Select Committee on Public Accounts Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 50 - 79)



  60. What you are saying is that you needed the upgraded weapon for the Balkans crisis because the original weapon was no good but in actual fact you did not actually get the upgraded weapon to fight in the Balkans because it did not arrive in time. The conflict was over by the time the weapon came.
  (Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) That is one way of characterising what I am saying. What I actually said was that we found in the Kosovo operation that we operated under a different doctrine from that for which the weapon had been designed. So the need to upgrade the weapon was a lesson learned from the Kosovo campaign. As I am sure you would expect, we go to great trouble to analyse the lessons and try to learn from them. This is a lesson which was learned.

  61. How much did this cost us?
  (Sir Robert Walmsley) There are two components to it. There is the main procurement and the operational requirement. The main procurement was £11 million and I think the urgent operational requirement, designed to replace stocks which we would have used in the Kosovo conflict, was about £8.5 million making £19.5 million in all. We are now beginning to think that these weapons may not be phased out when Brimstone comes into service because of their usefulness against soft skinned targets. There is a long term prospect for it.

  62. The solution now is to buy Maverick missiles as a stop gap measure until the new system is found.
  (Sir Robert Walmsley) Until Brimstone comes in. Maverick will have a continuing utility. We did talk earlier on about the importance of rules of engagement and the need for pilots positively to identify targets. Maverick, although it has a long range, of up to 25 kilometres, can be used by the pilot of course down to a one kilometre range and he can positively identify the target, he can designate the target and can then launch the Maverick. That is extremely suitable in some very restrictive rules of engagement scenarios.

  63. I am glad you have said that because the Maverick has been around as long as the BL755, has it not?
  (Sir Robert Walmsley) Yes, but we are now onto Maverick version G2.

  64. The Maverick was not good enough originally, was it?
  (Sir Robert Walmsley) Because it was a completely different missile.

  65. We use it 20 years later because we have not developed it.
  (Sir Robert Walmsley We are now on version G2 and it works like the alphabet. I think it goes A, B, C, D, E, F, G. The Maverick is not the Maverick it was 20 years ago.

  66. The point I am trying to make is that here we are 20 years on from commissioning a weapon which is now out of date and we are having to use another weapon which was originally thought not to be good enough because we have been so slow in developing a weapon to replace the Brimstone.
  (Sir Robert Walmsley) We never thought Maverick was not good enough.

  67. You would not buy it.
  (Sir Robert Walmsley) We thought it was not necessary to buy it because the Brimstone was going to be coming along so relatively soon after we had recognised the possible need to purchase a missile system for delivering anti-tank guided weapons.

  68. One thing in the report which annoyed me was the excuse that because something has not been developed—I am not saying through incompetence—that has saved the British taxpayer money. All the way through the report we get the feeling that an excuse is being made that you are 20 years late but it has saved the taxpayer £28 million. On that premise we should never have moved away from the bow and arrow. Think of the amount of money it would have saved. Presumably you cannot have a defence system which comes so late that it is actually at the end of the day no good because that is what we have here basically in three of these things and I have not had time to go onto the next one.
  (Sir Robert Walmsley) You have heard nothing from me which would suggest that I am pleased that we deliver weapons systems late. Quite a lot of this report is about the cost consequences of the things being delivered late and it is right that one tries to work out the totality of those cost consequences, not just some of them. I very much regret if you feel that is giving a suggestion that we think it is a good thing that things should be late. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Mr Williams

  69. When you said that the TRIGAT was ten years or so out of date you were being rather economical with the calendar, were you not?
  (Sir Robert Walmsley) Not intentionally.

  70. The NAO seem to know. You ought to have a word with them before you come here. They were able to tell us that in 1979 the United Kingdom committed to the collaborative medium range TRIGAT programme. That was 1979. We are now at the stage where there is uncertainty about whether the programme will ever go ahead and even if it did, there would be likely to be significant and unacceptable further delays in the service date of 2005. That is a bit different from ten years, in fact I make it 26 years. Can I just put it to you that if at the end of the First World War your department had started to design this weapon, it would have come into use in the last year of the Second World War if it came into operation at all. That is a bit different from what you told Mr Steinberg, is it not?
  (Sir Robert Walmsley) Two points. First of all, I was asked when this weapon was first conceived and I said it was very hard to know. Certainly you will recognise that it is conceived a long time before we sign up to an international programme. I do not know when it was conceived. The second point is that I was talking about out of date in the sense of its ability to discharge its operational function. What I am saying is that the weapon would be about ten years out of date. I am not saying that it did not start 26 years ago. I am saying: what would the technology have looked like? I think ten years ago the TRIGAT technology would have looked pretty stunning; it would have looked pretty smart.

  71. It is the same when we look at the destroyer. We find there that you have now announced to us today that the information we have . . . In fact the Vice Admiral actually said that he would never send a ship to sea without a sonar. With respect, Vice Admiral, I suspect that is not actually 100 per cent true because up until 20 November, which was when this report was published, that would seem to be precisely what you intended to do.
  (Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) It was certainly not what I intended to do.

  72. Then why is it in the report?
  (Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) It was the case that when the report was written we had not yet solved the question as to how we were going to be able to find and afford a sonar within the timescale of the first three ships. We now believe we have solved that problem.

  73. Is that not remarkable? We must bring you here more often. It could be that your arms programme could take enormous leaps forward if we had you here once a month. Here we have a report which envisages that you are sending these three ships to sea without a sonar and then seven weeks later, lo and behold, you are going to send it to sea with a sonar and you have the lads around the scrapyards looking to see which sonar you are going to fit on it.
  (Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) I do not think the last sentence was exactly what I said. If I could indeed go from scratch to producing a plan to fit a sonar in seven weeks, then I think I would deserve a very large bonus.

  74. Yes; so do I. So that comes back to why in that case this report was agreed in this form. That is something you can write to us to explain, but it needs explaining[3]. There are other things about it. Paragraph 3.14 tells us that these destroyers will not only go without sonar, they will go without improved command and control. I do not know what that means, but I assume it means that they are less effective than you would like them to be. They go without situational awareness. Does that mean they actually do not know where they are? What does that mean? They will go without interoperability functions. In times of coordinated warfare, it seems to me that these are not insignificant absences in the capability of this new ship. What do you have to say about it?

  (Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) It is not in the least bit unusual, even if it is regrettable, that when the first ship of class enters service we do not have, and proved, the full range of its systems. This ship has been resurrected from the ashes of the CNGF in an extraordinarily short space of time and a great deal of work has gone on in the 12 months or so and is continuing to go on whilst we try to refine what is available, what we can do with the money we are prepared to make available for this vessel and the timing we have. I would not be at all surprised to discover that we can solve some of these problems in between now and the entry into service of both the first of class and a later member of the class. It is not in the least bit unusual.

  75. Even when it does have its guns, it says here in paragraph 3.15, "the . . . main gun armament meets some, but not all, of the Navy's requirements". This really does sound as though you created a platform but what you do not have are the appropriate things to put on that platform.
  (Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) We do have a gun to put on the platform. One of the things my organisation has been established to do is to take a view across the whole of the defence activity and to conduct balance of investments across that. It may be that the naval gun is a principal contributor to naval gun fire support for the Army. Therefore in my organisation it lies within an Army area, what we call battlefield engagement, to decide how this is best conducted. Balance of investment exercises have been conducted to look at the range of weapons, shipborne, airborne and landborne which can contribute to fire support for the troops. The reason why we have not started that balance of investment earlier is because we only stood up as an organisation in October 1999. When we have the answer to that balance of investment we shall know what the best mix of weapons, airborne, seaborne and landborne, is to provide the appropriate fire support for our troops.

  76. That is very different from what the report says about going without resources. It is the same, is it not Sir Robert, with BOWMAN. A communications system should not, for pity's sake, be beyond the capability of our arms support industry. I think most other countries have secure communications systems. Yet here we are where we are going to order, with BOWMAN already 12 years late, something for the next couple of years which will make us not insecure. If I remember correctly, during the Kosovo campaign[4], it was said that the communications of the Tornado aircraft were not secure. It is ludicrous, is it not?

  (Sir Robert Walmsley) I cannot justify the position, beyond saying that there is no country in the world which can offer us an off-the-shelf military communications system which fully meets the BOWMAN requirement. Every country which is a serious defence player is trying to introduce a system which confers what is called digitisation. It is back to the situational awareness point.

  77. May I put it to you that you can answer these individual cases with explanations which are in some cases credible, in some cases barely credible, as you can appreciate, from a layman's point of view with the knowledge of ship architecture which I share with my colleague. I look over a series of hearings which we have had. You sent aircraft to fight Milosevic's tanks with cluster bombs which were no good against tanks, indeed you having told us that they had the cluster bombs to attack the tanks, there was an exchange of correspondence to explain the difference of viewpoint and the Permanent Secretary said that you would not use cluster bombs against tanks because they are no good against them, they are only good against soft sided vehicles. Where are we? The cluster bomb was brought in in 1972. Here we are nearly 30 years later, our troops have just had to fight in a war situation using weapons which are no good against the enemy's main armaments.
  (Sir Robert Walmsley) I cannot explain too many times how much I regret that Brimstone is late.

  78. It is not regrets I am asking for. Let me tell you where I am going because I am getting rather angry about the situation. It seems to me that the success of the Ministry of Defence in bringing defence systems on stream is somewhat lacking. You told us today about something which could not operate when the sun came out or when the sun came out from behind a cloud. The last but one time you were here, you told us about the naval air defence radar 996. Do you remember that? We all remember 996. It was okay as long as the Russians only fought us when it was dry because the 996 air defence radar was susceptible to damp and you had been warned of that. There is another. We had our cluster bombs to go to fight Milosevic's tanks, you have your air defence radar which is okay as long as the Russians agreed only to fight us on dry days, you had the Sterling rifle; for over ten years our troops were being given Sterling rifles when you knew that they were of doubtful capability in extremes of temperature, be it very hot or very cold. I have a whole series here where we are told of all these wonderful systems, but they just do not seem to work or they do not work yet.
  (Sir Robert Walmsley) Yet at the same time Tomahawk was used in the Kosovo war. We started the procurement of that in 1994. It demonstrated its operational capability in December 1998 and was used a few months later. There are successes. It happened to the day as planned. I think you meant the SA80, not the Sterling. We did realise there were problems with it and that is why we set about a process of modifications. We did not realise until too late, that is probably true, but on the other hand the problems were not experienced for many years, but they were experienced.

  79. It would have been too late if the Russians had come, would it not?
  (Sir Robert Walmsley) As far as Russians coming and wet days are concerned, it was the ship's internal air conditioning system with the 996 which had moisture in it. It was nothing to do with the weather.

3   Note: See also Q152 and footnote. Back

4   Note: See Evidence, Appendix 1, page 36 (PAC 00-01/170). Back

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