Select Committee on Defence Fourth Report


1. Over the last two decades, successive Defence Committees have monitored the MoD's performance in procuring equipment and weapon systems, and have undertaken numerous inquiries on specific programmes. Their reports over the years, and successive Major Projects Reports, have highlighted a pattern of frequent delays and cost escalation. The MoD's 1998 Strategic Defence Review (SDR) made much of its 'smart procurement' (since retitled 'smart acquisition'—paragraph 124) initiative, designed to tackle these weaknesses. Our predecessors examined this initiative in some detail in their report on the SDR.

2. With the introduction of annual defence equipment debates in 1998, our predecessors put their monitoring of equipment issues on a more systematic basis. They initiated annual inquiries, based on a survey of major procurement projects. Their aim was to monitor, and report progress on, a selection of the operationally more significant procurement programmes in a way that could measure the success of the smart procurement initiative, which would measure the implementation of projects which were keystones of the SDR strategy, and which could inform the House's annual defence equipment debate.

3. Each year our predecessors' inquiries focussed on those programmes at particularly important stages in their development:

  • In their first report[1] in the series, in 1999, they examined the UK's then recent withdrawal from the collaborative 'Horizon' frigate programme and its replacement by a national Type-45 destroyer programme. They also examined the vessel's Principal Anti-Air Missile System (PAAMS)—the other major component of the aborted 'Common New Generation Frigate' programme—which was to continue as a collaborative programme.

  • Their second inquiry[2] in 2000 focussed on the Beyond Visual Range Air-to-Air Missile for the Eurofighter and the strategic air-lift programme, the competitions for both of which had then just been decided, and the Bowman communication system whose competition was then on the brink of having to be relaunched.

  • Our predecessors' third report[3] in their series reviewed progress on: the Future Aircraft Carrier and its Future Joint Combat Aircraft; the Advanced Short-Range Air-to-Air Missile, intended for the Eurofighter and other aircraft; the Roll-on Roll-off ships; and enhancements to the UK's precision-guided bombing capability in the light of the lessons drawn from the Kosovo conflict. The inquiry coincided with last year's general election, however, and rather than producing a substantive report the Committee had to content itself with putting the evidence it had taken in the public domain before it might be lost at the end of the Parliament.

4. We have decided in this Parliament to continue this useful exercise, to monitor and report on a selection of major equipment programmes. We will continue to track the progress of important specific capabilities identified in the SDR, but also the growing importance of particular military capabilities and acquisition routes. Reflecting procedures established by the previous Committee, our aim has been to produce a report to inform the House ahead of this year's annual Defence Equipment debate. Our starting point was to request an MoD memorandum, which we publish in this report,[4] covering the following programmes:

  • Future Aircraft Carrier
  • Future Joint Combat Aircraft (now planned to be the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter)
  • Type-45 destroyer
  • Ro-Ro strategic sealift
  • Bowman communications system
  • Future Rapid Effects System
  • Eurofighter
  • 'Meteor' Beyond Visual Range Air-to-Air Missile
  • Advanced Short-Range Air-to-Air Missile
  • A400M strategic airlift
  • Nimrod MRA4
  • The follow-on to the cancelled Medium-Range TRIGAT anti-tank missile
  • Swiftsure and Trafalgar submarine update
  • Five PFI projects

We also sought information from the Department on their work on developing warship procurement strategies, which had implications for the Type-45 destroyer and Future Carrier programmes, and on the 'warship support modernisation initiative'.

5. We have focussed in this report on a subset of these areas: warship procurement strategies, including their implications for constructing the Type-45 destroyer and Future Carrier; the warship support modernisation initiative; the use of PFIs for acquiring particular equipment capabilities; and the Sea Harrier's withdrawal from service. We also examined progress on some of the projects covered by our predecessors' inquiries.

6. We took oral evidence from Sir Robert Walmsley (Chief of Defence Procurement), Mr John Coles (Chief Executive of the Warship Support Agency), Air Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup (Deputy Chief of Defence Staff (Equipment Capability)), and finally Lord Bach, Minister for Defence Procurement (who was accompanied by our earlier witnesses).

7. Our session with Sir Jock Stirrup gave us the opportunity to hear the views of a key player in the MoD's smart acquisition initiative, only two months after he took up that post. In the last Parliament the previous Committee took evidence from three key MoD personnel soon after their appointment. Those sessions resembled 'confirmation hearings', in that although they were unable to exercise any approval role, the Committee sought to examine what skills and philosophies the new officials hoped to bring to the posts:

  • Mr Tony Edwards, as the new head of the Defence Exports Services Organisation in the MoD.[5] The Committee examined MoD support for defence exports, which initiated a wider debate on the costs and benefits of defence exports more generally.

  • Sir Keith O'Nions, as the MoD's new Chief Scientific Adviser.[6] The Committee examined his role in relation to trends in Research & Development in the MoD and the public-private partnership for the then Defence Evaluation and Research Agency (the subject itself of other inquiries by our predecessors).[7]

  • Sir Michael Boyce, when newly appointed as Chief of the Defence Staff.[8]

We have determined in this Parliament to continue the practice of taking evidence from personnel in significant new appointments, and therefore welcomed this opportunity to have a meeting with Sir Jock Stirrup. This is an area of select committee work that was included in suggested core tasks for committees, proposed by the Modernisation Committee[9] and agreed by the House recently.[10] We expect the MoD to notify us of significant new appointments for our possible examination. Much of the evidence we took from Sir Jock in this inquiry was concerned with the early withdrawal of the Sea Harrier, which we discuss later in this report. But first we examined other maritime matters.

1   Eighth Report, Session 1998-99, Major Procurement Projects Survey: The Common New Generation Frigate Programme, HC 544 Back

2   Tenth Report, Session 1999-2000, Major Procurement Projects, HC 528 Back

3   Ninth Report, Session 2000-01, Major Procurement Projects, HC 463 Back

4   Ev 66-120 Back

5   Second Report, Session 1998-99, The Appointment of the new Head of Defence Export Services, HC 147 Back

6   Sixth Report, Session 1999-2000, The Appointment of the new Chief Scientific Adviser, HC 318 Back

7   Sixth Report, Session 1997-98, The Defence Evaluation Research Agency, HC 621; Ninth Report, Session 1998-99, Defence Research, HC 616; Ninth Report, Session 1999-2000, The Future of DERA, HC 462; Fifth Report, Session 2000-01, The Draft Defence Science and Technology Laboratory Trading Fund Order 2001, HC 289 Back

8   Minutes of Evidence, HC 298-i, 2000-01 Back

9   First Report of the Modernisation Committee, Session 2001-02, Select Committees, HC 224 Back

10   HC Deb, 14 May 2002, c715 Back

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Prepared 10 July 2002