Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence

Examination of witness (Questions 80-99)



Mr Cohen

  80. I would like to ask about equipment. Do you consider the Armed Forces are satisfactorily equipped for the task they are asked to perform? In which areas do you think better equipment is needed?
  (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) We have equipment at the moment which allows us to do our task but not to the extent that we would wish. The equipment programme that we have set up to bring in over the next 10 years will certainly allow us to do that task. We are making huge strides into that programme, this is not just jam tomorrow, there is real jam coming in now. Next Friday I shall be going to Barrow to watch the launch of HMS Albion, our new landing platform dock, which is very exciting, and sitting on the jetty alongside her waiting to be launched is HMS Bulwark. There is reality in the programme which is being delivered on a fairly frequent basis. The equipment programme for the Navy is the best that I can recall in my time in 40 years of service. It is pretty good for the Air Force as well, and the Army is satisfactory for what they need. Our forward equipment programme is very exciting and I wish I was joining the Navy now so I could be around in 10 years' time to make the best benefit of it. The equipment we have today, clearly in some areas it is not as good as we would like it, because technology is always going to outstrip current equipment, and that is what the new equipment programme is setting out to resolve.

  81. Let me raise a couple of issues, firstly the rifle, the SA80, the light support weapon, the automatic version of it, which has been round since the early 1990s and has been full of problems since the early 1990s, including in Kosovo. There was a great deal of discontentment in the Armed Forces with it, which, despite a lot of money going in to upgrade it and solve the problems, still seems to be around. How do you see that problem panning out?
  (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) I agree with you entirely the situation on the SA80 was entirely unsatisfactory, however we have got a good modification programme underway at the moment and we expect the modified SA80s to start rolling out at the beginning of next year in reasonably substantial numbers. From the trials we have done so far, and we are still doing trials on the modified weapon, it looks as though we are going to have a weapon which is going to be all that our soldiers, marines and air force people would want to have.

  82. That last point is crucial, they want to have it. If this modification shows signs of not producing that effect will you ensure—
  (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) Absolutely. So far the signs are from the trials we are doing that the modification is going to produce something that people will be pleased to have in their hands. If it is not they will need to go back in and see why not. I hope that will not be the case.

  83. Let me ask you about Bowman, one of the few things which makes this Committee froth at the mouth, the long delay in getting the radio communication to the armed forces. It has taken a very long, long time.
  (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) Yes.

  84. We still seem a long way from getting there. Will it be the right thing when it arrives?
  (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) I can assure you that the frustration you feel is not half as much as the frustration of ourselves in the field about the delay we have had. We are now in the process of evaluating tenders for the new programme which I believe the Committee is well apprised of and they will be let some time this year, I guess, and we are very much looking to see this new equipment coming on stream in 2003-04, and it cannot come before time as far as I am concerned. We desperately do need that, I agree with you entirely. I hope the specification that we have set now can be met by the manufacturer in the time that we want it done so that we can have the type of equipment we need for the 21st Century.

  85. Last question: we did a report on the lessons of Kosovo and there were some equipment issues there which were highlighted which were more precision guided missiles, preferably for use against tanks and so forth and not having to use cluster bombs, that was one issue. Another was more air-to-air refuelling tankers. Another better all weather bombing capability. Are those on your agenda?
  (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) Yes. We have put some more money towards improving those equipment shortfalls as a result of Kosovo lessons learnt, in fact special money was allowed for that. Extra money has been put in to programmes to improve areas where we found shortcomings in the Kosovo campaign.


  86. The main lesson of Kosovo is never slag off the Defence Committee on the Sunday and then appear before them on the Wednesday.
  (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) Chairman, I would never dream of slagging off the Committee at any time.

Mr Gapes

  87. Can I ask you about the progress of the NATO Defence Capabilities Initiative which has been planned and which in the current debate has been a bit over- shadowed by obsession about the Common European Defence Policy. Are you happy with the progress that has been made in the last 22 months by this country on that area? Where has your effort, or our effort, been primarily focused and where do you think there are outstanding problems or shortfalls?
  (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) We have made some progress, I am glad to say, and in particular in the area of strategic lift. This is one of the areas where NATO has a shortcoming in terms of strategic lift, certainly on the European contribution to NATO and so the strategic air lift and the ro-ros are, as you know, now on line, if you like, so that has been a substantial step forward.

  88. What about other countries, what is your assessment of what they are doing?
  (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) It is a bit difficult to detect. The progress seems to be variable and I really cannot give you a proper quantified answer on that. It does not seem to be as good as ours is my impression, on the whole, as a generalisation.

  89. Could you be more specific?
  (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) For a start, a number of countries are still going through various defence programme reviews, as you may be aware, and many of them have actually not come out of those reviews with clear ways ahead on how they are going to meet some of the DCI ideas.

  90. Do you think it would be reasonable for us to accept a reduction in our own capabilities in order to ensure greater inter-operability with our allies if it meant that the capability in the Alliance as a whole was increased?
  (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) This ties in with my comment about backward interoperability, and it depends on which particular area one is talking about. I do think it is important that we do not completely out-pace potential allies, otherwise we cannot operate with them. That is probably what you mean. We have to watch that very carefully. If we are putting a new piece of kit in which is very advanced we must make sure that kit can work and still plug in, if you like, electronically with whatever other equipment other countries have.

  91. There is another problem of the United States going ahead, we came across this when we were in the Gulf last year, the whole question of re-fuelling of an aircraft, where the American Air Force and the American Navy do it differently and, therefore, we could help one and not the other. Is there a danger that the Americans will go so far ahead we will not be able to keep up with them?
  (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) Yes, there is. One of the things that I spend a lot of time doing is telling my senior colleagues in the United States to watch out for that, otherwise they will find themselves on there own, because they cannot play or operate with anybody. They do pay attention to that. Indeed, I have even set up special ally-type systems so that when they are operating with allies they can bring together communication systems, for example, so they are not out on their own.

Dr Lewis

  92. As someone who is obsessed by the European Union Rapid Reaction Force, I am grateful for this opportunity, even though I appreciate it may be truncated by the division bell. We left it at the point where we were talking about multinationality, when you said that the Rapid Reaction Force would be activated only for crisis management occasions when NATO and, in particular, the US did not wish to be involved. Would you agree that it follows from that, that when it is activated it will be acting independently of NATO's command and control?
  (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) The command structure that it will be using will be one which is probably bedded in or based on NATO command structures and it will still require, if it is going to operate effectively—unless it is a very low level task, a humanitarian type of task—NATO facilities in order for it to operate effectively.

  93. The people giving the commands will be independent from the people giving commands to NATO?
  (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) If NATO has decided that a force should be packaged up to go and do a particular operation somebody will be put in command of it. It may be a person who has a NATO command hat as well.

  94. That is not quite the same. What you said before and what is a more accurate description, if I may say so, was that this force will come into play only when NATO decides it does not wish to undertake this operation. Surely it must follow from that that whatever drawing on NATO facilities the Rapid Reaction Force needs the people in control of that force will be acting independently of the people who control NATO?
  (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) It may be the same people who have NATO command who are switched to European command for that particular job.

  Dr Lewis: It may be the same individual.
  (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) Yes, that is what I mean.

  95. Is it not also the case that when the Rapid Reaction Force is functioning it will draw most, if not all, of its forces from those which European Union countries have already allocated to NATO?
  (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) Almost certainly.

  96. Does it not follow from that that NATO's own military capability to act on those operations which NATO does wish to be involved in will be reduced because of any European Union Rapid Reaction Force operation in an area where NATO, by definition, has decided it does not wish to be involved?
  (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) I really find it difficult to imagine a situation where there will be two operations running, where NATO wants to run one operation and Europe is trying to run another one. Were that to happen then I suspect that one of those operations would have to fold in. Given the fact that if NATO wants to get engaged in an operation which is likely to be high level one, it is most likely the low level one would have to stop.

  97. Obviously there is no telling in which order a crisis will arise. Suppose that what we might call the EU crisis arises first and NATO says, "This one is not for us", and the Rapid Reaction Force says, "We want to do it", and then a crisis arises in which NATO does want to get involved. If NATO's ability to get involved in that high-level crisis is not to be impaired, the Rapid Reaction Force will have to call off its own crisis management operation or otherwise NATO will have to operate with reduced forces. Is that not a mathematical certainty, as Casper Weinberger put it?
  (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) I think it is an unlikely scenario. It presents no greater problem than at the moment, if NATO is engaged, as it is in Kosovo, and suddenly NATO's has to get involved in some other crisis you may have to hone down your operations in Kosovo to do the other operation. There is only one bunch of forces around, no one is going to have one bunch of forces for NATO and one for Europe. There is only one pool of forces. When you are talking about two concurrent NATO operations, or a NATO operation and a European operation you have the same sort of problem.

  98. This is precisely the point. This is the heart of the matter, because whereas NATO is in command of all its own operations and can decide if one more important operation comes along it has to scale down another one, the whole point about this force is that this force will be under the political control of people other than NATO.
  (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) The majority of the people who are in the European Union are also in NATO as well.

  99. We have to assume then that, whenever a crisis comes along which NATO does want to get involved in, it can count on the leaders of the European Union Rapid Reaction Force to say "Okay, we are already operating in another theatre on a matter that NATO did not want to get involved in, and we will give that up and reallocate the forces back to NATO"—because otherwise, surely, NATO's capacity is going to be reduced. As Casper Weinberger said. "That is a mathematical certainty".

   (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) I believe that your former contention is correct. I think if you had a European force doing something and then something else came up, in the same way as you would at the moment, as we do even nationally, you have to cut your cloth, and then the people sitting around the table as far as the heavy weight people are concerned are the same people on both sides but there are some countries who are probably not really major contributors to whatever operation is going on and will have to make a decision on priorities and that decision will be made by the same main players in both committees, in both the European Union and NATO. I do not see there is a particular problem.

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