Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 120 - 139)

WEDNESDAY 20 OCTOBER 2004

AIR CHIEF MARSHAL SIR JOCK STIRRUP KCB AFC ADC

  Q120  Mr Cran: I have no doubt. I have found the dialogue between yourself and Mr Havant to be confusing and I therefore must wait until I see the written word before I conclude what I conclude from it. However there was the premise for at least some of the time-scales we are looking at ahead there will be reduced aircraft numbers. I think that is correct?

  Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup: That is correct.

  Q121  Mr Cran: What effect will that have on the training vis-a"-vis close air support?

  Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup: None.

  Q122  Mr Cran: It will have none whatsoever?

  Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup: None.

  Q123  Mr Cran: Thank you. Will the training be extended to include operations with an urban environment as in for instance the operations that clearly the US Airforce are conducting in Iraq at the minute? Can we train for that and if we can how do we train for that?

  Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup: This would be one of the important questions for the air support organisation to address when it looks at the whole issue of doctrine and procedures.

  Q124  Mr Cran: Okay and when are we liable to get anything from that? What is the timescale for that?

  Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup: As I say, in part this does rely upon extra resources being made available to fund posts, but assuming we are able to do that, and we do put a great deal of priority on it, then certainly I would anticipate during the course of next year.

  Q125  Mr Cran: Of course, as I understand it—perhaps you will contradict me—there are no UK based facilities for close air support. You mentioned one operation but is there a range of places we can train, or just the one you mentioned? What do you feel about that?

  Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup: There are UK based facilities. For many years we have run forward air controller courses. We dedicate aircraft to it from the Royal Air Force. We have a range of facilities to enable the forward air controllers to practise their skills. The problem is that it is not sufficiently large to train enough and there are not enough opportunities for continuation training of those who are already qualified, so it is a matter of expanding it considerably, but there are potential opportunities on a wide range of exercises, both in the UK and more widely.

  Q126  Mr Cran: You did mention the cost factor, which I chose to ignore at the time you mentioned it but I am now ready to ask a question about that. You agreed that there are additional costs associated with all of this and the question is how are they going to be funded?

  Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup: That is something that we are addressing during the current short-term planning round.

  Q127  Mr Cran: Again, when are we liable to have answers?

  Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup: The outcome of the current planning round will be known early next year, around a February timescale.

  Q128  Mr Roy: Can I take you back to cost and speak specifically in relation to closures. Obviously you are aware of the plans that have been put forward for RAF Kinloss and Lossiemouth and the huge disquiet there is in Scotland regarding the possible closure of these RAF bases. I would like to refer to the Ministry of Defence press release of 12 October on the future role of, for example, RAF Kinloss. The MoD said that the basing of the new RAF Nimrod MRA4 fleet, which comes into service in 2009, replacing the Nimrod MR2 would be based either in one or two locations, either at RAF Waddington or at RAF Kinloss in Moray. I said earlier about the huge disquiet and there is a huge worry in the Moray area, for example, that of both of those bases only one is really being considered for closure. Obviously the morale at these RAF bases is not helped when they read these stories in the newspapers. The local newspapers at the moment are saying that they have a costing plan that shows the cost of closing Kinloss as opposed to RAF Waddington and there is no similar costing plan for RAF Waddington on its own. Obviously that makes it plain to people that this is a bit of a charade and all along what the RAF or the MoD want to do is close both Moray bases. The reason I feel I have to bring up closures is the disproportionate impact that closures would have on the Moray area and on the morale of the men and women serving on that base. I was looking through the Moray Economic Survey into the possible closure of these bases and the two bases have a total of 4,274 service personnel and 740 civilian employees; total income (wages and spending on supplies) for the two bases was £93.2 million of which £27.6 million accrued to local residents; the majority of Moray schools have RAF children in them and one in particular has 80% of the children who are there from the base; and the RAF has nearly 3,000 homes that have been rented out to RAF personnel, hence the very understandable worry of the disproportionate impact that this whole subject has caused. The biggest worry for many people is the perceived lack of consultation that is extremely worrying, that is burrowing its way into the fibre of thousands and thousands of people in the Moray area who need those bases open. There is a genuine feeling that we are just paying lip service here and Kinloss would close and the Lincolnshire base would stay open. What do you say to the people who write to me, whether it be local councillors, school teachers, nurses or RAF personnel? Is this the way to go about it? What does it do to the morale of your serving personnel?

  Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup: The first thing I would say is that I entirely understand the concerns of the people living in that area. I have served on the Moray Firth, it is a marvellous area and they are very supportive people. What I would say is that there are no firm plans for anything. In this country we have 73 military airfields. Of course, a great many of those are very small grass strips, glider sites and so on. Nevertheless, it is quite clear that we have more airfield infrastructure in this country than we need from a military perspective. That is inefficient. It requires people to run the additional bases; it requires money to run them. The money that we spend on keeping up bases that we do not really need is money that we cannot spend investing in the infrastructure of the bases that we do need, and this Committee is well aware of the importance all of the Chiefs of Staff attach to improving the state of our infrastructure across defence. It would be irresponsible of us not to address that issue. We have had a Defence Airfield Review to look at that issue. The Defence Airfield Review has come up with a number of wide-ranging propositions, and that is what they are. All of them will have to be tested through a full business case, which would need to take account of all of the issues which you have raised. None of them so far have been, so we are nowhere near taking the kinds of decisions which your correspondents feel may have been taken.

  Q129  Mr Roy: Is that decision based outwith and inside the RAF bases themselves? When you look at the full costing, for example, do you look at the social impact and the cost of that?

  Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup: Yes. All investment appraisals and business cases take account of all the factors. What the outcome of those will be I do not know, but at the moment there is no agreed business case one way or the other and until there is we do not have any plan. When that business case is being constructed there will be the appropriate degree of consultation and all the appropriate factors will be taken into account.

  Q130  Mr Roy: What is the timescale of that?

  Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup: For Kinloss and Lossiemouth, I would hesitate to give a precise timescale. I think that it will be most likely in the second tranche of propositions that we address because there are some that are much more immediate.

  Q131  Mr Roy: What does that mean? Are you talking about March, June, September next year or when?

  Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup: I hesitate to give you a specific date because you will hold me to it.

  Q132  Mr Roy: Give me a year.

  Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup: Certainly it will be a little while yet.

  Q133  Mr Roy: Next year or the year after?

  Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup: Certainly not before next year.

  Q134  Mr Roy: Not before next year. This is like going to the dentist!

  Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup: I cannot give you a precise date because we have not yet established how long it is going to take us to work through the first tranche of propositions, but it is important for everybody to understand that until the work is done no decisions are made. Your question to me was based on the misunderstanding of your correspondents that this decision had been made, that it had been prejudged and there had been no consultation, but that is not the case.

  Q135  Mr Roy: Just clarify this for me. Clarify that there is not a plan, a cost study programme to close RAF Kinloss and yet there is a similar cost study programme to close Moray. The people at RAF Kinloss are saying to me: "They have got this programme, it is us against them, it is two bases and yet they have only done a cost study of one base, what does that tell you?"

  Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup: The propositions that were made in the Defence Airfield Review were, of course, underpinned by some judgments on costs otherwise there would have been no basis for making the propositions in the first place, but those propositions are very broad brush and have to be tested through a proper business case and investment appraisal which would take account of costs at both ends.

  Q136  Mr Roy: Are you telling me then that absolutely the same programme has been carried out for both bases, yes or no?

  Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup: It has not been carried out for either. We have not done the business case.

  Q137  Mr Roy: You have not done the business case and you have not done the costing?

  Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup: No, not a detailed costing.

  Q138  Mr Roy: Are you telling me that the newspapers have got hold of something that they say is a costing of what would happen to RAF Kinloss but that is not true?

  Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup: What we have is a broad brush indicative figure of what we might be able to save by doing one thing rather than another but it is not a detailed costing. The Ministry of Defence's Senior Economic Adviser would not allow us, even if we wished to, to proceed on the basis of an incomplete investment appraisal.

  Q139  Mr Roy: You are treating both bases exactly the same?

  Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup: Yes.


 
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