Examination of Witnesses (Questions 140-159)|
L GARWIN, MR
23 JANUARY 2007
Q140 Chairman: Are you saying that
there is a surplus of skills available at the moment?
Professor Garwin: The contractors
will reduce the number of people working from 750 to 250 rather
arbitrarily and the market accommodates that. We have the same
problem in our aircraft industry and they argued, in the supersonic
transport programme, that they needed the SST programme in order
to maintain the skills. Ten years later, Boeing thanked me for
helping to kill that programme because it let them concentrate
on the subsonic aircraft which was a much bigger, commercial market
and the UK/French Concorde did not result in an airplane of which
the United States would have to buy 500 in order to compete, but
only 16 were ever manufactured. The market actually does respond.
The skills do not vanish and they can be archived. There was the
same problem with the Clinch River breeder reactor when Westinghouse
was arguing that, if we did not build that, our nuclear plant
skills would vanish. Well, they are transferred to the French
and then they are transferred back when necessary and the United
States and Britain can do more sharing of submarine manufacturing
and technology than has been the case. If we can share nuclear
weapons, technology and secrets, we can do a little bit more in
the submarine area too.
Q141 Mr Hamilton: Does any panel
member disagree with that?
Dr Willett: Interestingly, there
are not issues or theories which are black and white in this and
there can be differences of opinion. It is a simple issue really
in that you can only really have a longer life for submarines
if they are designed and built with a longer life in mind and
perhaps I may explain some reasons for that. In principle, the
US Ohio class are designed and built with a longer life in mind.
Arguably, there is nothing technically impossible about doing
this, but the risks and the costs do increase considerably while
the availability actually declines and so delivery, so in the
end you get very little return in terms of life extension. The
risks and the costs in particular grow sharply towards the end
of the life and through the extended life cycle in particular.
First, there is the need for the increasing re-evaluation of the
pressure hull, the reactor and the diving systems as the boat
moves beyond the period that is covered by the safety case. Extending
the life might require, for example, a new reactor because, if
you are looking to extend the life significantly the current reactors
only have 25 years of certified life. Also, the refit process
for putting in new reactors is quite significant, so, if we are
talking of two to three years to put in a new reactor in order
to extend the service life for five to ten years, it is not really
delivering you a huge amount of value in terms of time. There
are also challenges for replacing combat systems on board, key
components to do with the basic survivability of the submarine,
and again all these systems have a specified design life, so there
are very significant challenges there. Secondly, there are challenges
in maintaining the supply chain. Submarine components are very
bespoke and it is increasingly difficult to source parts and to
order spare parts for a system that was designed 25 or even more
years ago. Arguably, supply chain costs do effectively spiral
as the submarine moves beyond its design life. Thirdly, in the
UK one can argue that safety standard requirements actually are
becoming more onerous, so the emphasis is on the Navy and the
MoD to prove to an ever-increasing degree the safety of the submarine.
Finally and arguably, an older boat loses capability and increases
risk with important things like signature, for example, for the
submarine. It is like an old car and it will become clankier and
it will cost you more and more money to make it as quiet as it
was before. Now, the US system is somewhat different because their
system for certifying the safety of the submarine is different
from ours. It is rules based and they have to show compliance
with rules as opposed to meeting safety standards. They have more
regular maintenance of their boats because they have more of them,
so their boats are running through a more regular maintenance
cycle than ours are, so the effects of the ageing are reduced
and, as I said previously, the US boats are designed for a longer
life. I would not obviously dare to try to disagree with someone
of Professor Garwin's eminence, but that is my understanding.
I think the MoD have looked very closely at all of this and their
view would be that it can be done, but it is very, very expensive
and very, very risky. There are others that argue that extending
the life of a current boat, even only for a limited period, may
cost as much as half the price of building a new boat, so it does
not exactly deliver value for money. However, what is increasingly
evident, as has been seen in previous classes of British submarine,
is that the risks and the uncertainty in doing this increase exponentially
and it is very, very hard to plan for these eventualities. Yes,
I would agree with Professor Garwin that you can do more to co-operate
and perhaps there are lessons to learn from both sides, but there
is experience from recent cases. In the Astute class, for example,
it has been well documented that the gap between building Vanguard
and Astute was responsible for the draining of industrial skills
and one only has to look at local newspapers in Barrow to see
the submarine builders from Australia actually recruiting in Barrow
to try and grab our expertise, to add weight to the argument that
these skills can vanish.
Q142 Linda Gilroy: Dr Willett has
to some degree answered the question I was going to ask, but I
can perhaps put it a different way. It was about the cost of extending
life and how that related to the cost of renewing them, and I
think I heard him say that the price of extending could be in
the region of half as much as buying a new vessel so that it could
in fact be cheaper to build over the long term. Also, perhaps
I can ask both Professor Garwin and Dr Willett the extent to which
in the new methods of procurement, procuring capability over a
period of time, the point you were making, Professor Garwin, we
need to know the cost, but the fact that our Government procures
capability for a price with gain share built into it, why would
we need to know the cost if the company could be held to that?
Professor Garwin: It is very hard
to hold the company to a fixed cost when they are building a unique
system which is vital to the nation. There is just no money to
squeeze out of those companies, so the fact is that you will pay
the actual cost of production. You will get the skills and, if
they have gone to Australia, you can get them back because you
will hire them on the market, so the three-year reactor replacement
time, if that is required, comes with a major overhaul. A submarine
is a big ship and you can replace the reactor while you are doing
all kinds of other things there too. What really needs to be done
is to have these component costs shown. You cannot, in my opinion,
go blindly and ask for a fixed price and hold the company to it,
and I think experience shows that problem with the Astute class.
Q143 Willie Rennie: We have already
heard this morning that the American submarines last longer. Would
there be a value in trying to rejig our programme to make sure
that the next set of submarines ties in with their construction
design needs to make sure we get the best value for money out
of any new submarines?
Professor Garwin: I missed the
question. Are you asking whether American expertise could be brought
in to set a basis for the costs?
Q144 Willie Rennie: Would there be
a value in us rejigging our procurement procedure to tie in with
the American construction of their new submarines?
Professor Garwin: Well, it is
an option and these options, in my opinion, should all be laid
out with the costs so that the Government will know better what
decision to make and Parliament can do its job in the bargain.
I am not saying that it is absolutely sure that life extension
is (a) possible and (b) cheaper, but I think it highly likely,
especially since the tempo of operations has been reduced beyond
the initial plan for the UK submarines. As for design life, I
think there is a minimum life of 25 years, but it is not designed
to fail after 25 years. It is not like an incandescent lightbulb
which has a 1,000-hour life at a specified voltage because, if
you make it brighter for a given wattage, it has a shorter life,
so that is the optimum that people have found. Here, you are quite
uncertain. You say, "I am sure that it will run for 25 years
and I give my guarantee", but only in service and, as it
comes to the end of that, we know what the numbers actually are.
There, we need to know the cost of the retrofit, if a steam generator
needs to be replaced and, as for the signature, that is something
that is the sound that the submarine puts into the water and something
I know very well. It is thoroughly monitored, it can be fixed
with varying frequency or whatever, it can be managed, and additional
quieting can be introduced into the submarines in service as well
as in a new generation of submarine, but let us not forget that
the job here is to put nuclear weapons at sea in a deliverable
fashion. Things can be done with smaller systems, the guidance
systems are much smaller, the testing programme would be cheaper
and that would be an innovation well worth pricing out to see
whether that is what you want to do.
Q145 Mr Holloway: Professor, there
are comments made that the safety standards were somewhat different
in the UK as compared to the United States. Do you have any comment
Professor Garwin: No. I know a
good deal about the civil reactors in the United States and I
know that our nuclear Navy prides itself on the safety of its
operations. We do not have a civil regulation, as I understand
it, of our nuclear plants in ships or submarines, but we do have
the equivalent, so before someone says that the UK submarines
are safer from the point of view of nuclear accidents than US
submarines, I would have to see it laid out side by side, but
I do not know.
Q146 Chairman: Dr Willett, I wonder
if you could expand on your point that safety regulations in this
country in nuclear terms are getting more and more stringent.
Extending the life of a submarine would presumably cause some
degree of problems for that process, but why are safety regulations
in this country becoming more and more stringent? Is that a matter
of simple choice? What drives it?
Dr Willett: Well, in fact and
in truth, that is an opinion that I have picked up from some interview
material which we have been conducting for our research paper,
so I can perhaps come back to you with clarity on that, if I may.
Q147 Chairman: Please do.
Dr Willett: With regard to the
comments that Professor Garwin raised about the safety case issue
and to respond to Mr Holloway's point, if I may, from my understanding,
the UK has an external procedure for verifying the safety cases
of the submarines, whereas the US Navy does it more internally.
In the US, the US Navy has a set of rules and regulations that
it needs to show compliance with, whereas here there is actually
a safety standard that the Royal Navy has to meet. The US measures
its safety internally, whereas the Royal Navy does not have that
Q148 Mr Hamilton: By that, you are
meaning that the regulatory authorities within the UK would find
it difficult to argue to support a system or for a design to continue?
Dr Willett: The submarines are
designed, and built, with a 25-year life and all those who appear
to be involved in the game at the moment appear to find it very,
very difficult to find a justification for extending the life
any further than that. I am not saying that the British submarines
are safer than American submarines or the other way round, it
is just that the procedures for verifying that process are very,
very different and not necessarily comparable.
Q149 Chairman: Mr Ingram, on this
issue of skill, in your paper which I found very helpful, the
basic paper, you said, "Exaggerated warnings of catastrophe
from any delays should not frighten the Government into a hasty
decision". Are you saying that the warnings of catastrophe
about losing skills, which certainly we have been given, we have
been told that these skills are at a critical level, are you saying
that these warnings are exaggerated and, if so, on what evidence
do you base that assertion?
Mr Ingram: Essentially what I
am saying is that, whilst it is costly to restart a nuclear submarine
programme, we have already seen with Astute that it leads to delay
and overcost. It is not impossible, for many of the reasons that
Richard Garwin has already outlined to the Committee, that some
of the more unique skills are transferable globally, that it is
possible to retool, particularly when you are creating a new submarine
from scratch and that it is not as black and white as has been
hinted at by witnesses to this Committee before Christmas. I would
also just reflect back to the Committee its own report as a result
of the previous inquiry which stated quite clearly that industrial
reasons should not be leading this particular decision because
this decision is more important than the industrial reasons for
replacing a submarine.
Q150 Chairman: Yes, of course that
is right. The industrial question of whether, if we delayed, we
would then be capable of meeting our strategic defence needs is
something that we would have to take into account.
Mr Ingram: You certainly need
to take it into account, but also the Committee need to consider
the longer term, not simply the transfer from Astute to the Trident
replacement. The Rand Report, which I refer to in my more recent
evidence, suggests that it would actually be advantageous from
an industrial perspective to delay the start of construction of
the Trident replacement in order that there is not this enormous
gap that has been the concern of the Committee in the previous
inquiry between Astute and the Trident replacement construction.
There would be an enormous gap between the replacement programme
and the NUFC, the next generation of submarines to replace Astute,
so, if we are not careful, if we rush into this decision now,
we could well be facing exactly the same, or perhaps an even worse,
industrial problem when it comes to that gap with the next replacement
Q151 Chairman: Yes, as I understood
it, because I read that report following your reference, the worry
about that was the gap between the end of the strategic ballistic
submarines and the NUFC programme.
Mr Ingram: Yes.
Q152 Chairman: That is, I think,
not an issue that we should concern ourselves with at the moment.
At the moment, we are worried about whether it is possible for
British industry to create these submarines at all. I do not think
that you have actually given me evidence to suggest that industry
is wrong in saying that these skills, once they have left, would
leave for good. When they tell us that, if they left, they would
leave for good, can you give us any evidence to suggest they are
wrong about that?
Mr Ingram: I would say that, as
with so much of the evidence that you are hearing today, there
is actually a great deal of speculation involved. We have speculation
that the cost of extending the life of the Trident submarines
may be as much as half the cost of replacement. That is entire
speculation. There is no reference in the White Paper to those
costs. Similarly, if there were a delay in the replacement of
Trident, there is the speculation that the submarine base would
be impossible to restart. I would say that the burden of evidence
is on industry to demonstrate that because we have already seen
quite a significant gap between the completion of the Trident
construction programme and the start of the Astute programme and,
as I say, that came at a cost and at certain delay, but it was
not impossible. With a similar gap, one could quite genuinely
assume that it would be costly and it would take longer, but it
would be far from impossible to reconstruct the submarine base
with a relatively short gap of five or ten years because many
of the unique skills could be brought in from outside and there
could be retooling at a cost.
Q153 Linda Gilroy: From where do
you get the skills that build a ballistic submarine? There are
only three countries in the world that do that at the moment.
Are we going to go to the Russians or are we going to allow our
skills base to go to the Russians? We have talked about the Americans,
but I think there is also the debate to be had about our independent
Mr Ingram: Well, our deterrent
is not independent when it comes to procurement and we already
entirely rely upon the Americans for the delivery of the missiles.
There is no reason at all why we should not co-operate more with
the Americans when it comes to the construction of the submarines,
as Professor Garwin has already hinted. There are also the French
with whom we are collaborating over the construction of the carriers.
These are concerns that could easily have been more widely considered
in the White Paper, but, because of the rush into publication
and the rush that this Committee and Parliament are having to
comply with in order to make the decision very quickly, we are
not having that sort of information and consideration over the
options, which is why there is a very major advantage to delaying
this decision beyond March.
Dr Willett: Arguably, the crunch
of the decision only really comes, as I said previously, within
the next decade when we have to start cutting metals, so there
is plenty of time to talk about this between now and then. The
Astute case proves that there are skill losses and cost overruns
if you delay these kinds of decisions. Now, as Paul rightly said,
yes, there are cost issues, but cost is one of the major things.
Yes, we can delay the decision, but it will cost more. Now, are
you prepared to delay this decision and pay for the implications
of doing that? In terms of the independence of procurement, yes,
of course we have to buy our system from somewhere. What we do
have, through our co-operation with the Americans, is the best
system that money can buy for affordable cost. There are options
for closer co-operation on submarine design, reactor design, submarine
build and reactor build, but there will be some political obstacles
to that and tensions with the US about what they can and cannot
share, in terms of the technology, with us. The options for increasing
co-operation, I would argue, yes, would help the potential to
reduce costs, but, in terms of tying ourselves into the American
time-lines, the time-line gap actually is not as bad as people
think it is. The number that people refer to from the American
point of view is 2042 when the last American boat comes out of
service, but in fact their first new boat will be ready to go
into the water in about 2029 and ours we will be looking to go
into the water in the mid-2020s, so the time-line is not that
different and perhaps, therefore, there is some scope for looking
to bring the time-lines more into line.
Dr Stocker: I was just going to
comment on our lessons from the Astute programme. The lesson to
be drawn surely is not that it is possible to recover from a mistake,
but it is better not to make the mistake in the first place and
why repeat it.
Q154 Mr Holloway: It seems to me
that Professor Garwin and Mr Ingram are suggesting that industry
is being rather self-serving in this. Is that fair?
Professor Garwin: Yes, though
that is the purpose of industry, to make money for the stockholders.
In fact there is an incompatibility with a 45-year life and building
a ship every 22 months. Under those circumstances, you would have
to have about 25 submarines in service and the UK does not have
the need for 25 submarines and cannot afford to operate 25 submarines.
Therefore, the life is set at 25 years. That is the industry decision
to make a new ship every 22 months and the Government goes along
with it. The White Paper discusses the operational independence,
it does not claim that the submarine strategic nuclear policy
is totally independent obviously because these are Trident D5
missiles and the maintenance of the missiles is done in the United
States, and it takes more maintenance on a missile than on a submarine,
but I think it would be perfectly reasonable for the UK and the
United States to pool their manufacture of submarines. Once you
buy a submarine, then it is yours for 30 or 40 years and you can
do the major refits and add the reactors. After all, the United
States aircraft, many of them use Rolls-Royce engines and there
is no reason why the Admiralty cannot operate US-built submarines.
Now, they have to fit the missiles of course, so there are a lot
of interface questions and in this case fortunately the D5 is
used by both. I would like to see small, single warheads, intercontinental-range,
modern missiles developed perhaps jointly with a much smaller
submarine. We have the same problem that you do; we have these
submarines at sea with enormous excess capacity. Eventually, we
should have a smaller submarine for the same number of warheads
that we decide to have.
Q155 Mr Holloway: Does Mr Ingram
think that British industry with international shareholders today
are bouncing the Government into an early decision?
Mr Ingram: Well, at the very least,
as was hinted by Lee Willett just now, there is the possibility
of us simply making a decision in March, not to go the whole decision,
but simply to investigate the options further and to make a final
decision at maingate in 2010-11. That is an option that has not
been put before us in the White Paper, but would be more consistent
with the procurement of other military systems. That, at the very
least, would give us much more time for Parliament and for the
public to engage in the discussion and the debate over where our
future lies and we will be that much closer to the point of deployment
of a new system. Now, there are all sorts of advantages, which
we have not gone into in this Committee, which indeed the White
Paper has not gone into, of deferring this decision even for four
or five years, not least the possibility of us actually putting
a serious proposal into the international community for greater
disarmament in the lead-up to 2010. Therefore, to answer your
question specifically on industry, I do believe industry are bouncing
this Government into making a decision now and committing on this
in order that they can have the security of production far, far
earlier than they would need to necessarily.
Q156 Mr Holloway: Chairman, Dr Stocker
is frowning at some of this.
Dr Stocker: Yes, I specifically
wanted to comment on the idea that the UK and the US could pool
the production of submarines. The practical effect of that would
be that we would buy them from the Americans because the Americans
are not going to be buying nuclear submarines from us. That argument
is going the other way, I think.
Q157 Chairman: And you would find
Dr Stocker: Not necessarily. If
we decided, as part of the industrial strategy, that we no longer
wanted to build nuclear-powered submarines in the UK and that
we wanted to buy not just the missiles, but also the submarines
from the United States, that might be a decision we could take,
but I do not see the UK at this stage being prepared to surrender
that amount of its defence industrial base to another country,
no matter how friendly it was.
Q158 Willie Rennie: You would not
necessarily have to get the Americans to do the construction and
at least, if you co-operated on the design, there should be other
Dr Stocker: That is another issue
and indeed, although it is not in the White Paper, it is in the
exchange of letters between the President and the Prime Minister,
the intention to collaborate further on future submarine platforms,
which would indicate that the Government are intending to do just
that and there would be clear mutual advantage in doing so.
Q159 Mr Jenkin: Professor Garwin
and Mr Ingram, what perverse and misplaced motive does the Government
apparently have to avoid even considering these options in the
White Paper? What do you ascribe that to?
Professor Garwin: I am a physicist,
not a psychologist!
Mr Ingram: There is pressure from
industry, as has already been stated, so that is one. There are
potential political legacies of particular individuals which I
would not want to go into because that is more the political thing
which you might have more to say about than I would.