Minutes of Evidence Taken Before Defence Committee
(Source: House of Commons Defence Committee; published Dec. 3, 2008)
Introduction by defense-aerospace.com
This uncorrected transcript of evidence heard by the House of Commons Defence Committee on November 25, 2008 provides a clear picture of the current status of British involvement in, and intentions for, the Joint Strike Fighter and A400M programs.

Of particular interest is the witnesses’ relaxed approach to JSF, which contrasts with the “full speed ahead” approach generally adopted by Ministry of Defence statements. The lack of firm commitment implied by these minutes is striking.

The full transcript of the session is available (in HTML format) on the Committee website.

N.B.: The Committee requests that “any public use of, or reference to, the contents should make clear that neither witnesses nor Members have had the opportunity to correct the record. The transcript is not yet an approved formal record of these proceedings.”

-- General Sir Kevin O'Donoghue KCB CBE, Chief of Defence Materiel,
-- Dr Andrew Tyler, Chief Operating Officer, DE&S and
-- Rear Admiral Paul Lambert CB, Capability Manager (Precision Attack) and Controller of the Navy, Ministry of Defence


Q276 ROBERT KEY: General, give us all a Christmas present. Since we asked you last time, in January, are you any clearer about the unit cost of a Joint Strike Fighter?

General Sir Kevin O'Donoghue: No, I do not think I am, am I?

Dr Tyler: We have got transparent visibility of the costing models that are being used in the United States, and in the programme office there, on the unit price of JSF. The information is confidential because we have not yet signed any production contracts with the company, but what we do get visibility of is the way that that cost is tracking with time. At the moment, it is reasonably stable and the Admiral and myself were over in the United States last week at the JSF Executive Steering Board, where we were able to see that first-hand.

Q277 ROBERT KEY: Chairman, I think that might be an early Christmas present, because back in January, General, you said it would be foolish to suggest a number without knowing the price. You clearly do have some idea of the price now. In that case, can you now tell us how many JSFs the UK is planning to buy?

General Sir Kevin O'Donoghue: At the moment, and this is still a decision-making process going on, we are looking at buying three, which are the Operational Test and Evaluation aircraft.

Q278 ROBERT KEY: Beyond that?

General Sir Kevin O'Donoghue: Why do we not wait and see what the Operational Test and Evaluation comes out with?

Q279 ROBERT KEY: There is a novel way of planning procurement, I suppose. That will be, obviously, the next Christmas present. Back on 12 December 2006 Lord Drayson announced that he had received the necessary assurances from the United States on technology transfer on the JSF programme. The Ministry of Defence memorandum for this inquiry that we are now into states (and I quote): "The UK continues to work closely with the US to secure the commitments it requires with regards to operational sovereignty." Is technology transfer still an issue on this programme?

General Sir Kevin O'Donoghue: No, I do not believe it is. You can define "operational sovereignty" any way you want, but if you define it as the ability to use the platform and its weapons system and its ISTAR systems in the way we, the UK, wish to at the time and place of our choosing (that is the definition that makes some sense), then I am quite clear that the technology we need to be able to do that is being transferred to the timescale that was originally agreed. I am happy that that is happening. We need to continue to monitor it, we need to continue to watch it to make sure that that programme is adhered to, but, no, I am satisfied.

Rear Admiral Lambert: It will be tested through the Operational Test and Evaluation programme. We are on the timeline that we expected to be on at the moment, but the real test of it will be during the OT&E phase.

Q280 ROBERT KEY: Given the continuity uncertainty on the programme, are you still running an option of a marinised Typhoon?

General Sir Kevin O'Donoghue: I do not think there is any uncertainty on the programme. We are going through a series of milestones. The SDD phase was eight years? Twelve years. We are coming towards the end of that. The OT&E programme was planned for two years but I think that has been extended to three. So the programme is there. We will or will not buy these three aircraft and that is a decision that the Ministry will have to take in the New Year. We will then see how that OT&E programme runs, as the Admiral says. That will tell us a number of things: does the aircraft do "what it says it does on the tin"? Do we have the operational sovereignty? Do we have the technology transfer that we want? There is a programme to procure aircraft which goes out in the future. One of the great advantages of this procurement programme is that we do not have to buy them all up front to create an attrition reserve because we are a very small part of what the Americans are buying; we can buy them as we need them. So, I think, to say there is not a programme is not right. Decisions have not been made on the totality of the programme, would be fairer.

Q281 ROBERT KEY: Is a marinised Typhoon still an option?

General Sir Kevin O'Donoghue: That is not being looked at, no.

Q282 ROBERT KEY: What discussions have you been having with the French about the possibility of purchasing a French aircraft that could fly on the French aircraft carriers and the British aircraft carriers?

General Sir Kevin O'Donoghue: I have not been having any.

Q283 MR JENKIN: Would we still consider buying the non-STOVL version if the STOVL version was not available?

Rear Admiral Lambert: At the beginning of the process we looked at the capability requirement needed for both carrier strike and for our future combat air capability, and the option that met the bill was STOVL. We revisit it every so often to make sure that we have got all our figures right, and the requirement right, and the answer still comes up as STOVL.

Q284 MR JENKIN: So would we develop STOVL on our own account if the Americans did not want to develop it?

General Sir Kevin O'Donoghue: The carriers are not fitted for, but could be fitted for, the carrier variant.

Q285 CHAIRMAN: Was that a yes?

General Sir Kevin O'Donoghue: No, it could be - if STOVL went, which I think is your question?

Q286 MR JENKIN: Yes, that is what I am asking.

General Sir Kevin O'Donoghue: Then carrier variant must be an option.

Q287 MR JENKIN: You mean the non-STOVL version?

Dr Tyler: There are three variants, you understand? There is the conventional take-off variant; there is the carrier variant, which is for catapults and traps, and then there is the STOVL variant. Our choice is resolutely on the STOVL variant, and at the moment there is very, very strong support for that in the programme. Indeed, the STOVL part of the programme is going extremely well; it has already made several flights and it will be hovering for the first time very early next year. So, technically, that is absolutely on track. So our extant planning assumption is absolutely to buy the STOVL variants to go on the carrier. If there was some seismic change in the programme, like, for example, the Americans decided not to support the STOVL, then we may need to go back and revisit our planning assumptions, but there is no sign of that - in fact, to the contrary.

Q288 MR JENKIN: Would we consider developing our own STOVL variant?

General Sir Kevin O'Donoghue: Oh, I think that would be no.

Dr Tyler: I think that would probably be prohibitively expensive - breathtakingly expensive to do that on our own.

Q289 MR JENKIN: So a carrier version as opposed to a marinised Typhoon?

General Sir Kevin O'Donoghue: Yes. Both would be options but actually carrier variant, I would suspect, would be ---

Rear Admiral Lambert: We will look at all the various options that are available, and that is something we would do routinely.

Q290 CHAIRMAN: And the aircraft carriers that we are building would be big enough, would they, to take the carrier version?

Dr Tyler: Yes, absolutely. One of the assumptions on the carrier design was that the carrier's flight deck needed to be of a sufficient length that, should you wish to, you could convert. In fact, the space underneath the flight deck has actually been left in order so that should you wish to in the future fit the catapults and the traps, which sit immediately under the flight deck, you would be able to do that. In fact, there are designs which actually show how that would be fitted in the event that you wanted to change the carrier over to a conventional take-off on the carrier. You might want to do that for any number of reasons; it was not just uncertainty around the JSF programme per se, it was in order to keep that option open.

Q291 MR JENKINS: That is the option the French have taken with their carriers. Can I ask for some clarification? We have made a financial commitment to the Americans as part of the production costs of this 'plane, have we not?

Dr Tyler: Yes.

Q292 MR JENKINS: When you said we are going to buy three - I know that was not a serious answer - I thought that is one for each aircraft and one offshore (?). I think that is rather an expensive launching pad for one 'plane. Did we not have a commitment that we have an option to take 50 off the production line at any point in time we wanted?

General Sir Kevin O'Donoghue: No. The figure in the original documents, I think, was a requirement for 150.

Q293 CHAIRMAN: Up to 150, which I always thought was a rather meaningless phrase.

General Sir Kevin O'Donoghue: As I say, at the moment we have no commitment to any. We will need to make a commitment next year, or not (depending on what the decision is), to buy the three aircraft for the Operational Test and Evaluation. Subsequently, we will need to make commitments progressively to buy more aircraft from various blocks of production that the Americans will produce.

Dr Tyler: At the moment, of the eight participant countries in the JSF programme I do not think a single one has yet gone through its governmental approval, including the United States of America, who are unable to do it until after the OT&E phase. By their law they are unable to do so. So, at the moment, there is a planning assumption, which the whole programme is operating to, in which every nation has said: "This is the profile that we believe we would require our jets in", but it is only a planning assumption on the part of any nation until it has been through its approvals process. Like us, several of the nations, including the United States, will not make that commitment until after the OT&E is completed.

Mr Jenkins: I thought there was, more or less, an option where we could opt to pick up to 50 out of the first run any time we wanted to. How many 'planes are required to put on board both our carriers?

Q294 CHAIRMAN: I think it is 36 per carrier.

General Sir Kevin O'Donoghue: On a carrier, yes.

Q295 MR BORROW: Just to go back to technology transfer. When Lord Drayson came back from Washington and said he had got the agreement, many people were suspicious that there may be more difficulties than was anticipated. I was pleased by your comments that things were going smoothly. I would just, perhaps, like some confirmation that the technology transfers that were assumed to be agreed in December 2006 are the same technology transfers which we are seeing taking place and expect to take place in the future. There has been no change in the sort of technology transfers we are accepting now, compared with those that Lord Drayson was expecting when he came back.

General Sir Kevin O'Donoghue: No. There was an agreement at government-to-government level, and that programme is running.

Rear Admiral Lambert: All the information does not come all at once; it takes a long period of time and we are on the timelines for it.

Q296 MR BORROW: As a Committee we went through the processes and detail, and I accept there will be a process as different bits of the programme ----

Dr Tyler: It would be fair to say we have at least as much confidence that we are on track as we did at the time when Lord Drayson came back with that agreement.

A400M (Preceded testimony on JSF—Ed.)

Q258 MR BORROW: The programme is already delayed two years in terms of in-service date, but Jane's Defence Weekly mentioned a couple of weeks ago that there were further hitches in the power plant and that was producing further delays. Are you expecting further delays above the two-year delay, and how much?

General Sir Kevin O'Donoghue: I am not sure the two-year delay is declared, is it? The company certainly declared a nine-month delay. I think we now expect it to be a two-year delay. I think that is where we are. I am not sure they have actually declared.

Q259 MR BORROW: So you are still working on the in-service dates?

General Sir Kevin O'Donoghue: No, I am working on an in-service date of at least two years' delay. That is what I am working on.

Q260 MR BORROW: That is 2011 as opposed to 2009.

General Sir Kevin O'Donoghue: Indeed.

Q261 MR BORROW: In terms of the problems you have currently got, are you expecting that to have any further impact on your projected in-service date?

General Sir Kevin O'Donoghue: Yes, yes.

Q262 MR BORROW: Are you able to give any guidance to the Committee?

General Sir Kevin O'Donoghue: No, none whatsoever and I am waiting for the company to tell us what the new delivery schedule will be. Of course, here we are not on our own; there are seven nations involved in this. I am in almost weekly discussion with my national director colleagues from the other nations to see what it is exactly we are going to do about this. All of us need the capability but we cannot wait forever. So what is it that we, together with the company, are going to do to deliver the capability that we require, is the debate that we are having.

Q263 MR BORROW: There is a phrase in your MoD memorandum which says: "We will remain adaptive to emerging information on the A400 programme" (which is what you have just explained).

General Sir Kevin O'Donoghue: Yes.

Q264 MR BORROW: Does that mean that you will be considering, as you have touched on earlier, leasing or procuring off-the-shelf vehicles from elsewhere, were these further delays in the A400M programme to be more than just a few months? Is that part of the mix of measures that you are looking at?

General Sir Kevin O'Donoghue: We are already considering what we will do when we know what the schedule is going to be. So, yes, we have to get our plans together to see what we will do if, as you say, the A400M slides off further to the right.

Q265 MR BORROW: What is the sort of timescale you are working on in terms of having to make a decision to do something rather than wait for the A400M to come on stream?

General Sir Kevin O'Donoghue: We are running through the options at the moment and we will need to make decisions. As I say, what I am waiting for is a schedule of delivery from the company, which is what we do not know yet. I think I said right at the beginning that I think they have said a nine-month delay. I think that is what is declared at the moment. When we know what the delay is then we will need to know what sort of options we need to look at.

Q266 MR BORROW: The key date for the MoD is getting that schedule from the company.

General Sir Kevin O'Donoghue: Just so.

Q267 MR BORROW: At that point you can make a decision in terms of what option or mix of options you need to consider.

General Sir Kevin O'Donoghue: Just that.

Q268 MR BORROW: Have you got any hint from the company yet as to the date when they will be able to give you that schedule?

General Sir Kevin O'Donoghue: No, and I genuinely do not have a date, but I will be disappointed if it were more than a few months. Very disappointed.

Q269 CHAIRMAN: Would you be surprised?

General Sir Kevin O'Donoghue: I think I might be surprised because there are a number of milestones (which I am not prepared to go into for commercial reasons) coming up, which I think will encourage the company to reach a view on the delivery schedule sooner rather than later.

Q270 MR JENKIN: What are these hitches?

General Sir Kevin O'Donoghue: Hitches in the aircraft?

Q271 MR JENKIN: Yes.

General Sir Kevin O'Donoghue: There are some challenges on the engine.

Q272 MR JENKIN: Has it actually flown with the specified engine yet?

General Sir Kevin O'Donoghue: No.

Q273 MR JENKIN: What is your confidence level that you will meet these deadlines?

General Sir Kevin O'Donoghue: The test engine is on a C-130 test bed at Marshalls. I was there last week looking at it. I have got every confidence that will fly soon, so the flight test process ----

Q274 MR JENKIN: What is happening to the unit cost of A400M?

General Sir Kevin O'Donoghue: No change. This is not about risk. Let me clarify, there could be a cost of capital issue.

Q275 MR JENKIN: Explain, please.

General Sir Kevin O'Donoghue: Well, the more we have capital tied up without having made the asset, the more it costs us, over a length of time. So there could be a cost of capital issue, but it is not at our cost that the company are putting things right.


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