Select Committee on Defence Eighth Report



Examination of witnesses (Questions 2280 - 2299)

TUESDAY 21 JULY 1998

GENERAL SIR ROGER WHEELER, GCB, CBE, ADC GEN AND MR TREVOR WOOLLEY

  2280. Do you think there will be some cultural resistance to conversion?
  (General Sir Roger Wheeler) From whom?

  2281. From people who have been fulfilling one role and now find themselves being asked to fulfil a different role.
  (General Sir Roger Wheeler) So far as the infantry is concerned I should have thought that they would leap at the chance of becoming armoured infantry or warrior battalions because it is a more challenging role from the point of view of their equipments. So far as the armoured reconnaissance and NBC regiments are concerned, armoured reconnaissance is a challenging role. We used until about five or six years ago to rotate armoured regiments with armoured reconnaissance in order to keep up their skills but I do not suppose they will have any difficulty with that. So far as the NBC recce is concerned it is a challenging role but one that is not particularly well known about because it is relatively new. Of one thing I am absolutely certain, and that is that, based on the experience both of the Gulf War in 1990 and of what we were looking to provide had we been asked to in February this year, the one thing that we needed at short notice, highly trained, was an NBC recce regiment.

  2282. I do not think you would find anybody taking a different view from that on this Committee.
  (General Sir Roger Wheeler) From their point of view I do not think there would be any difficulties.

  2283. These are quite substantial changes though, are they not, over a period of three years? You have described a period of turbulence. One of the problems has been this June for some members of this Committee is that there has been turbulence since that day in July 1990 when the then Secretary of State announced what was described as "options for change".
  (General Sir Roger Wheeler) Yes. The scale of this is infinitely smaller even though I agree that there is going to be turbulence for those that are involved, but I would reiterate that our implementation plan will be using those units which were arms plotting from Germany to the United Kingdom in any case, so that we reduce the turbulence.

Chairman

  2284. You are forced into having some additional personnel, 3,500. Have you decided exactly where they are going to go?
  (General Sir Roger Wheeler) Yes, because that is how we arrived at the figure. The majority will go into the second line of communication in the form of logisticians and medics, signallers. There will be obviously some add-back in regular manpower at the NBC concentration to which I have just referred but the main aim was to establish that second line of communication which we do not have at the moment.

  2285. So the front line second in command?
  (General Sir Roger Wheeler) No, because the line of communication makes sure that the front line actually works. Perhaps I could say that those who are between Split and Banja Luka would regard themselves as very much in the front line.

  Chairman: I was saying it ironically because I always thought of the idea of focusing on the front line as not being exclusive but seeing it as more important than what came behind was either misrepresentation or naivety, so I am pleased to see we are doing the things which should be done.

Mr Cohen

  2286. Could I ask a question basically about sustainability? The forces can move and have a very good reputation in the Army for being able to move relatively quickly and fight ferociously quickly, but there is an issue about how long it can sustain this on a war footing. Has sustainability been improved with the SDR?
  (General Sir Roger Wheeler) It will be, both from the point of view of the line of communication that I have been talking about, providing the people to do the task and the equipment with which to do it, and also we are quite clear now on how long an operation is to last which is to be a war fighting brigade or a division as the White Paper described, for six months, and we will have the stores and the sustainability to support that.

Mr Blunt

  2287. Can I ask a quick question about armoured reconnaissance regiments?
  (General Sir Roger Wheeler) At which you are an expert.

  2288. Can you confirm that there are going to be in the armoured reconnaissance regiments four squadrons each?
  (General Sir Roger Wheeler) Three squadrons each.

  2289. So you are going to have a divisional armoured reconnaissance regiment in Germany with three squadrons?
  (General Sir Roger Wheeler) Correct.

  2290. Is that not leaving it a bit light on armoured reconnaissance?
  (General Sir Roger Wheeler) If we found ourselves deploying that whole division because of the training cycle that I have mentioned, we might look, as we are doing and as has been discussed earlier, at moving the tank squadron to support a particular ORBAT for a particular reason, taking the reconnaissance regiment that is at the same level of training in the UK to support that divisional recce if we needed to. We do have two things which we have to achieve with armoured reconnaissance, and they have worked extremely hard as you know only too well from your own regiment's experiences in the last couple of years, at the operations other than war element of it and deploying a reconnaissance regiment into a place like Bosnia. The aims of producing the additional headquarters is to be better able to do that and to rotate the regiments rather better than we have been able to until now in order that they too have a better way of life and meet tasks such as the OPFOR of BATUS which is something that a reconnaissance regiment with three squadrons can do.

  2291. But based on reconnaissance deployments being at squadron level, you have actually increased the number of armoured reconnaissance squadrons by zero.
  (General Sir Roger Wheeler) We have not had the headquarters in Bosnia to command and we have had to deploy those headquarters as well and we also, as you know, deployed them without their equipment into places like Northern Ireland. I do not think that it will have a detrimental effect on the divisional reconnaissance capability. What we are looking for is to be able to identify tasks more clearly for each of the regiments rather than taking pieces of them, which is what we have been doing for the last few years.

  2292. So there is going to be a net fall in the number of people in the Royal Armoured Corps?
  (General Sir Roger Wheeler) No, there will not be. There will be a considerable increase because the tank regiments are going up to the full complement of 14 tanks.

  2293. But the perception of people was that we were having four armoured reconnaissance regiments, which would be a net extra regiment. In fact all we are getting is a regimental headquarters.
  (General Sir Roger Wheeler) You are getting two things. One is a regimental headquarters and the second is a regiment that has a reconnaissance capability, which of course we do not have at the moment.

  2294. What is happening to the equipment of the Queen's Own Yeomanry?
  (General Sir Roger Wheeler) There will be some retained within the Territorial Army.

  2295. So that the Queen's Own Yeomanry are going to be adapted for armoured reconnaissance—
  (General Sir Roger Wheeler) When we have decided where the yeomanry squadrons and regiments are going to be within the TA, yes, but I cannot say that it will be that one because we are in the process of consultation at the moment, as you know.

  Mr Blunt: I must say this is a disagreeable surprise because we had been led to believe—

  Mr Brazier: Not for all of us.

  Mr Blunt: And I think, as an ex-reconnaissance soldier, this is a pity, what you have done to armoured reconnaissance. But let us move on to arms plotting.

  Mr Brazier: Sorry—just a quick point. Not everyone on this Committee shared the idea that it was appropriate to keep an armoured reconnaissance regiment within the Territorial Army.

Mr Blunt

  2296. I appreciate that, but the point being that an armoured reconnaissance regiment should be properly established and of course because of the shortage of equipment you have decided to establish it at three squadrons. Are you intending to maintain the arms plot?
  (General Sir Roger Wheeler) Yes.

  2297. Was any consideration given to triple posting through the armoured corps in the infantry?
  (General Sir Roger Wheeler) Yes, consideration was given to it and we decided to maintain the system that we have at the moment.

  2298. What is the cost of sustaining the arms plot?
  (General Sir Roger Wheeler) When it comes to moving people you either have to move them as individuals or you move them as units if they have a particular requirement to stay as units. The cost as between the two, by the time you have moved large numbers of people, either because they do not wish to stay in Germany, Cyprus or Northern Ireland for more than a couple of years in the case of Northern Ireland and Cyprus, longer of course in Germany, or for career development reasons or for career training reasons, the difference in the cost between the two is not very great and I felt, and my Army Board colleagues agreed, that it was much more important that we maintain the ethos that we think is so vital to the armoured corps and to the infantry which comes from the regimental system.

  2299. I agree with that.
  (General Sir Roger Wheeler) You might be interested to know that the Light Dragoons are commanding a mixed battle group in Bosnia at the moment which is just a demonstration, without wishing to perpetuate the argument, of the value of the additional headquarters.


 
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