Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 40 - 59)



  40. When you write to us could you give us the number of Permanent Staff Instructors by unit type as well as the total figures, so that we have as much information as possible within the different areas. I understand that with the changes that you have had in the structure there will be a higher proportion of people now in units which require higher levels of training, for example, people in Signals, and it would be interesting to know how that is working in practice. Secondly, could you give us more information about the trialing that you are doing of this Cresta system, when it is likely to go, assuming the testing goes well, generally throughout the TA.
  (Brigadier Durcan) It is throughout the Royal Engineers now. It is slightly dependent upon, inevitably, another IT system which is the successor to UNICOM, which is supposed to start to roll out across the whole of the field Army, the TA and regular Army from April next year.

  41. When you say "supposed to", we have not got another IT scandal here, have we?
  (Brigadier Durcan) I am not an IT guru. I would prefer to give you a written answer, otherwise I would be hazarding a guess.

  Mr Gapes: That would be helpful, if you could.

  Chairman: You better put your seat-belts on. We are going into a period of turbulence now.

Mr Hood

  42. Mobilisation. General Sir Charles Guthrie told us during our inquiry into Kosovo that he came within a month of two of mobilising 12,000 to 14,000 reservists to support an opposed ground invasion of Kosovo. Would these all have come from the TA? If not, what would the broad proportions for each of the Reserve Forces have been?
  (Brigadier Holmes) The overwhelming majority would have been Territorials. In terms of percentage, well over 90 per cent. This is a role which would have fallen substantially on the Army's Reserve, both volunteer and regular.

  43. What kind of proportions or numbers would have been called-up as formed units?
  (Brigadier Durcan) I am afraid we can give you the global figures, but the establishment table for the Force is classified. I would prefer to submit that in writing to you in a detailed breakdown, if that is helpful.

  44. Did you anticipate that these would have been compulsory call-outs?
  (Brigadier Holmes) Again, that is an area which I would happily answer. Yes, indeed, this would have been a compulsory call-out. In terms of general principle, what we have done since the SDR is that we have asked for volunteers to meet the shortfalls for situations like Bosnia and Kosovo, but this would clearly have taken us beyond that, so there would have been compulsory mobilisation.

  45. Am I correct in assuming that there would have been no such compulsory call-out without, first of all, consulting Parliament?
  (Brigadier Holmes) Parliament would have been informed. This operates in the same way that call-out orders which are already in force do. There was, in fact, already a call-out order in force for the Balkans, which would, in fact, have been valid. Parliament would have been informed both by a statement and a question, and the order would have been available for scrutiny by this Committee, as previous call-out orders have been.

  46. It would have informed, not asked for the approval of?
  (Brigadier Holmes) Would have informed.

  47. What would have been the approximate division between yeomanry, infantry and other types of troops?
  (Brigadier Durcan) May I ask that I can give you a written reply, because of the classification of these answers?

  48. How many would have been medical reservists?
  (Brigadier Durcan) Again, may I include that in a written reply?

  49. Earlier on we were quite astounded by the candour and the honesty that was coming from our witnesses. I wonder if we can just try to invite the same. Were you on stand-by?
  (Brigadier Holmes) Clearly, again, from the early stages of the crisis it was apparent that the crisis might reach the point when we would need to call-out reservists. So my directorate at the centre looked at the things that we needed to do and those particularly concerned with the appeals process, for example, when we have specific legal responsibilities. We spoke regularly. I slipped the day job on to the back burner. We were to be found burning midnight oil. We spoke regularly to single Services, but we had not reached the point where individuals were put on stand-by. We were aware of the time scale that we would have had to have met, but we had not actually said to particular individuals, "You are about to go."

  50. As I said earlier, we were told by General Sir Charles Guthrie that we were within a month or two from calling up reservists, and then we read in the Sunday Times an article from one of the people from the MoD that we were three hours off of such a position. Were you aware of how close we were?
  (Brigadier Holmes) I was unaware of three hours, I have to say. I would have thought we were roughly somewhere between two months and three hours!


  51. May I interject and say that this is the demob happy approach of someone who is about to leave the Service. Would you like to take advantage of your freedom of expression, Brigadier?
  (Brigadier Holmes) Not at all, Chairman. Clearly, while I entirely understand your request for candour, this does go to the heart of a very difficult and complicated issue. We were certainly not far away, but it would be improper of me, I think, to give a more precise definition than that. Certainly I was able to resume the day job rather more quickly than I expected.

  52. All the best on Friday then, Brigadier. Does the Reserves Training and Mobilisation Centre have the capacity to mobilise such a large number of Reserves?
  (Brigadier Durcan) The RTMC is designed to mobilise individual reservists. Where they would have been in both formed unit and formed sub-units, they would be mobilised within the regional chain of command system. So a good proportion of the reservists thus mobilised would not have needed to go to Chilwell. That said, the whole issue of whether Chilwell would have had the capacity to surge to meet possibly a large scale operation in the future is now under examination. Hitherto, we had thought that what we might have to do is set up temporary clones of Chilwell in other parts of the country, because it has been such a success. What we are quite clear about is that the overriding requirement is to mobilise individuals properly and professionally, which had not been the case in the past, therefore,our aspiration is to make sure that all individual reservists go from Chilwell, and we need to readdress the issue of how to resource Chilwell to be able to do that.

  53. Did you encounter any particular problems with planning and preparing for a mobilisation of this size?
  (Brigadier Durcan) The problem we had in planning was that we had to do a hell of a lot of work in a hell of a hurry.

  Mr Hood: How long would it have taken to get 12,000 reservists on the ground in the Balkans?


  54. Competent, trained and ready to fight?
  (Brigadier Durcan) The flow chart that we produced took into account if you like the initial process of mobilisation which includes the physical business of sending out calling out notices, allowing people time for the post to deliver the thing, appropriate time to consult, to lodge an appeal, employers to be notified, people to report, and then to be concentrated and then to carry out the necessary levels of training and then to get to embarkation points and then to be deployed. A considerable amount of detailed research went into this. A lot of it had to be best judgement, I have to say, but you will not put 12,000 people anywhere overnight. Certainly proper allowance was made for the realities of disengaging a reservist from his daytime employment and getting him into the military pipeline.

  55. But having gone through that process, because it was more than a possibility it might have been put into effect, did this reveal any shortcomings or omissions that hitherto had not been noticed and therefore what gain will come out of this episode?
  (Brigadier Durcan) The shortcoming, Chairman, was that we had rather allowed our eye to go off the ball since the Cold War finished and this gave us a fright. It was a useful fright and what we now intend to do, under the general umbrella I think of promoting a culture of mobilisation, is to exercise and practise this so that we can do a dry run before we have to do a wet run. Next year we have a mobilisation exercise planned into our TA training programme and the intention is to have a mobilisation exercise of a modest scale initially to learn what we can and build it in annually to the TA training call-ups.
  (Brigadier Holmes) At my level this was certainly a healthy shock, and it is a shock which we have taken advantage of. I think there is no point in coming as close as we were, however close that might have been, if one does not turn the experience to one's advantage. What we have done at the centre is to set up a mobilisation steering group, and that group (which I chair) involves a plethora of one-star personnel from all services. We have a strategic aim of encouraging planners, not in conscience that they need much encouragement, to reflect on the use of reserves at the higher levels of operational requirement, and to emphasise that this is not simply an issue which concerns single services or indeed the Ministry of Defence, so there is obviously a corporate communications issue here. My ability to mobilise reserves is going to be affected by local or national support. It is going to be affected by employer support. We need specifically to liaise with the Lord Chancellor's Department over appeals. We are now far more aware than we were. There are also legislative issues which emerged from the B-minus projected mobilisation which we are looking at. For example, we have revised the guidelines—

  56. What do you mean by "B-minus"? Do you mean the essay mark out of whatever it is?
  (Brigadier Holmes) B-minus, Chairman, was the code of the operation which would have constituted a full scale mobilisation.

  57. I thought it was your academic mark for the whole exercise, which was not really impressive, B-minus, if that is the assessment. I used to get lots of B-minuses.
  (Brigadier Holmes) I think "nice try but could do better". The whole "could do better" process is what has nerved the work of the mobilisation steering group. We have done strategic things, we have done legal things, and we are working on procedural things as well. The steering group not merely remains in being but as a working group is teasing away at many of the issues that emerged.

Mr Hood

  58. I think B-minus was a higher mark than the Select Committee gave in its reports. We talked about relationships with employers. Did you tell employers what was about to happen, and, if you did, how did they react?
  (Brigadier Holmes) No, we did not tell employers what was about to happen because, as I said earlier on, we were not sure at that stage of the proceedings precisely who we were going to take. What we have done, I think prudently (and the NELC Secretariat is part of my directorate) is that through the National Employers Liaison Committee, to which we were talking on a regular basis (and its Chairman, John Bridgeman was very helpful), we were making it quite clear that we were indeed contemplating mobilisation. I happened to be speaking to a regional employer liaison committee close to the time at which we might have mobilised, and there was a broad understanding that we had not definitively closed the loop since we were uncertain as to what the precise people were going to be and what the date was going to be. It highlights the enormous importance of keeping employers on side and we have subsequently been discussing the much vexed issue of whether reservists ought as a requirement to tell their employers that they are reservists and that is something which we could explore if you wish.


  59. Thank you. You have been very helpful. When you went through the process that you had to go through from beginning to end did you work out how quickly and how long it would have been frankly to have been absolutely able to fit in with the regular Army in operations because at that stage we would have been pretty close to winter, so it would be interesting to know? We are getting into dangerous territory but it would be quite useful to know.
  (Brigadier Durcan) I can, I think, reassure you. Everything worked backwards from the last safe moment to do the business on the ground. The calculation backwards of course, when we are dealing with reservists, means that you have got to make decisions very early on, and that of course poses a difficult political dilemma for ministers. Our problem with this was that it was a theoretical exercise and what we desperately need to do is to practise it to make sure that our theoretical computations stand the test. Therefore we are now in a climate where such practices are more readily acceptable than perhaps they might hitherto have been.

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