Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 140 - 145)



  Q140  Mr Hancock: Does this agreement allow these planes that will be acquired solely by the UK to be wholly maintained in the UK?

  Commodore Henley: We intend to maintain the aircraft at whole aircraft level, ie at the aeroplane level in the UK. It would be pointless and very expensive to set up the entire supply chain in the UK, so where the manufacturer of a particular component is somewhere other than the UK and the reliability is such that we do not have a great deal of through-put we are not intending specifically in the UK to pick that up. So it is a value-for-money case.

  Mr Burbage: It might be important to add that the STOVL lift is done by Rolls-Royce, the cockpit ejection seat is done by Martin Baker, and the flight equipment is done by Beaufort. There is a large part of this airplane that will be done in the UK and those suppliers will be the lifetime maintainers of the equipment they provide.

  Chairman: We will now move on to the weight reduction as you have already mentioned. Robert Key?

  Q141  Robert Key: Now the decision has been taken to change the bring-back of the characteristics of the aircraft and the reduction in weight will be achieved by having one 1,000 lb bomb not two; does that have an impact on the operational performance of the aircraft?

  Commodore Henley: The requirement for the UK, if I could just clarify is actually one 1,000 lb bomb either side. The original requirement for the UK was just that. There was a requirement for the UK aircraft (and the requirement document laid it out) that we would have a 1,000 lb weapon either side so we could carry two 1,000 lb bombs. At one stage in the programme we believed that we had enough spare capacity in the STOVL aircraft to move towards a common weapons bay with the other variants, which has a 2,000 lb capacity weapon bay. That is not the same as saying you can fit two 1,000 lb bombs. It means you can fit a single 2,000 lb class weapon. The UK does not have any 2,000 lb class weapons in its inventory, which is why a 1,000 lb class weapon was being deemed suitable. As part of the weight reduction studies we did we reverted to the original design and therefore, no, there has been no impact on the UK requirements of that change.

  Q142  Robert Key: But a reduction in the size of the bomb bay implies that you are going to put the 1,000 lb bomb in the bomb bay, so that is how you achieved your reduction in weight, or one of the ways?

  Commodore Henley: No, the 1,000 lb weaponry was always going to go in the bomb bay. What we have done is to shrink the weapons bay in the aeroplane which has freed up space in the aeroplane to put other equipment and we have redistributed it so that we could get a more efficient design into the aircraft and that in turn knocks on into the weight issue.

  Q143  Robert Key: So are there any more risks that you are anticipating you are going to have to tackle?

  Commodore Henley: There are risks out there and it would be foolish at this stage in the development programme to say there are not. Clearly we are keeping a very good eye on the propulsion of the lift system. We do have engines up and running. We have got over 3,500 hours of testing under our belts now on the engine, and we have roughly 500 hours on the STOVL propulsion system, so we know we can run the whole system. We need to understand what happens when you install that in the aircraft. Some of those tests are coming out. There is still the risk that aircraft do grow in development as you find things. That is what development is about. You have to add bits back into the aircraft. We have an allowance for that weight growth which is based on historic norms and with this programme with the weight management that is in place already we expect to stay well within those norms and right now our target is based around expecting those norms. If something, though, came out of the woodwork that we were not expecting, clearly that is still a risk. We have very good UK Government subject matter experts based in the key areas of the programme in the US to understand those risks.

  Q144  Robert Key: Commodore, will the UK be acquiring an aircraft that meets all the Key User Requirements?

  Commodore Henley: At the moment we do not anticipate any difficulty with meeting Key User Requirements. That one that is under threat, which we set in the first place, was the 450-foot ski-jump launch with a full weapon load. At the moment we are close to that but with the current CVF design that does not impact on the operability of the aircraft. That requirement was set some time back before we knew what the CVF design looked like.

  Robert Key: Thank you, Commodore.

  Q145  Mr Hancock: Does the weight reduction and keeping the weapon level to a useable size mean that the range of the aircraft is reduced because you are taking fuel capacity out of the aircraft, in other words you reduce the weight so you do not need so much fuel. These aircraft are flying out of aircraft carriers and they might have some distance to fly and return safely, so I want to know if the weight shift has downgraded the capability of the aircraft to deliver what we want?

  Commodore Henley: The whole of the weight reduction process was taking a holistic view as to all the requirements of the aircraft. There is a Key User Requirement to set a minimum range for the aircraft. As we took the weight out of the aircraft and occasionally we impacted on fuel volume then we looked at other ways of getting that fuel volume back in. You can do things such as reduce drag on the aircraft which means you need less fuel to go the same distance. With an aircraft of this sort of design and with the design capabilities that are inherent in the modern design process, then you can play tunes, if you like. What we have ended up with at the end of the weight reduction process is a balanced design that meets our main requirements and gives us our required payload and bring back payload.

  Chairman: Thank you very much indeed. Thank you for all the evidence you have given us this morning. Once again, this is something on which we will definitely need to come back to you but we are most grateful to you.

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