Examination of Witnesses (Questions 380
WEDNESDAY 8 MAY 2002
WALMSLEY KCB, AIR
KCB, AFC AND MR
380. So the truth is we are not going to have
an air defence capability, as Sir Jock accepted last week, and
there will be a reduced capability when the Type-45 comes in.
Why not keep the Sea Harriers, some of which air frames are relatively
new, being only three years old? Why not keep the existing Sea
Harrier, even with its reduced capability in hot weather conditions
in force in order to provide that defence capability to enable
us to mount independent offensive operations?
(Lord Bach) Because we have had to make a decision
as to how best to use our limited resources.
381. So it all boils down to money in the end.
(Lord Bach) Let me answer your question before you
interrupt. I understand the Select Committee is not a partisan
session in the sense that across the floor of the House of Commons
might be a partisan session, Mr Chairman, where frontbenchers
on either side of course can bandy words of this kind in a way
that I do not think is normal in a Select Committee.
Mr Howarth: But we do have robust questioning,
Minister, I can assure you.
382. We are offensive to everybody, Minister!
(Lord Bach) It is mainly because I come from the other
place, Mr Chairman.
383. But if you had heard Kevan Jones last week,
Minister, I look positively wimpish by comparison.
(Lord Bach) I think Mr Jones, Mr Chairman, unless
he has been promoted very recently, is a backbencher, and I think
that is a distinction that I am trying to bring to your attention
Chairman: Yes, we are aware of that.
384. Can I just tell you that the arrangements
which we apply in this House are a matter for this House and not
for yourself and your House, Minister.
(Lord Bach) That is precisely right and that is why
I addressed my remark via the Chair.
385. Well, we have made our political points,
so let's get back to the seriousness at hand and let the Minister
respond to Mr Howarth.
(Lord Bach) Well, let me make it quite clear, and
this is what Sir Jock was saying last week, and forgive me if
I am repeating to some extent what he said, that the role of the
Royal Navy carriers is not primarily now to defend the fleet,
but it is in line with the expeditionary doctrine that underpins
our defence policy, much more about the ability to project power
a distance, precisely the point Sir Jock made. The Sea Harrier
makes little contribution to this frankly. The GR7 makes a much
more substantial one and will make an even greater one when it
is upgraded to GR9. That is the first point. Secondly, and again
at the risk of repetition, air defence is based on a layered system.
Of course Sea Harrier has traditionally provided the outer layer,
but there are inner layers, which seem to be forgotten in this
argument, provided by the Sea Dart, for example, equipped Type-42
Destroyer and point defence systems on frigates Types 22 and 23
as well as more passive defence systems. The nature of the threat
to the fleet has evolved over time and I have to say that reference
to the Falklands War is about as misleading as any reference could
be, and I say so, I hope, in the gentle spirit of Members of the
House of Lords who speak to each other. The position today could
not be much more different than that of 1982 when there was a
small attachment of Royal Marines stationed in the Falkland Islands,
no military airfield. Today, as I think the Committee will know,
we maintain a modern and capable garrison on the islands which
can be reinforced rapidly by air from the UK should the need arise,
so can we put the Falklands please on one side if we are debating
this issue seriously. Now, the nature of the threat to the fleet
has evolved over time. Clearly Sea Harrier provided a useful defence
against attacking aircraft, but in general terms it offers no
protection against sea-skimming missiles launched from ships,
from submarines, from land or from aircraft standing off from
distance and that is something that those who attack this decision
have never tried to answer. The real issue here is that Sea Harrier
does not help against sea-skimming missiles from wherever they
are launched. Now, that sea-skimming missile is now assessed to
be the primary threat to maritime assets. That is what the upgraded
Sea Dart and existing Sea Wolf, Goalkeeper and Vulcan Phalanx
systems are designed to address. It is also of course what the
PAAMS system, the Type-45, will be designed to tackle when that
platform comes into service. I want to emphasise that the Chiefs
of Staff have signed up to this proposal, and they would not have
signed up to it if there was any prospect of it substantially
undermining the defence of the fleet, and will allow resources,
as I began this answer, to be concentrated on enhancing our ability
to project power. I end, if I may, Chairman, by saying this: that
upgrading Sea Harrier would be very expensive and technically
very risky. It would also take a great deal of time and if we
were to upgrade Sea Harrier it would mean that those Sea Harriers
that were being upgraded would be out of service at the time they
were being upgraded and certainly would reduce the value for money
to be derived from the investment. We have had to make choice,
we think we have made the right choice and I have tried to explain,
perhaps taking rather too much of the Committee's time, why we
have made that decision.
386. No, I think we should be looking carefully
at what your colleague said earlier this morning in the House
and looking carefully at what you have said, but I think the Government
still has a lot of selling to do, not of assets because enough
of those have been sold, but some of the arguments and if there
is anything, Minister, when you look at what your colleagues have
said, what you have said to us and what Sir Jock said, I think
it would be quite helpful, and sorry to impose more work on your
staff, but I think it would be best for the best and the fullest
picture to be painted, otherwise people will retain a degree of
scepticism. The comments on Sea Dart, I am not sure how effective
Sea Dart is or necessarily the Type-42, and I think the argument
which you gave about the Falklands, I do not think the arguments
made are about the Falklands campaign, but about the vulnerabilities
that were exposed during the Falklands in terms of defending ships.
That was the argument of not going back out to the Falklands and
fighting against the Argentinians who at this stage are not in
any shape to take on anybody, but it is the concept of ship defence.
(Lord Bach) Chairman, on Sea Dart I wonder if Sir
Jock could just say a word because of course this was mentioned
in the article in the Daily Telegraph which was referred
to this morning and we think there may have been an inaccuracy
(Air Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup) Chairman, yes, this
morning I spent an hour with somebody who had just come from commanding
a Type-42 Destroyer, having seen this article, because quite clearly
I wanted to make sure that we had got our capabilities right,
as I described to you last week. His view, his very clear view
is that the article is over-alarmist and in many areas extremely
misleading. The Sea Dart is a capable missile and will continue
to be a capable missile. Like all weapon systems, it has weaknesses
particularly against the most modern systems and particularly
when faced with a high-density threat environment where a great
many threats are coming in at the same time, but certainly against
the most prevalent threats it is likely to face, it is still extremely
capable and of course we are upgrading it with an improved infra-red
fuse to improve its ability at low level.
387. You mentioned, Minister, about the Type-45
coming in. I would be interested to know what missile system you
think will be on the Type-42, and we know what will be on the
Type-45, to deal with the close-range, sea-skimming missiles.
(Lord Bach) As I understand it, the PAAMS system.
388. That is already used.
(Lord Bach) Sorry, that was not your question. You
said when it does come in, what will it be.
389. There is a gap, as we established last
week, between the Sea Harrier going out of service to defend ships
at sea and the Type-45 with a fully operational system, and we
were toldwhat were the words you used, Sir Jock, last week
(Air Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup) The incremental capability.
390. Of the system.
(Air Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup) But it will come into
service in 2007 with an operational PAAMS missile system.
391. Which is capable of knocking down a sea-skimming,
(Air Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup) It is important again
to stress that air defence is about layers and that the PAAMS
can take on such missiles at certain ranges. As it gets closer,
there are short-range missiles and there are short-range guns
as well as passive defence systems, so we rely on all of them
together, not just one.
392. These are extremely important issues. Sir
Jock has told us that he would prefer to keep the Sea Harrier
in operation. The Minister, your colleague, has admitted there
is a risk in the policy that the Government has adopted. You,
Minister, if I may say, have sought today to belittle the role
of the Sea Harrier and say, "Well, actually it does not really
do that much of a good job anyway and, therefore, we are not losing
very much". You have repeated the argument that Sir Jock
put forward last week which is a good argument about the projection
of offensive air power, but what the Sea Harrier does is to provide
airborne maritime defence. Are you telling us that in the intervening
period before the Type-45 comes in with its PAAMS missile system
mature or otherwise, are you telling us there is no longer any
need or there will not be a need for that period of time for an
airborne, early warning for maritime expeditionary forces? In
other words, you will deploy your GR7s and GR9s with their ground-attack
capability, but should there be incoming attack aircraft, there
will be no airborne air defence capability beyond the Sea Dart?
(Lord Bach) First of all, to reply to your question,
Sir Jock and Mr Ingram may have said what they did about the issue
being one of in an ideal world it would be better if these choices
did not have to be made. I have not said anything that is against
that, but we do not live in an ideal world and if your Party,
when your Party are in government again, you will once again understand
393. This is not a partisan issue.
(Lord Bach) I am sorry, it seems to me, Mr Chairman,
that it is and that is why I have to take it on head-on. I do
not want to be aggressive and I hope I am not being. It is a fair
question and I have got to answer it, but it is essential that
we make choices and those choices, if they are real choices, always
involve taking difficult decisions. This is one of those difficult
decisions, but we think we have it right. To suggest that there
is no defence merely because the Sea Harrier goes out of service
by 2006and remember, it is not going out of service until
2004 and right through to 2006is to just fail to accept
that this is just one part of the layered defence system of which
there are many, many others. It is also worth pointing out, I
think, and perhaps just reminding the Committee that of course
we might be on our own, it is possible, but it is much more likely,
is it not, given where things stand now, that we are going to
be part of a coalition force and that there will be allies who
will be able to assist us if we need assisting and it may well
be that we would not. So I think the danger in this argument is
that the argument pro-Sea Harrier, which, please, don't get me
wrong, is and has been a fine aircraft, it has done sterling service,
but its time frankly, given that we have to make choices, may
be up over the course of the next few years and to suggest that
somehow we are going to leave British ships unprotected in any
real way is actually a travesty of what is going to happen.
394. Thank you, and I just have a question,
before Mr Rapson, to put to Sir Robert. Can you guarantee, Sir
Robert, that Type-45 plus PAAMS is going to be available for January
1st 2007? I think that was the first date mentioned.
(Sir Robert Walmsley) It was, but unfortunately it
is November 2007 and I cannot of course guarantee the future.
There are a few technical points I would just like to add which
are worth mentioning. Type-45 is currently scheduled to have two
different sorts of missiles installed in the 48 missile silo,
being the ASTER-30s, which are longer range than ASTER-15s, which
are shorter range, and both part of the PAAMS systems giving a
choice. You do not need to fire a long-range missile at close-range
targets. The second point is that Sea Dart was designed and is
optimised, but currently being modified to make it more capable,
designed and optimised for attacking aircraft and of course if
you have got an aircraft carrier at sea, even I can remember that
when I was in the Navy, a Destroyer holds a position maybe 100
miles up-threat from the carrier. The Sea Dart radar, the radar
in the Type-42 Destroyer, can see aircraft up to 200 miles away,
unless they are sea-skimming, so this is an immense distance we
are covering by a proper positioning of the ships. A Sea Dart
missile system is really capable of keeping out aircraft, but
it has much more difficulty against sea-skimming missiles and
that is what the infra-red fuse coming in from this July will
improve its performance against. I just want to give the impression
that when you are defending a carrier, you do not do it by putting
all the assets around the carrier like six-year-old schoolboys
playing football, but you spread ships out across the ocean so
that actually the Destroyer can provide, with the Sea Dart missile
system, real defence.
395. Can I thank the Minister as well because
the thought of us going to war at this stage frightens me to death,
so I welcome you putting that into context. Can I speak as a professional
who has spent a lifetime upgrading aircraft to fit new equipment
and can I press the question again. Sir Jock said last week when
we asked him that it would be massive to try and upgrade the GR7s
and GR9s to have the Blue Vixen Radar and AMRAAM, that it would
be costly, it would be lengthy and by the time we have finished
the modifications, the new Joint Strike Fighter would be available.
Now, I take it that is a totally honest answer to the questions,
but, being a sceptic as I am, I do not believe it, in the nicest
possible sense. The Sea Harrier airframe is slightly smaller than
the GR7s and Royal Air Force aircraft and the larger aircraft,
and we are going to operate them with the new Pegasus engines,
but is it really a mammoth task to put Blue Vixen Radar and AMRAAM
on the upgraded GR aircraft? You say it is, but I would like to
press it, even if you cannot tell me today, whether we can be
sure of the costs of that upgrade. If it is impossible, we accept
that, and if it is going to take too long, we can accept that,
but I just want to press to see whether these are real stories
you are going to give as the Minister which are true and we cannot
upgrade because if we have the GR aircraft with its ground-attack
capability, with Blue Vixen Radar and AMRAAM as well, it makes
them much more effective in the long run for deployment and will
be useful for our forces when we have got Joint Strike Fighter
as well. No doubt somebody will want to buy them at twice the
price as they are buying the present Sea Harriers. Now, I am sorry
it is a long-winded question, but it is really pressing the reality
of the answers given as to whether it is that costly and lengthy
to upgrade the GR aircraft to cover the two weak points that we
see with radar and missiles.
(Lord Bach) The only comment that I am going to make
is that everything I am told is true of course.
(Sir Robert Walmsley) The technical feasibility of
this depends very much on having the weights, space and power
margins already in the aircraft and I have no doubt that anything
can be done, but it will be enormously difficult. Part of the
reason for that is that apart from where the pilot actually sits,
and here I would defer to Sir Jock, the most valuable place in
the aircraft just about is the nose where all your forward-looking
sensors are sitting and in the GR9 it is the forward-looking infra-red
that occupies that space. You need all that space to put in a
Blue Vixen Radar, so as soon as you start to put in a Blue Vixen
Radar, you are competing then for (?), which is designed to give
it such a powerful ground-attack capability. That will require
a lot of aircraft re-engineering, will add weight, will add to
the aircraft's outline shape and we will probably then send it
into a whole lot of safety trials at Boscombe Down to prove that
the aircraft is still safe in all possible configurations for
launching weapons, et cetera, et cetera. I am absolutely clear
that the feasibility of this would have to be proved in a study,
but that study would, as usual, say, "Yes, it is feasible.
It would cost an immense amount of money, take an enormous amount
of time and will result in an aircraft that is not as good at
its primary role as it is today".
396. I think in the discussion we have just
had, clearly some of the general issues on that are not confined
to a seaborne piece of equipment and they are not confined only
to the United Kingdom's defence capability. That brings me on
to the issues raised by equipping NATO because I think all of
us recognise that the nature of the threat that NATO is dealing
with has changed considerably over the last 12/13 years and also
all the NATO allies have learnt the hard way what shortforms exist
in NATO's capability, particularly amongst European allies, so
can I ask you, Minister, when you are considering and shaping
what the Ministry of Defence's equipment requirements should be,
what priority, if any, you give to the projects that would improve
Europe's prospects of advancing both the Helsinki Headline Goal
and indeed NATO's own Defence Capabilities Initiative?
(Lord Bach) Well, thank you for the question. As far
as the Defence Capabilities Initiative is concerned, we think
we have made some good progress nationally in implementing it.
We already possess a good PGM capability which we are enhancing,
Storm Shadow and Brimstone, heavy lift, the C-17s at present,
with provision for A400M, and we are also procuring ASTOR, as
you know, which has come up in discussions today, and to enhance
our ISTAR collection effort. What we are keen to do is to get
partner nations to do the same. We do not think that the Initiative,
which is now of course coming to an end, has been the overwhelming
success we had hoped, to be frank with the Committee, and we need
a credible follow-up, and I will tell you what our thinking is
about a follow-up, if I may, in a minute, to be launched at the
Prague Summit this November, mutually reinforcing the EU Headline
Goal which you have referred to. We think that the new Initiative
ought to focus on of course inter-operability and include elements
on communications, on transport, on enablers, to name but a few.
What have we learnt from our experience of the Defence Capabilities
Initiative? What we think we have learnt and what we think the
next phase must concentrate on is: first, it must be relevant
to the fight against terrorism and NATO must ensure that its capabilities
contain those necessary to deal with terrorists as well as other
threats; it must take account, as you have already said, of the
Headline Goal; thirdly, we must maintain as high a public profile
as possible because I think we have got a job to do to present
a clear strategy to ensure public support and understanding for
the Initiative as was and we are going to put in its place; and
most important of all is to focus on a limited range of key, clear,
achievable targets with top-level ministerial ownership. That
is some of our thinking at the present time. We are thinking of
what kind of follow-on there should be from the DCI and we do
want to see, if I may say so, it being rather more successful
than the DCI has been in ensuring that NATO has the equipment
that it needs to face not just the issues of the past, but what
it faces now with terrorism.
397. You keep picking up on the point about
the follow-on from the DCI and some of your other remarks about
inter-operability, transport, communication and so on. The NATO's
Secretary General, in his usual forthright style, recently said
that there is recognition that there are countries that can do
some things better than others and I wonder, Minister, whether
you think the time has come, particularly as we approach the Prague
Summit, to take forward a debating NATO on greater role specialisation
and identify that some NATO countries and allies are perhaps better
able and better equipped to concentrate on certain specific areas
and improve NATO's defence capability in those areas.
(Lord Bach) Yes, I would certainly go along with that.
The Secretary of State has taken, as you know, a keen interest
in this and has led for Britain as far as this is concerned and
there is no doubt that we would like to see the new DCI, if I
can call it that, focus much more on what each NATO country can
do and, by that, we include of course those countries that may
come into NATO as a result of Prague, so the answer to your question
in short is yes.
398. Has there already been some discussion
on those areas amongst the NATO allies?
(Lord Bach) I would be very surprised if there had
not been, as you say, led by the Secretary General, the ex-Secretary
of State for Defence, who must have been before this Committee
on a number of occasions in the past. I am sure there has been
discussion and I am equally sure there has been discussion among
Defence Ministers from NATO, existing NATO Members, and, I dare
say, with those who may join NATO in the none-too-distant future.
399. Minister, can I ask you another question
relating not to the Sea Harrier, but to the GR9. I just heard
in the last few minutes that the Harrier IPT Leader, presumably
your team, Sir Robert, has told Rolls Royce that the original
30 GR9s selected for upgrade into the Pegasus engines will be
the only ones to have the upgraded engine and that the decision
has been made that the remaining 40 will not have the upgraded
Pegasus engine. Where does that leave our fleet of commonality
given that you are now going to have two GR9 aircraft, one type
with the GR9A rating with the upgraded engine and 40 without?
(Lord Bach) Mr Howarth, those answering questions
here have some advantages, but also have some disadvantages. We
do not have our mobiles going and we are not able to leave and
come as of course Members of the Committee are allowed to do so,
so obviously I am not in a position to answer your question in
the way that you would like me to. Maybe Sir Robert has some background
(Sir Robert Walmsley) First of all, I should not deny
responsibility because that would be silly, but the IPT Leader
is an aircraft that is "mature" in the jargon and therefore
it is hosted by the Defence Logistic Organisation, so it is way
past when I would have a primary interest.