Examination of witnesses (Questions 20-39)|
WEDNESDAY 2 MAY 2001
WALMSLEY KCB AND
20. You are talking about modifications for
(Sir Robert Walmsley) Yes and wrapping up communications
21. Before I turn to my third question, I have
another one to put to you. I think you have already answered this
by implication, but perhaps you can give us a direct answer. Which
would suit us better, the short-take-off-and-vertical-landing
aircraft or the conventionally operated aircraft? Presumably the
answer is the short-take-off-and-vertical-landing aircraft.
(Sir Robert Walmsley) I have opinions on that but
it would be better if you heard from the authoritative source.
(Vice-Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) A great deal depends
on whether the short-take-off version turns out to perform as
we expect it to, but we have already covered that point. You can
argue both ways. Both versions have advantages and disadvantages.
In brief, STOVL aircraft can be operated in circumstances of shortage
of sea-room or wind conditions that prevent you from operating
the conventional version. You have a lower training volume. The
conventional aircraft carries a greater payload, both in terms
of weapons and in terms of its range. So it can cut both ways.
We are carrying out a great deal of analysis to see. Of course,
we have expressed a strong interest in the STOVL programme because
that is where we are today, with the existing carrier aircraft.
I think we would need some strong evidence to change our position,
but I believe it would be unwise of us to commit ourselves until
we knew whether the STOVL version worked.
22. My final question brings together these
matters and subsequent matters on the carrier programme and the
issue of costs. There has been a string of reports in the papers
and well-authenticated leaks that there is a great deal of pressure
on the MoD's LTCs at the moment. In particular, a lot four or
five years out. How much of that comes down to the inability of
Smart procurement to deliver the savings expected and how much
of it comes down to a straightforward shortage in overall totals?
If there is to be a difficult trade-off between equipment and
personnel, there is not a lot to play with on either side of the
(Sir Robert Walmsley) Smart procurement delivered
a £2 billion saving to the LTCs when we completed the Strategic
Defence Review. We are now working hard in the project teams to
deliver further savings and we have targets for doing that year
on year. I do not remember a time during my professional career
when the MoD equipment budget was not under pressure, whether
during the Cold War climate or not. We have always had more things
on which to spend money than we have had money. I shall leave
Admiral Blackham to discuss that. He allocates the resources to
the equipment programmes.
(Vice-Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) I agree with what
Sir Robert has said. It is worth sayingperhaps here I am
slightly departing from what he saidthat there has been
a change since the end of the Cold War, which happens to coincide
with some other changes. There is a greater degree of change in
the world and we are conducting a live laboratory, if you like,
in doing operations, and we are learning lessons about the equipment
that we have and the sort of thing that we want to do. There is
a step change in the rate of technology developments, particularly
in the communications software. That means that we shall always
be looking to address the lessons that we have learned or to address
the technology changes. That is bound to create further pressure
on any budget. We are always happy to look and to ask ourselves
how we can get in to our programmes something that is new and
more desirable as a result of lessons learned and we ask ourselves
whether it is more important than some of the things that we have
and adjust the programme accordingly. I think that kind of pressure
is likely to accelerate.
23. The overall shoe is getting even tighter
on parts of the foot, is it not?
(Vice-Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) I am not sure that
I agree with that. The budget that has been announced publicly
has a real terms increase. We are planning to spend more on equipment
this time round than we did last time.
24. That is a very ministerial-type answer.
(Vice-Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) I am getting towards
the end of my first career so perhaps I should look at a second!
25. I am afraid you are not going to be a People's
Peer! To what extent have you thought about the mix between air
defence and ground attack capabilities in the future carrier-borne
(Vice-Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) Do you mean the
defence of the carrier itself?
(Vice-Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) A great deal. If
you forgive me, I shall give a slightly lengthy answer.
27. That is very ministerial too.
(Vice-Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) You can tell me
to shorten it if you wish. It is important to understand that
we approach all these issues from what we call a capability approach.
That is to say that all the time we ask ourselves what we are
trying to do and not what we want to own and to operate. So we
are looking at the various scenarios of those operations and asking
ourselves what are we trying to achieve. Having answered that
question we have to look at ways in which that may be done. Invariably,
there are several ways of doing it and probably by using assets
from more than one environment. There is a balance to be struck.
In the case of the aircraft mix on the aircraft carrier, we have
created the Joint Harrier Force precisely in order to give us
the kind of flexibility that different scenarios demand. Any given
operation with air defence and ground attack, both of which roles
the JSF will be able to conduct extremely well, will depend on
the nature of the operation and will vary from time to time. I
do not believe that I can give you a precise answer to that at
all. I am saying that we can adjust the balance to the nature
of the operation; what are called tailored air groups.
28. Will the STOVL design be able to accommodate
(Vice-Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) The Hawkeye? I
am going to revert back to the capability approach again. The
Hawkeye aircraft is one way of providing air-warning information
to an aircraft carrier but the product that the carrier commander
needs is information. He does not necessarily need a Hawkeye.
He may or may not want the aircraft to be based on board. The
question I am asking the maritime operators is, what is it that
you want to know and when do you want to know it. Then we shall
look at the entire intelligence and surveillance infrastructure
that we are developing and ask ourselves whether that will answer
the question or whether we need to do something else to answer
it. Having done that, we then have to ask ourselves whether that
is best done by rotorcraft or Hawkeye, and if the answer is Hawkeye
that is likely to have an impact on the design of the aircraft
carrier because it is a conventional take-off aircraft and quite
a big one too. If we come to that conclusion, which would be independent
of the variant of JSF that we picked, we would have to arrange
the aircraft carrier so that it could operate it.
29. It must be difficult to design an aircraft
carrier if you do not know what is going on it. When are you going
to calibrate your demands for the type of aircraft with the design
of the carrier?
(Sir Robert Walmsley) I do not believe that we should
allow ourselves to slip into that way of thinking. I do not think
that it is difficult to design a 50,000 tonne aircraft carrier,
with an in-service date of 2012 against the uncertainty of the
aircraft in 2001. Most of the modifications that will be required
will be close to the top of the ship. I do not think that we should
get ourselves too hooked up on the intricacies of the aircraft
interface at the moment. That will need to be settled, but it
is not that difficult to run a twin-track strategy which is what
the project teams are doing.
30. It would be a problem if it were a little
bit short. They would have to take your advice that the aircraft
to be put on it were capable of taking off and landing.
(Sir Robert Walmsley) That is to do with the designing
and not to do with how long it takes or how difficult it is. That
is just to do with making sure that the ship is long enough.
31. So there are no major problems on that.
Perhaps we can turn to the carrier. The two bidders for the future
carrier are now approaching the end of their phase-one assessment
studies. Can you tell us something of their proposals? Are they
both providing indicative designs for both a STOVL-capable and
a conventionally-capable vessel? Do you have that information
and how much are you prepared to disclose to the Committee?
(Sir Robert Walmsley) I believe that there have been
over 300 specific deliverables from each of the teams, which shows
a huge range of information. Quite frankly, Chairman, even if
I had read them all, I probably would not understand them myself.
However, what I can say is that we have started to see the impact
of an electric ship on the freedom to move around components that
previously had been enormously constrained by the fact that we
had long propeller shafts. You had to put the engines in a particular
place and you had to have huge ventilation trunking to get the
air down to them and the exhaust gases away. Part of the reason
for going to electric propulsion is to ensure that we can design
with an electricity generator in one place and the power is distributed
through electric cables to a motor that is quite close to where
the shaft leaves the hull. You begin to see the impact of that,
as we predicted, and it looks to be a good thing. Secondly, we
have been really keen to understand the through-life cost implications
of everything. We have begun to understand the cost-drivers. That
is why we are keeping a very careful, but cautious eye on potential
developments in catapult launch such as electro-magnetic catapult
launch which looks as though it could be cheaper, but we are not
interested in anything cheaper unless we knownot thinkthat
it will work. We are always looking for ways in which to save
money through-life. That is part of the new culture and we understand
the cost-drivers and the shape of the ship. We are beginning to
see options for trade-off between performance and capability,
including size. We remember that actually steel and air are not
a great cost and we want to ensure that the ship is not, so to
speak, shrink-wrapped around the aircraft. It must be big enough
to make them easily handled and to generate reasonably economic,
through-life maintenance costs.
32. Are all proposals within the indicative
cost ceiling that you have set for the vessel?
(Sir Robert Walmsley) At this stage we do not have
cost ceilings against all the proposals. They are much more technically
orientated. We have spent only £5 million with each of the
two contractors at the moment. I think five-sixths of the assessment
phase work will be with the contractor in Phase 2 and is still
to take place.
33. How much do you think that the companies
are having to put in for the privilege of bidding for our contract?
Is it much of their own money? Are they prepared to keep this
rolling on for a protracted process before eventually you advise
the Cabinet or the Prime Minister on making a decision?
(Sir Robert Walmsley) They do not have to put in any
money. I am quite clear in my mind that they will choose to do
so. One of the reasons for them doing so is to ensure that they
can offer us the best proposition and enhance their chances of
winning the competition. There is a risk in asking companies to
do too much at their own expense, just in case they suddenly get
cold feet and walk away from the situation. It is not a good tactic
on my part to raise it, but I simply remember the Yeoman and Crossbow
consortia where eventually the companies got cold feet about the
amount of money that they were investing and decided to put them
together. I think we have safeguarded our position in that respect
by getting a commitment from the two groups to sustain competition.
You cannot force a company to invest money in a proposal. We have
to be alert to that issue.
34. They have not given you an indication of
how much they are putting in, have they?
(Sir Robert Walmsley) They do give me indications,
but mostly I read about it in the papers.
35. You do not ask?
(Sir Robert Walmsley) I have asked and they will not
tell me so that is interesting too.
36. Do all the designs envisage meeting your
standard of being able to generate 150 sorties a day?
(Sir Robert Walmsley) Certainly they do.
37. In terms of the size of carrier, I thought
that one of you said 50,000 tonnes.
(Sir Robert Walmsley) I did.
38. Was that a slip of the tongue or is that
a little bit of weight inflation?
(Sir Robert Walmsley) It is purely a round number
between 0 and 100,000.
39. About 50,000 tonnes as opposed to 40,000
(Sir Robert Walmsley) I am quite happy with 40,000
tonnes if you like, Chairman. Fifty aircraft usually means between
20,000 to 50,000 tonnes. If I am wrong I shall be delighted. I
have made the point about not shrink-wrapping the aircraft. We
shall make sure that the carrier is big enough to handle the aircraft
efficiently in the hangar. The difficulty in the hangar of an
aircraft carrier is in moving the aircraft because there is not
enough space. That causes the engineers more trouble than actually
fixing the planes.