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19 Sept 2002 : Column 323Wcontinued
Mr. Ingram: I refer my hon. Friend to the answer I gave on 26 February Official Report, column 113334W to my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Foster) as part of our presentation of Spring Supplementary Estimates to the House, we estimate the total cost of operations in Afghanistan in financial year 200102 to be some £261 million. This figure includes the cost of munitions consumed and represents the additional cost of operations over and above the cost of planned activities.
The Ministry of Defence's first responsibility as a customer is to ensure it gets value for money for the equipment required by the Armed Forces, principally by means of competition. We do not place constraints upon the nationality of equipment suppliers except for reasons of national security. However, when taking procurement decisions we do take into account wider issues such as security of supply, economic factors, industrial issues and foreign policy.
Details of the ownership of all the contractors from whom we have procured in-service defence equipment, some of which was procured more than thirty years ago, are not held centrally and could be provided only at disproportionate cost.
Mr. Ingram: The White Paper on the Strategic Defence Review: A New Chapter, Cm5566, addressed this issue (paragraphs 3132 and 91). Since the Strategic Defence Review (SDR) was published in 1998 the risk of large scale conflict in Europe has further reduced, and relations with Russia have seen a step change improvement. But we have also routinely deployed our Armed Forces on more operations concurrently than we envisaged in the SDR, though the scale of these deployments has been in some respects smaller than we envisaged at the time of the SDR. That has created the risk of overburdening key enabling units, who are essential for all expeditionary deployments (for example, communicators, engineers and movements personnel).
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Mr. Wray: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what discussions have taken place with European colleagues on increasing defence manufacturing co-operation in Europe; and if he will make a statement on progress made since 1997. 
Dr. Moonie: Discussions on this broad ranging topic take place routinely both bilaterally and in multilateral fora. We recognise the importance of such co-operation, and are engaged in a number of initiatives in Europe aimed at paving the way for more effective defence industrial co-operation, improving the management of co-operative equipment projects, as well as identifying further opportunities to co-operate where it makes military, industrial and economic sense to do so. Specifically in the defence manufacturing co-operation field, along with our colleagues in France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Sweden, we signed the Letter of Intent Framework Agreement in July 2000 related to measures to facilitate the restructuring and operation of the European defence industry. This Agreement represents a commitment by the six nations to remove obstacles to industrial restructuring and co-operation. All six nations, in conjunction with industry, continue to implement the Agreement.
Mr. Wray: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence how many defence technology centres will be created; what the cost will be; and if he will make a statement on their use in securing more (a) foreign and (b) domestic contracts. 
Dr. Moonie: The expectation is of six centres being launched, in two tranches of three each, with the Ministry of Defence funding of up to £5 million per cent.re per year. The supplier consortia are also expected to contribute funding. This investment will result in centres of expertise, focused in industry and academia, in technologies of importance to Defence. MOD will ensure that the centres' outputs can be transitioned effectively into equipment programmes for the United Kingdom Armed Forces. Beyond that, the consortia will own the intellectual property and be encouraged to exploit it in wider markets.
Mr. Wray: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the future strategic tanker aircraft programme; when the aircraft will come into service; and when the (a) VC-10 and (b) Tri-Star tankers will be retired. 
Mr. Ingram: The Future Strategic Tanker Aircraft (FSTA) is planned to replace our VC10 and TriStar air-to-air refuelling aircraft. An Invitation to Negotiate for this potential PFI contract was issued to industry in December 2000. Bids were received from two consortia in July 2001 and we are currently in negotiations with both bidders. FSTA is planned to enter service in 2008 and is expected to be fully operational by 2012. The existing RAF refuelling fleet is made up of two aircraft
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types comprising 19 VC10s and 6 TriStars. On current plans, the VC10s are due to go out of service by the end of the decade with the TriStars leaving service shortly afterwards. Precise dates can be amended, as necessary, to ensure a smooth transition to the new planned FSTA fleet.
Dr. Moonie: Hospital ships are subject to a number of constraints under the Geneva conventions which limit their military utility severely. I assume therefore that the hon Member is referring to our requirement for an afloat primary casualty receiving capability. This project entered its Assessment Phase last year, and the project team is currently investigating a number of possible solutions to the requirement, including purpose-built or converted shipping, and modular solutions based on other hulls as required. It is therefore too early to suggest a particular specification or timetable for the chosen solution's construction, but the capability is expected to enter service later this decade.
Mr. Wray: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what recent developments have been made in submarine air independent propulsion; what the implications of this are for diesel submarines; and if he will make a statement on the future of diesel submarines in the Royal Navy. 
Dr. Moonie: We are monitoring the developments in submarine air independent propulsion technologies. Our Maritime Underwater Future Capability programme is looking into the range of future capabilities required by the United Kingdom for the control and denial of the underwater battlespace into the third and fourth decades of the century. We will be considering a wide range of concepts, including innovative solutions combining unmanned underwater vehicles, ships, airborne and land assets, as well as submarines. Our studies will assess the alternative future power source technologies for submarines and unmanned underwater vehicles, but it is too early to make any decisions.
Mr. Hoon: The approved cost limit of the SA80 modification programme is £92 million and to date £15.5 million has been spent. On current plans the SA80 A2 is due to remain in service until 2020 but will be replaced from 2015 onwards.
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the A400M project; what problems have been encountered with compatibility with the C-130; and what the capability of the aircraft is. 
Dr. Moonie: We have been assured by the German Government of their continued commitment to the A400M project. We hope very much that Germany will secure all outstanding parliamentary approvals at the earliest opportunity so that we may press ahead with this important collaborative project.
Our C-130J and A400M aircraft will fulfil complementary roles; we do not anticipate any compatibility issues. The A400M will be a strategic transport asset, capable of carrying a maximum payload of 32 tonnes for a nominal distance of 2,300 nautical miles non-stop. This capability exceeds significantly that provided by the C-130K aircraft it will replace.
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