Armed Forces: Aircraft

House of Lords written question – answered on 25th November 2010.

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Photo of Lord West of Spithead Lord West of Spithead Labour

To ask Her Majesty's Government, further to the Written Answer by Lord Astor of Hever on 4 November (WA 427), how much the upgrade to the further 17 Tornado GR4 aircraft will cost; and whether this upgrade is the engine upgrade package already costed at £1.1 billion or an additional funding requirement.

To ask Her Majesty's Government what is the cost for the continuation of Harrier aircraft in service until at least 2018; and what is the cost for the continuation of Tornado GR4 aircraft in service including the planned upgrade programme.

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether, prior to his announcement on 19 October, the Prime Minister had been informed of the extra costs that would accrue to the defence budget from retaining Tornado GR4 aircraft in service in Afghanistan rather than retaining the Harrier GR9.

To ask Her Majesty's Government what are the average annual running costs, when not on operations, of a (a) Harrier GR7, (b) Tornado F-3, (c) Tornado GR-4 and (d) Typhoon aircraft.

Photo of Lord Astor of Hever Lord Astor of Hever Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip), The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence

In the interests of long-term financial affordability, the strategic defence and security review (SDSR) determined that we would transition to a two-platform fast jet fleet consisting of the highly capable multi-role aircraft, Typhoon and Joint Strike Fighter. In the transition period, the difficult decision has been taken to remove Harrier from service in 2011.

The overriding factor in deciding between removing either the Tornado GR4 or Harrier was the ability to support operations in Afghanistan. The Harrier fleet would have been too small to support Afghanistan operations at current levels, notwithstanding carrier strike and other contingent operations. Conversely, the Tornado GR4 force-even at its reduced size-will be significantly larger than the current Harrier force and would allow continuous UK fast jet close air support to forces in Afghanistan and the ability to support concurrent operations. It also has a number of key capability advantages over the Harrier GR9 including: greater payload and range and integration of capabilities such as Storm Shadow; fully integrated dual-mode Brimstone; the Raptor reconnaissance pod; and a cannon.

We will retain a reduced Tornado GR4 fleet, which will draw down gradually to ensure that there is no effect on operations in Afghanistan as we transition to Typhoon and Joint Strike Fighter, from which we will also regenerate our carrier strike capability. In line with these transitions, we currently plan to take the Tornado GR4 out of service in 2021. This updates the out-of-service date and associated costs in the reply that I gave the noble Lord on 16 November (Hansard, col. WA 178), which were based on pre-SDSR plans. The Prime Minister received full advice on the options regarding our fast jet fleet as part of the SDSR process.

The MoD made estimates of cost savings accrued from measures considered in the SDSR for the purpose of formulating policy. Some of these have been published to help to inform the public debate. Release of further detail may prejudice the MoD's negotiating position with its commercial suppliers. Furthermore, final savings figures will depend on detailed implementation, which will generally be subject to full consultation with all relevant parties, including the trades unions and the devolved Administrations, as well as the results of mandatory assessments on the impact that the measures will have on sustainability, equality and diversity and health and safety. The MoD is therefore not prepared to release more detailed savings or updated in-service cost figures at this time.

The MoD calculates the full cost of aircraft per flying hour. The current rates for our fast jets are shown below. These figures include forward and depth servicing, fuel costs, crew costs, training costs, cost of capital charge, depreciation and amortisation. The Typhoon cost per flying hour reflects the build-up of the fleet with small numbers of aircraft currently in service. This cost will comparatively reduce as the fleet builds and is expected to be similar to our other fast jet fleets when we reach a steady-state position.

Aircraft Financial Year 2010-11 Cost Per Hour
Tornado GR4 £35,000
Typhoon £70,000
Harrier GR7/GR9 £37,000
Tornado F3 £43,000

These costs will need to be reviewed once we have finalised the SDSR decisions and how they will be implemented.

The Tornado aircraft fleet, consisting of the GR4 ground attack and F3 air defence variants, is supported by two availability-based maintenance contracts. The Availability Transformation Tornado Aircraft Contract (ATTAC), for which BAE Systems is the prime contractor, provides depth support until 2016 and has a total value of £1.5 billion. The Turbo-Union RB 199 engine that powers the Tornado aircraft is supported by the RB 199 Operational Contract for Engine Transformation 2 (ROCET 2) awarded to Rolls-Royce until 2025. The contract has a total value of £690 million. There are no penalty clauses in either contract. However, both contracts include a number of conditions that allow for early termination. Any costs associated with the implementation of these conditions following the SDSR outcome are being negotiated with the contractor.

Under the Capability Upgrade Strategy (Pilot) Programme approved in December 2007, 96 Tornado GR4 aircraft will receive capability upgrades between 2011 and 2014 at an estimated cost of around £300 million. This number of aircraft is sufficient to maintain the operational capability of the Tornado GR4 forward available fleet until OSD. There are currently no plans for the aircraft to receive any further capability upgrades after 2014.

For the number of Tornado GR4 modified for operations in Afghanistan, I refer the noble Lord to the reply that I gave him on 4 November (Hansard, col. WA 427). To optimise the further 17 Tornado aircraft required for operations in Afghanistan will cost around £0.5 million. The 15 Harrier GR9 aircraft that have returned from Afghanistan would require refitting of equipment to be made ready for operations.

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