Select Committee on Defence Third Report

Conclusions and recommendations

1.  We welcome MoD's decision to embrace modern production techniques that are designed to achieve savings and efficiencies. The performance of the pulse line system can only be judged over time. The success of the pulse line will be dependent on industry's ability to ensure aircraft components are readily available. Any delay in the availability of components would severely undermine the effectiveness of the pulse line. The RAF will have to ensure this risk is managed robustly. (Paragraph 32)

2.  Given that MoD believes the pulse line will deliver significant improvements to the provision of support to RAF aircraft, it is surprising that it was not introduced sooner at St Athan. We recommend that MoD carefully monitor and evaluate its pulse lines supporting aircraft, giving particular attention to ensuring that supplies of components and technical support are provided in a timely fashion. (Paragraph 33)

3.  We note the apparent success of the leaning programme at RAF Marham. We also note that this is still at its early stages and that the full transfer of Tornado support has yet to take place. We are concerned about the sustainability of leaning once it has done so. We are concerned that leaning programmes either have a tendency to lose impetus with inefficiencies re-entering the system or prove counter-productive in leaning out vital processes. (Paragraph 35)

4.  We recommend that MoD continue to seek out and eliminate inefficiencies in all its aircraft support processes but that it ensure that leaning does not go so far that the quality of maintenance is undermined by efforts to meet efficiency targets. (Paragraph 36)

5.  We recognise that close partnerships with industry in the provision of aircraft support through "gain-share" agreements may result in real benefits for the RAF and value for money for the taxpayer not least by reducing perverse incentives for industry. We note Air Vice Marshal Thornton's concerns about the difficulties of sustaining gain-share over the long term and we expect MoD to monitor and evaluate these agreements very carefully. Beginning in January 2006, we intend to consider the wider issue of MoD's partnerships with industry in our inquiry into MoD's Defence Industrial Strategy. (Paragraph 39)

6.  We note both the Unions' claims of problems with the Harrier JUMP at RAF Cottesmore and MoD's clear refutation of these claims. We pressed MoD particularly strongly on the impact of Harrier flying times and were assured that the decision to extend them was taken only after a long consultation with the Harrier design authority and that there was no increased risk to Harrier pilot safety. (Paragraph 50)

7.  We recommend that MoD commission an independent audit of the Joint Upgrade Maintenance Programme at RAF Cottesmore to identify any issues and learn lessons which may impact on the programme to concentrate support of Tornado GR4 at RAF Marham. We further recommend that MoD adopt a more flexible timetable for rolling forward the Tornado GR4 to ensure sufficient time to upgrade the deep repair facilities at RAF Marham and to take advantage of any recommendations or information that may arise from the audit of the Harrier JUMP programme at RAF Cottesmore. (Paragraph 51)

8.  It seems perverse and wasteful for MoD to invest large amounts of public money to renovate the facilities at RAF Marham when it has at its disposal a state-of-the-art facility at St Athan. It is doubtful that the facilities at RAF Marham will ever match those at DARA St Athan, but given the decision to base Tornado GR4 support at RAF Marham, it is essential that MoD ensure that those who work there have the facilities they need. (Paragraph 62)

9.  We reiterate the concerns of our predecessors, that Tornado support at RAF Marham should match that provided at DARA St Athan. For this to be so, the RAF must ensure that its tradesmen are trained to the highest standard and that all tradesmen are given the opportunity to develop their skills through regular rotation between the forward and depth environments. (Paragraph 63)

10.  The retention by the RAF of sufficient numbers of Senior NCOs will be fundamental to the long term success of this process. (Paragraph 65)

11.  We are concerned about potential difficulties that over-leaning of processes at RAF Marham may bring. We expect MoD to monitor the pulse line, particularly during surges of demand, and to make credible contingencies in case of overload. We do not consider the reduction of leave entitlement or training to meet surge demand to be credible contingencies for meeting demand surges. We regret the loss of the flexibility to meet demand surges which the support arrangements at DARA St Athan currently provide. (Paragraph 68)

12.  While the RAF's Crisis Manpower Requirement was the major factor in the decision to shift responsibility for depth support from civilian to RAF tradesmen, the decision of where to base depth support was taken largely on cost grounds. In the case of fast jets, it was considered cost-effective to move depth support to RAF MOBs: for rotary wing support, it was not. (Paragraph 78)

13.  We are concerned that MoD's decision about its aircraft support provision was not founded on consistent principles. MoD's emphasis on CMR as the driver for rationalising its support arrangements is undermined by its later acknowledgement that the decision was taken on cost grounds. This leads us to conclude that the new arrangements will not stand the test of time. (Paragraph 80)

14.  During the course of our inquiry, neither the performance of DARA as a trading fund nor the quality of its workforce and support for RAF aircraft has ever been brought into question. (Paragraph 85)

15.  Despite its protests, DARA management was not fully included from the outset in the End to End Review process. That was wrong. (Paragraph 86)

16.  It is striking that MoD has reconfigured its air logistic provision only four years after a similarly significant reconfiguration had been completed. This suggests that either the original decision to establish DARA was unsound or the recent decisions affecting its future are misjudged. Either way, it is hard to escape the conclusion that MoD has in recent years contributed to a period of unnecessary turbulence and uncertainty in aviation logistics provision. (Paragraph 90)

17.  We recommend that MoD provide more detail of what the 'market testing' of DARA Fleetlands and DARA Almondbank will entail. The longer the period of market testing, the more uncertainty there will be for DARA management and employees. This will inevitably impact on DARA's business planning and ability to attract commercial work. It is vital that the future arrangements for RAF aircraft are of the highest possible standard and, at the very least, match the service provided by the current arrangements. (Paragraph 91)

18.  We are concerned about the sustainability of MoD's commitment to concentrating rotary wing support at DARA Fleetlands. It is crucial that MoD give DARA Fleetlands the necessary time, resources, and backing it requires to establish itself as a first class provider of rotary wing depth support. (Paragraph 92)

19.  We remain concerned about the long term viability of the St Athan site. In light of the end of the fast jet business and the VC10 having an Out of Service Date of 2011, Government departments must work with the National Assembly for Wales and its agencies in encouraging alternative commercial investment to guarantee the long term viability of St Athan as a matter of urgency. (Paragraph 97)

20.  We consider that the decision to go ahead with the funding for the Red Dragon project in 2003 was incomprehensible given the uncertainty surrounding air logistic provision at the time. MoD admits that the viability of DARA was an issue even before the decision to commit £104m of public money to Red Dragon and the decision on support for fast jets were taken. With the future so uncertain it was extraordinary to go ahead with Red Dragon in the knowledge that the provision for future support was under review. The decision is a clear example of a lack of joined-up government within Whitehall and between MoD and the National Assembly for Wales and its agencies. As things currently stand, the Superhangar is a valuable facility with no clear future. We recommend that the National Audit Office and the Wales Audit Office examine whether public money was properly spent on the Superhangar. (Paragraph 100)

21.  Nevertheless we believe that the combination of state-of-the-art facilities and an enthusiastic and skilled workforce at St Athan provide a tremendously attractive opportunity for commercial investment. We expect government departments to work energetically to attract commercial investment to the St Athan site. (Paragraph 101)

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