like to endorse wholly everything he has said today. I am not an expert on technical matters, as I have often pointed out, but I do know something about military history and I think military history is littered with examples of wars and conflicts which take on a different form from any which were anticipated in advance. I really would urge you to reconsider the degree of assurance that you seem to have at a time when we are moving away from set-piece large-scale war-type planning towards, as I said yesterday, expeditionary planning, to reconsider this view that just because you cannot at the moment envisage a scenario where a weapon of this sort might be useful, that such a scenario may not easily come to pass over the anticipated lifetime of the Eurofighter-Typhoon. I would urge you to reconsider.

  Chairman: Perhaps you could send us a copy or a sanitised version, if you wish, of some of the documents to counter the arguments used. Without being exceptionally critical, this is one occasion where I think I agree with the Ministry of Defence. I can envisage a scenario where a gun would be used, an aircraft shot down in the jungle, a pilot on his own being attacked by the locals. He cannot use a missile. He feels like defeating Baron Von Richtoven but frankly, in deference to my colleague, if a gun is required then I feel that is an aircraft lost, his range is too short. Your adversary is far more likely to have more serious weaponry than we would have. Frankly, although I would like to see the document, it is to convince my Conservative colleagues rather than me. Thank you so much for coming. It has been a very informative and very frank and sometimes not heated but there were slight disagreements between us. I do appreciate the frankness with which you have spoken to the Committee. Thank you very much.

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