Select Committee on Defence Second Report


The requirement

1. The requirement for two new aircraft carriers and aircraft to operate from them was set out in the Strategic Defence Review of 1998:[1]

    The focus for our maritime forces in the new environment will move towards rapid deployment operations. Our amphibious capability with its improved specialised shipping will give our Rapid Reaction Forces important extra flexibility. Aircraft carriers will have a wide utility, including for deterrence and coercion. Our current INVINCIBLE class carriers will be given a wider power projection role by the development of a "Joint Force 2000" combining RN and RAF Harrier aircraft. To meet our longer term needs, we plan to replace our current carriers from around 2012 by two larger, more versatile, carriers capable of carrying a more powerful force, including a future carrier borne aircraft to replace the Harrier. These plans will now be developed in detail in the normal way.[2]

2. The two new aircraft carriers and the aircraft to operate from them are core elements of the 'Carrier Strike' capability. Carrier Strike is an 'expeditionary air power capability that will be able to operate in uncertain access, basing and overflight conditions as part of a joint force: the fast jet element should be capable of delivering the full range of effects from both the land and sea base'.[3] At the core of the Carrier Strike capability are the Future Aircraft Carriers (CVF), the Joint Combat Aircraft (JCA) and the Maritime Airborne Surveillance and Control (MASC) projects.[4] The United Kingdom (UK) Ministry of Defence (MoD) has selected the Short Take Off and Vertical Landing (STOVL) variant of the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) to meet the JCA requirement. JSF is a US-led programme.[5] The current estimate of whole life costs[6] for the core projects of the Carrier Strike capability is £31 billion, which includes some £12 billion of acquisition costs.[7]

3. The Defence Committee in the last Parliament examined the progress in acquiring the two new aircraft carriers and the Joint Strike Fighter, in its Defence Procurement reports of 2003[8] and 2004[9], and its 2005 report[10] into the White Paper, Delivering Security in a Changing World: Future Capabilities.

Scope of our inquiry

4. The focus of our inquiry was on the progress in procuring two of the three core projects of the Carrier Strike capability—the CVF and JCA programmes. Both programmes have experienced problems and our examination focussed on how these problems were being addressed, and the progress against cost, time and performance targets. We did not examine manpower issues on either programme as the In-Service Dates are still some way off; but we intend to monitor this closely.

Maritime Airborne Surveillance and Control Programme

5. The MASC programme, the third of the three core projects aims to provide 'assured airborne surveillance and control through the surveillance of air and surface targets and the battle management of air borne assets'.[11] This broad capability is currently provided by the Sea King Mk7 Airborne Surveillance and Control variant.[12]

6. The MASC programme has received Initial Gate approval[13] and moved into the Assessment Phase in July 2005. The MASC Assessment Phase will examine the options for providing the solution to the MASC capability requirement.[14] MoD is aiming for Main Gate approval[15] towards the end of the decade. The In-Service Date (ISD) for MASC will be decided by Main Gate, but is likely to be after the introduction into service of the two aircraft carriers and the JSF aircraft. The current Sea King Mk7 Airborne Surveillance and Control variant will provide the initial airborne surveillance and control capability for the Carrier Strike capability.[16] Given that the MASC programme is at an early stage, we did not examine the progress of this programme in detail. MoD will need to ensure that the MASC programme is not subject to delays or indeed cancellation, so that the best use is made of the two new aircraft carriers and JSF aircraft.

7. Other 'enabling capabilities',[17] including the Military Afloat Reach and Sustainability (MARS)[18] and Future Strategic Tanker Aircraft (FSTA)[19] programmes, will contribute to the effectiveness of the Carrier Strike capability. However, these programme are not core projects and we did not examine their progress as part of this inquiry. Given their importance, we intend to monitor closely the progress on both these programmes.

Timing of the inquiry

8. We announced our inquiry into the CVF and JCA programmes on 21 July 2005.[20] On 20 September 2005, Lord Drayson, Minister for Defence Procurement, wrote to our Chairman expressing concerns about the timing of the inquiry.[21] A particular concern was that 'negotiations on the carrier programme in particular may be at a critical stage as we approach the major investment decision (Main Gate) on the programme'.[22] The Minister said that he would prefer us to amend the timing of our inquiry, but if that was not possible, noted that MoD 'will be forced to be limited in the information that it will be able to provide to the Committee'.[23] We recognised that there would always be some difficulties with the timing of inquiries into procurement programmes. However, these were two key programmes which our predecessors had followed closely. Given the importance of these programmes, we decided to undertake the inquiry to our original timetable rather than defer it.[24]

Oral and written evidence

9. In undertaking our inquiry, we took oral evidence on 18 October 2005 from representatives of the main defence companies involved in the CVF programme (Mr Allan Cameron, Managing Director, Thales Naval Business, UK; Mr Chris Geoghegan, Chief Operating Officer, BAE Systems; and Mr Tony Pryor CBE, Chairman of Devonport Royal Dockyard Limited and Kellogg, Brown and Root representative on the UK Aircraft Carrier Alliance project) and JCA programme (Mr Tom Burbage, Executive Vice President and General Manager, F-35 JSF Program, Lockheed Martin; and Mr Steve Mogford, Chief Operating Officer, BAE Systems). We also took oral evidence on 25 October 2005 from Lord Drayson, Minister for Defence Procurement and Sir Peter Spencer, Chief of Defence Procurement, and on 18 October 2005 from Mr John Coles, the CVF and MASC Integrated Project Team Leader[25] and Commodore Simon Henley, JCA Integrated Project Team Leader.

10. In addition to written evidence from MoD, we received written evidence from Scottish Enterprise Glasgow[26] and the 'Keep Our Future Afloat Campaign'.[27] We are grateful to all those who contributed to our inquiry, and to the specialist advisers who assisted us in our inquiry: Mr Paul Beaver, Rear Admiral Richard Cobbold, Professor David Kirkpatrick, Air Vice Marshal Professor Tony Mason and Brigadier Austin Thorp.

1   White Paper on the Strategic Defence Review, Modern Forces for a Modern World, Cm 3999 Back

2   Cm 3999, para 115 Back

3   Ev 44 Back

4   Ibid Back

5   Ev 40 Back

6   MoD's Smart Acquisition initiative 'includes the need to examine critically and manage the whole life costs of delivering military capability. In order to ensure that investment decisions take full account of the cost of owning as well as procuring equipment, a better understanding of the costs associated with operating, maintaining and disposal of the equipment is essential' (The Acquisition Handbook, Edition 6-October 2005, p 13). Back

7   Ev 45 Back

8   Defence Committee, Eighth Report of Session 2002-03, Defence Procurement, HC 694, paras 71-84 Back

9   Defence Committee, Sixth Report of Session 2003-04, Defence Procurement, HC 572-I, paras 78-82 Back

10   Defence Committee, Fourth Report of Session 2004-05, Future Capabilities, HC 45-I, paras 49-56 and paras 124-130 Back

11   Ev 43 Back

12   Ibid Back

13   Under the Smart Acquisition lifecycle, there are two key approval points, Initial Gate, at which parameters for the Assessment Phase are set, and Main Gate, at which performance, time and cost targets for the Demonstration and Manufacture Phase are set.  Back

14   Ev 43 Back

15   Ibid  Back

16   Ev 2, paras 9-10 Back

17   Ev 44 Back

18   MARS is planned to provide a fleet of ships which will deliver logistics support to maritime, amphibious and land based forces engaged in expeditionary activity. The requirement reflects the changing strategic role of the future navy (including Carrier Strike) and is intended to reduce United Kingdom Forces' reliance on logistic and infrastructure support from other nations within the theatre of operations. Back

19   FSTA is planned to replace the air refuelling and some elements of air transport capability currently provided by the RAF's fleet of VC10 and TriStar aircraft. Air refuelling is a key military capability that provides force multiplication and operational range enhancements for front line aircraft across a range of defence roles and military tasks. Back

20   Defence Committee, Press Notice No. 2 of Session 2005-06 Back

21   Ev 40 Back

22   Ibid Back

23   Ibid Back

24   Ev 5 Back

25   The Smart Acquisition initiative is built on the integration of relationships between customers and suppliers. Characteristics of a Smart Acquisition approach are clearly identified customers and the formulation of Integrated Project Teams (IPTs) to supply the requirement (The Acquisition Handbook, Edition 6-October 2005, p 22). Back

26   Ev 50-52 Back

27   Ev 52-57 Back

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Prepared 21 December 2005