Select Committee on Public Accounts Minutes of Evidence


Supplementary memorandum submitted by the Defence Procurement Agency 00-01/62)

Question 206. Time and Cost Approvals and Forecasts for three Projects which recently passed Main Gate

  1.  The table below sets out the costs and ISDs approved at Main Gate, based upon 90 per cent probability values, and the forecast costs and ISDs at that time, based upon 50 per cent probability values. Costs are full resource costs at outturn prices including VAT, except for the Future Transport Aircraft that are cash costs at outturn prices including VAT. The approval for that project was given in cash terms and the conversion to full resource costs has not yet been completed.

Cost (£ million) ForecastApproval
ISD Forecast Approval
Date of Main Gate
Beyond Visual Range Air-to-Air Missile
Sep 11
Aug 12
May 00
Type 45 Destroyer
Nov 07
Nov 07
July 00
Future Transport Aircraft
Feb 09
Dec 09
May 00

* Commercial.

Question 248. Capability of the WAH-64 Longbow Apache compared to earlier models

  2.  The introduction into service of the WAH-64 Longbow Apache on 16 January brings nearer the addition of a key capability to the British Army. Training of Army Air Corps pilots and ground crew is now beginning at Middle Wallop. In parallel, trials and evaluation of the aircraft weapon systems will be carried out over the next three years in line with the staged Military Aircraft Release process. The combination of these activities is expected to lead to an initial operating capability in mid-2003.

  3.  WAH-64 Longbow Apache will be a potent and highly versatile weapons platform with integral surveillance and target acquisition systems, digitised communications and impressive day/night and bad-weather capabilities. It will form the backbone of 16 Air Assault Brigade, the Army's new air manoeuvre formation. It will primarily be used in air to ground offensive roles, for which its speed and firepower will set the tempo for operations. It can also be used to gather information and to provide fire support for troops on the ground. Its application within the maritime/amphibious environment, from which land operations could be launched, is being considered. Apache can deploy by itself or be moved to theatre in large transport aircraft or by sea on the Royal Navy's new helicopter carrier, HMS OCEAN. It will be a key element within the UK's rapid reaction forces.

  4.  The US Army's experience with Apache in Kosovo is obviously a matter for them. However, the aircraft they deployed were the older A Model Apache, The UK Apache is significantly different and is equipped with the Longbow Fire Control Radar, the advanced Rolls-Royce RTM322 engine (also fitted to the EH101 Merlin helicopter) and within the next 18 months will be equipped with a state of the art defensive aids suite from GEC Marconi, now part of BAE SYSTEMS. The combination of the radar and the defensive aids suite will provide much improved identification of, and protection from, potential threats.

  5.  Our PFI Training Package contract will greatly enhance pilot training and state of the art simulators will enable pilots to train in a multitude of terrain and scenarios, and allow them to conduct mission rehearsals. A number of British Army pilots have already been trained in the United States, We have no doubts about their professional abilities to exploit fully the capabilities of the Attack Helicopter as a fully effective addition to our military capability.

  6.  The role of the WAH-64 Longbow Apache is still valid in the light of the experience in Kosovo. First, we are planning for a variety of operations across the entire spectrum of conflict, within which Kosovo-type operations are one of many possible scenarios. Secondly, whilst attacking massed armoured forces remains the key role for which the Apache was designed it will, as part of the new 16 Air Assault Brigade structure, have the widest utility in almost all types of operation in which the British Army is likely to be engaged. Furthermore, it will be part of the UK's high readiness Joint Rapid Reaction Force and is therefore likely to be one of the first capabilities we deploy.


  7.   Since the introduction of air-to-air missiles, a gun has been used in an air-to-air role for very close range engagements where the target was inside a short-range air-to-air missile's minimum range. Notably during the early years of the Vietnam war, the probability of kill in short-range engagements of the air-to-air missiles then available proved so low that the very modest capability of gun systems added significantly to overall effectiveness. The probability of success with guns has advanced little over the years[12]. By contrast, the performance of air-to-air missiles has improved dramatically. Indeed, in short-range engagements, the minimum range capability and agility of the missiles that Eurofighter will carry, together with its planned helmet-mounted sight targeting system, offers the pilot a shot with a very high probability of success in almost every conceivable situation. A gun could be seen as a defence of last resort when all the aircraft's missiles had been fired. However, even then the gun's usefulness would be severely limited because of the possibility of engagement by missile armed aircraft from well outside the gun's range.

  8.  Firing "warning shots across the bow" with a gun is not an effective means of coercion in modern operations. The cockpit environment of modern aircraft is such that the pilot is extremely unlikely to hear such warning shots and would only see them if they were tracer rounds. The value of such a display against a civilian aircraft is dubious and against a military aircraft it may well be misconstrued.

  9.  Against some threats, missiles may be susceptible to counter-measures employed by the opposing aircraft. However, ASRAAM has already proven itself against typical current countermeasure doctrines and is designed to overcome extreme levels of countermeasures. Even should an advanced hostile aircraft have decoyed Eurofighter's air-to-air missiles successfully, there is again little benefit in adding a gun to Eurofighter's armament. If the UK pilot were then to close on that hostile target to within the range of the gun, he would be placing the aircraft—and himself—at unnecessarily high risk of being shot down by the hostile aircraft's own missiles. Moreover, gun systems are not completely invulnerable to countermeasures, not least because most depend on accurate radar range

  10.  As for air-to-ground combat, it is worth noting that the original European Staff Requirement, signed by the Chiefs of Air Staffs from the partner nations in December 1985, specifies the gun only in an air-to-air role. So, even then, experienced airmen in the partner nations did not regard the gun as a valuable weapon for ground attack. It remains the view of experts that it is difficult to justify using the gun in Eurofighter's offensive support role, owing to:

    —  the risk of collateral damage resulting from the relative inefficiency of gun firing from a fixed-wing aircraft, especially in this age of precision-guided munitions, with which Eurofighter will be armed; and

    —  the increased vulnerability of the aircraft because the gun's short range would leave the aircraft very exposed to surface-to-air missiles and anti-aircraft gunfire.

  11.  Overall, therefore, it is clear that the utility of a gun on an aircraft such as Eurofighter in modern operations is questionable. To perform its roles effectively, Eurofighter's armament should emphasise not the very short-range capability that a gun would offer, but the long-range capability to be offered initially by the Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile (AMRAAM). and later by the Meteor beyond visual range air-to-air missile.

  12.  The minimal combat value that the gun does provide is more than outweighed by the support, fatigue and training cost penalties of retaining it. Specific disadvantages of the gun include:

    —  the damaging effects of the shock of its recoil on the electronics (approximately 4 tons recoil shock 30 times a second);

    —  the corrosive effects of its exhaust gas;

    —  the strain which it puts on the airframe, reducing the aircraft's useful life. (Even the weight of 80kg of ammunition can add well over half a tonne load at the wing roots of the aircraft when it is subject to high gravitational pull in manoeuvre. Each aircraft has a finite design fatigue life. Using up this life much more rapidly would require us to purchase a greater number of aircraft or to undertake a life extension programme, the cost and operational penalties of which cannot be justified by the minimal operational benefits of the gun.); and

    —  a range of training costs, including the provision of new targets, the increased demands on the Hawk aircraft towing the targets (which must shortly be replaced by new aircraft), and the cost of removing training rounds from the environment.

  13.  We understand that our partner nations currently intend to retain the gun on Eurofighter. The American F-14, F-15, F/A-18 all have internal guns, though the F-117 does not; and the F-22 is planned to have one. The Russian MiG-29 and the Su-27/31 also have guns as do Gripen and Rafale. Some of these aircraft types entered service many years ago when missile technology was far less advanced. However, it is not currently planned to fit an internal gun to the Short Take-Off and Vertical Landing variant of Joint Strike Fighter (JSF), although it will be able to carry an externally mounted gun which can be put on and removed from the aircraft for particular missions.

  14.  Our assessment remains that, in the future operational roles for which we require Eurofighter, the minimal value of a gun is more than outweighed by its considerable associated costs and disadvantages.

Questions 229 to 245 and 294 to 298. The Short Term Strategic Airlift (STSA) C-17 Programme

  15.  The Strategic Defence Review identified a requirement for additional strategic lift assets, including a short-term requirement for four C-17 aircraft, or their equivalent, pending the introduction of the Future Transport Aircraft in the latter part of the decade.

  16.  An invitation to tender was issued on 30 September 1998 to eight potential bidders. The deadline for tenders was 29 January 1999, the same as that for the four-nation collaborative competition which would identify the solution for the Future Transport Aircraft (A400M), requirement. The two competitions were linked and were to be assessed in parallel, both to consider the most cost-effective solution overall and to ensure that the solution chosen for STSA did not prejudice the FTA competition.

  17.  In January 1999 five bids were received from Boeing/BAe (C-17), Air Foyle (Antonov An 124-210), IBP (Antonov An 124-100), Airbus Transport International (a mix of Beluga and A300 freighters) and Rolls-Royce offering a fleet management service of MoD acquired assets. The STSA competition was subsequently terminated in August 1999, because none of the bids offered an acceptable combination of capability and cost. The DPA continued to work with industry in a competitive environment, seeking an off-the-shelf solution to meet the requirement. This work culminated in further Requests For Proposals being issued on 14 October 1999, one to Boeing for a C-17 solution with support provided by USAF and one to Air Foyle and HeavyLift were invited to offer both a basic charter option to improve on the current "ad hoc" charter arrangements and a more assured option to address the Department's concern over the political risk inherent in the ownership of the An 124-100 fleets. Proposals were received from all three companies on 29 October 1999.

  18.  These proposals, together with those received in response to the Future Transport Aircraft competition, received equally careful consideration against the criteria of operational capability, performance, affordability, international and industrial factors and value for money. The Secretary of State for Defence announced on 16 May 2000 that the UK had determined that the best solution to meet the short-term strategic airlift requirement was to lease four C-17A Globemaster III (C-17) aircraft. The Airbus A400M was selected to meet the longer-term requirement, subject to certain conditions.

  19.  On 2 September 2000, a contract with the Boeing Company was signed for the lease of four C-17 aircraft for a period of seven years, with the option of extending for up to a further two years, However, the contract would not enter into effect until certain "conditions precedent" were met including the issue of an acceptable Export License by the US State Department and the completion of the necessary financial arrangements on terms acceptable to the UK.

  20.  The financial arrangements were completed on 17 January 2001 with the issue of a sterling bond covering the value of the seven year lease. The deal allows MoD to make 14 payments in all to realise the sum payable on the bond, thus allowing us to spread the cost over the period of the lease rather than having to pay up front. All other conditions precedent have also been satisfied.

  21.  The aircraft will begin to enter service with the RAF later this year, and will deliver vital, early support to the deployment of our new Joint Rapid Reaction Forces.

  22.  Whilst we are leasing the four C-17 aircraft directly from The Boeing Company, much of the support will be provided by the USAF under Government to Government Foreign Military Sales (FMS) arrangements; in effect, the UK C-17s will be part of the "C-17 virtual world-wide fleet", offering a novel and economic approach to integrated logistic support. Training of RAF air and ground crews is also being undertaken at USAF bases under FMS arrangements.

  23.  Under the terms of the lease contract, Boeing will retain ownership of the aircraft but there are no restrictions placed on RAF operation whether through the contract, the export licence, or the support arrangements. However, it has never been an STSA requirement that the aircraft should be capable of being air-to-air refuelled or be used in the tactical role, eg paradrop or low level operation. The C130Js already purchased will be able to do this and the existing C130K fleet currently provides this tactical capability. What we actually want it for is in support of deployments to provide a strategic airlift capability to move large amounts of cargo from point A to point B.

  24.  C-17s are being leased to meet a short-term requirement, pending the introduction into service of the Future Transport Aircraft (A400M) towards the end of the decade. At the end of the lease period the aircraft will be handed back to Boeing, There is an option in the contract that would allow us to purchase the aircraft, but we have no plans to retain the C17 aircraft once A400M is in service.

Defence Procurement Agency

7 February 2001

12   Footnote not printed. Back

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