Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 520 - 539)



  Q520  Mr Hancock: Have you in the Navy Board made any case—you spoke earlier, in an answer to Peter Viggers' question about the Glasgow and two other ships recently coming out of service—for those ships not to be disposed of but held either in reserve somewhere or given minimal capability available, so that there was, if necessary, the possibility, because, heaven forbid you have another Nottingham scenario, when you only have the 25 ships and if you have a Nottingham situation where a ship was taken out either by enemy action or by accident, where is the contingency to fill those gaps? And is it possible that it might be prudent for the Navy not to dispose of these ships in a hurry?

  Admiral Sir Alan West: The problem is—and we have looked hard at this in the past—that actually keeping a modern ship in a state where you could pull her out easily and readily with the right, trained people all ready to move on board her and to go and operate is really extremely difficult and actually quite expensive. So sadly it does not work. It would be a lovely thought. You have raised what is a very, very important point. I said that in an ideal world, if I had the money that was available, I believe that this country needs about 30 destroyers and frigates—or let us call them surface combatants. Part of the reason that I did not mention it in developing the argument earlier is that we have no attrition buy for these. Whenever we buy any aeroplanes we always, quite correctly, buy an attrition buy because effectively 2% each year have some sort of prang or other. We seem to work on the assumptions that the ships will not. Sadly, although they go off my Christmas card list, occasionally they do, and in war it is even more the case. So for example the OA, when you feed the data in talks of need, I think it is 12 destroyers and frigates for a large-scale operation. I have only been involved in what I might call one large maritime operation—that was fighting in the Falkland Islands—and there were 23 destroyers and frigates involved, of which four were sunk, one of which was my ship, and eight were badly damaged. I do have a worry about that resilience, which is a point you raised. So that again is a reason why I am nervous. But, having said all of that, looking at the requirements we have, looking to the future and the amount of money I have, I am sure that we are absolutely right in having put our focus on future carrier capability, maintaining the amphibious thrust that we have, enhancing the Marines, as we have, putting some money towards fleet support, which is not as good as it should be, and I think the balance is correct. But you absolutely highlight all the things that make me nervous, and these are all risks. But of course our job as Chiefs of Staff and within the MoD is to take risks and work out which is the risk that we can most afford and that is one of the risks that we are taking.

  Q521  Mr Hancock: It is going to take a decade or more for all of the new ships to come on stream, hopefully. In that time, and during that time, if the government's White Paper is to be believed, the pressure will be there on the Navy to deliver a different style of capability, maybe more frequently deployed to hotspots around the world. Is there an issue, as far as you are concerned, that this argument still has not been lost as far as the Navy is concerned about trying to retain these ships? Because many of us are surprised that quite modern ships are being taken out of service and being disposed of, and I think there is a coherent argument being put by many people who are around the Navy to suggest that this is a grave error of judgment; that until the Type 45 has come into service it must be seen as a mistake for this country. In our recent history over the last ten years we have been so dependent on the Navy's ability to get to places and not only to show the flag but to deliver a punch.

  Admiral Sir Alan West: I go back to what I said, that in terms of the amount of money we have the priorities we have come to are correct. The Type 42s, I could accept those going, reluctantly. They are getting old and there are difficulties in keeping things like 909 radars going and this sort of thing. The three Type 23s, I know they cost about £8.8 million a year to run or something like that. It is unfortunate but there is insufficient money to do that, against some of the other priorities. I think I have made my views clear about not being happy about the loss, but equally within the constraints of what we have I am sure that we have made the right decision on which bits to squeeze in our programme and which bits not. As I said, we do have to remember that there was a considerable amount of extra money given to defence last year and the year before. But within the amount we have we cannot do all the things we would like to do.

  Q522  Mr Hancock: In April of this year we were given the date of May 2009 for the Type 45 actually to be in service. Have you any reason to believe that that date has slipped forward or are you confident that the first Type 45 will be delivered and in service to meet that date?

  Admiral Sir Alan West: I think the May 2009 date is the absolutely correct date. It was published in the NAO, and so I am delighted it has been published so that people know what the actual date is because I think people were talking about 2007 and that clearly was not the date. And that will be the date they make. I have to say the Type 45, everything I see about it I like and it will be a wonderful ship. Seven and a half thousand tonnes, it is going to have the PAAMS system, and the radar we have for this means it will be the only anti-air warfare ship in the world which is capable of shooting down the highest threat missile which the Russians produced, and they have already sold to India and I think will go to China. So it is exciting in that sense. It has space for 60 Royal Marines on board so it has that ability to put people into the littoral and have those sorts of capabilities. It is going to be a wonderful ship. I went up to cut the first steel for the Dauntless up in the yard on the Clyde at Govan, and I have to say I was really impressed by how the yards have moved on, how they have now started gripping the fact that they have to deliver to time and cost and get sorted out—all these things that have caused us real problems. I was very impressed. And the fact that they had taken on 100 extra apprentices. I was educated up on the Clyde when it was teaming with shipyards, and I am afraid they got it all wrong for a number of years, but now it is really good to see that. I think it is going to be a wonderful ship and I am looking forward to having them there. Sadly I will be gone by the time they are ready because I am too old. They will be lovely drives for some young officers.

  Q523  Mr Jones: Admiral, can I stick on the subject of the Type 45s. You said in Warships Magazine in early 2003, "I would also like to see Type 45s equipped with the new Tactical Tomahawk land-attack missile." In Jane's Defence Weekly in August of this year, you said, "I think the case is very compelling . . . the problem is that there is no money. I had hoped we might have had a nod in that direction. But we haven't and it will have to fight its way through the equipment programme in the normal way." First of all, how far have you waded through the programme; secondly, what are the costs? You said it is quite insignificant, but what is going to be the cost of equipping and using it?

  Admiral Sir Alan West: The position still is that this is going to have to find its place within the programme. It has no greater push than that. My position is very clear and I have said it all the time and I still firmly believe that it is something I believe we should have in those ships, but it has to fight its way through all the Committees and everything else within the MoD, and as can be seen from the fact that we are paying off Type 23s, there is no money around; that is the problem. I still think it would be a very good thing for us to have. I can remember going back to when there was a debate about putting TLAMs into the SSNs, a lot of people said, "They will never be used, what are you doing this for, goodness me!" The reality is that we used it in the Kosova crisis, we used it in Afghanistan and we have used it in Iraq. They have been very useful, and the fact that we are linked in so closely with the

  Americans on this has been of huge value for us, giving insight into their operations, working absolutely side by side with them, and the fact that we have a common weapon that can be shifted around, and it has been very, very valuable; and I think that would be enhanced if we had it in the Type 45. It is interesting that the Americans have fitted land-attack cruise missiles very widely in their ships; the Dutch are looking at doing this; the Spanish are looking at doing this; the French are going to do this. Therefore I think it makes sense. However, there is no money and one has to look at all the other priorities and this will fight its way and we will see where we get to on it.

  Q524  Mr Jones: As the Navy's role is clearly going to be in support of Land Forces does that not leave a gap then in the capability of the Type 45 in terms of Land support?

  Admiral Sir Alan West: No, I do not think so, because she still carries her helicopter; with her PAAMs she will be able to provide very capable air defence over the littoral area—the land and the littoral area; she has extremely good radar, in terms of guiding other aircraft and this sort of thing, rather like 1 ATC capability, all in a destroyer. She has the ability to carry Special Forces, up to 60 marines and, as I say, she has got a 4.5 gun, which is equivalent to one light battery. It would be very nice to have a larger gun and work is going on to look at that, whether that is feasible within the cost restraints we have, and that would add more clout. Yes, I believe it would be very nice to have the TACTOM, but the TACTOM of course is much more deep strike rather than the close range things and there are other ways of doing that. We have the TACTOMs in the Astutes and in the T Boats at the moment and we have the CVF, which will be able to do this assured access and use deep strike as well. So I am sure part of the debate will be, does this mean we have over-egged it in terms of the amount available, and that is where the debate will lie? As I say, there is no money at the moment, sadly.

  Q525  Mr Jones: In terms of the gun, I know that the US Navy and a few others have adopted a Mark 45 gun actually producing guided shells now, which are quite sophisticated. Are we actually looking at that as an option for the Type 45s?

  Admiral Sir Alan West: The special ammunition they are doing is for slightly larger calibre guns and that is one of the reasons we are looking at getting a bigger gun, a 155-type gun. A lot of the special ammunition they are making is for a 155-type gun, and there are some very interesting proposals and we are going to test them out, I think very wisely; I would hate to fire it and find that the ship sinks or the deck rolls back or whatever. So we have to check that out, but it is an exciting prospect because you can suddenly get very good ranges, out to 100 miles or so, with some of these very clever munitions, which would be very, very helpful for the Army in terms of this initial entry and support.

  Q526  Mr Jones: For example, I think it is the US Navy that has a Mark 45 gun with the new ERGM round, which is this round that is guided to the actual target. I also understand quite a few European Navies have also procured that. Is that an option for the Mark 45, in trying to increase this capability of land attack?

  Admiral Sir Alan West: As I say, we are looking at getting the larger gun. If that makes sense and we can fit that within the money that is there then I am sure we will do that. Once you do that you have the option of using this clever ammunition, and it seems to me something that would be very, very valuable. Naval fire support, even of the small stuff we have, 4.5 inch, is very, very useful. It worked really well on the Al Fawr. We were told in the 70s that we will never use this again, and I think something like 18,000 salvos were fired in the Falklands. If you are a soldier and you have some nasty people there it is lovely to be able to call down a great weight of fire suddenly. So it is an attractive option and certainly soldiers I know who have been able to call on it like it, and therefore if we can get the bigger calibre that would be super.

  Q527  Mr Jones: What is the timescale?

  Admiral Sir Alan West: I just do not know, I am afraid, but I know that it is actively being looked at at the moment and they are going to do a trial, I think.

  Q528  Mr Jones: There is going to be a position, is there not, where if you are going to come in in 2009 you are going to retro-fit some of these, if you are going to change the guns?

  Admiral Sir Alan West: As I say, I am afraid I do not know the detail well enough to be able to tell you.

  Q529  Mr Jones: Could you drop us a note[1] in terms of where you are?

  Admiral Sir Alan West: Yes, certainly, as to where we have got to on it.

  Q530  Chairman: If the threat changes, is there a great problem of bolting on a Tomahawk missile? Will it alter the weight, the balance, the size and shape?

  Admiral Sir Alan West: There is actually space within the ship which was built into it to be able to do it, just in case. One of the things we learnt is that steel and space are not expensive; what is expensive is filling it all up. So we have steel and space and clearly it is always best to fit anything as you build it because that has to be cheaper. But if there is no money then you cannot do it anyway.

  Q531  Mr Roy: You propose to replace the current three aircraft carriers with two larger and more capable vessels. Given that the concurrency assumptions envisage a norm of three concurrent operations, what is the rationale for reducing that number of carriers?

  Admiral Sir Alan West: We are looking really at one medium and two small effectively, and for the small you would not expect to have a carrier—

  Q532  Mr Roy: Sorry, one medium and two small?

  Admiral Sir Alan West: That is the normal ongoing thing, and we can do for a short period two mediums, and one of the mediums will be for six months, in which case you could not have a CVF for both. What you want this for is the fact that you cannot rely on host nations abroad. Every single indication we have is that that is the case and it is getting harder and harder as one looks around the world. Looking at the future we certainly cannot guarantee putting those jets into another country on to their airfield to do something for us somewhere else. Over flying can be difficult as well. You can absolutely guarantee it when you have got it in an aircraft carrier.

  Q533  Mr Roy: Do you not think that one of the options would be three or more smaller, more agile carriers?

  Admiral Sir Alan West: The reason that we have arrived at what we have arrived at is because to do the initial strike package, that deep strike package, we have done really quite detailed calculations and we have come out with the figure of 36 joint strike fighters, and that is what has driven the size of it, and that is to be able to deliver the weight of effort that you need for these operations that we are planning in the future. That is the thing that has made us arrive at that size of deck and that size of ship, to enable that to happen. I think it is something like 75 sorties per day over the five-day period or something like that as well.

  Q534  Mr Roy: Do you think you can confidently expect the unexpected when you get down to such numbers?

  Admiral Sir Alan West: I think you can expect the unexpected but I think that capability of deep penetration attack is what we will require and I think, rather as we found all over the world in the past, you cannot guarantee getting it there from using other people's airfields. I was sunk in the Falklands when there was no shore-based aircraft there. I think we only had one Vulcan or something, and we had a couple of Nimrods, and effectively we needed carrier air. The reason off Korea that it was carriers was because no one could get there. There are whole areas of the world. That is why the Chief of the Air Staff is so much on side with the carriers, because it is a guaranteed way of getting the Air Force and Navy aircraft to where the action is. One of the figures I quote, some time since the last war every aircraft shot down in air to air combat by the Brits, apart from one, has been shot down by an aeroplane that took off from a carrier. Why is that? It is because the carriers can get where the action is. That is why I believe it is so important, and it is seen as an absolutely key and important plank of our expeditionary capability. That was stated in the SDR, the SDR Extra Chapter, the Defence White Paper, and I am very pleased that that is the case. As I say, in 1966 or so, when we said we were not going to go down this carrier route, a number of people said that we will end up doing some sort of amphibious operation in the littoral where we will come under enemy air attack and we will not have as many fighters and attack aircraft as we want, I did not realise that I would be one of those who was sunk because of it. I have no doubt whatsoever, looking to the future, that we will regret it if we do not have that ability to deploy air power to wherever we want to in the world to conduct operations, because it will end up with sailors and soldiers getting killed because that air power is not there, and I can see that happening. Therefore, I am absolutely convinced about the carrier and I am very glad the MoD is. It is unfortunate, having mentioned it and said we really wanted it in 1997, it has taken rather longer maybe to get going than I would have liked—I think that is because people were looking at it in such detail. We have 60% design definition now, which is higher than any other project. I think it is something that we can look at and say, "Can this department actually deliver something which is so important?" and it is a good way of judging it. Everything I see at the moment shows that, yes, it will deliver it and I am delighted that it will achieve that because Ministers support it, the Chiefs of Staff support it and I very much look forward to starting to build this thing and getting British industry really going with it.

  Q535  Mr Roy: I was going to ask you a question later on about logistics support, which would have been along the lines of what steps do you take to acquire the capabilities to support land operations in the absence of Host Nation Support, and I think you have just answered that.

  Admiral Sir Alan West: Yes, and there are other aspects as well. In terms of initial entry the amphibious capability allows the start of that and then the Army can start moving in. Sea-based logistics is a wonderful way of providing logistics. You do not have big footprints on the shore, particularly in these days of asymmetric threat from terrorists—it is actually quite difficult for terrorists to get out and get at ships, unless they are in very constrained waters or very close into shore. It was interesting in Op Telic that the only reason the Seventh Armoured Brigade could go over the line of start time was because of stuff they had taken from the amphibious task group of the sea-based logistics there. I think this is seen now in the MoD and it is something that we are aspiring to. The Americans are doing it on a huge scale of course. But that is our way of guaranteed access.

  Q536  Mike Gapes: As you are aware, the French government has been going through discussions about its future aircraft carrier programme and made a decision recently which was quite controversial internally, to go for an option of a conventionally powered carrier. Do you see possibilities that there may be cooperation with the carriers in the future when they have a new system, and are you in any discussions with your French counterparts about how that might work?

  Admiral Sir Alan West: I talk quite frequently with Admiral Jean-Louis Battet, who is the Head of their Navy. I think maybe he had hope of greater cooperation or greater linkage between design and things like that when he went down this route. I am sure he made absolutely the right decision not to go for another nuclear carrier, and he made that for whatever reasons he made it. But certainly I would not have gone down the route of a nuclear carrier; they are expensive and there are other issues that affect them. So I think it was the right decision he made. We have got a very long way down our design route and our designs and things we want are not necessarily the same that they want. We were badly scarred by the Project Horizon, the common new generation frigate, which is the same thing, and NATO frigate, NFR90, that package, which is all the same ship, which went on and on because we could not actually get our standards and designs aligned. What we have made clear all the time is that whereas there might be scope industry-to-industry to make savings at the lower level, what we will not do is to go and say, "Let us look at re-designing this thing." That would kick all our timescales out and it would cause us very real problems and it would not necessarily be what we wanted and it would delay this thing and make it more expensive. Generally, if you can get things on time then you are more likely to get them to cost, and that is an important area. There might be savings in, for example, let us say there are four engines per carrier, and instead of eight there will be 12 engines, and that means a possibility there. So in some of the subsystems and industry-to-industry there might be scope for making some savings. Looking to the future beyond that I think there is scope, for when you look at Europe the only people with what I call big carriers—the Italians are building one of about 27,000 tonnes—would be the French and ourselves, and I am sure that we can come up within the context of the European Battle Group or whatever else, or the European part of NATO, some way of operating our carriers so that we were taking the weight between us on that issue. I am sure there is some scope for that, possibly, but we have only just started addressing that sort of thing.

  Q537  Mike Gapes: So you are talking about operational cooperation with British aircraft flying on to French carriers?

  Admiral Sir Alan West: The problem there is of course they are flying Raphael and that needs catapults and wires and of course we are going for the STOVL variant, which has a ramp and does not have wires, so helicopters may be transferring across, yes. Just as an aside, these new carriers have immense flexibility; they can carry all sorts of other aircraft. Although the main focus is this deep strike role with the JCA, the STOVL Joint Combat Aircraft, they are capable of so many other things—a big, flat deck has huge capabilities. We operated off Illustrious six Chinooks across Pakistan into Afghanistan during the Afghanistan crisis, with 40 commandos; we could operate 20 Chinooks off the new platform. That has to have huge advantages for us if we ever wanted to do that, in places in the world where we cannot get to otherwise. So it has this immense flexibility.

  Q538  Rachel Squire: You will not be surprised, Admiral, if I want to pick up a bit more on the future of aircraft carriers, both because of my time in serving in the Armed Forces Parliamentary Scheme, but also my interest as a local MP for the Rosyth dockyard and my hopes, along with other MPs, for getting a major share of the work. First of all, picking up on the question there about cooperation with France, I was looking at a Warships Magazine interview with you in January/February 2003 and you were asked then about the discussion about the new carriers contract that was placed at the end of   January 2003 and the merits of competing companies, but you were quoted as saying, "What matters to me is that the Royal Navy gets the first carrier by 2012. Who builds the ships is neither here nor there. The work will be done in the UK." I would like you first of all to perhaps reinforce that you still do see the work being done in the UK, and also ask you about your feelings about (whoever is the First Sea Lord) that opportunity to receive the first carrier in the Royal Navy in 2012. Is that still achievable or is there a general air of mood that the date has somehow moved beyond 2012 for the first future aircraft carrier to be in operation?

  Admiral Sir Alan West: To answer the first part of the question, it is of course UK government policy to build all warships within the United Kingdom, or the ships of warlike purpose within the United Kingdom. I have to say personally I am rather pleased that is the case because I think it is important to have that capability. Some people have different views but that is my own view. I think in the context of that it is great that we have started this work, discussing with the various ship builders about some sort of strategy for the future, how we can smooth the amount of work there is, how we can look at a portion, what is available in terms of work, because when the carriers are ordered there will be a large amount of work required from our yards. There is the UK Naval Shipbuilding Industrial Strategy work that is going on, which I think is going to come to a conclusion by the second half of next year, and I am really pleased that that is now being undertaken. We have of course six Type 45s being built. The first three completely ordered, the second three the hulls, yes, but not all the fittings, but that is still there, and we are going to have eight of those. We have the Astutes, of course, with three fully ordered and long lead items for a fourth coming along. Looking at our requirements for the future, there is a requirement for a placement for our Royal Fleet Auxiliaries and there are also the carriers of course. Those have not been ordered as yet, nor have the follow-on Astutes or the next two Type 45s, but assuming all those things happen it will be quite a load. Therefore, I think it is absolutely right, looking at the ability to build and not wanting to have huge peaks and troughs, that we talk to industry and look at all the facilities that are available and work out a plan for how this can be done, not losing the requirement to get good value, time and cost and all these sorts of things. Actually I have to say, although we have had some bad experiences over the last few years I do believe that the UK yards are getting better. I went up and saw Illustrious the other day up in Rosyth and Rosyth has churned out the carriers—they have had three refits in a row and all the benefits of having a stream of things, and with all the money saving ways they can get because they learn how to go here and where to put a bit of kit, it is paying off. It has been done to time and cost and it is fantastic. I think we need to do this across all of our industry, and within the MoD we have looked at the maritime coherency package. We have said that it is no good, because of the amount of money available to us, to think we are going to get all the Royal Auxiliaries replaced now, but let us look at how we can stretch this out and it will fit in with industry and how we can come to some sensible arrangement. I am very pleased that those bits of work are going on and I think we can come to some sensible conclusion with British industry. As I say, it is important still that they realise that things have to be done to time and cost. The ISD and exact dates, I am still adamant that I want it in 2012. I would be very silly—I mean, we will not know exactly that until we have the final Main Gate and final response from the Integrator and the Alliance. There has been a bashing around about what the contract is and that is when we will finally see. I would still like to make 2012. That is the  date I would like to make. Certainly all my experience is that every time something goes on a few years you pay for that, because you have to pay for overheads, you have to pay for all the other things and it all costs you money. Therefore I think we need to crack on with this as fast we can or it will end up costing us more money. That is what I think we ought to do, and so that is where I stand on it.

  Q539  Rachel Squire: Just how disappointed are you that the order for the future aircraft carrier has not taken place, as it was said it would, in 2004, and any concerns you have, both about the longer term impact on the Navy of delay, but also—and I will perhaps come back a bit later about the industry issue—how do you keep the skilled work forces available throughout the country if there is constant delay on work to maintain those skills and provide new experience to those at the yards that can be so important in providing the Royal Navy with what it needs when it needs it?

  Admiral Sir Alan West: The way I would start answering that is that we have had quite big problems over the Astute programme. The initial price that was quoted, the initial timing, the initial delivery dates, I think initially in 1993 it was something like two and a half billion and it was going to be ready in 2005, or something. I think it has gone up by about 35% and it is going to be delivered four years later. Part of the reason for that was because we had stopped building ballistic missile submarines, I believe, we had finished with our Vanguards and there was then a gap, and, as you rightly say, all the skilled workers, all the skilled designers, everybody disappeared. There was then a gap and then we had to build this up again, and that is not a clever way of doing things. You need a drum beat of these things to get the best answer out of it, and therefore to fall off the precipice and not do anything for a while and then suddenly order them to do something is not a clever way of doing it. Doing that within the constraints of our funding and treasury rules and everything else is difficult. You ask me: am I disappointed we have not ordered it? I am disappointed. I think this is a very good test for our department, the Ministry of Defence. We stated quite clearly in 1997 that the carriers were crucial for expeditionary warfare. It was again said, as I say, in the extra chapter, again in the White Paper. 1997 is seven years ago. I know all the reasons why it has happened—there have been problems on the industry side, there have been problems on our process side—but we really do need to get on with it; and, in terms of judging how a department does, if the Government ministers want to go and do something, it seems to me it should happen, but then I am rather an old-fashioned sailor, I suppose, and I think that is what should happen. I am disappointed, but I think now it is cracking on, and the fact we have 60% of design finality there will mean there will be savings later, because we are clearer what we want, and, of course, the NAO and PAC have picked up the fact that if you go into these things without knowing exactly what is what, your costs will be more later. So in that sense I am reassured, but we really have got to get going, and talking about, "Gosh, there might be an excess of work in British yards"—yes, there might be, but if we do not order something there will not be and people will go and there will be a problem. That is why in maritime coherency work, work with industry I believe is very important, and I think it will be good for the UK and for UK industry. Having seen things like the yard up in the Clyde, how the new technique is coming on there, having seen what people like Murray Easton have done at Barrow where they are really getting on top of this, having seen what is coming out of Babcocks in terms of carrier refit work, I believe British industry can do these things, and we should encourage them, and that is an important thing, but that is slightly my personal view on it, I have to say.

  Chairman: If Rachel cannot get a good press release out of that, Admiral, for her weekend papers I will be very surprised!

1   Ev 167 Back

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2005
Prepared 17 March 2005