|Back to Table of Contents
|Lords Hansard Home Page
Baroness Morris of Bolton: We thank the noble Lord for his very detailed response. We want to take time and care to digest what he has said. Appeals must not only be fair but also be seen to be fair. I believe that the
13 Jan 2005 : Column 397
noble Baroness, Lady Howe, put her finger on the point when she said that this is about principle and natural justice.
Baroness Sharp of Guildford: I, too, thank the Minister for his very full and helpful response and other noble Lords for participating in the debate. This is an important debate on a serious issue. I believe we shall return to it because, although the Minister has given us reassurances, it seems to me that it is important to have on the face of the Bill at least the form of wording in Amendment No. 49, which states that, "Regulations shall provide".
The Minister has told us that a lot of detailed work is going on and that regulations and guidance will be produced. But it is important that on the face of the Bill there is a reassurance to those who at the moment feel a little dissatisfied with the way procedures are that there will be a fair appeals procedure. For that reason I think that we shall return to the issue. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The noble and gallant Lord said: My Lords, since I tabled the Question the contract for a second tranche of 89 Eurofighter Typhoons has been signed. This is a good moment to learn more about this aircraft, which will be a key addition to our defence capabilities.
I hope that the Minister will be able to give us an indication of the delivery rate for these new aircraft, the proposed programme for the procurement of a further tranche of aircraft for the RAF and the prospects for orders from countries outside our immediate collaborative partners.
Thanks to the good offices of the Minister and the Chief of the Air Staff, I recently went to RAF Coningsby to meet people actively involved with Typhoon. Those who had flown the aircraft were full of praise for its performance; some even used the word "awesome"not the sort of phrase normally associated with top-gun fighter pilots. Two aircraft, one with no more than a dozen flight hours on the clock, had been deployed to Singapore only a short time before my visita most impressive achievement, both operationally and logistically.
13 Jan 2005 : Column 398
Listening to all of this and briefs about immediate plans for the future work at RAF Coningsby was stimulating. For me it could only be bettered in one way: that I should try out Typhoon for myself. So, with a medical check for fitness and a ministerial blessing, this 75 year-old did just that. Even nearly 20 years on since I last flew a fighter aircraft, I found it a delight to fly and easy to handle. I soon started to understand and follow the latest instrumentation and enjoy the aircraft's fantastically impressive performance. It was a marvellous finale to my erstwhile involvement with this programme, but a stark reminder of the time taken from a go ahead to reaching operational capability.
Eighteen years ago, in 1987, when I was Chief of the Air Staff, I signed, along with my opposite numbers from Germany, Italy and Spain, the revised European air staffs' operational requirement for a new fighter which our four air forces were most anxious to have.
Time is too short to remind your Lordships of the many years, even before that date, that the RAF and the other air forces had striven to find common ground for the design and production of a single type of aircraft to meet our various most pressing operational needs. For the RAF it was then to fill a key void in our range of capabilitiesan air superiority fighter, but, using an airframe capable of undertaking other, offensive, operations. Such flexibility is highly desirable. It allows for re-roling of the airframe throughout its service life.
Air superiority means to have the performance edge to achieve and maintain dominance over the enemy in the airspaces above and adjacent to our own side's forces, and is vital for our ground and maritime forces as we become ever more committed to expeditionary-type operations.
It was the chiefs of air staff expectation when we signed the operational requirement that prototypes would be flying in the early 1990s, and we would have aircraft in front-line service by the mid-1990s. Now, a decade later, this aspiration is only just beginning to become a reality.
Such delay is not a new experience for the RAF. Collaborative programmes suffer the risk of far greater delay and a failure to achieve development milestones than is likely with a national one. In Typhoon's case this has been a considerable, but by no means the only, part of the reason for such protracted progress. The German Government of the early 1990s became disillusioned with the programme; so much so, that they withdrew.
Although they eventually returned, this was a major delay factor, and the repercussions within the partner countries, including our own while we re-evaluated the cost-effectiveness of a programme without Germany, simply compounded the delay. All high-cost collaborative programmes of this type require revalidation by incoming governments, and the wider the collaboration, the greater the possibilities of such reviews causing delay.
Moreover, complex and innovative technology, such as that used by Typhoon, brings its own problems. Software writing and validation, especially when both flight and engine controls are all computer driven, has to
13 Jan 2005 : Column 399
be right. The risks involved if there are software errors can be catastrophic, not just for the aircraft in the air, but for the whole future of the programme.
It is for these reasons, based on experience with a number of programmes over the past 40 years, that I remain concerned about the validity of milestones predicted for new collaborative equipments. It is hazarding our airpower capability to withdraw equipment such as Jaguar and Sea Harrier when replacements are still in early development, even hardly off the drawing board. Delays are sometimes beyond national control; no amount of smart procurement can offset them.
Even if all goes exactly to plan with operational evaluation and the training of squadron pilots, a significant front-line capability with this aircraft is still some time into the future. No doubt the Minister will be able to give the House an outline of the RAF's plans for this phase in the introduction of the aircraft to service.
Delays like those I have outlined lead inevitably to cost increases, either directly, attributable to the programme itself, orand this is often overlooked by commentatorsin run-on costs of aircraft and equipment due to have been withdrawn, and the extra training and support costs for them. These additional costs press heavily in short-term budgets.
Another often repeated criticism is that the aircraft was designed for the Cold War so that it is an expensive white elephantno use against asymmetric threats like Osama bin Laden or other terrorists groups. Such criticism is very wide of the mark. Do not forget that the Americans and ourselves actually hold fighters at readiness to deal with hijacked aircraft, though I sincerely hope as a successful deterrent to such an attack.
And who will assert with confidence in the 30 or more years of the life of Typhoon that there will be no other even more serious threat to which this country will respond? Since the end of the Cold Warand going back even before thatin the past quarter of a century we have been using both high-quality defence and offensive air power operationally on many occasions, and particularly in the past decade.
Typhoon will give the RAF the edge over other oppositionone hopes deterring them from attacking our ground and maritime forces, but, if not, finding that Typhoon is master. It would be morally indefensible to equip our pilots to take on the enemy in the air without a better than evens chance of being the victor.
I am sure that noble Lords will agree that Typhoon and other advanced equipments achieve the expected performance only if their pilots and ground crews are highly motivated and well trained. That has been the
13 Jan 2005 : Column 400
hallmark of the Royal Air Force since its inception. Today's personnel can rightly be proud of their service, with an aircraft such as Typhoon.
Typhoon, when it has been fitted out with its full potential and its pilots have gained experience with its capabilities, will provide that winning edge in any theatre of war for the next 20 or 30 years. It is truly an awesome aircraft.
|Back to Table of Contents
|Lords Hansard Home Page