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19 Sept 2002 : Column 326Wcontinued
Mr. Wray: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what measures have been taken to increase the reliability of the Challenger and Warrior armoured vehicles; and what the future replacement of these vehicles will be. 
Dr. Moonie: There are no specific reliability problems with either the Challenger 2 Main Battle Tank (MBT) or the Warrior Infantry Fighting Vehicle. We are, however, always looking for opportunities to improve.
For Challenger 2 specific measures include work to prolong the life of the gearbox, the engine and the track. Trials are also planned to take place in the Autumn to look for ways to reduce dust ingestion. Warrior reliability and safety has already been improved through ammunition feed and transmission modifications and measures are being taken to improve the life of the engine, gearbox and track. Warrior is also due to receive a major upgrade in 2010 which will result in a new turret, an improved cannon and a more sophisticated gun control system.
Dr. Moonie: The Future Integrated Soldier Technology (FIST) programme will bring the benefits of enhanced technology to the soldier by providing an integrated suite of equipment. The programme will enhance the mission effectiveness of those soldiers committed to dismounted close combat.
A competition is underway to choose a prime contractor for the Assessment Phase. The Defence Procurement Agency is currently assessing bids from BAe Systems Ltd, Marconi Mobile Ltd, Raytheon Systems Ltd and Thales Optronics Ltd. Down selection from four to
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Mr. Keetch: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what additional expenditure there has been to provide load masters on RAF C103Js with protective headgear; and if he will make a statement. 
Dr. Moonie: When deployed on operational duties, load masters on the RAF C103J aircraft are issued with either the Mk 4A/4 or Mk 4B/4L flying helmet. For head protection, these helmets are standard inventory items and have not resulted in additional expenditure for the C103J.
Dr. Moonie [holding answer 19 July 2002]: The Watchkeeper programme is the only programme in which unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are being assessed. Under this programme, an initial assessment is being made of unmanned aerial vehicles developed from the following: Hermes 450, Predator, Eagle, Firescout, Shadow 200, Hermes 180, Ranger and Spectre 3. A number of these vehicles will shortly be selected for a more extensive assessment. We are aware that the Predator vehicle is used by US forces, the Hermes 450 is in service in Israel, and Ranger is in service in Switzerland.
Mr. Wray: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what research has been done into unmanned and uninhabited aerial vehicles; how many of these vehicles the armed forces possess; and what plans there are to extend their use. 
Dr. Moonie: Research into UAVs has been conducted in a range of areas. For example, the Observer technical demonstrator, completed in 2001, examined a small UAV system assessing aerial vehicles, sensors and operator interfaces. The lessons identified fed directly into the Watchkeeper programme. Other research has looked at, and continues to examine, areas such as the potential for man portable UAVs and the potential contribution of UAVs in providing mobile communication platforms to extend the battlespace information infrastructure.
In addition to the Watchkeeper programme (which will provide a surveillance and target acquisition capability principally in support of land commanders), UAVs are also being considered as potential solutions to elements of the Maritime Airborne Surveillance and Control programme and as a possible contribution to the Future Offensive Air System.
Mr. Keetch: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what plans his Department has to conduct an impact assessment study of the influence of the Watchkeeper contract on future procurement decisions; and if he will make a statement. 
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Dr. Moonie: Watchkeeper is being acquired to increase the capability of the Armed Forces to undertake Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance tasks. Watchkeeper will principally support land commanders from Battlegroup to Divisional level and will meet a significant proportion of their intelligence and information requirements. The Watchkeeper system will comprise UAVs, sensor packages and associated facilities on the ground to collate, exploit and disseminate the information gathered. The numbers and types of UAVs and the architecture of the overall system are currently being examined in the assessment phase where operational and technical risks are being identified and minimised. We would expect to spend around £860 million acquiring the Watchkeeper system.
Mr. Ingram: United Kingdom maritime forces normally operate as part of a Task Group, which protects itself against air attack through a series of "layered" defences. Task Groups typically include Type 42 Anti-Air Warfare Destroyers and Type 22 and 23 Frigates equipped with air defence capability. Many other Task Group warships will also include air defence assets for self protection and decoy systems against air and surface launched anti-ship missiles. The Type 42 Destroyers will be replaced by the Type 45 Destroyers, fitted with the highly capable Principle Anti-Air Missile System (PAAMS). The First of Class Type 45 Destroyer is planned to enter service from late 2007. The first upgraded AEW Sea King Flight will go to sea later this year and will provide a marked improvement in capability to detect airborne threats to the Task Group over both sea and land.
Mr. Wray: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the future of UK military aircraft manufacturing in Britain; and what measures are being taken to maintain and expand the industry. 
Dr. Moonie: The United Kingdom military aircraft sector is efficient, innovative and highly competitive, and with these qualities it has very strong potential for success in the future. Given the importance of the industry for the supply of equipment to our Armed Forces, not to mention its role as a significant employer, the Government has of course a close interest in its success. The industry already benefits from a large programme of Ministry of Defence work on projects including JSF, Eurofighter, Nimrod, A400M and Apache. Future programmes such as the Future Strategic Transport Aircraft project are also likely to result in a significant programme of work for UK
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companies. And we will continue to take industrial factors into account within the medium of our competitive procurement policy.
The Government is committed to investing in defence research and technology in partnership with industry, which is crucial in sustaining a viable and competitive industrial base long-term, while focusing more effectively on areas where we achieve best return and where UK industry can be world class. We have also recently extended the tax breaks that are available to companies investing in research and technology.
We will also continue to pursue vigorously the importance of liberalising defence trade and technology flows between our allies. We give strong support to the industry's bids for export orders, and we also welcome inward investment bringing high-value skills and technologies into the UK industrial base.
Dr. Lewis Moonie: Since February 1999 the Ministry of Defence has conducted research into the feasibility of introducing a ground-to-ground target identification system. As a result we have successfully demonstrated a Battlefield Target Identification Device (BTID): We are now fully engaged with our NATO allies as part of the US-led Advanced Concept Technology Demonstrator programme, which aims to develop a joint coalition concept of operations and to demonstrate interoperability amongst national BTID prototype solutions. A decision on whether to introduce a ground-to-ground target identification system has yet to be made.
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