Select Committee on Public Accounts Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 300 - 306)



  300. Presumably the costs you would face could be sizable in terms of the loss of performance. The loss of availability for weapon systems could be material if you had a war during that time?
  (Sir Robert Walmsley) What you can do is identify the costs of supporting and running the original equipment for longer, and if that is more expensive you could base your compensation on evaluating what it would then cost, but you would be required to demonstrate it, and it could take some time. What we would like to do is, if we can, agree those beforehand; that would be fine. But if we cannot agree them beforehand what we want is a system where the contractor is forced to do something about it. The attraction of liquidated damages is you claim them as they fall due, at the time, not in some legal case several years downstream.

  (The public gallery was cleared and the Committee went into private session)

  Evidence taken in private


  301. The question I want to put to you requires me to refer to something you raised in closed session once before, Sir Robert. This whole question of the gun requirement on the Eurofighter and the replacement with missile capability I remember vividly. You, and I think it was Mr Tebbit, were telling us about the problems with BVRAAM and the fact that it was a fairly primitive ECM arrangement, chaff I think you called it at the time. One of the concerns that strikes me is that if you are aiming to replace your gun and depend entirely on your missile systems. You are going to have to be very, very confident, indeed, that you can always overcome the ECM capability of your opponent. This is a cycle that the Americans have been through at least once post-war, after the Vietnam War. Can you give us an assurance about this? It certainly does strike me as a fairly short-sighted economy.
  (Sir Robert Walmsley) Could I just talk a bit about the previous session because it was AMRAAM not BVRAAM. It was as recorded in the previous report. It is a fact that the ECM competence of these missiles is something that is quite difficult to demonstrate and tends to be done in models that are verified in the real world. I will ask Vice Admiral Blackham to speak about the gun in a moment, but I would like to say something about the arrangements being put in place on BVRAAM. There are four what we call golden milestones during the BVRAAM development contract, which as a matter of fact we have yet to place, but we are negotiating these things and they are pretty well settled now, which between years, I think, four and six[10] of the development programme require the contractor to demonstrate performance of four features of the weapon, one of them is ECM performance. If the demonstration is failed and the scenarios are agreed then he has 30 days to put forward to us a remedy. We then have 60 days to consider that. If we do not agree to initiate that remedy then 30 days after the 60 we are entitled to terminate the contract and to receive back all payments made to the contractor, including VAT. That is the most ferocious stick that I am aware of that we have ever had in a contract.

  302. I hear what you say. You are right, it was AMRAAM. The point is rather more fundamental than that, that is that ECM technology changes all of the time and you are depending on your ability to stay ahead of that in every sense, including dealing with a moving target in technological terms. Listening to you talk and your supreme confidence in the missile system that you are going to have on this aircraft did not persuade me that the removal of the guns was anything more than an economic factor.
  (Sir Robert Walmsley) I was simply talking about the arrangements for BVRAAM. There is no way the gun would replace BVRAAM, as I am sure you will understand.

  303. What you are arguing from is a very high dependence on the missiles that go with this aircraft.
  (Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) I think, Chairman, it is unfair to ask Sir Robert because it was my decision, not his.

  304. You can explain it.
  (Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) This has been a very difficult issue. We have looked very hard at what the benefits of the gun are, and I am bound to say we have not found very many, not looking at real scenarios. Using our normal analysis techniques for those scenarios we found a number of disadvantages: There is a recoil shock effect on the electronics; there are corrosive effects of exhaust gas; there is additional fatigue in the airframe caused by the use of guns, and there are substantial training programmes to be gone through. We have to ask ourselves very carefully whether those disadvantages are justified by the benefits. Given the range of missilery which we had, given the way in which we expect to fight, and given the nature of the threat which we face and in consultation with the Air Force we have concluded that this is not the best place to spend that money. It is self-evident that in any budget we have choices to make and my job is to make sure that we spend the money on the best capability for defence overall. We are never simply judging something against not having it, we are judging it against what are the other things we can do with this money. Quite rightly within the Defence regime it is where we can get the result for what we spend. We looked at the scenarios. We looked at the ways in which guns have been used and, as I already said, we could find only two instances of an aircraft gun being used in the operations in the last decade.

  305. Which operations?
  (Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) This was in the Gulf.

  306. Is this NATO you are talking about?
  (Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) It is NATO and international operations. The Gulf was a multi-national operation. We found only two instances for two individual days when an A-10 engaged a helicopter. We concluded that the disadvantages outweighed the rather limited benefits in this case and we can spend our money better elsewhere[11].

  Chairman: All right. I would like to see a note on it. There are Air Force officers in the US who made that mistake. We are not challenging your competence, Vice Admiral, I am just worried that we do not see a budget effect on this. Thank you very much, gentlemen, for your time.

10   Note by Witness: These milestones are currently planned between Year 4 and Year 8. Back

11   Note: See Evidence, Appendix 2, page 37 (PAC 00-01/62). Back

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