Future Maritime Surveillance - Defence Committee Contents

4  Future maritime surveillance and regeneration

Rapid regeneration of a maritime patrol aircraft capability

47. We explored how quickly the MoD and the Armed Forces could regenerate a maritime patrol aircraft capability in the event of a sudden risk escalation. Nick Harvey MP, the Minister for the Armed Forces, thought that it would "require the security assessment to deteriorate very quickly" for there to be a need to consider an urgent replacement.[69] He thought it much more likely that any deterioration in the security picture would be gradual. The next opportunity for the Government to make a fundamental assessment of this would be presented by the 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR). The MoD confirmed that were currently no plans to regenerate specific capabilities although "as with any military capability, if current assumptions about the strategic environment and threats change significantly then consideration will be given to enhancement options".[70] When we asked the Minister if the MoD were currently looking at the possible rapid regeneration of a MPA, he told us "we are not looking at that issue now because we do not perceive any urgent need to do so".[71]

48. However, even accepting that a decision is unlikely to be required before the next SDSR, we were concerned about the lack of work being undertaken on ways rapidly to regenerate this capability, and by the Minister's willingness to postpone a decision until 2015. An essential part of any regeneration of a MPA capability would be the ability of suppliers to deliver and support it, but the MoD has not discussed the regeneration of specific maritime surveillance capabilities with industry.[72] Despite this the Minister and Air Vice-Marshal Mark Green, Director and Joint Air Capability and Transformation, MoD, were confident that rapid regeneration of a MPA platform less complex than the Nimrod was achievable at a short notice. The Minister told us:

    If, at relatively short notice, we thought that we needed to get back into having a dedicated capability we could put something together or buy something off the shelf pretty quickly. Would it be of comparable complexity to Nimrod? No. Would it be capable of performing a maritime surveillance function because we perceived the need to get back into that urgently? I think it would.[73]

Air Vice-Marshal Green added that the ability to regenerate a MPA capability would be dependent on the risk identified and the complexity of the platform required. Something less complex than the Nimrod MRA4 could be acquired "relatively easily because they are, effectively, on-the-shelf purchasing".[74] Another alternative was leasing options, which the MoD had adopted with C-17s.[75] We pressed the Minister on whether, if it were to be decided in 2015 that this capability was urgently required, how rapidly the capability could be procured and put in place and whether it would be expensive.[76] He responded:

    there are options out there that other countries use. We have shown in the urgent operational requirement process which purchased equipment for Afghanistan that when it needs to, procurement can work very quickly. It might not be the optimal solution for the long term, but in your scenario of an urgent requirement I think we would be capable of getting something going again—I hesitate to be drawn.[77]


    Some of the urgent operational requirement [UOR] purchases for Afghanistan have compared rather favourably with some of the MoD's other procurements. While I would not necessarily claim that they would be cheap, the experience of UORs is that they are quite good value for money.[78]

49. We note that the MoD asserted it has robust risk assessment and management procedures in place to spot any risk escalation in the maritime surveillance area. However, in practice the robustness of these procedures cannot be proven until such risks materialise and are identified and dealt with or are missed with potentially disastrous consequences. We are also less sanguine than the Minister that if an urgent need to regenerate the maritime surveillance capability arose this could be achieved quickly. We accept that regenerating the complex capabilities of the Nimrod MRA4 would be more difficult and take longer than purchasing a platform off the shelf or putting something together that could perform an urgent maritime surveillance function. However, as the MoD has admitted in evidence that it is not currently considering the rapid regeneration of any maritime patrol aircraft platform and that it is not in discussion with industry about the regeneration of specific maritime surveillance capabilities, and given the complexities and testing required of maritime patrol aircraft platforms, we require further evidence that a sufficient level of capability could be regenerated as quickly as the Minister suggests.

Tolerable risk or gamble?

50. While the MoD acknowledged that there is a maritime surveillance capability gap, it regarded it as a tolerable risk. However other witnesses considered it a gamble.[79] Rear Admiral Tony Rix (retd.), former Chief of Staff to the NATO Maritime Headquarters in Naples, told us:

    My personal assessment is that it is [a] gamble. It is a risk that we should not be taking for a number of reasons. First, we do not have the surveillance coverage that we used to have. Indeed, trying to regenerate that surveillance capability—the broad surveillance, particularly the wider-area persistent surveillance capability—at short notice would be very difficult. There are some initiatives within the MoD to do that, but for reasons that we have gone into so far, surveillance—wider-area persistent surveillance—is an essential part, from my perspective, of the military world, enabling military operations. It is a gap that we should not tolerate.[80]

Senior UK Armed Forces personnel disagreed with Rear-Admiral Rix. Air Vice-Marshal Green said "I think that the situation that we have today is a tolerable risk".[81] Rear Admiral Ian Corder, Commander Operations Maritime, MoD, added "as the person who wears that risk most of the time, I would firmly say that it is within the bounds of tolerable risk at the moment".[82]

51. General Sir David Richards, Chief of the Defence Staff, thought that the risk created by the Nimrod decision was not in the gamble category and warned that it should not be allowed to become so. He told us, in November 2010, "we must work very hard to ensure that that is the case, but it is another risk that we now have to manage. [...] The professional military now need to work actively with allies to see how we mitigate that risk".[83] Nick Harvey MP, Minister for the Armed Forces, thought that the capability gap was a continued acknowledged risk. However he asserted that Ministers and policy makers in the MoD were kept aware of the levels of risk through established risk management processes which also covered the "longer-term strategic risk".[84] Tom McKane thought that "risk management [was] something that imbues almost everything that the Department does, and so in relation to specific operations or specific activities, there will be an examination of the risks associated with that and a plan put in place to manage that, but clearly they are not risks that one would go into in public".[85]

52. It is essential that the MoD's risk management procedures are robust enough to identify and deal with potential future capability gaps. For example the Sea King (SKASaC) helicopter which has the primary roles of wide area surveillance and battlespace management across land, air and maritime domains is due to be retired from service in 2016 and replaced by Project CROWSNEST hosted by the Merlin Mk 2 aircraft.[86] These procedures should also consider the opportunities to adapt existing assets to provide a maritime surveillance capability although this is not their current role. For example the Sentinel aircraft is due to be retired from service in 2015 subject to Operation HERRICK conditions but witnesses including the MoD have identified its potential to be adapted to a maritime surveillance role.[87]

53. The provision of maritime surveillance should be considered as a whole taking into account the different, competing requirements and the risks associated with gaps and non-provision in the capability. Capability and platform decisions must be coherent and informed. We are aware that the capability gaps that exist in maritime surveillance are not limited to a maritime patrol aircraft, and include, for example, the withdrawal of Sentinel and the loss of the four Broadsword-class Type 22 Frigates' information and intelligence gathering capabilities and towed array sonar. We also note that there is the potential for other capability gaps to occur, such as when the Sea King (SKASaC) helicopter is withdrawn in 2016 to be replaced by Project CROWSNEST operating from the Merlin Mk 2. In response to our Report, the MoD should set out how it intends to deal with the increased risk caused by these emerging capability gaps.

54. We remain concerned about the MoD's capacity to manage the risk created by the capability gap in maritime surveillance and about its ability to react to demand in the short and medium term.

Future maritime surveillance requirements


55. We have already discussed the possibilities for filling the immediate maritime surveillance gap. In January 2011, the Ministry of Defence began a capability investigation into its long term requirements for a Wide Area Maritime Underwater Search (WAMUS) capability. This was completed in October 2011, but the MoD has not made its findings public.[88] During 2011, the MoD also undertook similar studies into other areas relevant to maritime surveillance.[89] All of these studies would be expected to contribute to the debate on the future provision of maritime surveillance. Air Vice-Marshal Green described the WAMUS study to us:

    The issue was related to: noting the decision to withdraw the Nimrod out of service, and if the MoD decided that there was indeed a requirement to fill that capability gap in the future, what sort of platforms would be required in order to satisfy it? There are lots of ifs and buts in there, but it presumed that there was going to be a requirement that was yet to be decided. If you assume that there was, what could you use? Could you use unmanned aerial platforms; could you used manned platforms? Could you use hybrid air vehicles and so on? We have already provided details of the conclusion to that. What that work has done is provide us with a level of underpinning research already, which we will then wrap into our capability investigations as we go forward to the Strategic Defence Review 2015. It was a fundamental piece of analysis to support our future direction.[90]

56. We were concerned that the WAMUS study had not been undertaken as part of the work on the 2010 SDSR. Air Vice-Marshal Green responded :

    We were faced in the SDSR with trying to cut our cloth according to our means, and there is no doubt that we had to make some very difficult decisions. An analysis of all the options available to us was done, and at that stage, the analysis was that deleting the MPA aircraft was the least worst option. Analysis was completed that looked at the capability gaps that we would create by deleting that capability. Afterwards, the study allowed us to look at what options there would be in future and whether we needed to fill the capability that we had just deleted, the timeline and the likely platforms. It was primarily financially driven, against a context of the current threat that we faced at the time in the SDSR and our funding priorities. It was a difficult decision that was the least worst at the time.[91]

57. Air Vice-Marshal Green told us that the WAMUS study had caused the MoD to conclude that in the medium term an aircraft was likely to be the solution should it be necessary to fill the gap when Nimrod MRA4 was cancelled. In the longer term, about 20 years, technology was likely to provide the opportunity for the use of unmanned systems, especially underwater.[92] The Air Vice-Marshal confirmed to us that the WAMUS study would not have been required if the Nimrod MRA4 had been retained.[93]

58. While we commend the MoD for undertaking studies that will help inform future decisions on the provision of maritime surveillance, we believe it would have been beneficial if these studies had been undertaken before or as part of the SDSR especially given that the MoD has admitted that the Nimrod MRA4 decision was primarily financially driven and in the short to medium term a maritime patrol aircraft would be the solution for maritime surveillance requirements.

59. Although these studies were taking place at the same time as our inquiry into the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) and the National Security Strategy (NSS), the MoD did not tell us about the studies in its oral and written evidence or in the Government's response to our Report. We asked Nick Harvey MP, Minister for the Armed Forces, and MoD officials why we had not been informed of the WAMUS study. He replied:

    But you were inquiring into the SDSR. With respect, this piece of work was not anything to do with the SDSR. It was considering the future and the sort of capabilities that we might develop in the future. It was not about the SDSR.[94]


    With respect, everything that the Ministry has been doing after the SDSR process was complete is looking to the future—Future Force 2020, the sort of strategic decisions that we will have to make in 2015 at the next SDSR, and at micro-scale the annual budget cycles. I am not clear how it would have assisted your study of the SDSR during the spring of 2011 to have described every piece of work that we were doing looking to the future capabilities that we hoped to generate. The scope of your inquiry would have been endless if we had viewed it in quite that way.[95]

60. We asked the Minister and MoD witnesses whether it would not have been helpful to mention the WAMUS study when addressing our concerns about the Nimrod MRA4 decision in the Government response to our report on the SDSR and NSS. Air Vice-Marshal Green replied "Yes, I think it probably would have been helpful if we had thought more broadly about that particular topic".[96] In written evidence, following our evidence session the MoD told us:

    Following Mrs Moon's Parliamentary Question which was answered by Minister(DEST) on 22 March 2011, Nimrod was discussed three times by MoD and Government witnesses in the course of the open session examination of witnesses in the House of Commons Defence Committee Inquiry into The Strategic Defence and Spending Review and National Security Strategy. In each of the three cases, the focus of the discussion was the impact of the loss of Nimrod and ways that the Department has sought to mitigate the resulting capability gap. In the Department's view, discussion of WAMUS Capability Investigation, with its aim 'to establish the nature and size of any 'wide area' ASW capability risk, over time, and to identify and test options for mitigating demonstrable risk' would not have furthered the discussion as the Committee was focused on what the Department was currently doing to mitigate the gap, rather than the long-term implications or requirements. As the answer of 22 March indicates, there was no intention on the Department's part to conceal this study, though its classification, and the fact that it was still ongoing, would have made it hard for us to provide details at that time. As the results of the WAMUS CI were not published until 31 October 2011, so all that MoD and Government witnesses could have done was reiterate Minister(DEST)'s answer to Mrs Moon's Parliamentary Question.[97]

61. Given that the MoD described the Nimrod MRA4 decision as the most difficult in the SDSR, it is unacceptable that the MoD did not think it appropriate to inform us that it was undertaking long term capability investigations into areas directly related to the UK's maritime surveillance capabilities whilst we were undertaking our inquiry into the National Security Strategy and the Strategic Defence and Security Review. Our concerns were not limited to what the MoD was currently doing to mitigate the capability gap as we asked the Government to outline its plans for the regeneration of this capability. These studies would have been relevant to that. Indeed, the MoD told us in evidence that when responding to the concerns on Nimrod in our SDSR and NSS Report it would have been helpful if it had thought more broadly about that particular topic. Parliamentary scrutiny is not an optional extra. We are concerned that had parliamentary questions not revealed the existence of the Wide Area Maritime Underwater Search (WAMUS) study we could have remained in ignorance of it. We expect the MoD to be more proactive and forthcoming in its provision of information to us.


62. Looking ahead to the next SDSR, expected in 2015, Rt Hon Philip Hammond MP, Secretary of State for Defence, told us "we will have a big decision to make about the capability gap that we have accepted on maritime patrol aircraft".[98] In its written evidence the MoD identified the maritime surveillance challenges it expected to face in the next SDSR as including:

·  the identification and assessment of future risk across the Department's primary and secondary roles;[99]

·  planning for an ever increasing need for timely surveillance and targeted information through technological advancement; and

·  in consultation with the UK Civil Authorities, provision for the increased responsibility of the forthcoming Exclusive Economic Zone.[100]

63. Nick Harvey MP, Minister for the Armed Forces, told us there would be a maritime work stream for the next SDSR, but was uncertain whether there would be one specifically about surveillance. Air Vice-Marshal Green added:

    There certainly will be a work strand that relates to our future ISTAR capabilities. That will be led through my post, which, at that point, will be lodged within the Joint Forces Command. We have already discussed ownership of the issue, as part of our broader transformation, and where that issue will sit. The commander of the joint forces will be the defence authority for information. It fits within his portfolio extremely well. He looks across all environments—land, air and maritime—and it is part of that debate. The work that we have done since the SDSR, with the WAMUS study and with seedcorn, allows us to provide the right intellectual horsepower for that debate to ensure it is kept live as a component within the overall ISTAR capabilities.[101]

64. We note the 2010 SDSR's acknowledgement of the importance of military capabilities such as Intelligence, Surveillance, Targeting, Acquisition and Reconnaissance (ISTAR) and that UK maritime capabilities will include ISTAR based on network-enabled warships, submarines and aircraft. The capability studies already undertaken by the MoD are a good starting point and we welcome the commitment to an ISTAR work stream for the next SDSR. However, given the Secretary of State for Defence's statement that there will be a decision to be made in the next SDSR about the capability gap on maritime patrol aircraft, we recommend that work on the next SDSR should include a specific maritime surveillance work stream, involving all those, military and non-military, who make use of these assets.


65. On 14 May 2012, the Secretary of State made a statement to the House of Commons on the Defence Budget and Transformation in which he asserted that he had balanced the MoD budget. He provided information on the value of the core programme, investment decisions and an unallocated contingency. He told the House:

    Balancing the budget allows me to include within that £152 billion core programme a £4 billion-plus investment in intelligence, surveillance, communications and reconnaissance assets across the Cipher, Solomon, Crowsnest, Defence Core Network Services and Falcon projects; the outright purchase of three offshore patrol vessels that are currently leased; capability enhancements to the Typhoon; and a range of simulators, basing and support equipment for the new helicopters and aircraft that we are introducing.

    That programme represents the collective priorities of the armed forces, set out by the armed forces committee on which all the service chiefs sit. They confirm that the committed core equipment programme, together with the £8 billion of available unallocated headroom, will fund the capabilities that they require to deliver Future Force 2020 as set out in the strategic defence and security review. That £8 billion will be allocated to projects not yet in the committed core programme only at the point when they need to be committed in order to be delivered on time, and only in accordance with the military assessment of priority at the time.[102]

66. During questioning on his statement the Secretary of State for Defence confirmed that there was no money for maritime surveillance from conventional aircraft in the equipment programme:

    Maritime surveillance from conventional aircraft is not currently funded in the programme. That is one of the capability gaps that my predecessor chose to accept, and a risk that we have chosen to manage. A number of different technologies will be available to deal with it as we approach the end of the decade. That is one of the decisions that the armed forces committee will have to make when it considers the prioritisation for the head room in the planned equipment budget.[103]

67. We pursued the implications of the Secretary of State's statement on funding for future maritime surveillance and ISTAR in general. We asked our witnesses whether commitments in Afghanistan had led to surveillance capabilities being too land-focused and whether this was reflected in the allocation of funding for surveillance capabilities. Air Vice-Marshal Green responded that:

    it must be remembered that the investment in ISTAR for Afghanistan has been through NACMO [Net Additional Cost of Military Operations], so it is additional money—


    If you took away the urgent operational requirements out of Afghanistan, there has been no additional investment from the MoD into providing the information required to conduct operations. Indeed, we have actually found strengths in some of our platforms that we probably did not know were there. The Sea King has been a great asset in pursuing insurgent operations in Afghanistan [...]. So Afghanistan has provided us with a focus, but it has not actually skewed the balance of investment.[104]

68. As investment in ISTAR for Afghanistan has been funded by the Treasury through NACMO, this would cease when combat operations in Afghanistan ended at the end of 2014. We were concerned about the impact on funding for ISTAR and the provision of these capabilities. Air Vice-Marshal Green confirmed that, unless there was another conflict, the MoD was assuming that the investment would be withdrawn and were considering which ISTAR platforms to bring into the MoD's core equipment programme. He told us:

    At the moment, what we are doing is looking at those specific platforms that provide us with ISTAR capability in Afghanistan and deciding whether it is wise for us to bring them into the core equipment programme. Clearly, there has been investment in them to date, and some of them have enduring capabilities. We will need to see where they fit into the overall priority mix for defence as we move forward. They are decisions that we do not need to make today; they are decisions for us in the future.[105]

69. We were concerned that this would mean that the funding would be taken from elsewhere in the core equipment programme or that the MoD was already using the unallocated contingency funding announced in the Secretary of State's statement. Air Vice-Marshal Green responded:

    The Secretary of State has announced a core programme, which is fully funded. We talk about the urgent operational requirements and whether we bring them into core. They are all for consideration in the unallocated provision that the Secretary of State spoke about in his previous announcement. As we move forward, we must prioritise those equipments that are not part of the core programme, and the debate for us is in deciding where they fit on that priority list and which ones we are going to fund. Clearly, that will be done against risk that we are carrying in current ops, and our contingent ops.[106]

70. We explored the criteria for spending the unallocated £8 billion included in the Secretary of State's announcement. The MoD told us that its intention was to look at areas waiting to be incorporated into the core programme and the available resources and to use a single prioritisation methodology. Funding would be assigned quarterly. The first decision point for investment decisions expected in July 2012, but would only include areas where a decision was required to be made. If there was no requirement to make a decision or more information was required the matter would be reconsidered three months later. Money would only be committed when it was necessary and in accordance with military advice and if it could be demonstrated "it could be afforded—both the capital purchase and the support—over the 10 years of the programme".[107]

71. We were keen to establish what the military advice was in relation to ISTAR. Air Vice-Marshal Green told us "there is a planning assumption at the moment that we will allocate some of that unallocated provision, which is sufficiently high up the priority order as we sit here today, to ISTAR capability".[108] However the MoD were unable to tell us which of the ISTAR capabilities in Afghanistan it would ideally wish to bring into the core programme and how much this would cost. It added that "it is too early to define the cost of the capabilities as this is an ongoing activity as part of Annual Budget Cycle 13".[109]

72. We are encouraged by the rigour expected to be applied to the spending of the £8 billion unallocated reserve that was announced by the Secretary of State on 14 May 2012. However, we are disappointed by the MoD's assertion that there is no requirement to buy maritime patrol aircraft (MPA) at present and that it is not currently funded in the programme. We are concerned that the MoD has not decided whether to fill the capability gap especially as the Chief of the Defence Staff has stated it was a capability that MoD wanted to have and it is still its view that a MPA is the solution for the next 20 years.

73. We are worried about how ISTAR capabilities will be funded after the withdrawal from Afghanistan, in particular ISTAR provided under Urgent Operational Requirements, and how this will be incorporated into the core programme. We recommend that the MoD consider this matter urgently and, in response to our Report, provide details of the investment decisions on the unallocated £8 billion announced by the Secretary of State for Defence that were due to be made in July.

Possible options for future maritime surveillance

74. It is important to examine the options offered by the advance of technology, such as unmanned systems, for providing a comprehensive range of maritime surveillance capabilities in the future. The MoD's view is that in the longer term technology would offer other solutions to the provision of maritime surveillance.[110]

75. In her written evidence, Dr Sue Robertson, a former MoD consultant in this area, considered possible ways of providing a UK maritime patrol capability:

·  Continued use of Merlin Helicopters and Type 23 Frigates

·  Procurement of a new fleet of large manned [maritime patrol] aircraft, such as P-8 or CN-235

·  Purchase of second-hand P-3 [aircraft] and upgrading them to an acceptable standard

·  Procurement of smaller dedicated MPA aircraft that have been derived from commercial airframes such as DASH-8 or Gulfstream

·  Use of [unmanned aerial vehicles] UAVs, such as Heron or Global Hawk

·  The installation of sensors on other aircraft such as A400 and A330 so that maritime reconnaissance can be carried out as a secondary role

·  Use of lighter-than-air (LTA) vehicles   

·  Satellite Surveillance

·  Use of alternative sources of information such as Automatic Identification System (AIS) data received from ships coupled with data from land-based electronic surveillance systems

·  Collaborative programmes with allies to make use of their platforms in our territorial waters.[111]

76. Dr Robertson went on to give a comparative analysis of the ability of each of these to carry out tasks equivalent to those of a maritime patrol aircraft capable of wide area surveillance.[112]
Table 1


MerlinNew Long-

range MPA

Upgraded P-3New Short-range MPA UAVA400


Submarine Detection YesYes Yespossibly NoNo NoNo
Shipping Surveillance Limited Sensors Yes YesLimited Range Limited SensorsYes YesYes
Fleet Protection Yes Yes Yes YesYes YesNo No
ISTAR No YesYes NoYes YesYes Yes
ELINT data gathering NoYes YesNo YesYes YesYes
Counter-terrorism / Border Protection NoYes YesYes NoYes? NoNo
Weapons deployment YesYes YesNo NoYes? NoNo
Search & Rescue Limited RangeYes YesLimited Range NoSearch only NoNo
Emergency CommsNo YesYes NoPossible YesNo No
Overseas Maritime Patrol NoYes YesNo NoNo NoNo
Counter-pirate operations NoYes YesNo NoNo NoNo
Protection of Trident Submarines Limited RangeYes YesLimited Range YesNo NoNo

77. We asked Air Vice-Marshal Green whether purchasing alternative maritime patrol aircraft such as P8s, CN-235s or second hand P-3s and upgrading them to the required standard was being considered:

    They are not actively being considered, because we have not decided whether we have a requirement. There is no requirement to buy an MPA at the moment. There is not a genesis option. All the work that has been done to date has said that if the MoD decides to fill the gap, it would need to buy an aircraft. The question of whether the MoD actually wants to fill that gap has not been answered, and we see that as being part of the SDSR 2015 time frame decision. The challenge for my staff and my colleagues at the table is to make sure that we have the information available as we run into the 2015 SDSR, so that we can have a structured debate about whether we want to fill the gap and what the options are out there in the near term to fill it. We can then have a balance-of-investment decision about where the MoD decides to go post-2015.[113]

78. We asked the Minister whether it was important, and if so how much so, for maritime surveillance assets to also have an attack prosecution capability, he told us:

    I do not think that it is essential that the attack capability has to come from exactly the same platforms. It wouldn't be a bad idea, because it would make things faster, but I don't think it's an absolutely essential prerequisite that it must.[114]

79. We note that the Minister does not think it is an essential prerequisite for maritime surveillance and the attack prosecution capability to be delivered by the same asset. In response to our Report the MoD should set out the supporting evidence and likely costs of this split assets approach.


80. As part of our inquiry we looked at the measures the MoD had in place to ensure UK Armed Forces personnel maintained the necessary skills to provide maritime surveillance capabilities. The MoD described to us the individual and collective training that was undertaken. In an attempt to maintain the ability to sustain the capability to operate high level fixed-winged maritime patrol aircraft and the skills of personnel, the MoD has also implemented the Seedcorn initiative, sending RAF personnel to train with allied Air Forces to maintain and develop their skills. Similar initiatives were in place for the Royal Navy.[115]

81. Nick Harvey MP, Minister for the Armed Forces, explained that the Seedcorn initiative was "currently planned out to 2019, but it doesn't necessarily follow that it will end in 2019. That is just as far ahead as we have planned".[116] We pressed the Minister on whether the initiative would be extended further than 2019. He responded:

    I would say that the 2015 SDSR seems to me to be highly likely to come back to look at this issue. It is much too early to anticipate what decisions will be reached. I could imagine circumstances in which they might take certain decisions, but a further series of decisions would be needed in 2020. I would certainly think it is well within the realms of possibility that the Seedcorn initiative will be sustained through to a point where a 2020 SDSR takes decisions in this field.[117]

When we asked the Minister if it would be sustainable until then, he responded "Yes".[118]

82. When we pressed our MoD witnesses on whether realistically the Seedcorn initiative would have to continue for a long period beyond 2020. Air Vice-Marshal Green responded:

    It depends on the decisions made. At the moment, it is a funding assumption until that time and we think that it is very low risk maintaining it until that time. As we get to SDSR 2015, as the Minister said, and we shape our way forward, we will relook at that initiative on the back of what has happened with NATO's smart initiatives and so on to see where we need to go. We have the ultimate flexibility in shaping that as we move forward.[119]

The Minister added "that as well as the flying skills, what are being sustained are the analytical skills and the intellectual firepower to make use of the sort of information that these operations elicit".[120]

83. We support the principle of the MoD's Seedcorn initiative as an attempt to maintain the ability to sustain both the capability to operate high level fixed-winged maritime patrol aircraft and the skills of its crews. This is an important initiative given the MoD's statement that in the medium term another model of maritime patrol aircraft will be required to fill the capability gap left by the Nimrod MRA4. However, we doubt that the Seedcorn initiative is sustainable as far as 2019, let alone to 2030, given the continued uncertainty over the long term plans for a fixed-wing MPA. The MoD should explain what work it has done to identify the point at which this initiative will no longer be effective in sustaining the ability to regenerate the capability. We recommend that the MoD undertake a lessons learned exercise for sustaining the ability to regenerate other capabilities in the future.

Unmanned systems, lighter-than-air vehicles and satellites

84. The use of unmanned systems, lighter-than-air vehicles (LTA) and satellite technology systems has been proposed as alternative or complementary platforms to manned maritime patrol aircraft. In respect of its current use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), space technology and other technology assets for maritime surveillance, the MoD told us that the UK has no unmanned aircraft system employed specifically for maritime surveillance. However it did use US satellite products and some commercial satellite services.[121] In respect of the future use of such assets for maritime surveillance the MoD added:

    The Flexibly Deployable UAS Capability Concept Demonstration (CCD) aims to investigate the utility of an air vehicle with sufficient precision and persistence to provide a high quality ISTAR feed to deployed commanders where airfield support is not available or cannot be assured; the most demanding scenario envisaged being launch and recovery from an FF/DD sized vessel at sea.[122]

The MoD is also seeking to improve its unmanned maritime vehicle capability to assist in anti-submarine warfare, intelligence gathering and the provision of surveillance. DSTL is leading on the development of this programme.[123]

85. Northrop Grumman told us that UAVs played an important role in maritime surveillance and ISTAR in the US and Europe, offering an essential persistent capability for peacekeeping and peace enforcement missions. UAVs had transformed operations in Afghanistan and Iraq and future conflicts would see their roles expanded dramatically.[124] Northrop Grumman added:

    In war-fighting situations, they offer near real-time target identification, engagement and assessment; timescales many times faster than for conventional platforms. While UAVs can fulfil their missions using a standalone approach, full exploitation of the operational benefits of UAVs is only possible in a joint integrated and network-enabled system. Within the US Armed Forces their use is already widespread, while, in the UK, the MoD has made ISTAR capability and UAVs a strategic priority.[125]

86. Northrop Grumman also thought that lighter-than-air (LTA) vehicles [balloons and airships] would "bring a revolutionary capability to persistent ISR [Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance] with the capability to be truly multi-mission with the inherent flexible, reconfigurable mission payloads".[126] LTAs are able to stay airborne for extended periods and have very low fuel consumption. They can provide multi-intelligence capabilities and have lower total ownership costs than traditional ISR systems. Northrop Grumman added "in addition to its persistent ISR, the LTA system can provide overland persistent ISR and also effectively support the UK's maritime operational needs with offshore surveillance or fleet support as an airborne communications node along with the traditional fleet mission needs".[127]

87. However we also heard concerns about the use of UAVs for maritime surveillance. In his written evidence Dr Willett doubted the extent to which UAVs or commercial manned aircraft could provide the aerial capability for the UK's maritime surveillance needs:

    The use of commercial aircraft for such tasks is becoming increasingly popular as a procurement option, for example to meet Urgent Operational Requirements (UORs). A cheaper alternative to UAVs, these aircraft can be leased off-the-shelf. However, they do not have the persistence of a UAV. Future technologies may include blimps. One issue to address is whether future UK aerial maritime surveillance requirements can be met by one asset only, or whether a combination of assets will be required.[128]

In his written evidence, Air Vice-Marshal Alan Roberts (retd.) was also sceptical of UAVs as a standalone alternative to a maritime patrol aircraft because of technical and cost considerations.[129]

88. On the use of space and other technology, Squadron Leader Forbes (retd.), also had concerns:

    There are a number of other space and airborne based intelligence systems which can give Indications and Warnings (IAW) of a threatening maritime environment. These should not be necessarily be ignored but they cannot carry the sensor capability to cover the range of skill sets needed to meet the disparate demands of ASW and ASuW.[130]

Rear Admiral Tony Rix (retd.), former Chief of Staff to the NATO Maritime Headquarters in Naples, was also cautious regarding the use of satellites: "the trouble with the satellite is that it cannot respond—it is less responsive than other surveillance assets—but it is all part of the mix".[131] Dr Willett added:

    "on satellites, it has obviously been the subject of much discussion that the UK does not have much capability of its own—the US and Europe have significantly greater capability—but we have, through Surrey Satellites, Novostar commercial satellite arrangement. As I understand it, that gives us limited time and access to that information, which limits capability, and also [...] it is very specific, but again, it reinforces the point about a wider layer.[132]

89. Air Vice-Marshal Green saw unmanned vehicles as possible long term alternatives but said a maritime patrol aircraft would be the solution in the medium term:

    I look at the rest of this decade and the 2020s, and 2030 and beyond. I can well see that unmanned systems could provide us with capability in the underwater space. The previous witnesses talked about hybrid air vehicles and indeed that is part of our broader information, surveillance, reconnaissance-type debate that we are having about the future, because we have a number of assets that provide surveillance. Clearly, this debate is about maritime surveillance, but we look at surveillance across the complete environment—across the land environment and across the maritime environment. And there are platforms that are not that far away that are unconventional, if you like, to our inventory, but that could help us with that debate. However, they will not provide us with the full cross-section of capability that an aircraft would provide in the next 15 to 20 years.[133]

90. We welcome the Minister's statement that the MoD intends to explore fully all options and alternatives for providing maritime surveillance. We agree that in the longer term unmanned systems such as unmanned aerial vehicles and lighter-than-air vehicles may well be a way forward, but also note the reported concerns regarding the limitations of using satellite technology. There are several obstacles to overcome and the MoD should keep us informed of progress on this.

91. The 2010 SDSR and subsequent related decisions may affect the possibility of using UAVs from aircraft carriers. In the 2010 SDSR, the Government announced that one of the new Queen Elizabeth class carriers would be fitted with catapults and arrestor gear ('cats and traps') to enable it to operate the carrier variant of the Joint Strike Fighter.[134] On 10 May 2012, the Secretary of State for Defence told the House of Commons that the Government had decided not to proceed with this decision, instead reverting to the pre-SDSR decision to purchase the STOVL (short take off and vertical landing) variant of the Joint Strike Fighter.[135] This decision may affect the practicability of the use of UAVs.

92. Admiral Rix thought that in future UAVs might be flown from aircraft carriers in a maritime surveillance role. He was unsure about the timescale for delivering this capability but thought that unmanned aerial vehicles from aircraft carriers could provide a level of wide area surveillance and assistance at the operational and tactical level.[136] Dr Willett expressed concern that although there were a number of UAV programmes being considered, not many operated in a STOVL way which could have implications for the use of UAVs from aircraft carriers.[137]

93. We asked the Minister and MoD officials what the implications of the carrier decision were for the use of UAVs in a maritime surveillance role, particularly given the concerns we had heard about the limited number of UAVs that could operate in a STOVL way. The Minister told us that it should not be difficult to fly surveillance UAVs off aircraft carriers without cats and traps, but would be more difficult if the UAVs carried weapons.[138] Air Vice-Marshal Green added that a demonstration programme was being looked at which involved flying a UAV off the back of a frigate.[139] The Minister told us that while there was a good chance that the new aircraft carriers would have a maritime surveillance capability this would be unlikely to happen until the next decade.[140] Following our evidence session, the MoD told us in supplementary written evidence that there was virtually no difference in the surveillance capability of the Joint Combat Aircraft STOVL variant and the carrier version and they could be employed with similar mission responsibilities.[141]

94. We note the MoD's confirmation that the requirements for unmanned aerial systems were taken into account prior to the decision to revert to a STOVL system on the new carriers and that the capability to undertake maritime surveillance using unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) launched from carriers would not be affected by this decision. We also note the concerns expressed to us on the limited number of UAVs that can operate in a STOVL manner and expect the MoD to keep this under review particularly if it becomes a requirement for future carrier launched UAVs undertaking maritime surveillance to have a weapons capability. We expect the MoD to keep us informed on progress of the possible use of carrier based UAVs for maritime surveillance.

Cooperation with allies

95. We explored current and future collaboration with allies on maritime surveillance, particularly through NATO. The MoD emphasised that following the SDSR "strengthening our key defence alliances and partnerships has been critical in managing these changes" and also described current maritime surveillance initiatives under the 2010 UK-France Defence Cooperation Treaty, the NATO Naval Armaments Working Group and the European Defence Agency.[142] The MoD said that the withdrawal of Nimrod had increased to a limited extent the department's reliance on other nations but there were "no formal, agreed criteria" for using allies' maritime surveillance capabilities.[143] The MoD added:

    for training, allies will bid into the planning of an exercise in order that surveillance capabilities from that nation can be considered and used. There are several international agreements that allow Allies to contribute directly to UK surveillance tasks in support of deterrent protection and intelligence gathering.

    During the planning of an operation there are a number of factors that will be considered, including the capability itself; timeliness; and our ability to use the product of that capability. This interoperability and ability to use the surveillance capability of allies may be governed by MOUs.[144

96. Allies had never refused the use of their assets, but they were not always available.[145] Admiral Rix thought it was not desirable to rely on allies, either because they might have other priorities or for security reasons.[146] However the Minister did not think maritime surveillance had to be a sovereign capability:

    There is a great deal we can do in cooperation with our allies and partners. There is a great deal that we do do in the way of cooperation and information sharing, and there are various new initiatives being undertaken in NATO and in the EU that would assist international cooperation in this field in the future. I would certainly accept that there will be elements that we want to keep sovereign, but the proposition that the whole piece must, of necessity, be sovereign is not an analysis I would share.


    We do a lot in cooperation with our allies already. This is a cooperative effort in which we work with several partners. To point to some obvious ones, the US, Canada and Norway are partners with whom we work all the time on this sort of piece. The idea that we—or, frankly, anybody—could afford to do this entirely on our own is one that I just do not think is realistic.[147]

However the Minister did confirm to us that no new arrangements or additional agreements had been established to cover the capability gap following the Nimrod MRA4 decision.[148]


97. We also explored the NATO Smart Defence Initiatives in respect of maritime surveillance. The MoD told us that there were two initiatives:

·  A Tier One proposal: led by the Germans to pool and share MPA assets that could be offset or recompensed by the UK providing C130, C17 and tanker hours.  The UK is not interested in this proposal because it does not have MPA assets to pool; the nations involved (Italy, Luxembourg, Poland, Portugal, Spain and Sweden) that are able to provide MPA will offer aging aircraft such as the P3 Orion that does not have the requisite level of avionics or reliability to support our Deterrent and would not offer value for money in exchange for the pooling of higher grade UK capabilities.  Additionally there are concerns over sovereignty (related to the Deterrent in particular) and guaranteed assurance.

·  A Tier Two proposal: The NATO Naval Armaments Group (NNAG) investigation, led by the Canadians, to provide a long term solution by means of MPA procurement; this would provide a NATO capability akin to the AWACS model.  The UK supports this proposal because it overcomes the sovereignty and assurance issues whilst providing a multi-national procurement option based on economy of scale.[149]

98. When we asked our MoD witnesses what was the projected timescale for the Tier Two proposal, Tom McKane, Director General for Security Policy, MoD, told us it was a longer term project:

    It is looking at a longer-term solution, so it is not something that would come to fruition in the next year or so; it would be a longer-term project. As to exactly when the study work will complete, I do not know.[150]

99. We note the MoD's acceptance that since the SDSR the Department's reliance on allies to provide maritime surveillance has increased, though because of the range of capabilities and sources of information still available to the Department it had not done so markedly, and that the withdrawal of Nimrod had required greater reliance on other nations to provide MPA cover. We are concerned that the Government has not thought it necessary to try to secure any additional agreements to ensure the provision of maritime surveillance capabilities. Part of the MoD's examination of future maritime surveillance requirements should include an examination of those areas where a sovereign capability would be desirable and this should feed into the Department's consideration of a new MPA and the investigation of other options such as UAVs. We support the UK's participation in the NATO Tier Two proposal for maritime surveillance and expect to be regularly updated on its progress.

69   Q 205 Back

70   Ev 44 Back

71   Q 207 Back

72   Ev 45 Back

73   Q 215 Back

74   Q 206 Back

75   Q 206 Back

76   Central to the regeneration of this capability will be the maintenance and availability of skilled personnel. The MoD has programmes, such as the Seedcorn initiative, in place for this purpose (see paras 80-83 below).  Back

77   Q 206 Back

78   Q 216 Back

79   For example see Ev w 16 [Air Vice-Marshal Roberts] and Ev w24 [Scottish National Party]. Back

80   Q 9 Back

81   Q 46 Back

82   Q 46 Back

83   Defence Committee, Oral and Written Evidence, The appointment of the new Chief of the Defence Staff, HC 600-i, Session 2010-12, Q 38 Back

84   Qq 135-140 Back

85   Q 139 Back

86   The MoD provided the following description of Project CROWSNEST: Project CROWSNEST will satisfy the requirement for an assured Airborne Surveillance and Control (ASaC) capability to provide long range surveillance and battlespace management to Carrier Strike and Littoral Manoeuvre task groups. Project CROWSNEST is to replace SKASaC. The mission system solution will be hosted on the existing Merlin Mk2 aircraft, affording that platform a true multi-role capability across the air, maritime, land, surface and sub-surface environments. This will exploit the flexibility inherent in having a bolt-on sensor package that could allow either Anti-Submarine Warfare or ASaC role to be discharged dependent on the Commander's requirements (although to note the two roles may be mutually exclusive for concurrent or simultaneous operations). Back

87   Ev 39 and Ev w30-31 Back

88   HC Deb, 22 March 2011, cols 946-7W and HC Deb, 1 February 2012, cols 653-4  Back

89   Ev 49 Back

90   Q 119 Back

91   Q 47 Back

92   Qq 41-43 Back

93   Q128 Back

94   Q 123 Back

95   Q 125 Back

96   Q 130 Back

97   Ev 53 Back

98   Uncorrected transcript of oral evidence taken before the Defence Committee on 12 July 2012 HC (2012-13) 525-i, Q11 Back

99   The MoD told us that these are the seven Military Tasks in the SDSR. Back

100   Ev 42; The proposed Exclusive Economic Zone covers the extent of the UK Marine Area. The MoD advised that "It is worth noting that the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) prescribe EEZ and settle disputes between nations. The UK EEZ is awaiting confirmation following negotiations with other nations such as France and Denmark". Back

101   Q214 Back

102   HC Deb, 14 May 2012, col 264 Back

103   HC Deb, 14 May 2012, col 271 Back

104   Q 41 Back

105   Q 152 Back

106   Q 154 Back

107   Q 156 Back

108   Q 157 Back

109   Ev 50 Back

110   Q 41 Back

111   Ev w32 Back

112   Ev w32 Back

113   Q 64 Back

114   Q 177 Back

115   Ev 44 Back

116   Q 164 Back

117   Q 165 Back

118   Q 166 Back

119   Q 173 Back

120   Q 173 Back

121   Ev 41 Back

122   Ev 42 Back

123   Further information is available at: http://www.science.mod.uk/events/event_detail.aspx?eventid=176 (accessed 11 September 2012) Back

124   Ev w40 Back

125   Ev w40 Back

126   Ev w43 Back

127   Ev w43 Back

128   Ev 56 Back

129   Ev w19 Back

130   Ev w22 Back

131   Q 32 Back

132   Q 32 Back

133   Q 43 Back

134   HM Government, Securing Britain in an Age of Uncertainty: Strategic Defence and Security Review, Cm 7948, October 2010, p 23 Back

135   HC Deb, 10 May 2012, cols 140-142 Back

136   Q 31 Back

137   Q 32 Back

138   Q 178 Back

139   Q 179 Back

140   Q 183 Back

141   Ev 50-51 Back

142   Ev 47 Back

143   Ev 47 Back

144   Ev 47 Back

145   Ev 48 Back

146   Q 19 Back

147   Qq 141-142 Back

148   Qq 143-145 Back

149   Ev 48 Back

150   Q 168 Back

previous page contents next page

© Parliamentary copyright 2012
Prepared 19 September 2012