Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 240 - 259)



  240. In terms of the capability improvements, what are the relative advantages of either the STOVL version or the Carrier Variant?
  (Air Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup) We, of course, have not reached a conclusion on that. That decision has still to be made. There are benefits to both types. We need to see whether the two variants will meet the key user requirements that we have for the system—what the relative costs are and what the relative penalties are—and weigh those against our needs and make a decision at that time as to which we go for. The advantages conferred by STOVL are, of course, a reduced training penalty for crews operating on board ship and, of course, the ability to operate from relatively short and relatively ill-prepared strips ashore, bearing in mind always that this is a joint force that needs to be capable of operating from ashore or afloat as the need arises. The conventional version will have advantages of its own. We will have to look at them very carefully.

  241. In terms of making that decision, what consideration will be made of costs? For example, would it be correct to say that the Carrier Variant would actually be cheaper than the STOVL?
  (Air Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup) I am not in a position to answer that question because we have not actually had the information back from the DPA who are working through all this right now.

  242. So no decision has been taken?
  (Air Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup) No decision has been taken.

  243. In the final analysis, what role will the element of cost actually play in making the final decision?
  (Air Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup) The first criterion will be: does the aircraft meet the key user requirements? If one meets it and the other does not, then the answer is likely to be relatively easy. If they both meet the key user requirement then the choice becomes more complex, obviously, and there will be a balance between additional benefits offered by one type against the costs of that type, versus the other.

  244. Last week, I think, there were comments in a "Defence News" article about possible cutbacks in the number of STOVL versions being acquired by the US Marines, which is obviously going to increase the costs of the STOVL version. Is it possible that could actually put it outside our price range?
  (Air Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup) I think these are questions for CDP, not for me. All I would say is that actually the reduction in numbers is likely to apply to all of the services, and my sources are the same as yours, but certainly the article to which you are referring was talking about reduced combined numbers for the US Navy and the Marines, not just for the Marines. I have seen indications elsewhere in the general press that maybe even the United States Air Force might need to reduce its numbers requirement. So it is not an issue of conventional versus STOVL, it is an issue of total programme numbers. What, if any, impact that is likely to have on costs I do not know and could be an issue, as I say, for CDP.

  245. In terms of the decision to be arrived at, you obviously are the person arguing for capability. How does it play out in terms of what the MoD and others are actually saying "Well, costs have got their implications" and where your responsibility is capability? How will the arguments play out against either your arguments about capability versus, obviously, what the MoD and Treasury will be saying, that cost is vitally important? Do you bang your head against a brick wall?
  (Air Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup) Because I am interested in defence capability I am obviously crucially interested in cost. First of all, the programme has to be affordable, otherwise we will get no capability from it. Secondly, the more I spend on one capability the less I have to spend on another. As I said earlier, I am trying to squeeze the maximum capability I can out of whatever resources I am given, and it does not matter, frankly, what the level of resources is, there are always going to be tough choices to be made and a balance of investment decisions to be made. That is true of any enterprise. They are fundamental for me, because they impact on the amount of capability that I can deliver and the balance of that capability.

  246. On that point, can I ask why we need that £600 million of UK-specific requirements for the JSF, and what extra will you get for that extra expenditure?
  (Air Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup) Although the JSF is a common aircraft it has to operate with UK weapons, it has to operate within our own command-and-control infrastructure and, of course, we have to make sure that it complies with our own safety and environmental regulations and all the rest of it. So the additional £600 million is really about procurement of UK weapons for test purposes and to support the integration of those weapons on to the air-frame. There is some specific UK integration work and ensuring that, as I have said, it is capable of operating with our own command-and-control communications, computers and intelligence systems, and then compliance with safety, environmental and acceptance procedures. So that is what that money is being spent on.

  247. What extra will we get for that, in terms of capability?
  (Air Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup) We will get the capability to field the weapons we already possess or are planning to possess, we will get the capability to operate the aircraft in our own command-and-control environment, as opposed to just in somebody else's, and we will be sure that it meets all the safety criteria and other regulatory criteria which are mandated.


  248. Thank you. We obviously do not have the same clout that the Marine Corps, the US Navy, the US Congress or the manufacturers have, but if we have not made up our mind what type of aircraft we want and what kind of deck we want to put on the carriers, does that mean that we are therefore a prisoner of the dog-fight that is taking place in the US? Therefore, putting it at it worst, are we just sitting back and saying "You fight it out and whatever you decide then we will adjust our fleet accordingly"? Would it not be better for us to have made up our mind and then that might tilt the debate one way or the other as opposed to standing back and apparently not doing a great deal to influence the outcome of that debate?
  (Air Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup) Again, I preface my remarks by saying that this is very much CDP's area rather than mine, and I would have to refer to him for the expert advice. First of all, it is not the case that we have no influence. We have all the influence in the programme that we need, and that has been demonstrated over recent years. Secondly, there is no—that I have been able to discover—substantial evidence of a dog-fight within the United States' services—by which I presume you to mean that some people want to cancel the STOVL variant and go with the conventional. All the people that I have spoken to at a relatively senior level have been absolutely clear that there is no question of that, that that is not on the agenda and that, indeed, the paper that was referred to earlier about reductions in the combined navy and marine requirement was not about cutting STOVL variant out. So no indications of that. The final point I would make is that we are making up our mind. Obviously, we have got to have the right information on which to base our decision, but we are planning to take a decision on the variant in the middle of this year and on which way we are going to go with the actual deck and the ship at the beginning of next year.[1]

Mr Hancock

  249. The current carriers we have were brought in during the Cold War with an anti-submarine role. Your responsibility is looking at capability. Where is that capability going to exist with the new carrier force and the running out of the Invincible class?
  (Air Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup) The current carriers were indeed anti-submarine warfare vessels but they were anti-submarine warfare vessels because they were carrying anti-submarine warfare helicopters. The Navy Merlin, of course, is now in-service, which is a substantially improved helicopter. It has got very capable sensors, it has got the Stingray torpedo, which is itself being upgraded, and of course the Future Carrier will be able to operate Merlin, if it needs to, and a wide variety of other helicopters, although of course we would normally expect to see Merlin based on the Type-22 and 23 frigates, which have the role of anti-submarine warfare. The Type-45 will be able to operate the Merlin and, obviously, it will be able to operate off HMS OCEAN, although mainly that is to support amphibious operations, and a wide variety of RFA ships can also carry Merlin. So the Merlin is a system with the sensor and the weapon, and there are plenty of platforms around on which to base Merlin. In addition, of course, we have the Nimrod MRA4 coming into service, again armed with Stingray, and new sensors dramatically improve processing power and dramatically improved time on station. So there is a substantial improvement in ASW capability, particularly against conventional submarines operating in the litoral, which is again, going back to what I said earlier, the big shift in the threat. We have also got the RN Lynx, of course, and then from later on this decade the surface combatant maritime rotorcraft to replace that. We have got ASW and ASUW capabilities with the Astute class submarine that is coming in and, of course, we are upgrading Swiftsure and Trafalgar as well. We have got the sonar upgrades and a number of passive measures as well. We have got the surface ship torpedo defence system coming in 2004, which has improved counter-measures, and of course we are always working at lowering acoustic signatures, which is one of the features of the Type Œ45 as well. So I think we have got a pretty impressive ASW capability for the future, which has been appropriately focused away from blue ocean warfare much more into the litoral, where the key area of operation is going to be.

  250. That brings into play what the Future Carrier is going to have as its role, what the Joint Strike Fighter is going to be predominantly expected to do, how it is going to operate and—if it is going to operate close in—the number of sorties available, etc, and the length of time on the target—all those things will greatly increase. In your role in looking at the capabilities of both the platform and the weapon system, where do you see that role?
  (Air Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup) The principal role of the carrier is to project offensive power. That will be the principal role of the Joint Combat Aircraft that operates from it. I am always, though, concerned to make sure that we retain flexibility and agility to the maximum extent possible, to be balanced off against the real purpose for which you are procuring a system and, of course, the cost of building that flexibility. As I said earlier, I cannot guarantee what the future is going to come up with, and we need to be able to respond at short notice to unforeseen events. So we need that agility. So, as I said, the carrier could, of course, operate Merlin, if we wanted it to, but that is not why we are procuring it and it is not its principal role, but there would be that option for it. We are very much focused on the offensive capability and, partly as a consequence of that, we are very focused on the integration of the carrier and its aircraft with the much wider system and network that is required to carry out those sorts of operations effectively. These things will very rarely be operating in isolation, and I am not just talking about having accompanying ships, I am talking about the much wider information superiority capabilities that will be necessary if they are to be able to do their job effectively.

  251. By what you have just said, you are suggesting that there is a wide flexibility available in both the JSF as the weapon and the carrier as the platform. That will enable us, as a nation, at some stage, to be involved in the sort of events we have had over the last ten years.
  (Air Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup) Yes, I think the events of the last ten years have shown the utility and flexibility of carrier-based aircraft and we would want to exploit that to the full.

  252. What do you think comes first, the design of the carrier or the system you are going to put on it—the aircraft? What, in military terms, is the right way round, because I am at a loss to understand quite where the two paths are meeting at the present time?
  (Air Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup) The right approach is neither of those but to consider it as an entire system. Inevitably there will be chicken and egg decisions within all of that, but this is a system of systems, this is not an aircraft, it is not a carrier, it is not just an aircraft and a carrier, it is a total system. As I referred to earlier, that actually has implications much wider than the carrier/aircraft combination in terms of information superiority in particular. Neither of them come first, they are both interdependent. The decisions on the carrier and the aircraft have to be made in conjunction with one another.

  253. I was rather surprised when this Committee visited the United States recently at the difference in size between the two versions that were available of Joint Strike Fighter. If you went for the larger version that would have, obviously, implications for the carrier, and I still cannot understand how we can be developing the design of the carrier at the speed we are but still not making a decision about the type of aircraft.
  (Air Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup) Again, this is much more about procurement strategy, but I think Sir Robert Warmsley would say, and I think he has said in the past, that first of all we are pursuing a twin-track strategy at the moment with regard to the carrier until we make a decision on the aircraft variant. The second thing is that the size of the ship (and I am obviously not an expert on this and I would certainly bow to his judgment) is not really a crucial factor—building a ship bigger or smaller. Clearly, one has to make a decision but it is not a big cost driver, it is actually what you put into it that is much more important. So we have to make a decision on the variant of the aircraft, we have to make a decision on the size of punch and the reach required in the aircraft based upon the carrier, and we are working on both of those at the moment. That will drive a number of factors with regard to the ship itself.

  254. What is the latest thinking on when those decisions will actually start to emerge in the public domain?
  (Air Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup) I do not know about the public domain, but we are looking, at the moment, to make decisions about the aircraft variant in the middle of this year and then work through the consequences of that so we are able to take a decision on the carrier itself at the beginning of next year.[2]

  Chairman: Thank you. We have a group of questions now on aspects of information superiority capability, including Bowman which exercised the minds of the last Committee and the MoD quite considerably.

Patrick Mercer

  255. Air Marshal, Bowman. To what extent is your organisation drawn into project management of difficult programmes like that?
  (Air Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup) We are not drawn into project management at all. That is for the DPA to do, that is for the Integrated Project Team and for industry to do. We are there to set the capability requirement and to make sure it is being met, and to address any questions that arise as to trade-offs between time, costs and performance.

  256. In that case, is this a case of where incremental acquisition—trading-off capability against cost and time—is forced upon you so at least some capability can be delivered?
  (Air Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup) We have already done that, I think. We have introduced the Personal Role Radio into service, and that is all part of Bowman. We have over 17,000 of those in service already, we have got 1500 of them in Afghanistan, with ISAF and 45 Commando, and they are proving themselves in operation. That is a great step forward—we have taken part of the Bowman programme and delivered it early, because it provides a capability we need today in operations. The rest of Bowman is now on-track after the earlier difficulties of the project and it is a fundamental part of our network-centric capability for the future.

  257. I have seen the individual radio and I am interested that a gap has even been discovered. Anyway, the troops seem to be very happy with it, so the proof of the pudding must be in the eating. From a purely capability customer perspective, is there any great imperative in having Bowman in-service by 2004, given all the difficulties with Clansman?
  (Air Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup) Absolutely. Clansman has significant difficulties, as you know; it does not provide us with a secure capability and the kinds of things that Bowman is going to provide us with: secure voice service, secure data messaging, the automatic position location navigation recording system, which is going to make command-and-control that much easier, data communications in support of all our various information systems and the management information system itself are all, again, fundamental to employing our military power effectively in the future. So it is the Army's top priority to get this into service as soon as possible.

  Patrick Mercer: Does 2004 look reasonable?


  258. Be careful on this one. Many heads have rolled on dates.
  (Air Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup) 2004 looks reasonable at the moment. Despite the fact that this is clearly the DPA's business to deliver, I have personally spoken to senior people from the companies involved and I have left them in no doubt whatsoever of the priority that I attach to this and the importance to the Army. So they understand where we are coming from.

  Patrick Mercer: Thank you very much. We will not quote you, I promise.

Mr Howarth

  259. I think, Air Marshal, you are adjusting to your new role extremely well and very rapidly. The timescale there is being met. Can I follow on with Bowman? Can you tell us what difference the Bowman system will make to the operational effectiveness of our troops, by way of additional capability?
  (Air Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup) As I said, first of all, in terms of specifics, there is the secure voice service that it provides, which we do not have at the moment; there is the secure data-messaging (and I will return to that in a moment, if I may), the data communications, the automatic position location navigation recording—so you can see where all the people and the various equipments are—and the management information system.

1   On current plans, the JSF variant selection decision will be made around the middle of the year, taking into account the implications for the carrier design. This is likely to have the effect of reducing the number of potential CVF designs from four (one CV-based, one STOVL-based, from each contractor, under the twin-track strategy) to two (one for each contractor, conditioned by the JSF variant). In early 2003, the MoD intends to announce which of the two competing prime contractors for CVF will proceed into Stage 3 of Assessment, at which stage one design will be taken forward. Back

2   On current plans, the JSF variant selection decision will be made around the middle of the year, taking into account the implications for the carrier design. This is likely to have the effect of reducing the number of potential CVF designs from four (one CV-based, one STOVL-based, from each contractor, under the twin-track strategy) to two (one for each contractor, conditioned by the JSF variant). In early 2003, the MoD intends to announce which of the two competing prime contractors for CVF will proceed into Stage 3 of Assessment, at which stage one design will be taken forward Back

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