Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 240 - 247)



  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 either.

  Q241  Chairman: No, you said that in your memorandum.

  Sir Peter Spencer: They will be set when we make the main production.[2]

  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 working.

  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 carriers—at 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 position—because of the complexity of this a number of things need to come together—where 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 areas.

  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 questions—February, 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

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