Select Committee on Defence Written Evidence

Memorandum from the Ministry of Defence


  1.  The Joint Combat Aircraft (JCA) will replace the capability now provided by the RN Sea Harrier and the RAF Harrier GR7/9 and will form a major part of the UK's Future Combat Air Capability in the second and subsequent decades of this century. The JCA will be operated as part of a Joint Force, from both the new aircraft carriers (CVF) and land bases, in a manner similar to the existing Joint Force Harrier but with the greatly enhanced performance required to meet the demands of future operations.

  2.  The Defence Secretary announced on 17 January 2001 that the US led Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) aircraft had the best potential to meet the JCA requirement. The JCA programme entered its Demonstration Phase through participation in the JSF System Development and Demonstration programme. The UK is the only full ("Level 1") collaborative partner with the United States, both nations having agreed[1] the JSF aircraft's key performance parameters. On 26 October 2001 Lockheed Martin, along with Northrop Grumman and BAE SYSTEMS as Team Lockheed , was selected[2] as the prime contractor for the JSF System Development and Demonstration programme, the UK having participated in the source selection process. On 30 September 2002 the Defence Secretary announced that the UK had selected the Short Take Off and Vertical Landing (STOVL) variant of JSF to meet the JCA requirement.


  3.  The purpose of the System Development and Demonstration programme is to mature, test and evaluate the detailed design of the JSF aircraft and to integrate key equipment (including UK weapons).[4] Aircraft production is expected to commence in 2007 with production of the early UK aircraft commencing in 2009.

  4.  The current estimated cost (at 50% confidence) of the JCA Demonstration Phase is £1,914 million, against an approval of £2,034 million. The UK contribution to the US in cash terms, agreed in the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for JSF System Development and Demonstration remains fixed at $2 billion. This equates to £1,300 million using current mandated exchange rate assumptions (and also equated to some 8% of the predicted total development cost at point of MOU signature). This contribution will be paid over a 12 year period beginning in October 2001. Some £475 million had been spent by the end of 2004-05 on the UK's contribution to the JSF System Development and Demonstration programme, UK national studies and the earlier US concept demonstration phase. The UK costs for the manufacture and in service support phases will not be established until the Production Main Gate decision is taken.


  5.  Phased production approvals are anticipated, starting with approval to sign a further MOU in December 2006 to enable production, sustainment and follow-on development. Formal negotiations on this MOU have recently commenced on a multi-lateral basis with the 9 JSF partner nations.


  6.  The In Service Date (ISD) is when the capability provided by the Joint Combat Aircraft is assessed as available for operational use with an initial cadre of aircraft and trained personnel. The ISD will be set when the main investment decision for JCA is taken. Our previously announced planning assumptions based on an ISD of 2014 have not been changed. This would require taking delivery of the aircraft from 2011, and to be conducting flight trials, including work-up flying from the CVF, in advance of the ISD. We also plan to enhance the capability of JCA beyond that provided at ISD through the subsequent integration of additional UK-specific weapons in a collaborative follow-on development phase.


  7.  Deliveries of UK aircraft commence in 2011 to enable us to participate in joint US/UK Operational Testing and Evaluation, pilot training, aircraft and squadron work up. To ensure that the most cost-effective profile is adopted delivery profiles are not fixed until Production Main Gate.


  8.  Under current plans, training of UK pilots will start in the US from 2007. These initial pilots will join the pool of pilots for the System Development and Demonstration test[5] programmes. We expect 19 UK pilots will be trained under this contract, 8 will join this joint test programme (and will subsequently go on to form the UK Operational Evaluation Unit in 2011) and 11 will form the first cadre of instructor pilots.

  9.  The training of the pilots that will form the first UK operational squadron will commence in 2012 at a US training centre[6]. Up to 64 pilots will be trained in the US to meet the manning requirement for the first UK operational squadron, as well as to refresh the Operational Evaluation Unit and the initial instructor pilots as aircraft block upgrades are released. The training syllabus has yet to be finalised but is expected to be between 7 to 9 months duration.

  10.  Training will transfer to the UK training centre[7] in 2015, and the throughput per year will increase from 18 pilots per year to a peak of 42 trained in 2020 to match the aircraft build-up programme for the JCA Force. Annual training throughput will stabilize at approximately 30 pilots per year until the JCA programme nears out of service date, when training throughput will reduce to match aircraft fleet reductions.


  11.  Problems due to unplanned weight growth on all three JSF variants were identified early in 2004. The impact of weight growth on the performance of the Short Take Off and Vertical Landing (STOVL) variant was most severe due to the inherent limitations of vertical landing technology. Work conducted by a specially established team[8] has restored confidence that the performance requirements can be met. In total, there has been a 3,000lb reduction in the actual weight of the STOVL aircraft and the equivalent of a further reduction of 1,000lb through improvements in thrust and a review of the landing requirements. This work was ratified by the US Defense Acquisition Board in October 2004 and reviewed by the MoD's Investment Approvals Board in January 2005.

  12.  Inevitably, for a complex development programme, risks remain. Work continues on the assessment of how any further problems could be mitigated, should this be necessary to protect the Key User Requirements (KURs) through life and across the full operational spectrum. The greatest focus remains on achieving the weapon "bring back"[9] KUR of the STOVL aircraft, for which weight and propulsion system performance are critical factors.


  13.  The UK's requirements for information to enable sovereign operations, maintenance and upgrade of JSF throughout its service life are set out in the Exchange of Letters (EOL) signed by the US and UK Defence Secretaries. This has led to a jointly developed US-UK technology matrix which sets out the UK information requirements at the most detailed level. This has been widely staffed with the US to ensure they fully understand our needs and has been used as a model for other JSF partners to develop their own sovereign requirements. The Department is working at the highest levels with the US administration to ensure that the UK can achieve its sovereign goals as well as enabling UK Industry to fulfil its contractual role within Team Lockheed.


  14.  Final numbers (and variants) will depend on the outcome of ongoing work to confirm overall Future Combat Air Capability requirements. While no final decisions have been taken we anticipate buying up to 150 STOVL variants of the Joint Strike Fighter to meet our JCA requirement.


  15.  The Future Carrier (CVF) programme continues in its Assessment Phase, enabling further risk reduction and refinement of the carrier design, through a process of value engineering prior to the main investment decision (Main Gate). The companies involved, BAE Systems, Thales, and Kellog Brown & Root UK Ltd (KBR UK Ltd), continue to be engaged with MoD in an Alliance approach—best described as a co-operative relationship between a client and key contractors/suppliers as a means of delivering improved performance and enhanced mutual business results. The key benefits of the Alliance approach were set out in the Further Memorandum to the Committee in February 2005.


Current forecast cost—assessment phase

  16.  The current forecast cost of the continuing CVF Assessment phase is approximately £300 million. The continuation of the Assessment Phase is aimed at optimising the balance between performance, time and cost and achieving the appropriate degree of risk reduction before the main investment decision.

Current forecast cost—demonstration and manufacture phase

  17.  The costs of the Demonstration and Manufacture phase will not be bounded until Main Gate. At that point the boundaries of the costs will be established at "Lowest, Most Likely, and Maximum". However, the Alliance's 100 day internal review, initiated by the CVF Integrated Project Team Leader in March 2005, which scrutinised and challenged planning assumptions with robust value engineering techniques, has confirmed that the project remains financially viable.

  18.  We are moving towards the Main Gate. The exact date will only be set when we are confident that the design and contractual arrangements are right and we have sufficient understanding of the cost, scheduling and risks involved.

Current target in-service dates

  19.  The target in-service dates for the two future aircraft carriers remain unchanged at 2012 and 2015. However, as with all projects in the assessment phase, in-service dates are not fixed until the main investment decision.

Date when first carrier is expected to be fully operational

  20.  The In Service Dates and Initial Operating Capability for the ships, aircraft and various associated equipments that make up the Carrier Strike capability are intermediate milestones on the route to achieving the Full Operating Capability. Each of these key milestones needs to reflect a realistic programme goal and must therefore be based on a sufficiently mature plan so that a definitive date for the Full Operating Capability for the Carrier Strike Capability can be established. Elements of the Carrier Strike capability, however, will be delivered in advance of Full Operating Capability.

Dates of planned withdrawal from service of the current aircraft carriers

  21.  The current planned Out of Service Dates for the Invincible class aircraft carriers are: 2010 for HMS Invincible; 2012 for HMS Illustrious; and 2013 for HMS Ark Royal. These dates are contingent on the final In Service Dates set for CVF. HMS Invincible will be held on very low readiness from October 2005 until reaching her Out of Service Date.


Maritime airborne and surveillance and control platform

  22.  The Maritime Airborne Surveillance and Control (MASC) programme will provide assured airborne surveillance and control through the surveillance of air and surface targets and the battle management of air borne assets. This broad capability is currently provided by the Sea King Mk7 Airborne Surveillance and Control (SKASaC) variant.

  23.  MASC has achieved the objectives set for its Concept Phase and, consequently, received Initial Gate approval—allowing it to move into the Assessment phase of the project—in July 2005. The MASC Assessment Phase will examine the options for providing the solution to the MASC capability requirement including: the continuation of the current SKASaC system; the ability of other ship-optimised rotary wing platforms to provide the capability; and the potential applicability of other solutions. The Assessment Phase will also address the interoperability with CVF and the Joint Combat Aircraft (JCA) and progressively reduce risk, aiming for a Main Gate planned towards the end of the decade.

  24.  The MASC In-Service Date (ISD) will be decided by Main Gate but is likely to be after the introduction of JCA and CVF: the current SKASaC system will provide the initial airborne surveillance and control capability for Carrier Strike.


Progress in de-risking the programme ahead of the main investment decision

  25.  The increasing design maturity of the whole ship aspects has been aided by the Value Engineering (VE) conducted as part of the Alliance's 100 day review. The VE focussed on the identification and validation of opportunities to de-risk the programme by concentrating on cost of the product design; equipment and construction. Whilst producing considerable cost savings and risk reduction, the measures adopted led to a degree of redesign in a number of the systems areas.

  26. The appointment of KBR as the Physical Integrator and the growing engagement with the shipbuilding industry has done much to de-risk the supply side of the programme this year.


Alliance Agreement; roles and responsibilities; development of the optimum shipbuilding strategy

  27.  Agreement of the alliancing principles by the current participants was a significant step forward. Work continues to develop the detailed arrangements. This includes the Alliance Agreement—which will confirm and commit each participant to achieving the objectives of the Alliance—and the complementary Works contracts for the Demonstration and Manufacture phase. We aim to conclude these prior to the main investment decision.

  28.  The creation and integration into the Alliance of the Shipbuild Entity and the development of the optimum shipbuild strategy is clearly a key issue for the Alliance and work on this continues. While four potential shipyards were identified on 30 January 2003—BAE Systems Naval Ships at Govan, Vosper Thornycroft at Portsmouth, Swan Hunter on Tyneside and Babcock BES at Rosyth—the extent of their involvement, and the potential for involvement of other yards will be decided on the basis of achieving VFM while taking into account the capability, capacity and resources of UK industry to meet the full range of planned naval programmes. As client, MoD has retained the right to have the final say in the decisions.


Discussions with the French Government or French industry about the programme

  29.  UK and French industries have been tasked jointly by the UK and French National Armament Directors (NADs) to propose areas for possible co-operation as a way of reducing costs and risk whilst preserving our respective national programmes and timelines. Industry has confirmed that it is technically feasible for the basic CVF design to be adapted to meet French requirements, with the French being responsible for some specific adaptations. Ministry of Defence representatives from both the UK and France have been involved in the work in a constructive way, and a better common understanding of the design and related operational aspects has been obtained.

  30.  The MoD's Memorandum to the Committee in May 2003 explained that the Ministerial level mutual understanding between the two countries was that industry to industry co-operation represented the best way forward. Industry is further investigating a range of co-operative possibilities. The cost, risk and possible contractual arrangements that would be associated with any particular options that are subsequently proposed will then be clarified. The industry output will determine the optimum and most cost-effective way in which any co-operative options can be implemented. How, and to what extent, UK and French industry will participate in a joint programme will form part of these studies.

Discussions with the United States about the Future Carrier programme

  31.  Extensive discussions have taken place between the UK and the US related to aircraft carriers since the inception of the UK's CVF programme. From the outset the UK MoD has been acutely aware of the primacy of the US in the design, development, production and use of aircraft carriers.

  32.  Three US Navy platform programmes are relevant to CVF:

    —  Carriers The US has a well established programme of carriers and steel has now been cut on the $13bn first-of-class CVN21. However, US carriers are larger than the UK's requirement demands, are mostly nuclear-powered, carry a large number of aircraft for a diverse range of tasks, and are subject to US-specific manning constraints. Nonetheless, discussions with this programme have been underway for some time and vigorous information exchange has benefited the UK in areas such as flight deck layout, sortie generation flows, air traffic management, island design, aircraft launch & recovery equipment and sustainability; conversely, the US have shown interest in UK lean-manning enablers (eg skills and habitability), weapons handling, acquisition strategy and construction methods.

    —  LHA(R) The US is procuring a replacement class for its LHA amphibious carriers. LHA(R) is not a Strike Carrier like CVF, being roled to provide Close Air Support to Marines ashore, but as it shares the UK's requirement to operate the STOVL variant of JCA, a particular area of joint interest is in "ship-air integration". The UK CVF and US LHA(R) teams have committed to working together to undertake this further work in a constructive and timely manner.

    —  DD(X) The next-generation US destroyer programme is likely to be fitted with a propulsion and power generation plant very similar to that envisaged for CVF and for which, incidentally, the US are gaining significant benefit from interaction with the UK Type 45 project. The shore demonstration of the DD(X) plant is the subject of ongoing information exchange with the CVF team.

September 2005

1   Via the the Joint Operational Requirement Document (JORD) that is signed jointly by US and UK. Back

2   Following the US led Concept Demonstration Phase for JSF. Back

3   All figures are expressed in resource terms at outturn prices, except where stated otherwise. Back

4   Production phase starts with the Low Rate Initial Production (LRIP) which initially produces test aircraft and increases their capability through subsequent LRIP batches and block upgrades until a decision for full rate production is taken. Back

5   Described as Developmental Test and Operational Test (DT&OT) programmes. Back

6   The US Integrated Training Centre (ITC). Back

7   The UK Integrated Training Centre (ITC). Back

8   The STOVL Weight Attack Team (SWAT). Back

9   The level of ability of a craft to return to base with unused weaponry. Back

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Prepared 21 December 2005