94. In contemplating the withdrawal of the Sea Harrier,
the new Deputy Chief of Defence Staff (Equipment Capability),
Sir Jock Stirrup, told us that he would prefer not to lose this
layer of air-defence for the carriers, but that the decision was
made on "balance of investment" grounds.
This took account, he said, of the technical risks of upgrading
the Sea Harrier, operating in future with allies, upgrading the
existing Type-42 destroyers and their Sea Dart missiles, and the
reducing importance of the air-defence role provided by the Sea
Harrier. And we have discussed these issues above. He also cited,
however, the "extremely expensive" nature of any upgrade
of the Sea Harrier that might improve its operational effectiveness.
95. But it is not just a question of avoiding apparently
prohibitive extra expenditure. The decision to withdraw the Sea
Harrier would also produce net financial savings for the Department£109
million over the
period 2002-03 to 2005-06even after making some extra investment
on the GR7 to improve its carrier capability. Lord Bach told us
that this broke down into a saving of about £135 million,
arising principally from the withdrawal of the Sea Harrier (with
a commensurate reduction in aircraft support costs, the avoidance
of unnecessary infrastructure work at RAF bases, and the cancellation
of previously planned Sea Harrier upgrade programmes), offset
by extra expenditure of £26 million for modifications to
the existing carriers and to the GR7 aircraft and logistic support
for that aircraft to allow it to operate more readily from aircraft
96. About £80 million of the savings from discontinued
Sea Harrier support will go towards meeting the £330 million
cost of the overall Harrier GR9 upgrade programme.
That programme will provide avionics and weapons upgrades to give
the aircraft a much improved capability, in particular the ability
to deliver the new generation of smart weapons that are about
to enter service. These will include the Brimstone anti-armour
weapon and the Precision Guided Bomb.
97. Sir Jock Stirrup had other plans for the remainder
of the savings (and the unquantified but significant avoided additional
expenditure on upgrading all of the Sea Harriers' engines).
There were, he said, other programmes that required investment
and "it was a question of balance of priorities."
Specifically, he told us that
We cannot mount any kind of air defence or, indeed,
any operation without adequate information superiority, and we
must make more investment in those areas.
The decision to withdraw the Sea Harrier early
will provide financial savings, but this does not appear to have
been the main impetus behind the decision. That has been the practical
difficulty in developing the aircraft with the capability improvements
it would need. If, as the MoD maintains, this a question of 'balance
of investment' we expect the MoD to set out clearly what additional,
higher priority, investments it now expects to make with these