Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Defence Future: Part One - Ministers response to letter

Dear Graham,

Your letter raises concerns about the aircraft industry in the North West, and to BAE Systems in particular, and if we do not proceed with Typhoon Tranche 3b. It also voices concerns about the effectiveness of future joint NATO exercises, due to our operation of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter without steam catapult and arrester hook facilities onboard the Queen Elizabeth Class Aircraft Carriers.

Before replying to the issues raised, you will understand that the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR), which will define the future shape and role of the Armed Forces to ensure that the right equipment is provided to meet our requirements now and in the future, is scrutinising all MOD equipment projects including Typhoon, the Joint Strike Fighter and the Queen Elizabeth Class AircraftCarrlers. Until the SDSR has concluded, it would be inappropriate for me to comment on how the outcome will impact any individual project.

As l confirmed during the end of day adjournment debate on the "Military Aviation Industry" on 15 September 2010, the MOD recognises BAE Systems’ integral role in the UK aerospace industry. The company brings slgniflcant economic and industrial benefits to the UK, providing highly skilled engineering capability ln aerospace both within large defence companies and across the wider supply chain. They have played an important role since the outset of the Typhoon programme, and it Is vital that the MOD and the defence industry as a whole work together to achieve a mutually beneficial outcome. I repeat what I sald that evening, that l express deep regret for the job losses at BAE Systems which resulted from earlier decisions.

Typhoon and the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) offer complementary capabllltles. Typhoon is a land based aircraft that provides a multi-role capability and wlll assume the roles previously performed by Jaguar and Tornado F3. We wlll continue to study ways to enhance Ty phoon’s multi-role capability over its service llfe to ensure that we have the right mix of combat aircraft to meet dynamic mission requirements.

The Lockheed Martin F35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF), as our chosen aircraft to meet the Joint Combat Aircraft requirement, will fulfil a primarily offensive strike role from land and sea, and will replace the capability provided by the Harrier aircraft of the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force. The JSF development and demonstration phase is progressing well. Flight testing of the Conventional Take'Off and Landing (CTOL) and Short Take Off Vertical Landing (STOVL) variants of the aircraft are well underway with the STOVL variant having completed several vertical landings. A third variant, the Carrier Variant (CV), has recently commenced flight tests.

The assertion that the Queen Elizabeth Class Aircraft Carriers are being built exclusively for the VTOL aircraft is not correct. They are being built to operate Short Take·Off and Vertical Landing (STOVL) aircraft when they enter service, but the design is flexible and would allow for the fitting mechanisms for the operation of the Carrier Variant (CV) aircraft if such a capability was required in the future.

The nation requires an affordable, sustainable, expeditionary airpower capability and JSF continues to offer the best solution, operating from land bases and from the new aircraft carriers as a key component of our future Carrier Strike capability.

Turning to Unmanned Air Vehicles, as l said during the debate on 15 September, Taranis is a leading programme on the global stage and a significant step forward in this Country's fast jet capability. lt is a truly trail blazing project which will allow us to gain a better understanding ofthe most cost·eifective and capable future combat air capability force mix between manned and unmanned aircraft. Projects such as Taranis and Mantis will enable the UK to retain vital aeronautical engineering and design skills, not least in the north-west at Warton and Samlesbury but how BAE Systems chooses to distribute its skills and workforce in future is a matter for them.

l do not share the view that Civil Service jobs in London will be safeguarded at the expense of those in the regions. There is a need for organisational change but this will be taken forward in a coherent manner. As announced by the Secretary of State for Defence on 13 August, a Defence Reform Unit has been established, under the chairmanship of Sir Peter Levene, to conduct a full and fundamental review of how the Ministry of Defence is run. Current plans are that the Defence Reform Unit will complete its work by September 2011, but it is likely that reforms will be implemented rolling basis over the course of the year, taking account of the outcome of the SDSR.

Peter Luff MP