Select Committee on Public Accounts Minutes of Evidence


Letter of 18 January 2002 to the Chairman of the Committee from the Minister for Defence Procurement

  You will recall from the closed evidence session of the Public Accounts Committee on 10 December that the Chief of Defence Procurement, Sir Robert Walmsley, was confident that we would soon be able successfully to resolve our dispute with the missile manufacturer MBDA UK Ltd (formerly Matra BAe Dynamics) that had prevented the new Advanced Short-Range Air-to-Air Missile entering service with the Royal Air Force last April as planned. I am pleased to be able to confirm that we have now achieved this.

  As you will know, we had planned for ASRAAM to enter service in April last year but were obliged to reject the missile because it failed to meet the performance standards specified when it was ordered. The missile's performance fell short in four of the 10 Key User Requirements, covering target acquisition and tracking, lethality in key engagement conditions, and performance against countermeasures. You will, I know, understand that I am unable, for security reasons, to divulge here the exact nature of the shortfalls and the technical solutions to them.

  In April last year, my predecessor as Minister for Defence Procurement, Baroness Symons, called for a clear and robust route map to achieve the full operational capability required. MoD officials, in particular those in the Defence Procurement Agency, have worked constructively together since then with MBDA and I am delighted that we have now achieved precisely what Baroness Symons called for.

  The first batch of ASRAAM missiles will be delivered to an interim standard beginning later this month. These missiles will offer our pilots a significant improvement over their current Sidewinder missile. Delivery of missiles at a higher interim standard will start in mid-2002. Thereafter, there will be a continuous development programme, involving further software upgrades, leading to the achievement of full operational capability. We hope to achieve this by the end of 2003 but certainly by no later than 2005.

  MBDA will be carrying this work forward under its existing contract and at its expense. MoD has, however, recognised that MBDA will have to carry out additional trials, and we have agreed that the company can minimise their costs by tying this work in with the Service Evaluation Trials that MoD was already planning to carry out. I am particularly pleased that the arrangements we have agreed will not incur any additional costs to the MoD.

  The robust stand adopted by my predecessor last year, and which I have been only too happy to embrace, has undoubtedly paid dividends. The ASRAAM missile is now entering service and will provide a major advance in our short-range air-to-air combat capability, giving our pilots the decisive edge in air superiority well into the future. This, I hope you will agree, is an excellent outcome.

Lord Bach

Minister for Defence Procurement

Ministry of Defence

January 2002

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