Examination of Witnesses (Questions 240
TUESDAY 25 OCTOBER 2005
Q240 Chairman: We understand that,
I think, but what is the planning assumption?
Lord Drayson: I am clearly not
understanding something here.
Sir Peter Spencer: If I can put
this into context and to slightly correct a slip of the tongue
by the Minister. The aircraft is in the detailed design stage
so it is more advanced than the aircraft carrier. We have gone
beyond the so-called assessment phase for the aircraft. But we
have still not formally set the In Service Date for those aircraft
Q241 Chairman: No, you said that
in your memorandum.
Sir Peter Spencer: They will be
set when we make the main production.
Q242 Chairman: Indeed, but your memorandum
drew a distinction between formally setting the In-Service Date,
which would be a decision you would make on the decision of investment,
and the planning assumption with the aircraft on which you were
Sir Peter Spencer: In the context
of the Minister saying that he noted the target date that the
Ministry had previously announced, those planning assumptions
are loosely connected in the sense that the carrier will come
into service before the aircraft are ready to be embarked, and
we are looking at a period of time between them which is going
to be in the region of two years. So the planning assumptions
are around that, but they are in the future at a point when we
cannot pin them down with precision, which we will be able to
do when we have more information.
Q243 Chairman: We are not asking
for precision here because we are asking only for assumptions,
and it seems to me to be odd that you have assumptions for the
aircraft but not for the carriersat least, assumptions
for the aircraft which you are prepared to tell us, but not for
the carriers that you are prepared to tell us.
Sir Peter Spencer: Because the
aircraft programme is more mature, it is further down the line
in terms of development than are the aircraft carriers. So we
have a better feel for the dates for the aircraft and those are
dates which are in the public domain, from the United States.
We are not yet in that state of grace with the aircraft carriers.
So meanwhile we are tracking those dates with the aim of tying
together publicly much more explicitly when we have sufficient
information on the carrier programme.
Q244 Mr Jones: Is it not the truth,
though, Sir Peter, that you have a new Minister who is actually
for once being open and honest with this Committee and also doing
what is very unusual for an MoD Minister, or anybody from the
MoD, who is actually saying, "We do not know," and will
ask to review it. That is what he is actually saying, is it not?
Sir Peter Spencer: I think you
will have to ask him.
Q245 Chairman: You do not have to
answer that question!
Lord Drayson: I think the question
that you are getting at, if I understand it correctly, Chairman
(and I may have been a bit slow on the uptake here), is for us
to make sure that we can maintain the defence of the United Kingdom
effectively, taking into account the evolution from the existing
carrier strike capability, which we have, based upon HMS Illustrious
with the Harriers on it today, moving in the future to the new
large carriers with the JCA fighter on them. We have to have planning
assumptions in terms of the evolution of that because if we do
not we are not going to be able to maintain the defence of the
United Kingdom. Now, we do have those planning assumptions but
there are overlaps in terms of the flexibility which we have,
in terms of the various elements which need to come together.
At the same time what we have to do is to make sure that where
we are contracting for the delivery of new ships, new aircraft,
that we do so in a way that increases our confidence over the
delivery date and the cost and the risks that we are taking, and
we make sure that we get that right. Because we cannot be in the
positionbecause of the complexity of this a number of things
need to come togetherwhere we have gone forward without
being clear about the actual cost and delivery date and the level
of risk. That is why I am being really quite disciplined on the
Department in terms of making sure that the Department does have
that clear, with its industrial partners, which have to do what
they have to do, before we sign up to this.
Q246 Mr Swayne: The First Sea Lord
was adamant that the Navy had to have the first ship by 2012.
Given your planning assumptions, or whatever you want to call
them, what is the likelihood of him being disappointed?
Lord Drayson: I really cannot
speak for the First Sea Lord; you will have to ask the First Sea
Lord. I think for Sea Lords in the future not to be disappointed
we have to have greater confidence on the delivery date and the
cost of our long-term goal.
Q247 Chairman: I think Sir Peter
has been inspired, or not? Not!
Sir Peter Spencer: I can tell
you that when I came to this Committee previously I set out very
much a set of principles that you have heard the Minister strengthen
today, and to have that strong ministerial engagement quite so
explicitly set out is hugely helpful, as you might expect, because
we do need to get ourselves into the position where all of the
Service Chiefs in the future are more likely to be pleased than
disappointed because of problems of which you are aware in other
Mr Havard: Can I ask my question again,
Chair? When is the next best date for you to come back to give
us the answers to these questionsFebruary, March?
Chairman: I think that is a decision
that we will have to take. May I say thank you very much indeed
for the evidence you have given this morning. It has been a very
worthwhile session and we are grateful to you for those answers
you have given us, and to those areas where you have said that
there is a degree of decision still to be made.
2 Note by witness: [decision] Back