Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence


Examination of witness (Questions 40-59)

THURSDAY 1 MARCH 2001

ADMIRAL SIR MICHAEL BOYCE, GCB, CBE Chief of Defence Staff

Chairman


  40. Some things the Committee returns to on a regular basis. Mr Viggers mentioned again the Defence Medical Services, which we have taken a great interest in over the years, and we have said we are still recovering from Defence Cost Study 15, so it is not something on which blame can be attributed to one Surgeon-General or one Defence Ministry, but we return to it because the problem is still unsolved. Another area where we are, some would say, obsessively interested is in the future of the Territorial Army, on which we have produced numerous reports and will continue to do so. Could I ask you what lessons have you learned about restructuring of the TA since Options for Change and the Strategic Defence Review? What lessons have you learned about restructuring from the experience of Kosovo and the possibility of the use of ground forces? We were extremely sceptical in our report that we would be able to find the numbers that the Ministry of Defence said we would have available of 55,000 unless one had recourse to the Territorial Army. I would have thought that the Territorial Army restructuring would have made that exceedingly difficult. We would like your views on how you have seen the restructuring and, we would argue, downgrading of the TA in the light of a war that almost took place where they might have been deployed?
  (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) If I may, Chairman, I would like to answer your question by going back further than the restructuring of the TA to the restructuring of the Royal Naval Reserve. You will see the relevance of that in a second. I had responsibility for carrying through the restructuring of the Royal Naval Reserve about eight years ago and it caused the most dreadful trauma at the time as it was a pretty major upheaval of how they were operated and how they should operate. It was an unpleasant time for everybody and very emotionally upsetting as well. However, I have to say that the morale and effectiveness of the Royal Naval Reserve now is a million times better than it was back in those days and it is a highly effective, highly thought of, highly valued force. The experience that I have had so far of the TA, and you must remember the restructuring process has only really just been completed and is still bedding in, in my initial taste of watching what has been going on is rather the same as I had with the RNR. It has been a very upsetting and difficult time for everybody as the restructuring has gone on but the Territorial Army people are now finding themselves much more usable and they are being used. Ten per cent of our forces out in Kosovo are Territorial Army people. They find themselves more valued. They are certainly more relevant to the sort of operations that we might be involved in today. My initial soundings on this, and as I say it is still early days yet, are that I am most encouraged about where restructuring is taking us. Certainly from the people I have met, and I am talking about TA people I have met, and I have met some who have formed themselves into different units and so forth, they are excited and pleased, now they have taken the plunge and got on with it, about how it is turning out.

  41. You said earlier on in your opening remarks about the need in essence to have a footprint throughout the entire country. This is one area where the footprint is lacking because many of the TA centres have been closed, including my own area.
  (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) If I had a reservation about the Royal Naval Reserve or the TA Reserves restructuring ideas it would be just that very one, and I would not disagree with that at all. It was a definite downside to reducing the size of those forces because of the way it impacted on the footprint. However, the upside aspects of it at the end of the day I think do outweigh that downside.

  42. Can you see a future for more than deploying the Territorial Army simply on almost an individual basis? It seems to me quite bizarre that you train the Territorial Army regiments as a collectivity but they will never be deployed as a battalion.
  (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) I think the great value is the fact they can actually integrate in with the Regulars, and that is where they are finding themselves so valuable at the moment.

Mr Brazier

  43. I would like to ask you about the Naval Reserves, if I may do. Just a quick observation, that I have yet to meet any senior serving Territorial who thinks that people join the TA to be used as gap fillers for the Regular Army, although many of them have done so. The prime reason people join Territorial units—my grandfather commanded the most decorated one in the last war and because he raised it and so on, commanded it, it was able to go to war as a sub-unit. I would like to ask you about the Naval Reserves. Could I put a thought to you. Within the Naval Reserves there are two elements which are extremely well recruited and very useful and have proved themselves again and again and that is the Royal Marine Reserves who, for example, produced 100 men for Operation Haven at three days' notice, and we also have the Royal Naval Air Branch, an extremely successful organisation. What those two areas have in common is that they have access to key decision making points at all levels by part-time reservists with civilian jobs. At any one time roughly half of the five RNR units—an odd number—are commanded by part-time reservists. The new head of the RNR is going to be a part«time reservist, in the same way the senior man in the Royal Naval Air Branch is a part-time reservist. The result is that you have a level of thinking in both of those areas which looks outward to the civilian world and is very, very successful. In contrast, you have the rest of the RNR which is grossly under strength and where nobody, although there is a commodore on paper, with a proper command is a part-time reservist and there is no-one with any level of advice. I just suggest to you that if you want to get employers on side, and there is a very strong feeling that employers have to be got on side to make the reserve framework work, the core of it will be to look round the reserves and see that the bits that really work are the bits where part-time reservists are in the driving seat. One last example, to pick up my colleague's medical point. We had the Surgeon Admiral in front of us last year and he did not know the name of the senior volunteer reservist in his branch, instead he said he was relying on some full-time reservist to give him advice on reserve matters. While that attitude persists it will be hard to make our reservists useable.
  (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) Firstly, I would like to correct just one point. You said that the RNR is grossly undermanned, I think they are about 300 or 400 short of their target. It is only a small service, it is only 3,500 or so, and they are at about 2,700, 2,800 at the moment, that sort of figure. "Grossly undermanned" may be a slight exaggeration.

Mr Brazier

  44. If you take the Air Branch out it is proportionately worse than the rest.
  (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) All the RNR units are commanded by RNR officers. I am not quite sure what you meant.

  45. The focus for advice, the officer who, for example, at the RUSI presentation on Reserves, the officer who gives the advice on RNR matters to the First Sea Lord, is always a regular officer and always has been.
  (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) The Director of Naval Services is a regular officer, that is correct, yes. The Commodore of Reserves is an RNR officer.

  46. And all the university units are commanded by a regular?
  (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) All the university units, the patrol craft, are all commanded by regular officers.

Chairman

  47. Do you have any priorities in relation to the Reserves and Territorial Army? It seems to me the way in which successive governments have organised the concept of the Reserves has been grossly inadequate?
  (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) I am not entirely sure what you mean by "priorities", Chairman, but I would say that we consider the Reserves to be a vital part of our overall capability. No-one should be under any illusions that we consider them to be unimportant.

Mr Viggers

  48. Looking at multinational operations, what are the biggest hurdles that you face in co-ordinating the activities with other nations?
  (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) The catch word, I guess, is inter-operability. By that I mean two things: equipment inter-operability and inter-operability of the mind. As far as the inter-operability of the mind is concerned, it is that we must utilise opportunities to train together with those countries with whom we might have to go and do an operation. In fact, we have quite a good record on this across the three services. That is in a reasonably healthy state. So far as inter-operability of equipment is concerned, that comes down primarily to communications and there the story is not so good. The speed at which different countries go in their communications architectures is very different, with America a long way out in the front and some other countries desperately far behind and other people in between. It is an area of considerable concern as particularly the more advanced countries go more into the sort of technologies available nowadays, in other words what is known as network warfare. I think that one of my jobs is to try to persuade those countries which are out in the front, and particularly America, to bear in mind what I would call backward inter-operability, in other words as you go zooming ahead with your technology look over your shoulder and make sure you are not leaving behind those people with whom you wish to operate in the future. That is a special plea. I think in 10 years' time the technology will be so clever that will not be a particular problem, just at the moment it is a very serious problem.

  49. How is the EU military committee coming along?
  (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) The EU military committee is formed in so far that the people who sit on it are the current Chiefs of Defence from the countries who form up the EU. We do not yet have an established chairman of that committee and the chairman is currently the Chief of Defence from the country which holds the Presidency. There is going to be an election for a new chairman on 26 March, not for a new chairman, for a permanent chairman on 26 March.

  50. They have a provisional committee at the moment?
  (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) It is a committee which meets and it either operates at the Chiefs of Defence level from time to time, rather like the NATO military committee, but it meets on a more frequent basis at the military representative level where, for example, the United Kingdom representative is the same officer who is also the military representative on the NATO military committee. It is in being, the committee is actually operating.

  51. How is the Anglo-French carrier force coming along?
  (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) I am not aware of any Anglo-French carrier force.

  52. Can I ask you a question that the Secretary of State was asked by John Humphreys on the Today programme. "Do you envisage a day when a Royal Naval ship will be commanded by a French Captain"?
  (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) No.

  53. The Secretary of State's reply was "Not in the near future".
  (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) I cannot envisage it, no.

Chairman

  54. Can you envisage a Royal Navy captain standing on board a French constructed carrier?
  (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) No, but if I may amplify, however, I would like to just tell the Committee if they do not already know, during the Kosovo campaign the French carrier FOCH was in charge of a task group in the Adriatic and a British ship was under her command. The first time a white ensign was under the command of the French since the Crimean War, I believe. Last year, in the Naval Task Group 2000 which circumnavigated the world and did a huge amount of work going around the world under the commander of the task group—who was a British officer—we had the French ship ACONIT under our command. Although I do not envisage an English person being in charge of a French ship or a Frenchman being in charge of an English ship we already have had, in the last year, a French commander in charge of an English ship in the group and vice versa.

Mr Viggers

  55. The Secretary of State was talking quite fluently about the Anglo-French carrier force on the Today programme on 3 November last year. He was talking in quite positive terms about it. Presumably as and when such a carrier force emerges, the operating name will be English as it is with NATO?
  (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) I am not aware of such a force, Mr Viggers, I am afraid.

  56. Relations with Russia were frozen in 1999 and I think there has been a significant thaw—in fact this Committee has met the Chief of Defence Staff and the Deputy Chief of Defence Staff of the Russian forces—can you say a word about our relationship with Russia through the military channels?
  (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) Certainly. Following the Prime Minister's meeting with Mr Putin some time ago, a couple of years ago the Royal Navy established a special letter of intent with the Russian Navy to conduct a number of activities in co-operation with them, everything from exercises at sea to exchanging officers and so forth ashore. That was all going extremely well, in fact we had a very successful ship visit to Plymouth in the early part of 1998 which went down very well, as the initial part of that plan. Unfortunately, following Operation Desert Fox and subsequently the Kosovo Campaign, the door was rather slammed on that initiative because the Russians stopped playing. This is a great pity because I believe it is in the maritime area in particular where we can make the most ground in trying to establish confidence building measures with any country, but particularly with Russia. The two navies in fact at the working level get on very well. I know two or three Russian Admirals extremely well and consider them good colleagues or friends. It is much easier to make friends at sea than it is when you are worried about sovereignty or land or whatever. I do very much hope that very shortly—as I say, the very first signs of a thaw are there to be seen—we will get back on to the programme which we had arranged where we will work quite frequently with the RFN, the Russian Federation Navy, as a start to building up better rapprochement between our two countries.

  57. Just to follow as an example. Did we learn lessons from the KURSK disaster?
  (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) Yes, we did. In terms of our own capability, we have honed some of our practices, although I am pleased to say that by chance, as I am sure the Committee knows, our Search and Rescue organisation was already about to go and take part in an exercise and so we were in a position to respond very quickly when we heard about the accident. We have done some fine tuning to our procedures as a result of the accident. I guess the most unfortunate thing, I am afraid, was that our Russian friends were probably a little bit slow off the mark and it was quite difficult to work with them. But, even yesterday, we had a meeting, a submarine search and rescue meeting, with the Russians which went very well indeed so they are very keen to learn lessons and so are we so that we can co-operate in the future should ever a submarine disaster happen anywhere in the world in the future.

  Chairman: We have to temporarily call time. You will have a chance to regroup, we have to vote.

  The Committee suspended from 4.13pm to 4.24pm for a division in the House.

Dr Lewis

  58. Before the break you were talking about improving relations with the Russians. In connection with the Kursk disaster were you as disappointed, as some of us were, when despite the offers of sympathy and help which Britain gave to the Russians over this terrible tragedy our reward for it was to be accused of having precipitated the tragedy—specifically that a British submarine had been involved in causing it. Is it not the case that, within the last few days, there has been evidence emerging about yet another note from one of the sailors on the submarine confirming that the disaster was caused by an explosion of a torpedo on board the vessel itself.
  (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) Absolutely. I find it extremely disappointing that we were accused of having caused the accident, after all we had done a lot to help. I just imagine that was some of the old practices, going back to the secrecy of the previous organisation and that culture has not gone away yet. I only read the newspaper report that this letter has been found. We have obviously always said we were not involved in this particular accident nor was any other submarine. It was something awful that happened on board and no other third party was involved.

  59. Before we leave multinationality can I ask you about the EU Rapid Reaction Force. Speaking militarily and not politically, to what extent do you think that it will be, to use the phrase, embedded in NATO?
  (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) First of all NATO is going to remain the cornerstone of our defence. We are not going to do anything where NATO itself wants to be engaged. It is difficult to envisage how at anything other than the most low level task, where NATO would have to contribute, if a European force which was packaged together was to go into task in terms of the sort of facilities that NATO has in terms of planning, intelligence and that sort of thing. The sort of forces that would be utilised would be the same forces that would operate for NATO anyway. The training that we use in getting ourselves fit for our NATO tasks would also serve us well whenever we had to do a European task as well.

  Chairman: We will come back to that. We produced a report on personnel issues and we have a few questions on it.


 
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