Future Maritime Surveillance - Defence Committee Contents

1  Introduction

Maritime surveillance

1. The UK is an island state and maritime surveillance—being aware at all times of what is happening over, on and under the surface of surrounding seas and coastal areas—is essential to its continued safety, prosperity and environment. There are many characteristics to surveillance, such as timeliness, accuracy, survivability, reliability, suitability, standardisation, discrimination, covertness and continued coverage over wide areas.[1] This is a broad and important capability which contributes to military areas such as anti-submarine warfare, anti-surface warfare and counter-piracy, while also having a non-military focus including search and rescue, border control and environmental protection. These differing tasks require the deployment of many different assets such as ships, submarines, aircraft, helicopters, communications, unmanned aerial vehicles and space and sea-bed based capabilities.[2] Maritime surveillance is a layered capability collecting information at a variety of levels: over a very wide domain using assets such as satellites; at a more precise theatre level using assets such as maritime patrol aircraft and ships; or in a specific area using assets such as unmanned aerial vehicles and helicopters. Assets can operate in more than one layer, depending on the task in hand.

2. Several Government Departments and agencies, including the Ministry of Defence (MoD), Home Office, the Department for Transport, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Security Services, the Coastguard and the Border Agency have a stake in securing the use of these assets.[3] There are also economic considerations with the UK having a large commercial maritime fleet and conducting a high level of trade by sea which contributes considerable sums to the UK's GDP. The Government acknowledged this wide range of interests by establishing the Maritime Security Oversight Group, bringing together officials from interested government departments and agencies to provide strengthened strategic oversight of maritime security.[4] The Government has also established the multi-agency National Maritime Information Centre based in Northwood to provide improved situational awareness for maritime security.[5] The MoD and UK Armed Forces play a crucial and pivotal role in the provision of maritime surveillance capabilities to meet the various maritime surveillance requirements of UK Government Departments and agencies, NATO and other international partners.

3. The UK's maritime surveillance capability became a high profile issue following the decision in the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) to cancel the Nimrod MRA4 maritime patrol aircraft (MPA) programme.[6] The MRA4 was intended as a replacement for its predecessor, the Nimrod MR2, and would have provided: enhanced anti-submarine and anti-surface warfare; maritime reconnaissance and strategic intelligence collection; search and rescue; and an attack capability.[7]

4. When the decision was taken, the Nimrod MRA4 had not yet entered service and the programme had suffered several delays. Nevertheless, the decision to cancel the Nimrod MRA4 meant that the UK had no current or planned sovereign MPA capability (i.e. a capability that could be operated independently) and the MoD acknowledged that the resultant capability gap could not be completely covered by an existing single asset or collection of assets.[8] Despite the Nimrod MRA4 decision the SDSR asserted that the security environment the UK would face would "place a premium on particular military capabilities, including intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance (ISTAR). It will demand sophisticated and resilient communications and protected mobility by land, sea and air".[9]

5. In our August 2011 Report on the Strategic Defence and Security Review and the National Security Strategy, we expressed serious concerns about the capability gaps that this decision created in the UK's ability to undertake the Military Tasks envisaged in the SDSR. We were not convinced that UK Armed Forces could manage these capability gaps within existing resources and called on the Government to outline its plans to manage them and to outline its plans for the regeneration of the capability, including the maintenance of the necessary skills and knowledge.[10]

Our inquiry

6. Given the importance of maritime surveillance to the UK and our concerns about the impact of some of the SDSR decisions, on 9 February 2012 we announced an inquiry into maritime surveillance. The inquiry would examine the current and future contribution of the MoD and UK Armed Forces to the provision of maritime surveillance capabilities in an ever-changing global situation. In particular, we were interested in establishing:

·  how the MoD had determined the future strategic requirements for the UK Armed Forces' maritime surveillance capabilities, including current and evolving threats;

·  what current maritime surveillance capabilities and assets would remain in service by 2020, including their specific roles, effectiveness, deployability, coordination, and interoperability; and the likely gaps and deficiencies;

·  what future capabilities were needed by the MoD and UK Armed Forces for maritime surveillance and what measures were being taken to address these, including applying lessons learned from recent operations;

·  the costs of current and future maritime surveillance assets of UK Armed Forces;

·  how the MoD intended in future to coordinate its work with other Government departments and agencies, including its effectiveness, their interaction, the lines of demarcation and the consequences for, and impact on, UK Armed Forces;

·  to what extent the UK should collaborate and was collaborating with allies, including through NATO, in the provision of maritime surveillance capabilities; and

·  what provision the MoD was making for the possibility that maritime surveillance forces might have to be regenerated at relatively short notice.

7. At the outset of our inquiry, we decided not to revisit the Nimrod MRA4 decision, but to look at how the resultant capability gap would be managed given that other assets were being withdrawn. We also wanted to investigate the UK's future requirements for maritime surveillance and how these would be decided and delivered in the context of the gap. We considered the capability investigations the MoD was carrying out in this area, including the study into Wide Area Maritime Underwater Search (WAMUS). Our Report examines these issues and also looks at cross-Government cooperation in the delivery of maritime surveillance.

8. We held two oral evidence sessions and our witnesses included the Minister for the Armed Forces, senior Service personnel and officials from the MoD, the Chief Coastguard and external commentators. We received 17 pieces of written evidence from individuals and organisations. A list of our witnesses and those who submitted written evidence can be found on page 57. In March 2012, we visited the National Maritime Information Centre at Northwood. We are grateful to all our witnesses, all those who submitted written evidence and those who facilitated our visit. We are also grateful for the assistance of our Specialist Advisers and the staff of the Committee during this inquiry.[11] During our inquiry we held part of our first oral evidence session in private to allow witnesses from the MoD to be as open as possible on classified and sensitive matters. We also received classified written evidence from the MoD. We have published as much of this evidence as possible, but, after discussion with the Department, have redacted it where necessary to exclude classified and sensitive information.

1   Ev 34 Back

2   Ev 34 Back

3   Ev 45 Back

4   Ev 35 Back

5   Ev 35 Back

6   HM Government, Securing Britain in an Age of Uncertainty: Strategic Defence and Security Review, Cm 7948, October 2010, p 27 Back

7   National Audit Office, Ministry of Defence: Major Projects Report 2011, HC (2010-12) 1520-I, para 3.10 Back

8   Defence Committee, Ninth Special Report of Session 2010-12, The Strategic Defence and Security Review and the National Security Strategy: Government Response to the Committee's Sixth Report of Session 2010-12, HC 1639, p 19 Back

9   HM Government, Securing Britain in an Age of Uncertainty: Strategic Defence and Security Review, Cm 7948, October 2010, p 16; The SDSR went on to say that maritime capabilities would include "maritime intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance (ISTAR) capabilities based on network enabled warships, submarines and aircraft", p 22.  Back

10   Defence Committee, Sixth Report of Session 2010-12, The Strategic Defence and Security Review and the National Security Strategy, HC 761, para 137. See also: Defence Committee, Ninth Special Report of Session 2010-12, The Strategic Defence and Security Review and the National Security Strategy: Government Response to the Committee's Sixth Report of Session 2010-12, HC 1639, p 19. Back

11   The Specialist Advisers' declarations of relevant interests are recorded in the Committee's Formal Minutes which are available on the Committee's website. Mr Paul Beaver did not assist with this inquiry due to a potential relevant interest. Back

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Prepared 19 September 2012