Examination of Witnesses (Questions 400-410)|
RN, MR NICK
6 FEBRUARY 2007
Q400 Linda Gilroy: Why not? They
sell the missiles to us.
Des Browne: People do not sell
these systems to each other but part of the reason for that, of
course, is that once you have them you have to look after them,
and because you need to be able to look after them you need the
skill base to look after them, and the technology is very highly
Q401 Robert Key: Secretary of State,
in his letter to the President the Prime Minister last December
specifically, in that exchange of letters, spoke about increasing
collaboration on the construction of submarines, and in his reply
of the same date the President agreed and said there should be
more collaboration on the construction of submarines, but if they
are never going to sell them to us what is the point of that?
Why did they say it?
Des Browne: I was asked a very
specific question about why do we not just buy them from the Americans
and I gave a straightforward answer: I do not think they would
sell them to us, but in any event we have a different nuclear
regulation system from the United States of America, so we would
then be faced with the problem of buying something that was built
for a regulation system and then adjusting it to suit our regulation
system. The other point is that the indications are that it would
probably cost more.
Q402 Robert Key: So why did they
bother to exchange letters saying they would do that?
Des Browne: The answer to your
specific question is that, of course, we do collaborate with the
Americans and have done for 40 years or longer on many aspects
of defence capability.
Q403 Robert Key: But not the construction
Des Browne: I would need to check
precisely if we have ever collaborated with them in relation to
Q404 Robert Key: I assure you it
is in those letters.
Rear Admiral Mathews: If I can
assist the Committee here, we effectively bought the Dreadnought
design lock, stock and barrel from the Americans. Admiral Rickover,
who was the father of the American programme, insisted at that
stage that that was the end of collaboration in a sense, because
what he was trying to do by that decision was to say to the British
that we had to be responsible for this submarine, we had to understand
its design, we had to be able to operate it, and we had to be
able to maintain it through life, and so the American position
was, "You have got to own what we have just given you".
That position has not really changed. The Secretary of State is
absolutely right about regulatory regime. There are some major
implications there. You cannot just take an American design and
expect to license it in the UK. There is a cost issue because
the American submarines are different and we would be operating
mixed fleets as well, so there are not real advantages and at
the end of the day, if we go down that route that would, I think,
shatter the confidence of the UK submarine building industry,
and part of the evidence that you have had before you has been
about how to re-establish that confidence and sustain it.
Q405 Mr Borrow: I just want to get
absolutely clear that the 17 years is what is actually needed
to design and build a new nuclear-powered submarine to put nuclear
missiles on, that that cannot be shortened at all and that that
17 years has nothing at all to do with the needs of BAA systems
in constructing the Astute submarines and their long-term timetable.
I am not arguing that that is wrong if that is part of the decision,
but you are saying quite clearly that 17 years is the minimum
that we need to do it and that has nothing to do with the industrial
base arguments, nothing to do with fitting it in with the Astute
programme at Barrow?
Rear Admiral Mathews: The answer
to your question is that 17 years is the time we believe is the
minimum needed to do this.
Q406 Chairman: The White Paper says
the warhead should last until 2020. Will we need a new warhead
Des Browne: My answer to that
is that we have been as open as we can, I think, in our future
warhead plans. We believe it will last until at least the 2020s
but we are not clear on the longer term position and that is why
we continue to invest in the facilities at Aldermaston. Once we
have a better feel for its life, and this is unlikely to be before
the next Parliament, as we say, we will decide whether it is better
to refurbish our existing stockpile or develop a new warhead.
In the interim we will look at replacement options to ensure that
we have a firm basis on which to make our decisions, so we are
in an area of consideration.
Mr Bennett: I think that is fine.
Q407 Chairman: So there is no decision
that is taken as to whether the warhead is going to be redesigned
or designed to the same design?
Des Browne: No decisions have
yet been taken and I think it would be an error for me to pre-judge
those decisions or to indicate how I think they may come out because
I simply do not know.
Q408 Chairman: Do you have a view
as to whether, if there is any need for such a redesign, it would
fall within our legal obligations under the Non-Proliferation
Des Browne: I do not have a mature
view in relation to that. That is to some degree speculative in
terms of the environment I have been working in and preparing
for because we are not having to make that decision.
Q409 Chairman: Fair enough.
Des Browne: If it is absolutely
necessary for the Committee to have an answer to that then I will
try to get an answer to the Committee.
Q410 Chairman: I think it is, as
you suggest, too speculative and I will not pursue it.
Des Browne: Thank you.
Chairman: If there are no further questions
I will simply say thank you very much indeed for helping with
that final evidence session.