HC Deb 29 November 2000 vol 357 cc638-9W
Mr. Hancock

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence (1) what plans he has for separate programmes for the Royal Navy's UAV to support its new carrier battle groups and the RAF's UAV to supply ISTAR over extended ranges to the Future Offensive Air Capability; and if he will make a statement; [139724]

(2) if he will make a statement on plans for the RAF's and RN's joint force UAV; what is the cost of the programme in relation to the overall cost of the single UAV capability, Watchkeeper, including BAE Systems' Phoenix UAV; and if he will make a statement. [139706]

Dr. Moonie

The defence requirement is for a balanced, robust and layered Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance (ISTAR) capability that meets the information needs of all operation commanders and supports their decisions on force protection and targeting of weapons systems.

The requirement for a future ISTAR UAV system to support commanders in the land and littoral battlespace is known as Watchkeeper. We are considering arrangements for disseminating the information we would derive from Watchkeeper, some of which, for example on targeting, may be of value to maritime task forces operating at sea.

At present, we do not plan to procure a maritime version of Watchkeeper although work is continuing to determine whether a maritime UAV would be a cost-effective solution to meeting part of the maritime ISTAR requirement. Also, we have no plans to procure a UAV to provide an independent ISTAR capability for the Future Offensive Air System (FOAS), although it is possible that an element of FOAS would be an unmanned combat air vehicle. The ISTAR requirements of maritime task forces and deep strike weapons systems will be met within the framework of our future overall ISTAR capability.

Part of the current assessment phase for Watchkeeper includes studying whether the existing Phoenix UAV system should form part of the solution of the requirement.

Mr. Hancock

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what ISTAR capabilities are operational for the short range UAVs, Spectator (Formation) and Sender (Battle Group) in the Watchkeeper programme; what is the estimated cost and the timetable for development and production of the short range UAVs; and if he will make a statement. [140710]

Mr. Spellar

The Watchkeeper programme is currently assessing the mix of Unmanned Air Vehicles (UAVs) which, alongside other assets, will be required to support future Formation level and Battle Group Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance (ISTAR) requirements. In so doing, the assessment will determine the optimum range, or combination of range characteristics, to be specified for the UAVs. The Phoenix system, as the only UAV asset currently in the inventory, was originally procured with the primary function of providing a Target Acquisition and Surveillance capability but subsequently has shown sufficient flexibility to meet some other aspects of the ISTAR requirements. In undertaking the current assessment phase, the Watchkeeper programme is evaluating to what degree Phoenix may, or may not, contribute to the future UAV mix. Until the assessment phase is complete and all the options for providing the UAV contribution to the ISTAR capability have been evaluated, it will not be possible to give definitive estimates of either cost or time associated with the development and production of UAVs.