Examination of Witnesses (Questions 100
WEDNESDAY 16 OCTOBER 2002
WEBB CBE, MR
100. I think that is the answer, is it not?
Chairman: The team is going to write
Mr Hancock: They have not got one.
Chairman: What Mr Webb said is he is
not an equipment specialist. We need some reassurance. You do
not have to mention Iraq but the fact they are capable of being
deployed in the desert.
101. That we have a tried and tested capability
of the full desertification of our main battle tanks. Yes or no;
it is a simple question.
(Mr Webb) We will write to you with an answer about
the desertification state of the Challenger programme.
Chairman: And quickly.
102. My questions relate to your spending in
the next three years. Bearing in mind the increases in capital
expenditure that have been agreed, you will have £1 billion
more to spend on equipment. I would be grateful if you could explain
to us where the additional New Chapter programmes feature in that,
which ones are going to be favoured out of that £1billion
and which ones have you already decided to drop that we have not
yet been told about?
(Mr Webb) When you are doing a policy exercise within
a time-frame, what you do is, as I described earlier when we went
through the process of this, is decide what effects you are trying
to achieve and then you try and work out, based on what force
structure you have got at the moment, what additional pieces of
equipment, logistics, people and so on you need in order to do
the extra jobs that were identified in the New Chapter. We did
that workGeneral Fulton led itand you end up with
a very long list, some of which you winnow out immediately because
it does not look like being very relevant or not worth the money
and the Treasury had very much visibility of that. Out of that
came, along with a lot of other factors, an increase in the defence
budget. You then need to go back and re-visit it because one of
the things that Smart acquisition tells us is that before you
buy anything you should spend a proper amount of time assessing
the right cost/performance/time balance and getting the risk out
of it before you commit yourself to purchase. So although you
have a package of the sort of measures that you would like to
take based on very rough costings when you do the policy work,
when you come and do what we call the "programming"
work, which is the process Bruce Mann was talking about earlier,
you need to do a lot of refining. So it is perfectly natural that
some things that were in the original package you decide to do
a different way or they do not look so good on second scrutiny
as they did when you were putting together a piece of policy work
to get the shape of the package right. We are now involved in
that process. We were able to spot some specific things which
were worth doing immediatelybringing forward the UAV's,
putting an extra terminal in the E3, things of that kind, and
things on the homeland defence side which were clear winnersand
we cruised ahead with those. Others needed to be sifted as to
their relative merits and it is a terrible mistake that you can
make to commit yourself to a piece of equipment too quickly because
that is how you get yourself into these unrisked programmes with
over-ambitious timescales which you then turn out to rue. We say
we should spend time doing proper assessment phases. That is what
is happening on a lot of these.
103. Out of that £1 billion you know you
have got to spend on capital, what have you flagged up as essential
arising out of the writing of the New Chapter and what of that
has now been committed?
(Mr Webb) The network is one very good example of
what we saw as being central, for the reasons that many members
of the Committee have picked up.
(Major General Fulton) We have seen that what we do
need to do is to improve our ability to gather and move information
around. That arose not only out of the New Chapter work but also
out of the parallel development work of the networking ability.
A lot of that is elements that do not readily trip off the tongue
as being programmes that are identifiable as a piece of hardware.
They are fitting tactical data links into strike aircraft, for
example. In terms of committing to money, committing to a proportion
of that money, that is clearly part of the current planning round.
104. So that is the only project that you can
actually tell us about today?
(Mr Webb) I have mentioned the extra terminal for
105. You have two, that is a billion for new
equipment. What have you dropped? What have you decided not to
(Major General Fulton) Since the New Chapter no decisions
on the new equipment programme have been taken.
106. Are a number of the pre-New Chapter commitments
now being revisited with a view to view dropping some of those?
(Mr Webb) Only in the sense that I explained Mr Hoon's
position earlier, that we should always be ready to look at what
has lower priority.
107. Are any of the processes being evaluated
for total abandonment?
(Mr Webb) Any what for total abandonment?
108. Any projects that were scheduled for capital
expenditure prior to the New Chapter being published. Are any
of them now being seriously considered to be dumped completely?
(Mr Mann) I think the reason that you have got a look
of puzzlement on this table is that actually we have, as you probably
know, a piece of process in the autumn of every year called the
Short-Term Planning Round which reviews where we are going to
be spending our money in future. One of the targets of this year's
round, which is now well under way, is to make decisions on how
we are going to spend the new money that you have described. There
is a long list of items which are now being considered as to their
relative priorities. The second thing
109. Can I just interrupt because we have not
got a lot of time and I want to get to the bottom of the question.
You are the policy team, we get one crack at you every whatever
it is, 12 months, it may be less. I want to know out of the pre-New
Chapter commitments that were introduced for serious money to
be spent on projects are any of those projects which have been
clearly identified in the past now being seriously considered
for being scrapped? Yes or no?
(Mr Mann) We go through a processif you let
me finishevery year which looks at all these things. In
about January or February we put advice to ministers on decisions
we believe should be taken to alter the forward defence programme.
We are not at that stage yet. We are several months away from
that stage which is why you are getting puzzlement on this table.
We are two or three months away from those sorts of decisions.
(Mr Webb) I would say to you, Sir, also I hope so
because it is of the nature of equipment projects and a lesson
of our past that some projects which looks very promising at what
we call initial gate, the early feasibility work, when you did
the assessment work on them did not look like such a good idea.
I hope, Sir, you will not create an atmosphere in which we cannot
cancel those projects. You could create an atmosphere in which
you say you just plunge on and on.
110. I am heartened maybe Bowman might have
been considered under that process at some stage over the last
whatever number of years but it was not, was it?
(Mr Webb) Well, it was in the sense that we broke
out part of it under Personal Radio.
111. Very late in the day.
(Mr Mann) I can adduce examples like the TRIGAT programmes,
for example, where we have bitten the bullet.
112. You cannot have it both ways.
(Mr Webb) Let me have a go.
Mr Hancock: Try.
Chairman: Of course he can.
113. Not here you cannot, Mr Webb, you might
be able to do that with your ministers.
(Mr Webb) We should make it easy to change direction
on the equipment programme because sometimes for technical reasons
or risk reasons we end up on the wrong track. Sometimes for policy
reasons I have to come alongand a lot of people are getting
a lot of personal involvement and have put a lot of work into
thisbut I have to say that is what I am paid to do to say
actually we would be better putting our resources in this area
rather than that area.
114. The Secretary of State told us when he
came to see us that there would be a thorough review.
(Mr Webb) Yes.
115. I tried to press him on that. I said is
there anything that has not been looked at. "No, everything
has been looked at". Mr Hancock's question was quite right:
what has actually happened to that review? Is there anything in
terms of being taken out of the budget or tweaked or so far as
you need to redirect resources in a different way or is what I
suspect is the case that what you have done is clearly justified
getting more money out of the Treasury?
(Mr Webb) No, no, certainly we are doing what Mr Hoon
said. As Mr Mann has explained we have just not got to the decisions
116. The plan in the original concept was Challenger
2 would be modified quite considerably. A lot of money would be
spent on upgrading the tank. The New Chapter suggests that might
not be as big a priority and issue as we would have lighter armour
that would have to be deployed. Now is that a good assessment
of the situation that you would downgrade or retire that decision
on the Challenger upgrade in respect of what the New Chapter is
(Mr Webb) I just do not think we have got to a decision
(Major General Fulton) Could I pick up one point also
which is that the New Chapter, in looking, for example, at the
piece that I looked at in terms of countering terrorism abroad
there is a limited role for Challenger 2, that part of the New
Chapter was looking only at those capabilities that we need to
counter terrorism abroad. One of the issues that we are now dealing
with within the equipment capability area is to say "Here
are some recommendations that came from New Chapter which are
targeted at countering terrorism abroad but that is only one of
the potential roles of the military". What we need to do
within our process of auditing our capability and then deciding
how we should take it forward, the process that Mr Mann described,
is to say how does that balance out and that is the process that
is going on at the moment. Yes, we are within the equipment capability
area reviewing all the equipment programmes but what we have not
yet done is be able to come to the assessment of those. Should
we be buying a niche capability for countering terrorism in particular
areas or should we be buying a balanced capability that we can
apply across the board and certainly within our area. That is
the stage of the process that we have got to.
117. I want to ask a question, if I may, it
is on the local issue, for me and for Syd, and that is the issue
of HMS Sheffield and the possible effects of the early
decommissioning of HMS Sheffield and the knock on
effects of that on the other ships in the fleet. I would be grateful
if you could give me your reasons behind the decommissioning of
HMS Sheffield and is there any truth in the speculation
that a number of other ships are now seriously being considered
to follow suit? If I could ask another question and that is have
you seriously considered the future of HMS Nottingham
and whether or not she joins HMS Sheffield in being decommissioned
or are you going to embark on a future rebuild of that ship?
(Mr Webb) Sorry to go back and keep quoting from Mr
Hoon but here we go.
118. I read his letter.
(Mr Webb) Well, what he said, in addition to the bit
that I referred to earlier about looking hard at other areas which
no longer add capability in the way that they once did, he said
specifically in relation to Sheffield before that that
the decision to withdraw Sheffield, the last Type 22 batch 2 frigate,
has been made possible by the increased availability of more capable
and modern Type 23 frigates. ". . . As a result of changes
to operating patterns and the more efficient maintenance regime
of Type 23s the required number of operational destroyers and
frigates can now be generated from an overall force of 31 ships
rather than the 32 identified . . .". That is a letter he
sent last week. He went on to say then that in addition, as we
were discussing earlier, we must be prepared to look at all capabilities
119. That means seriously then that we can really
read into that that Commodore Laurence's letter which was quoted
heavily in The Telegraph and elsewhere has some basis of
truth in the fact that there are several other ships in the Royal
Navy which will be considered to follow Sheffield into
(Mr Webb) We have said nothing at all about that.
I have just given the explanation about Sheffield and I
have said what the general process is. I am not going to offer
any comment on other future issues.
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