Examination of Witnesses (Questions 100-119)|
WEDNESDAY 19 NOVEMBER
Q100 Mr Mitchell: We are dependent
on them for the missiles. We have problems now about the size
of the missile part of the submarine which are dependent on what
they design for their purposes, not on what we need.
Sir Bill Jeffrey: As we said earlier,
there are some very constructive discussions going on about the
common missile compartment and the means of making sure that we
do not come adrift of their thinking.
Rear Admiral Mathews: There are
significant advantages to being at the start of a programme with
the Americans rather than buying into it at a later stage. One
is that we can influence decisions. Secondly, there are much greater
opportunities for UK industry to compete on a level playing field
in the market of the future missile compartment. In the past we
have bought an American design.
Sir Bill Jeffrey: If I may say
so, Mr Mitchell, although we need to be driven by defence capability
rather than purely industrial considerations, there are many who
would think that a thriving expert nuclear submarine industry
in the UK is a good thing.
Q101 Mr Mitchell: The Americans are
perfectly capable of ditching us as they did with Polaris, did
they not, and yet we are depending on them for the size and design
of the missile compartment of this ship. At what stage in the
design can you change that and enlarge it, if necessary?
Sir Bill Jeffrey: The purpose
of the discussions that are going on now is to agree on the approach
to a common missile compartment that we would adopt in our successor
submarines and that in due course they would adopt in theirs with
an eye to getting the dimensions right in both cases.
Q102 Mr Mitchell: CND have submitted
some ideas to us and they say that the MoD is not serious when
it suggests that it could keep the Trident D5 missiles in service
throughout the life of the new submarine, I am told 2055. Are
you saying that?
Sir Bill Jeffrey: I do not think
we are saying that. One of the things that underlie this whole
approach is our realisation that even assuming, as is a fair assumption,
that the D5 missile was extended, the extension will take us only
partway into the projected lifetime of our successor deterrent
and that is the reason we are thinking now with the Americans
about what happens after that.
Q103 Chairman: Presumably the answer
to Mr Mitchell when he said why do we not buy off the Americans
is if we bought everything off the Americans it would not be independent
any more, is that the answer?
Sir Bill Jeffrey: As the earlier
question exposed, the independence of our deterrent lies in our
ability to operate it independently and there is undoubtedly an
extent to which if you view the whole thing, the submarine and
the launch system, missile warhead, there are significant respects
in which we are dependent materially on the American contribution,
but that is not to say it is not an independent nuclear deterrent.
Q104 Chairman: But not on the targeting
of the warhead?
Rear Admiral Mathews: No, or the
Chairman: Or the communications. Thank
Q105 Mr Williams: In my 18 years
on this Committee the worst case I ever came across was the construction
of the Trident base and the installation of the lift. Can I ask
the NAO, I do not know whether anyone goes back as far as I do
there on these reports, when you were preparing this Report did
any of you have a feeling, "This is somewhere I have been
Mr Banfield: No, I did not. I
think some of the work that we have done in the past, particularly
looking, as the Rear Admiral referred to earlier, at the D154
in Devonport, you could see then there were similar challenges
around the importance of timescales. We never felt this was just
a repeat of what happened before.
Q106 Mr Williams: You do not see
potential similarities? Remember, the cardinal sin as far as this
Committee is concerned, because it is so often easily avoidable,
is changing specifications partway through a contract when you
are firmly over this bow that keeps arising in our comments because
you have no power to negotiate competitive tenders. That is a
fact, is it not? That was a feature of the Trident base in Scotland
and the lift. You do not see similar potential here?
Mr Banfield: There are similar
challenges to other aspects of defence procurement on a lot of
these things, it is the scale of some of the challenges.
Q107 Mr Williams: I am not talking
about that sort of similarity, I am talking about similarities
in the potential for things going disastrously wrong. In the case
of the building of the base there were not just changes of specification
in their tens or hundreds, there were thousands of changes of
specification. I said on the day there were changes of changes
of changes. It was Christmas Day every day for the contractors.
This looks to be an absolute blueprint for going down the same
route. How can we be following on from the Americans when we have
placed the contract and started construction before we finish
the design? How can we be sure that we are not going to be in
exactly the same situation we were in the with the base?
Sir Bill Jeffrey: Can I make two
comments on that. The first is that before this hearing I read
the NAO's report and your Committee's report in 2002 on the Devonport
facility and we have learned lessons from that. Our whole approach
now is more of partnering, given the single source of supply point
that was made earlier, and more of a realistic understanding of
how much you can actually transfer risk to the supplier, a more
hands-on approach and better management of key stakeholders like
the regulators. If all of these came out of the Devonport case
we are very much on them now.
Q108 Mr Williams: If you start construction
before you complete the design surely you cannot sit there and
say, "We can guarantee we are not going to be having changes
on specification along the route", or perhaps there is some
clever way you have found of doing it, in which case I will be
Rear Admiral Mathews: The important
thing to recognise is what we mean by completed design. Having
the submarine 100% designed will lead to a much longer build programme
and may incentivise people to make changes because of things like
obsolescence management. If you are not careful you can take so
long designing it things are out of date before you build. It
is important to make a balanced decision here about cost to the
programme, risk and managing the design. It is clear that you
need to make the decisions about the big components, the big systems
and make sure you have got the design integrated when you start
construction. Some of the really detailed design about where you
put some of the small bore pipe work you do not necessarily have
to get done. If the aspiration is for us to sit here and say we
want to have a 100% design maturity before we start construction,
that is the Holy Grail, it may not be possible for us to achieve
that, and nor should we try because it will drive you to additional
costs in build. It is about making a balanced design and being
clear about where the design has gone, you have integrated it,
you understand it and you are clear about those areas that you
have not finished.
Q109 Mr Williams: How important is
the size of the missile chamber?
Rear Admiral Mathews: It is the
payload for the submarine, it sets it out, which is why in our
work for the concept phase we are very clear about setting out
some clear design decisions about submarine diameter, the size
of the missile tubes in terms of their diameter and length, so
that we are absolutely clear when we proceed to the next phase
of the detailed design we have got those things pinned at the
Q110 Mr Williams: We are told in
the Report that the size of the missile compartment depends on
the US designing the missile and they have not designed it yet.
Rear Admiral Mathews: The whole
point is that the US and UK are designing a common missile compartment
together which will set the bounds for the future missile.
Q111 Mr Williams: That will all be
Rear Admiral Mathews: Those decisions
and the work we are taking forward now are to reach decisions
by the time we get to Initial Gate.
Q112 Mr Williams: What sort of timescale
would decisions of this sort be needed in?
Rear Admiral Mathews: By September
Q113 Mr Williams: You are going to be
able to make all of these certain commitments?
Rear Admiral Mathews: We are intending
to make decisions about the missile tube and the diameter of the
missile compartment before September next year.
Q114 Mr Williams: If it turned out
to be significantly larger, what would be the implications of
that for the design of the submarine?
Rear Admiral Mathews: We are quite
clear that it cannot be significantly larger because this submarine
has to fit UK infrastructure. The US have exactly the same problem.
If you make a submarine significantly larger you end up with a
major infrastructure programme to build bigger dry docks, bigger
missile handling facilities.
Q115 Mr Williams: Bigger lifts.
Rear Admiral Mathews: Just like
the issue about setting the size of the missile before you design
it, infrastructure limits you on the size of the submarine you
Q116 Mr Williams: So you can sit
there and guarantee this Committee, and you are going to be 76
by that time so I do not think you need to worry about your career
prospects at that stage,
Sir Bill Jeffrey: I am tempted,
Mr Williams, to return that with interest actually!
Q117 Mr Williams: You can sit there
and say you are genuinely convinced that we are not going to see
any repetition of the disastrous cycle of re-contracting that
we saw with the construction?
Sir Bill Jeffrey: If I might respond
to that. I do not think we would be wise if we sat here and guaranteed
Q118 Mr Williams: Well, that is what
Sir Bill Jeffrey: These are difficult.
Q119 Mr Williams: A moment ago you
were telling me I had got it all wrong because I was casting doubt
and now you are turning round and saying, "We are not here
to be guaranteeing anything". I thought that was what you
were here to do, otherwise the Government has got a problem, has
Sir Bill Jeffrey: What I am saying
is, as the Report brings out very clearly, we are responsible
for a large, complex, challenging programme extending over many
years which has a lot of inherent risks but we will have to manage
these risks. We think we have learned from recent experiences
and can manage them more successfully now than we have done in
the past, but that does not constitute a guarantee. This is a
department of state doing its best.