Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 107 - 119)



  Q107  Chairman: I would like to welcome to the Committee Mr Tom Burbage, Executive Vice President and General Manager F-35 Program Lockheed Martin, Mr Steve Mogford, who is the Chief Operating Officer of BAE Systems, and also Commodore Simon Henley. We have a number of questions and I am going to leave it to you, if you do not mind, to decide who should answer these various questions. I wonder if you could begin by updating us on where we are with the Joint Fight Striker programme, how the United Kingdom programme fits with the United States programme, and if you could, in doing so, comment on the suggestion that the Short Take Off and Vertical Landing aspect of the programme has come under question in the United States. If that were the case, what would be the effects upon the British? Who would like to begin?

  Commodore Henley: If I can start, Chairman, and then I will pass to Tom to comment on the detailed parts of the programme. My job as a team leader in the way that the collaboration is set up for the joint combat aircraft is for me, effectively, to take the Joint Strike Fighter product from the US acquisition system and then integrate that into the UK. That involves a great deal of insight into the evolution and influence into the evolution of the Joint Strike Fighter programme in the US. We have people placed into the US programme to do that. It also then involves understanding what the UK environment is and ensuring that we can take that product and integrate it into the UK, in particular to integrate with our carriers, to integrate with our logistics systems, and to integrate with our command and control systems, so that we can actually operate the aircraft with other UK assets. We have been involved since the outset of the programme. We have been watching very carefully, with an announcement that we are intending to take the STOVL variant and fit that into our carriers to meet our timescales. We saw about two years ago weight growth in the STOVL aircraft which called into question its viability. We clearly were concerned about that, as were the US, and the US Marine Corps in particular, who are the other main customer for the STOVL variant. We have seen the programme take a pause and take a very good look at the design of the STOVL aircraft to take the weight back out and bring it back to a viable conclusion. At the current stage that work has been been examined by the US Defense Acquisitions Board and by the United Kingdom Investment Appraisal Board and we now believe that the STOVL is back in a viable position. There have been some added costs to the US to bring that about. The UK was in fact insulated from that increase in cost because our negotiations for involvement in the programme were on a fixed-cost basis. Perhaps for the detail I could hand over to Mr Burbage.

  Mr Burbage: Chairman, on the weight issue in the STOVL aeroplane there are probably two concerns that we have, one is technical and the other one is political, because the programme has been going through a quadrennial defence review back in Washington over the last few months, as you are well aware. On the technical side, as the Commodore said, I think we all feel that the weight is stable now and it has been stable for about 18 months. We have good margins to our performance requirements and we feel the aeroplane is on track. It is important to note that the first STOVL airplane is now in build. We have started the assembly of the central fuselage for that airplane and we expect to fly that in the summer of 2007. That is to the production standard, complete with the structural changes that we used to eliminate the weight. We eliminated about 3,000 lbs of real weight from the airplane and we improved our propulsion efficiency by about 700 lbs, so there was a net result of about 3,700 lbs of improvement in the airplane. To the testimony of the US acquisitions system, they did allow us to pause and apply a large engineering team to the project, fix the design, make everything viable again and then re-baseline the programme. That re-baselining of the programme was where the additional cost came in. I will mention, though, that we carry our cost as a total programme cost, both development and production, and as we went through the weight redesign we shifted our production programme one year to the right and those residual production dollars were then transferred in to cover the cost of the redesign. So on the bottom line there were no additional dollars handed into the JSF project line. It came out of reshuffling dollars between production and research and development. On the political side we have a quadrennial review process going on now every four years. Congress directs the Secretary of Defense to conduct a detailed review on the alignment of the defence budgets with future strategies. As part of that process every option in the book has been discussed and JFS is a big part of our future budget going forward so, as you might guess, it is a large part of that debate. There have been a number of different options looked at and our best sense right now is that the project is doing quite well in the end game. The results of that are not known yet and they will be reviewed through our Deputy Secretary of Defense up to Secretary Rumsfeld probably by the end of this month or mid-month in November. So we should have a confirmation of that in the very near future.

  Q108  Chairman: Confirmation of whether the STOVL variant is going ahead in the United States or not?

  Mr Burbage: I have heard nothing threatening the STOVL version at all lately. The other two variants have been debated but our sense of the situation right now is that all three variants will be carried forward.

  Q109  Chairman: Thank you. Would a British STOVL version be the same as a United States STOVL version in all respects?

  Mr Burbage: The UK and the United States co-signed the operational requirements document (the ORD) prior to the contract's award and the UK was part of the decision process that selected our team to build the airplane. The airplanes are identical.

  Q110  Chairman: Including in their Stealth characteristics?

  Mr Burbage: Yes. I should defer that to the Commodore. Do you want to comment on that?

  Commodore Henley: I have nothing to add.

  Q111  Mr Havard: They are the same Stealth-type characteristics or two different types of Stealth characteristic?

  Mr Burbage: At the risk of getting technical, Stealth is designed into the airplane in terms of its shape. In terms of its characteristics they are based on the shape of the airplane. The rest of it comes from other techniques, either coatings or management of emissions, and we are not building two different airplanes.

  Q112  Chairman: What about the international partner version, the version that was designed, I think, in 2003 in relation to having as many common characteristics with the United States aircraft as possible for sale outside? Are there any differences in that version? There must be presumably if it has got a different name?

  Mr Burbage: If we go back to the way the programme was constructed, the programme was constructed to be a US/UK combined programme. At the contract award we had no other international partners, just the UK. Subsequent to contract award a government-to-government invitation was extended to a number of other allied countries. Those countries were allowed to participate in the development project and in so doing were allowed to participate industrially also. Those countries now bring their unique requirements into the project and we will deliver airplanes that are responsive to their operational requirements, within the guidelines of the US national disclosure policy. The rest of that is strictly government-to-government, it has nothing to do with the industry side.

  Q113  Chairman: Okay. With many apologies I will repeat one question just for final confirmation. The US and UK STOVL versions will be identical in all respects, particularly in their Stealth characteristics. Is that correct?

  Commodore Henley: Could I say I think we can only answer that by saying they share the same requirements.

  Mr Hancock: That is not an answer, is it. That is unfair to us.

  Chairman: It is an answer to the question but it is not a complete answer to the question.

  Q114  Robert Key: May I ask in what respects they are different aircraft?

  Commodore Henley: I am not aware that they are different in any respect.

  Q115  Robert Key: But they are not the same?

  Commodore Henley: I think I answered that by saying I am not aware that they are different in any respect. I am aware of what the United Kingdom has demanded of this aircraft and I am aware that the aircraft that we are buying meets that requirement.

  Q116  Robert Key: But the requirement is identical because you said the British and American Government signed a document jointly.

  Commodore Henley: Correct.

  Q117  Robert Key: So in what respects are they not the same?

  Commodore Henley: And I said, I am not aware that they are different in any respect.

  Q118  Mr Hancock: They have a different capability because they are going to do different things. The United States Marine Corps will not fly the plane in the same operational states as the Royal Navy will fly it. So there are different capabilities. We are asking whether the plane itself, the product, is identical when it leaves the factory before it is customised to suit the use?

  Mr Burbage: I would argue they are not being built to different capabilities. There was a common requirement constructed by the UK and US together. That common requirement is what we measure the airplane against and deliver the airplane against. There are some differences in UK weapons and US weapons.

  Robert Key: That is fair enough.

  Q119  Mr Havard: Can I just apologise for jumping in earlier with a question. You said 70% of Stealth is built into the shape of the thing. What we are trying to tease out from you is that other remaining 30%. Is it then the case you might strap different Stealth things into it after the event than the British might? Is that what we are talking about? Is that why it is different?

  Mr Burbage: No sir, we do not strap anything into the airplane.

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Prepared 21 December 2005