Gerry Steinberg MPIn the House...

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Ministry of Defence: Battlefield Helicopters (HC 1191-i)

Public Accounts Committee 25 Oct 2004

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Evidence given by Sir Kevin Tebbit KCB CMG, Permanent Under Secretary of State, Sir Peter Spencer KCB, Chief of Defence Procurement and Air Vice Marshal Paul Luker OBE, Commander, Joint Helicopter Command.

Q72 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): Thank you, Chair. I have to say, I do not know how we ever win. I always think it must be good luck than good management, because when we get some of the reports that we get from the NAO and the Ministry of Defence they are the most appalling reports of performance and management, and it cannot be a coincidence because it is month, after month, after month, the same sort of incompetence that we get, and then we get you, Sir Kevin, saying you have not come here prepared to answer questions on the helicopter because it is not in the report. I would have thought that Apache helicopters were part of our helicopter capabilities, because I do think that Apaches are helicopters, are they not? They are, are they not? Yes, they are. It took a lot to think about there!

Sir Kevin Tebbit: I am wondering whether you really want to ask me any questions or whether you want to make assertions and allow me to answer them.

Q73 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): I want to ask some questions and I want some answers, not some of the flannelling that we get every time you appear in front of us. It is quite amazing that every time you appear in front of us this Committee loses its temper. It is not to do with anybody else. It just seems to be your attitude, Mr Tebbit. The first page of the report, Mr Tebbit, it says, the very first page of the Executive Summary says, note, "67 Apaches delivered to the United Kingdom but not yet available for operations. Anticipated Initial Operating Capability - August 2004." I would have thought it was quite obvious that people were going to ask questions on the Apache helicopters because we are talking about helicopter capability. Are there Apaches included in our helicopter capability?

Sir Kevin Tebbit: Yes, and I have explained, September 2004, so I am sorry it is a month later than we had said.

Q74 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): You are sorry that it is a month later, Mr Tebbit?

Sir Kevin Tebbit: The initial operating capability--

Q75 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): A month later?

Sir Kevin Tebbit: From August to September.

Q76 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): A year and a half. We had meeting here a year and a half ago. I think it was 12th March 2003 that we had a meeting here when we talked about Apache helicopters, and I do not know how late they were then. How late were they then when we had the meeting in March 2003, and they were not being used, they were in storage?

Sir Kevin Tebbit: Let us be pleased they are there now.

Q77 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): They were not a month late, were they? It is all right you saying, "Let's be pleased that they are there now." That is a disgusting answer, to be quite honest. You are saying it did not make any difference in terms of Iraq, but of course it did, because if they had had Apache helicopters in Iraq the troops would have been much more protected than they were. As I said before, it is a case of being good luck and not good management.

Sir Kevin Tebbit: They would not have been available for operations in Iraq even if they had been there to the original timescale, Mr Steinberg, because, as Mrs Browning has pointed out, there are other lines of development necessary to use these things effectively: it is to do with delivery, it is also to do with training, it is to do with concepts of operations, it is to do with logistics support; and even if the initial planned date had been reached, they would not have been available for that operation.

Q78 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): How late were they? From the date they were purchased and supposed to go into operation, how late were they up to a month ago when they were actually brought into service?

Sir Kevin Tebbit: We had our hearing, as you say, 18 months ago, and that was discussed then and they have now been brought into service. What I am saying is that--

Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): How late were they?

Chairman: Let him answer the question.

Q79 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): He will not answer the question?

Sir Kevin Tebbit: I am. I am saying since our last hearing we have achieved the target we explained then, albeit in September or August.

Q80 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): But that is not answering the question. How late were the helicopters coming into service from first being envisaged they were going to come into service?

Sir Kevin Tebbit: I will have to give you a note on that because I have not got that piece of information with me.

Q81 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): I would have thought you would have known. I would have thought Mr Luker would know that?

Sir Kevin Tebbit: Well, Mr Steinberg, you are criticising me for events a long time ago. In this case a 1995 procurement of Chinook. I have apologised for I; I have said it was a flawed procurement; I am ready to talk about what we are doing to prevent these things occurring in the future; but I have to say you only want to dwell on the past.

Q82 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): I am not trying to dwell on the past, Mr Tebbit. What I am trying to do is to show how incompetent the Ministry of Defence is: because you ballsed up the Apache; you also messed up the Chinook; you also messed up the Lynx. Three times three major acquisitions have all been messed up by the Department. It is no good saying that the Apache was a one-off, because it was not. I actually asked Sir Peter a question on 25th February 2004. I will read it if you want. What appeared to us to be a debacle of the Apache helicopter, where we had brand new Apache helicopters, state of the art machines, which could have been used apparently in the war in Iraq but were in storage because there were no pilots to fly them. They had not been trained. In this report it seems you are going down exactly the same line with the new Typhoon aeroplanes. You are not splitting training and manufacture. You seem to have the same contract as you had for Apache. Sir Peter responded that he thought there was a misunderstanding of the statements of the training which were on track in this case. What I would say in terms of whether or not we are addressing that particular problem such as the attack helicopter is that the first bullet to improve the ability to manage projects on a war-like basis is precisely what we are talking about, because what we are making sure is that not only do we deliver the equipment but that it is affordable and sustainable through life, that we are identifying the people we need to man it, that we are identifying what we need to do to get them trained and we are making sure we put the infrastructure into place so that we can look after it as well. This is part of the remit of the single resolution which looks across all of what in Army terminology are called "the six lines of development" to ensure that there is coherence and that we do not have the attack of the helicopter again. I have found great difficulty in understanding what you were saying, but I gather what you were saying was that it will not happen again; but it did happen again. So every time you come to us with a failure you tell us that it will not happen again, but it does happen again. It happened again with the Chinook; it happened again with the Lynx; it happened again with the Typhoon planes.

Q83 Chairman: I think he has got the message. Sir Kevin, what is the answer?

Sir Kevin Tebbit: The answer... I am not quite sure what the question is.

Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): I will tell you what the question is?

Q84 Chairman: Do not repeat the entire question!

Sir Kevin Tebbit: As I explained at the beginning, this particular procurement, in my view, was flawed at the outset, at the outset in 1995, and it went even worse in 1997. I am sorry about that. I believe we are now putting it right and have been putting it right through the various changes we have been making to our procurement processes since then. There is nothing I can do to put it right simply over night, but this was - and you have heard from Sir Peter Spencer about the reforms he is making to procurement and I have explained what went wrong and what we are ensuring will not happen again. In terms of Apache, yes, the training provision did go wrong. At the time I think we took the right decision because of cost-effectiveness reasons - it seemed too expensive to go down the route we would otherwise have had - but we are now working well and we have got Apache into service. As far as Typhoon is concerned, I am not sure why you are linking that at all. This is a very complex four-nation project. It is late - I accept that. It is not simple to operate a four-nation project, but there is no problem with training pilots on Typhoon, and it is a brilliant aeroplane.

Q85 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): Are the 67 Apache helicopters part of the helicopter capability?

Sir Kevin Tebbit: Yes; indeed.

Q86 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): They are?

Sir Kevin Tebbit: They are not all operating at present, no, but they are part of the helicopter capability.

Q87 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): When we were told that you have 30%, 38% less capability in this report of what you need to be, now that the Apaches have been delivered, has that made any difference?

Sir Kevin Tebbit: That was a reference to lift helicopters. The Apache is an attack helicopter. It is a different category.

Q88 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): So that does include... So you are still 38% below.

Sir Kevin Tebbit: 38 % by one calculation, as I explained, 20% by another.

Q89 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): Could you turn to page 31? We are told on page 31 in paragraph 4.3 that there is also an 80% shortfall in ship-optimised helicopter lift, and it goes on to explain. What actions are you taking to ensure that as soon as the amphibious part of the Rotorcraft is available; they will go straight into service?

Sir Kevin Tebbit: Firstly, we are up-ending the sinking Mk4s which will help to ease some of this shortfall in ship-optimised helicopter lift. As I say, also the capability can be addressed by deploying land-optimised helicopters. Although that is quite tricky, we have done it, we did it recently. It does mean extra costs in logistics and manpower, but that is another way of mitigating that issue.

Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): Are you saying that you have now learned your lessons after all of this sort of--

Chairman: Just say, "Yes"!

Q90 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): --confrontation that we have had?

Sir Kevin Tebbit: I am saying, "Yes".

Chairman: Is that it, Sir Gerry!

Q91 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): One of these days I will get a knighthood. Sir Kevin will make the recommendation! Just before I finish could I ask you about the Chinook HC3 helicopter? You say you have learned your lessons - this is the point I was trying to get to right at the beginning and, if you had answered the question when I had asked right at the very beginning, we would not have got into the confrontation that we did. You say you have learned your lessons, but you never do though, do you?

Sir Kevin Tebbit: I said we had implemented them.

Q92 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): But you never do: because you have the Chinook helicopter. You read it and you just cannot believe it. It would be actually funny, would it not, if it was not so serious? The equipment that you wanted to put into this helicopter cockpit would not fit?

Sir Kevin Tebbit: This was in 1997.

Q93 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): Yes. You had eight helicopters, costing £259 million, which I have helped to pay for out of my taxes. We had them ordered in 1995?

Sir Kevin Tebbit: Then there was a requirement change before 1998.

Q94 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): Yes. So we start off in 1995 to buy equipment that we desperately need?

Sir Kevin Tebbit: We certainly wanted it, yes; correct.

Q95 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): It cost £259 million.

Sir Kevin Tebbit: That was the estimate.

Q96 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): But then you find out that you cannot put the equipment in the cockpits?

Sir Kevin Tebbit: There is a bit that comes before, Mr Steinberg. In 1997 there was a requirement change.

Q97 Chairman: We have had all this history already.

Sir Kevin Tebbit: I know.

Chairman: Thank you very much.

Q98 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): The final thing is that they have been standing in storage, have they not, for ten years?

Sir Kevin Tebbit: No. They were not built. The project only began nine years ago.

Q99 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): But they have been on the cards for ten years and they are still not working; the same as the Apaches?

Sir Kevin Tebbit: Can I explain why we have learned the lesson and why I want to prove it? We received them in December 2002. We have not rushed into other solutions because we have been told that there is a good path to make sure they are fine to fly under our standards, have got the right defensive aids and health and usage monitoring and the right special forces fit, but we are not simply saying, "Fine, carry on", again. We are saying, "No", this time, as we do with all projects now. We are evaluating them properly, we are bounding the risk, we are spending some money (£13 million actually of tax-payers money) to make sure we have got it right, and then we will make our decision. Meanwhile, we have written into the accounts at only spares value because it would be improper for us to give a valuation until we know what we are going to do about it. It is prudent accounting rather than wasting £200 million. I do not know what answer we are going to have, we will come to a conclusion very quickly, but I am as irritated as you are about the failure of this procurement; all I am explaining is that I am putting it right.


Q219 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): Two quick points, I want to come back on a couple of things that you said. You said that you were disappointed that we had not praised a good report and that we had picked the points out that were not very good. Surely a good report would not tell us that eight helicopters costing £259 million, which were delivered in 2001, are still in storage now and are not expected in service until 2007 at a further cost of £127 million, Sir Kevin?

Sir Kevin Tebbit: What I meant was the achievements of the Joint Helicopter Force and all of the changes which are picked up in the report and the NAO have encouraged constituted, in my view, a tremendous achievement, not just for the Armed Forces but also the civilians in logistics and training and other areas. There are 13,000 people, I think, in the Joint Helicopter Command who do tremendous work and much of the report is about the work they do. So without wanting you not to, as it were, pose me hard questions, I think it is important to recognise and acknowledge that. The second point, I did try to explain that although I do not duck the criticism about this flawed procurement - and I began by saying it was a deeply flawed procurement and explained what we are doing about it and where it went wrong - the whole of the costs to put it right are not to do with the flawed procurement, they are to do with upgrades that are still needed but which have arisen during the course of that procurement. We fitted those upgrades to Chinook Mark 2s and 2as and we need to do that to the Mark 3s if we are to accept them into service for the role intended, and those extra costs would come on top but within that overall amount of money. In other words, only one-third of that money is to do with fixing the airworthiness problem. It does not make it right, it does not make it fine, but just to put it in perspective.

Q220 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): The last point I want to make is that you put great store by the fact that you believed that the training of our pilots produces the best pilots but also puts them in absolutely no danger at all because it is the safest way of doing it. Yet if you read 4.10 on page 33 - and I only bring that up because you actually said that, and if I had had more time before, and I accept that I had already had my fair share, I wanted to talk about the training of pilots and the length of difference between American training and British training - and if you read the paragraph where it says, "For example, such was the haste to deploy refitted Lynx Mk7s on Operation TELIC, that two aircraft flew direct from modification at the Defence Aviation Repair Agency, Fleetlands, to embarking ships. 3 Regiment, Army Air Corps were, therefore, unable to familiarise themselves with new Defensive Aid Suites until they arrived in the Gulf, not having had the opportunity to practise with suitably equipped helicopters during their previous year's training." In other words, the pilots were actually sent to the Gulf who were not fully trained, who in fact were not to the standard that you would have expected or hoped, but yet they were sent, which contradicts what you were saying originally about the training of Apache helicopter pilots, and also the fact that presumably if they were not fully trained then you were sending them into the Gulf with the danger of them being killed.

Sir Kevin Tebbit: I was actually talking about the training provided by the Defence Flying Training School and that system, that is to say the basic training and the training to type. I was not referring to the precise operational specific training, although perhaps the Air Marshal could say something about that since it is more in his province when it comes to sending people into scenarios.

Air Vice Marshal Luker: I would agree that we had not given people sent out to the Gulf all of the training we would have liked to have given them, but we always make the assumption that there will be some time in theatre to be able to make good the bits that we have not done. That has a certain risk to it but that is the way that we have managed. What we are good at, I think, is inculcating in our people the ability to take on new equipment, new techniques, new environments very quickly, and we try to do that through a generic basic training. In that - and it sounds boastful - I do not think there is anyone who can beat us in the world.

This is an uncorrected transcript of evidence taken in public and reported to the House. The transcript has been placed on the internet on the authority of the Committee. Neither witnesses nor Members have had the opportunity to correct the record. The transcript is not yet an approved formal record of these proceedings.

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