The Strategic Defence and Security Review and the National Security Strategy - Defence Committee Contents


Written evidence from the Trades Unions Corporate Steering Group at BAE Systems

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

1.  This submission is from the trades union body within BAE Systems representing members from across the whole of the UK.

2.  It considers the manner by which the SDSR was conducted and believes that it was neither robust nor sufficiently independent from the services to be properly strategic. It believes that decisions appeared to have been taken for political reasons.

3.  There are significant concerns for the future of the aerospace industry and new work is required to maintain design capability within the UK.

4.  The decision to cancel and then destroy the Nimrod MRA4s is considered to be a mistake both strategically and economically, especially as it is believed that the UK will in the not too distant future want to replace the aircraft.

5.  It is believed that risks are being taken as a result of scrapping the Nimrods and that lives will be lost as a result.

6.  Recommendations are made in regard to the conduct of future defence reviews, support for the UK aerospace industry, in particular UAVs and UCAVs and the retention of existing Nimrod crews to ensure their valuable experience is not lost.

7.  Further information on the above is contained within the report and in the Conclusions and Recommendations at the end.

INTRODUCTION

8.  This is a submission from the trades union corporate Steering Group at BAE Systems UK. This group consists of nine TU representatives, all convenors or chairmen from various BAE Systems' sites, elected by colleagues from sites across the UK. Through the various collective bargaining arrangements, they represent in excess of 20,000 employees. Nothing in this submission can be construed as necessarily representing or reflecting the views of BAE Systems plc.

SCOPE OF THIS SUBMISSION

9.  This submission concentrates upon the decision to scrap and destroy the Nimrod MRA4s, though it addresses other aerospace aspects of the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR). It also gives views in regard to the manner by which the SDSR was conducted.

CONDUCT OF THE REVIEW

10.  On the 27 September 2010, the Secretary of State for Defence, Dr Liam Fox, wrote to the Prime Minister, David Cameron, concerning the SDSR. This letter, or at least part of it, was published by the Daily Telegraph (28 September 2010). In the letter, Dr Fox stated:

"Frankly this process is looking less and less defensible as a proper SDSR (Strategic Defence and Strategy Review) and more like a "super CSR" (Comprehensive Spending Review)."

11.  Further press reports appear to suggest that this was indeed the case, with the three services apparently acting in isolation and offering up various assets to be cut in an attempt to protect other aspects of their service. In particular, the RAF was reported in the Daily Telegraph (20 July 2010)i citing the respected defence publication, Janes Defence Weekly (16 July 2010), as offering to dispense with the Nimrod MRA4 in order to protect its fast jet fleet and another report (Daily Telegraph 4 Oct 2010)ii suggesting that the RN was prepared to take massive cuts so long as it protected its carriers. As is now known, these were reflected in the outcome of the SDSR.

12.  If it was the case that the outcome of the SDSR was even partially based around accepting offers from the three services to dispense with various assets, then this has to be a major concern as it would reflect a lack of top level joined up strategic thinking. The decision to cancel the Nimrod MRA4 programme could not be a clearer example, something that is expanded upon below.

13.  It is not believed that much consideration was given to external views regarding the SDSR. The authors wrote to the Prime Minister on the 13 September 2010. His office eventually referred the matter to the Secretary of State for Defence, who wrote back on the 29 January 2011, over three months after publication of the white paper.

14.  The chairman of the Defence Select Committee, the Rt Hon James Arbuthnot MP, stated in the House of Commons on the 4 November 2010 during a debate on the SDSR:

"...we also wanted to look at the process of the review and we concluded that it was, pretty much, rubbish. This review took five months, whereas the highly regarded 1997-98 review took 13 months. The haste of this review meant that an opportunity to consult the wider public, defence academics, the defence industry and Parliament was missed."

15.  The Defence Select Committee itself had previously concluded (in its first report printed 7 September 2010):

"The rapidity with which the SDSR process is being undertaken is quite startling. A process which was not tried and tested is being expected to deliver radical outcomes within a highly concentrated time-frame. We conclude that mistakes will be made and some of them may be serious."

NIMROD MRA4

Capabilities:

16.  The Nimrod MRA4 was a Maritime Reconnaissance Aircraft with a very wide range of capabilities as listed below:

—  Submarine detection through the use of active and passive sonobuoys (which are dropped into the sea by the aircraft), by radar and by magnetic anomaly detection.

—  Submarine attack using Stingray torpedoes and depth charges.

—  Surface ship detection via radar.

—  Surface ship attack using air to surface missiles.

—  Cruise missile deployment (Storm Shadow).

—  Naval mine deployment.

—  Air to air defence using missiles.

—  Very high resolution electro-optical camera and radar technology.

—  Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance (ISTAR).

—  Command and control.

—  Communications relay.

—  Dingy deployment for sea rescue purposes.

—  Range of 6900 miles or 15 hours flight duration time.

Roles:

17.  The roles the Nimrod MRA4 would (and could) have included (also noting past roles of its predecessor, the MR2) are listed below:

—  Protection for the nuclear deterrent.

—  Protection for the surface fleet (including the new carriers from 2017).

—  Detecting, tracking and if necessary attacking submarines and surface ships.

—  Defence of the Falklands.

—  Counter terrorism.

—  Homeland security, noting its role during the Heathrow missile threat in 2003 and during the 7 July 2005 bombings.

—  Olympic security noting the MRA4s were to be fitted with extra equipment specifically for the Olympics.

—  In theatre operations, such as in Afghanistan, providing command, control and communications, surveillance etc. It could be used over land as well as sea.

—  Counter piracy.

—  Search and rescue for shipping utilising sophisticated scanning equipment and a range well beyond the range of helicopters.

—  Commitments to NATO (note the Norwegian government has already expressed concern that areas are not properly being monitored (Scotsman 20 November 2010).iii

18.  The predecessor to the MRA4, the MR2, is known to have been used in the Falklands conflict. It had been used for homeland security purposes during the missile threat at Heathrow in 2003 when it was deployed as (at least) a communications relay and during the 7 July bombings for (at least) the same purpose; special forces officers reported that they were "deaf and blind" prior to the MR2 taking to the skies over London owing to the mobile phone network being overloaded (see Daily Telegraph 27 Jan 2011).iv The MRA4 was to have been used for the Olympics.

19.  The MR2 was also used extensively during the Iraq and then Afghanistan conflicts in support of Special Forces (Daily Telegraph 27 Jan 2011).v

20.  The MR2 was used continually for submarine detection around the UK and for protecting the nuclear deterrent.

21.  The MR2 was also used for non defence purposes in search and rescue for vessels in need of assistance, providing "topcover", which is defined as providing communication, radar or visual search prior to helicopter arrival and safety cover for helicopters. The MR2 would act as backup to helicopters in case they had to ditch, which was not as improbable as might be imagined, especially if a helicopter was at the extreme of its range with many on board. The MR2 played a very significant role during the Piper Alpha, Thistle Alpha and other oil rig rescues acting as a command and control platform to direct the many helicopters.

22.  David Cameron in an interview during the Andrew Marr show on 3rd Oct 2010 stated:

"We've got to think about piracy in the Gulf, we've got to think about drug-running in the Caribbean"

23.  The MRA4 would have been a very efficient resource for the above.

24.  A further potential use of the Nimrod would be to track oil slicks.

25.  The above shows how incredibly versatile the Nimrod MRA4 aircraft was.

MITIGATING FOR THE LOSS OF NIMROD

26.  The Government has stated that it can cover for the loss of Nimrod by other means. These have been specifically stated as being through Type 23 frigates, Merlin helicopters and Hercules aircraft, the latter being for search and rescue. The effectiveness of these will be minimal in comparison for the following reasons:

SUBMARINE DETECTION

27.  Submarine detection is undertaken by using a variety of means, but the principle technique is using sonar. The Nimrod used Sonobuoys which would be dropped by the Nimrod into the sea. These were available as both active and passive devices, the former transmitting a signal and awaiting a return and the latter just listening. The latter were used far more than the former because a) they were far cheaper and b) a submarine would know that it was being looked for by detecting the signal emitted by an active device. Hence, it was possible to detect a submarine without it knowing that this was the case. The advantages of this are fairly obvious, but especially so if the submarine is involved in covert activities, for example, placing intercepts on underwater communication cables. Having detected a submarine, the Nimrod could then use magnetic anomaly detection to precisely locate the submarine, though this would generally only be used if the submarine was to be attacked, which the Nimrod could do by dropping either depth charges or torpedoes.

28.  The Government's alternatives are the Type 23 frigate, which has an active sonar capability and a passive one, the latter by towing a "barge" behind it. In addition, the Merlin helicopter can drop sonobuoys and has an active dipping sonar system. The major disadvantage with this approach in regard to passive detection is that the noise signature of the frigate and especially the Merlin is such that a submarine would be able to hear them and then be able to take noise countermeasures prior to being detected. A Nimrod, being a jet is barely audible so would be able to track a submarine without the submarine knowing. It is worth adding that the P3 Orion maritime reconnaissance aircraft used by the US and many other countries, being turbo-props, also risk being heard by submarines so are less effective. In regard to active detection, submarines can still take measures to minimise the chances of detection and detection ranges are dependent upon sea state, rain, size of submarine, sonar power transmitted and the daily thermal cross section of the sea.

29.  The next issue is coverage. It is understood that two Type 23s and four Merlins have been assigned to submarine detection (and possibly deterrent protection) duties. It is difficult to imagine how they could be as efficient in covering UK waters as a fixed wing maritime patrol aircraft.

30.  If the situation was one in which an attack by a submarine was possible, the lack of a Nimrod capability could have serious consequences to a ship(s), with a submarine being able to launch a torpedo before being detected. This would pose considerable risks if ships were deployed to high risk areas and it must be borne in mind that many nations have a submarine capability, with a most recent example being the alleged torpedo attack by a North Korean submarine sinking a South Korean on the 26 March 2010.

PROTECTION OF THE NUCLEAR DETERRENT

31.  The Government has, understandably, been unwilling to detail how it would go about protecting the deterrent, but one could surmise that it could involve Type 23 frigates to escort the deterrent out from Faslane and/or use of hunter killer submarines. It is difficult to know how effective this would be and reference would need to be made to others more expert in such matters.

SEARCH AND RESCUE

32.  The Government has stated that it would use Hercules aircraft. The Hercules has no electro-optics. It does have radar but this is not designed for search and rescue and will only detect large vessels; certainly not yachts or dinghies. At night crews will have to use night vision goggles looking out of windows which are not well positioned for the task. The crews are not as well trained as the Nimrod crews in S&R. It will take hours longer than the Nimrod to detect lost seamen, by which time it may be too late. They also lack command and control cover, so important in saving lives during the Piper Alpha disaster (1988), and coordinating evacuations from the Thistle Alpha platform (2007) and the Safe Scandinavia (10 February 2008), amongst many others. It is believed that the UK will struggle to meet it obligations under the International Convention on Maritime Search and Rescue, 1979.

EMERGENCY RESPONSE (DEFENCE RELATED)

33.  The Government has not addressed this issue. Should an incident or threat present itself and a quick response be required, then the Nimrod would be able to offer a rapid response to many situations, certainly at sea beyond the range of helicopters and fast jets. Ships would clearly take a long time to respond. Simply put, nothing has the combination of speed and range as a Nimrod.

NATO COMMITMENTS

34.  The Government has stated that it will rely upon its allies to assist, notably the French and the US. However, the maritime reconnaissance aircraft possessed by the French and US come nowhere near providing the same capability as the MRA4 and probably even its predecessor, the MR2. In addition, one would presume there must be a quid pro quo for relying upon allies. What is the quid pro quo? Could it be that the UK would buy or lease a replacement for the Nimrod MRA4s from the US at some point?

CAPABILITY GAP

Direct Impact of Losing the Nimrods

35.  As can be seen from the above, the stated measures do not go anywhere near to covering the roles undertaken by the Nimrod and a capability gap is evident. This will create risks for the defence and security of the UK and its territories. These risks have been recognised by statements made by ministers and those heading up the armed forces:

—  Scrapping the new MRA4 reconnaissance planes was "a risk but not a gamble"—General Sir David Richards speaking to the Defence Select Committee on 17 November 2010.

—  "How worried am I? I am very uncomfortable. I'm happy to say that publicly,"—Admiral Sir Mark Stanhope answering a question from former Nimrod pilot Sir Brian Burridge at a Spectator defence procurement conference in London (9 November 2010).

—  "Cancelling the Nimrod MRA4 programme was a finely balanced judgement too. This, I have to say, was the most difficult decision we took in the SDSR. I recognise that this means taking some risk on the capability Nimrod was to provide."—Secretary of State for Defence, Dr Liam Fox speaking at RAF Cranwell, Lincoln (9 November 2010).

—  Abandoning the "spy-in-the-sky" aerial surveillance planes would leave the military with a "capability gap"—Armed Forces Minister Nick Harvey as reported by the Daily Mail (4 November 2010).vi

36.  However, the above has to be compared with the views expressed in a letter to the Daily Telegraph (published on line on 26 Jan 2011) by Air Vice Marshal Tony Mason, Major-General Patrick Cordingley, Marshal of the RAF Lord Craig, Air Commodore Andrew Lambert, Major-Gen Julian Thompson and Admiral Sir John Woodward:

—  "Destruction of the nine airframes has now begun … a massive gap in British security has opened."

—  "Britain is committed to the support of the UN, Nato and the EU. The vulnerability of sea lanes, unpredictable overseas crises and traditional surface and submarine opposition will continue to demand versatile, responsive aircraft."

—  "Nimrod would have provided long-range maritime and overland reconnaissance, anti-submarine surveillance, air-sea rescue co-ordination and reconnaissance support to the Navy's Trident submarines."

—  "Other countries are actually seeking to reinforce their maritime patrol capacity…"

37.  Other views are as follows:

—  "There is no way that Nimrod can be replaced, and the decision will have serious implications for Trident."—Paul Beaver (Defence analyst) as reported in the Scotsman online on 20 November 2010.

—  "Deletion of the Nimrod MR4 will limit our ability to deploy maritime forces rapidly into high-threat areas, increase the risk to the Deterrent, compromise maritime CT (counter terrorism), remove long range search and rescue, and delete one element of our Falklands reinforcement plan."—Liam Fox, the Secretary of State for Defence in his letter to the Prime Minister published in the Daily Telegraph (on the 28 September 2010).

38.  The National Audit Office, in its Major Projects Report 2010, also recognised a capability gap, stating:

"The consequence of the Nimrod Maritime Reconnaissance and Attack Mk4 ISD slip, post the Nimrod Maritime Reconnaissance Mk2 Out-of-Service Date of March 2010, is that a capability gap will be endured."

39.  Reports in the press have highlighted issues in regard to Russian submarines. One concerned a Russian submarine trying to track a Vanguard class nuclear deterrent leaving Faslane (Daily Express 5 September 2010)vii and the other in regard to a search for a Russian submarine in the Atlantic which it is reported the US P3 Orions could not find (Daily Record 22 October 2010).viii

40.  The same Daily Express article above refers to the potential for future disputes in the Arctic regions, especially given the presence of oil. Similar arguments would probably apply to the Antarctic. The fact is, with an ever changing world (noting recent events in Algeria and Egypt), it is difficult to predict where the next dispute might arise and the availability of a resource as adaptable as the Nimrod could well be critical.

41.  With the loss of both the Ark Royal and the Harriers, the UK will not have an effective carrier capability until 2020. Hence, the importance of being able to provide an effective way to defend the Falklands is now even greater, given that the UK would almost certainly be unable to retake them.

42.  Two former heads of the Royal Navy, Lord West and Sir Julian Oswald, along with Vice-Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham, Vice-Admiral John McAnally and Maj Gen Julian Thompson wrote to The Times (20 November 2010) in regard to the decision to scrap the Harriers. They stated:

"In respect of the newly valuable Falklands and their oilfields, because of these and other cuts, for the next 10 years at least, Argentina is practically invited to attempt to inflict on us a national humiliation on the scale of the loss of Singapore."

43.  During a subsequent BBC Today programme interview (10 November 2010), Lord West, who served as security minister under former prime minister Gordon Brown, stated:

"If the islands were captured we have absolutely no way whatsoever of recovering them unless we have carrier air."

44.  Lord West also stated during the interview that the Falklands could be defended if the intelligence was available in regard to an increased threat, but that it was not always available.

45.  The Nimrod MRA4 would have been able to contribute considerably to the defence role, as recognised by Dr Fox in his letter to the Prime Minister. The Nimrod would have been able to provide early warning of a potential attack, facilitating an earlier mobilisation of existing forces on and around the Falklands. The Nimrod would also have been able to actively defend through its offensive capabilities.

46.  It is not believed that the US or the French would provide their maritime reconnaissance aircraft to help defend or retake the Falklands.

47.  It is worth remembering that it was a white paper in 1981 from the then secretary of state for defence, John Nott, proposing deep cuts to the Royal Navy (a fifth of its 60 destroyers and frigates), that factored in the Argentinean decision to invade the Falklands.

48.  Hence, it is clear that there is joint agreement that losing Nimrod is a risk and creates a capability gap; presumably it is the extent of that risk which is under question. The authors' view is that it is an unacceptable risk and it is in fact a gamble.

CONSEQUENTIAL IMPACT OF LOSING THE NIMRODS

49.  As already stated above, the effectiveness of measures introduced by the Government to mitigate for the loss of Nimrod are considered minimal, but there are further consequences. With the Royal Navy already suffering a reduction in its surface fleet, including the loss of four frigates and Ark Royal, its ability to cover existing commitments will be impacted by the need to now cover for the loss of Nimrod. In addition, there will be a considerable cost involved in deploying frigates (and helicopters) for these to cover for the Nimrod. A similar argument will apply to the use of Hercules aircraft, which have been in much demand over Afghanistan.

50.  In regard to search and rescue, without a Nimrod to provide safety cover, the need to use an additional helicopter to provide cover will increase. Hence, unless additional risk to helicopter crews (and those they rescue) is to be increased, there will be a greater demand on helicopters, which may not be able to be met. It is worth noting an articleix about search and rescue written in 2004 which stated that Nimrods were deployed in search and rescue around 70 times a year.

JUSTIFICATION FOR SCRAPPING NIMROD

Cost Savings

51.  It must firstly be appreciated that the Nimrod MRA4s were nearly complete (one had been delivered to the RAF) and fully paid for by the taxpayer at a cost of £4 billion.

52.  The Government has cited cost as the reason for cancelling the Nimrod programme. It has stated that it will save £2 billion over ten years. It is the authors' view that this needs to be challenged:

—  What is the break down of this amount and what else did it include which was not directly related to the Nimrods? For example, RAF Kinloss acted as the home of the national Aeronautical Rescue Control Centre.

—  The Daily Telegraph reported the cost of maintenance and support of the Nimrods as being £50 million pa (20 July 2010).x

—  What attempts, if any, were made to reduce these costs? For example:

—  The Woodford trades unions suggested flying Nimrods out of BAE Systems Warton.

—  They suggested combining elements of a spyplane (currently R1s) with functionality of the MRA4s.

—  Was the possibility of a Private Finance Initiative for provision of a Nimrod MRA4 service by BAE Systems considered?

—  Was the possibility of moving Nimrods to another airbase to make efficiency savings considered?

—  Was a value for money consideration for the service provided by the Nimrod's made? Given its considerable range of capabilities compared to other resources was a comparison with other defence assets undertaken?

—  What costs were predicted by the MoD (ie prior to the SDSR white paper) in regard to the decision to scrap the Nimrods and close RAF Kinloss?

—  What are the true total costs associated with cancelling contracts, dismantling and disposing of the Nimrods, the closure of RAF Kinloss, redundancy payments and any other costs resulting from the SDSR decision regarding the Nimrods and RAF Kinloss?

—  How did the expected costs and the actual costs compare?

—  What are the costs associated with using other resources to cover for the loss of the Nimrods?

DESTRUCTION OF THE NIMRODS

53.  Following representations made by the Trades Unions at Woodford to local MPs, a meeting took place between those MPs and the Secretary of State for Defence. The MPs informed the trades unions from Woodford that if they were to retain the aircraft in storage for use at a later date that they would need to retain the crews with the expense that would involve.

54.  Other than that, little appears to have been said as to why the planes were to be dismantled rather than mothballed. It would appear that it is inconceivable that the UK could continue indefinitely without a maritime reconnaissance aircraft. Indeed, the Secretary of State for Defence, Liam Fox, in a BBC TV news interview (27 January 2011)xi strongly hinted that they could replace it, stating:

"if we do need that capability, we may need to get it from somewhere else".

55.  Defence insiders have informed the authors' contacts that the MoD is already considering a replacement, something also reported in the Daily Telegraph (26 January 2011).xii

56.  If it is replaced with Boeing P-8A Poseidons, then based upon the deal with the US Government for an initial six such aircraft at $1.6 billion, the price for nine for the UK would be circa £1.5 billion. The P-8A is a much closer match for the Nimrod MRA4 than the very old P3 Orions, though some would argue even the P-8s are not as good as the MRA4s, for example it is believed the range/flying time of the MRA4s would have been far greater than the P-8s and the MRA4s would have been far better at flying at low level over the sea for anti-submarine purposes.

57.  Hence, if the Government, following the next SDSR in five years time, were to procure the same number of P-8s as there were to be MRA4s, this would equate to £300 million pa over five years, far more than it would have cost by the Government's own figures to have put the MRA4s into service and hence vastly more than it would have cost to mothball the MRA4s and retain the crews. Even if it were to be in late 2020 before P-8s were procured, this would equate to £150 million pa, not that far from the £200 million pa quoted by the Government to run MRA4s.

58.  Another question that has to be asked is regarding the pace of the demolition process. Given the Government could have allowed the construction of the Nimrod MRA4s to continue at presumably no extra cost, given a contract was in place, it could easily have allowed the Defence Select Committee to undertake its review of the SDSR and then review its decision. Hence, it would be important to understand why the Government was so eager to destroy £4 billion of aircraft without allowing a second opinion.

NIMROD FITNESS FOR SERVICE

59.  Following the widespread coverage in the press and media of the demolition of the MRA4s, including helicopter coverage by the BBC, the Government attacked safety and other issues relating to the Nimrod MRA4s. This was soon followed by an article by the Secretary of State for Defence, Liam Fox, in the Daily Telegraph (28 January 2011) and a leak to the Sunday Times (30 January 2011), allegedly of a report on the aircraft written on the 17 September 2010 by Defence Equipment and Support inspectors, providing some details regarding issues with the MRA4. Significantly, however, there was no mention of a rectification sheet which would have been expected to accompany such a report addressing the issues raised.

60.  In the Telegraph article, Dr Fox referred to the aircraft being late and over budget. This is irrelevant. It is money already spent and the delays are in the past.

61.  In answering the Sunday Times, BAE Systems told the paper "At the time of the cancellation of the MRA4 programme, we were working with the Ministry of Defence—in the normal way—to resolve a number of issues relating to the aircraft. We are confident that these would have been resolved to enable the aircraft's entry into service as planned." The Trades Unions at Woodford, representing those building the aircraft, report that this statement was entirely in line with their understanding.

62.  To state that an aircraft that presumably must have had a certificate of airworthiness from the CAA and had recently flown at two airshows was "simply unsafe" comes across as being a gross exaggeration. If it was as bad as claimed, surely the BAE Systems chief test pilot would not have flown the aircraft.

63.  It is known that some of the issues raised by the inspectors had already been addressed.

64.  If the cancellation of the Nimrod MRA4 programme had been considered a possibility, then it would be advantageous to write an overly critical report of the aircraft and to delay acceptance by the RAF. Could this have been the case?

65.  Most significantly of all, however, are the following:

—  The report was written, according to the Sunday Times, on the 17 September 2010.

—  On the 27 September 2010, Dr Fox wrote to the PM arguing in favour of the Nimrod, after the above report. Surely he would have been made aware of the above report to assist him in the SDSR decision making process.

—  When the PM announced the SDSR white paper to the House of Commons on the 19 October, he made no mention of any issues with the Nimrod MRA4.

—  Liam Fox stated, as reported earlier in this submission, that cancelling the Nimrod "was the most difficult decision we took in the SDSR". Even in the Telegraph article he repeated a similar mantra, before going on to criticise the aircraft.

—  Hence, why was it, if the aircraft was as unsafe and so riddled with faults, some of which might never be fixed, as he claimed, that he did not mention this much earlier when justifying the decision to scrap the plane?

—  Surely, if the aircraft were as he described, it would have made it an easy decision to cancel the Nimrod MRA4s not the most difficult one.

—  Dr Fox only started to criticise the aircraft when the publicity surrounding the decision to destroy them increased significantly.

—  Why was it that a leak to the Sunday Times occurred when it did, following on immediately after Dr Fox had started to criticise the aircraft? Who was responsible for the leak?

66.  Dr Fox also claimed, in his Telegraph article, that it would take more money to complete the aircraft, throwing "good money after bad". Our understanding is that any further costs would have been borne by the contractor, not the Government and that the contract included "penalty" clauses.

67.  He went on to state that there would be no demand for a 1940s airframe and that storing them would not be cost effective. In regard to the latter, see above for the comparison with buying Poseidon P-8s and in regard to the former, the Government has just placed an order for three Rivet Joint spy planes at a price of $1.1 billion which are based on 1950s airframes. The fact is that the MRA4s were 95% new, including brand new wings.

FUTURE MARITIME RECONNAISSANCE AIRCRAFT CAPABILITY

68.  As mentioned at paragraph 54, it appears inconceivable that the UK could continue indefinitely without a maritime reconnaissance aircraft. The statement in that paragraph by Dr Fox to the BBC, which he did not have to make, appears significant in this regard.

69.  Many other countries have a maritime reconnaissance aircraft, including Iran and Argentina. Wikipediaxiii reports 18 countries as possessing P3 Orions, yet a major maritime nation such as the UK, with a defence budget that is circa the third biggest in the world, has no maritime reconnaissance aircraft.

70.  In the Nimrod MRA4, the UK would have had an aircraft specifically designed to meet UK requirements. Replacing with P3 Orions would surely only be a stopgap measure prior to the P-8 Poseidons coming into service. As detailed previously, if a P-8 is purchased in five years time, this will mean that the UK would have been better off even if it had put the Nimrods into service. If replaced in ten years time the savings compared to having continued with the MRA4s in service would have been minimal.

71.  The authors' have been told that the experience of the Nimrod crews is of considerable importance in regard to the roles they carry out. It is not something that can be gained simply from training but takes many years. This experience will now be lost when the crews are made redundant, so even if new aircraft are procured, it will then take much longer before the UK can gain the same overall capability as a result of the new crews needing to gain experience.

UK AEROSPACE INDUSTRY CONCERNS

72.  The SDSR has seen the withdrawal from service of Harriers, to be followed in a few years time by the Tornados and the Nimrod R1 spyplanes. This, along with the scrapping of the Nimrods, is already having a significant impact upon employment within BAE Systems, with thousands of jobs expected to be impacted over the coming years.

73.  Future business is now centred around further Typhoon and Hawk work, including export and Joint Strike Fighter and the Government is being very supportive in the area of UK defence exports.

74.  The recent decision by the Government to procure three Rivet Joint spyplanes to replace the Nimrod R1s is very disappointing. With spare MRA4 airframes having been available and already paid for by the Government and with similarities in construction to the R1, it is believed that it could have been cheaper for the Government to have used MRA4 airframes as future spyplanes. The decision to have them supported in the US is a further blow to UK aerospace jobs.

75.  If the UK Government procures P-8 Poseidons from the US, the authors would hope that the Government insist upon a level of offset work. Offset is becoming much more the norm as customers request that some of the work be undertaken in their own countries. It would be hoped that support and maintenance work would be based in the UK as well.

76.  The importance for Unmanned Air Vehicle (UAV) and Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle (UCAV) to be procured from the UK (or jointly with the French) cannot be underestimated. BAE Systems is known to have invested heavily in this area and this work has helped retain very important aerospace design skills and needs to do so for the future. The Government needs to act quickly and decisively and support UAV and UCAV work in the UK.

77.  If the UK defence aerospace sector is not sufficiently supported, it could have an impact upon the civil sector, as it reduces the skill base within the aerospace sector generally within the UK.

78.  The UK defence industry as a whole makes a very significant contribution to the UK economy, which in 2009 was worth £12 billion and generated £7.2 billion revenue in exports. Every job in the industry creates another 1.6 jobs elsewhere.

79.  At a time when the UK Government is stating that manufacturing is important to the country and young people are trying to be attracted into engineering, the pictures of new Nimrod MRA4 aircraft being destroyed could not have sent a positive message to them. Workers at the Woodford factory were gutted at seeing all their work over many years cut up and this was not a good advert for the aerospace industry in the UK.

CONCLUSIONS

80.  There are significant concerns for the future of the UK aerospace industry and strong Government support is required. Whilst this has been very positive in regard to export of existing products, new work is required to maintain a design capability within the UK.

81.  It is the authors' view that the SDSR process was not robust and sufficiently independent from the services to be properly strategic. For example, the NSC adopted an "Adaptable Britain" posture, but then decided to cancel the Nimrod MRA4 programme, depriving the military of what was probably its most adaptable and flexible asset. This made no sense. To then destroy it as well, given the UK will no doubt at some time need to replace it, does not stack up economically.

82.  Jobs were always going to be affected by the review, given the economic situation, which is obviously going to be very difficult for those concerned, but to have jobs lost not on the basis of proper strategic thinking but for what appears, in some cases, to be political reasons makes the situation for those affected even worse. The varying messages from Dr Fox regarding the reason for scrapping the Nimrod MRA4, the fact that he wrote to the Prime Minister in support of Nimrod and the subsequent leak of a report about the MRA4 is strong evidence in the authors' opinion that there was more to scrapping the Nimrod than just strategic thinking.

83.  The UK will endure a very significant capability gap as a result of scrapping the MRA4. Whether this was fully appreciated by those making the decision is not known. It is the authors' belief that history will show that the decision to lose an MRA4 type capability was wrong and that the decision to destroy £4 billion of aircraft was economically unjustified and a waste of taxpayers' money.

84.  The Defence Select Committee concluded of the SDSR process that "mistakes will be made and some of them may be serious". The scrapping of the Nimrod MRA4s must surely be one of them.

85.  The enacting of decisions of the SDSR white paper prior to review by the Defence Select Committee, especially in the case of decisions which were irreversible, such as the destruction of the Nimrod MRA4s, was wrong.

86.  David Cameron in an interview during the Andrew Marr show on 3 October 2010 stated:

"I am passionately pro-defence, passionately pro our armed forces. I will not take any risks with Britain's defence."

87.  However, risks are being taken as has already been acknowledged by the General Sir David Richards and Dr Fox (see paragraph 35). It is the authors' view that lives will be lost as a result of losing the MRA4s.

RECOMMENDATIONS

88.  It is recommended that the Government acts positively in regard to supporting a significant UK developed and manufactured UAV and UCAV capability.

89.  It is recommended that the Government, where it does feel compelled to purchase from abroad, insist upon offset work coming to the UK to support UK jobs. In addition, support and maintenance work should be based in the UK.

90.  It is recommended for future SDSRs (or their equivalent) that the Defence Select Committee be allowed to review decisions from the SDSR, especially in the case of decisions which are irreversible, before they are enacted.

91.  It is also recommended that sufficient time be allowed for future reviews and that a robust and sufficiently independent (of the services) expert review of defence strategy be part of the SDSR process.

92.  Given it is understood that considerations are being given to a replacement for the Nimrod MRA4s, it would be important to ensure that the considerable and important experience of the current crews is not lost. It is, therefore, recommended that the Government give consideration to the retention of existing Nimrod crews.

14 February 2011

REFERENCES

i   http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/newsbysector/industry/defence/7900081/RAF-offer-to-scrap-3.5-billion-Nimrods.html

ii   http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/politics/defence/8049674/Navy-to-reduce-to-smallest-size-ever-to-save-carriers.html

iii   http://news.scotsman.com/news/RAF-Kinloss-Scrapped-replacement-.6633252.jp

iv   http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/politics/defence/8286766/Loss-of-Nimrods-puts-special-forces-at-risk.html

v   http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/politics/defence/8286766/Loss-of-Nimrods-puts-special-forces-at-risk.html

vi   http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1326704/Fear-decision-scrap-RAF-Nimrod-fleet-Ministers-admit-capability-gap.html

vii   http://www.express.co.uk/posts/view/197663/-Arctic-battle-between-Scotland-and-Russia

viii   http://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/uk-world-news/2010/10/22/with-nimrod-fleet-grounded-britain-has-to-call-in-americans-to-hunt-for-russian-sub-missing-in-atlantic-86908-22650066/

ix   http://www.publicservice.co.uk/feature_story.asp?id=3559

x   http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/newsbysector/industry/defence/7900081/RAF-offer-to-scrap-3.5-billion-Nimrods.html

xi   http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-12294937

xii   http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/politics/defence/8284935/Scrapping-the-RAFs-4bn-Nimrod-fleet-risks-UK-security.html

xiii   http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/P3_orion



 
previous page contents next page


© Parliamentary copyright 2011
Prepared 3 August 2011