Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 240-260)



  240. But it does imply a common NATO standard.
  (Sir Tim Garden) That is what NATO does, sets standards

  241. But a NATO standard that encompass all the things that the US does not want to do.
  (Sir Tim Garden) Up a point.

  242. Why do you say "up to a point"? If it is going to work—
  (Sir Tim Garden) We make a great fuss about the European Union states that are not members of NATO. Those who want play in this—and there are those that want to play in this—and are prepared to provide military capabilities for quite demanding things, the Swedes for example, who will ensure that they can fit in. In the same way NATO European nations who are not members of the EU, and I think of Norway in this, are still interested in being asked when we have a European operation as to whether they can do it, and they have declared the sort of forces they might be able to put in. There are not that many problems. I do not think the Irish are going to be big players in this so I do not get terribly upset about it.

  Mr Howarth: I think we can agree on this.

Mr Roy

  243. On national missile defence we have heard a great deal from the US administration of a determination, especially at the start of the year, to carry on with the programme. What is your thinking of where exactly that administration's thinking is now and do you think it has changed since 11 September?
  (Professor Rogers) There are probably two issues here. One is that the various research programmes leading up to a possible National Missile Defence in place are proving quite slow and difficult, there are increasing technological problems, so the pace of the development of a missile defence system has somewhat slowed down in most areas, not in all. At the level of theatre missile defence the airborne laser seems to be very much on track. There is a slowing of the rate of development of National Missile Defence and that may be further squeezed somewhat by defence budgets being diverted to other areas. The United States is clearly putting very much more money into defence. The announced increase for the new fiscal year, the October onwards fiscal year, is roughly equivalent to Britain's entire defence budget, the extra money the US is putting in, but there may be quite a squeezing on the missile defence side. At the same time the second component is by all accounts the way the administration is thinking is that it is just as committed to missile defence as it was before 11 September. In a rather curious way it has conflated it all into threats from outside, whether they are missile threats or whether they are threats by asymmetric means. The thinking fairly basic and that is 11 September proves that "people are out to threaten us". At that level it is, if anything, giving rather more support for missile defence. The counter-argument that it demonstrates that people do not have to develop billion dollar missile programmes to threaten the United States does not seem to be carrying much weight at present.

  244. Will the new relationship between the United States and Russia after 11 September have a bearing on that?
  (Professor Rogers) It might do. It is worth remembering though that the proposed nuclear cutbacks are not going to be codified into any treaty form and they will not be verifiable and there is scope for maintaining very high levels of reserves. In any case, President Putin is on such a roll at present in terms of his position in the international community that he is perhaps less bothered about opposing a missile defence programme and in the longer term China is probably the more significant country.

  245. Do you think there are any lessons here for the United Kingdom, for example?
  (Professor Rogers) I suppose the only thing is that as missile defence goes ahead in the United States, Britain's involvement will be maintained at a particular level, Menwith Hill and Fylingdales are significant, and there may be just a continuation of the debate about the advisability of missile defence in Britain. I do not see other major implications for Britain. As far as I know there is no serious intent to develop a very large scale missile defence programme for Europe at the present time, on the grounds of cost if nothing else.
  (Sir Tim Garden) If I could just add to that. For once I support Paul on this but it seems to me that they are—


  246. Professor Rogers is getting very worried now, you can see the look of fear in his eyes.
  (Sir Tim Garden) They seem as intent on it even though the logic is now much less, although the logic before was not desperately good. The extra dimension in this is the European antipathy to it will now be much quieter because it will be felt inappropriate to stir up trans-Atlantic tensions over something like that and I think most of us actually believe that in the end it will go like all the rest of them, it will run out of money, they will not be able to get the technology. We will wait and see what Putin's final thinking on the ABM Treaty is but I am not so sure he is prepared to give on that, I think he is playing quite a clever game which keeps on stopping the US from breaching the ABM Treaty because they hope they are going to get some negotiated settlement which is going to be all right. I think we will just have to grin and bear it now and eventually it will peter out as every previous attempt has.

Mr Jones

  247. To follow up that point, obviously there is going to be a lot of pressure on defence budgets in the United States, even though they have been increased, but do you think there will come a time when Congress or public opinion will get to the point—you have already said the thing will not work in practice—where it will mean that they will have to cut back on other budgets to pay for missile defence? Is that when the internal politics and the Pentagon will start saying "is this worth doing"?
  (Sir Tim Garden) That was happening before 11 September. The US Defence Budget, although it is so enormous, was suffering from exactly the same problems as the European Defence Budgets, that is they have got too much in the programme, not enough money and people problems. The pressures against what is a very specialised capability will be internal Pentagon pressures when the opportunity costs become clear, that you are going to have to lose your new aircraft programme or your new ship programme or whatever in order to fund this. However, I think there is such a strong push from the administration and its various members on it that they will have to continue doing progressive testing but it is going to be a bit slower. George Bush certainly could not ever say "I have given up the project", so that is either four or eight years, is it not?
  (Professor Rogers) The pressures do come very much from what you might call the civilian security advisers and the defence industries. There are obviously major factions within the Pentagon that are in favour of it but much larger groups within the Pentagon that are much more dubious and are very concerned about their own departmental budgets.


  248. When we come on to doing our inevitable Lessons of Afghanistan, as we have done lessons of every war we have fought since this Committee was established, can you perhaps elaborate on what you said earlier. At this stage of the game can you see equipment being refocused in the sense of what the Americans have been doing, "well, hell, we want bombs that penetrate enormous bunkers"? Do we need more of something? Would you elaborate slightly? I know our role has been fairly limited. I am very sceptical of whoever wrote the story about the Eurofighter, I am not quite sure where the ground crew are and I am not quite sure what an air superiority aircraft would be doing in Afghanistan where, as far as I can see, there is not much of an air force. That being set aside, what do you both think at this stage might be on the agenda for a different type of equipment, assuming it can be afforded, which I would have some doubts on?
  (Sir Tim Garden) I would not see any major significant equipment need to the United Kingdom that stems from this. We are not planning nationally a capability that will allow us to conduct on our own an operation like this. At the moment it is not within the definition of the Petersberg Tasks, Europe is not doing it, so it is either NATO or the US with an ad hoc coalition and, as we have said, the US have the capability to do this. If we wish to show that we are involved and have got political support we have got some nice little niche capabilities: the bizarre fact that Royal Air Force air-to-air refuelling aircraft can refuel the US Navy's aircraft whereas the US Air Force cannot, it happened that we had a real useful capability; the fact that the Canberra in its fifty-fifth year or thereabouts could provide a photographic reconnaissance capability which really is second to none, we did that in Rwanda as well. These sorts of things. I suppose the one element that we do not go into in any great detail is that we do have a respected set of Special Forces that we can use. By their nature they are small in number in that to be special they have got to have done everything else beforehand and you cannot produce that big a force. I think perhaps the Special Forces had been sitting a bit in the doldrums before because they were not seen as having a full role in the sort of world that we were talking about, although they do in fact have some useful ones. Maybe we need to look at whether they are properly equipped, that is not big money, and whether they are properly resourced in terms of manpower, that could be an area to look at. The other one that I really would look at, and it is not for the war in Afghanistan but September 11, is what are we doing with the Reserves.

  Chairman: We will bring you back on that, I am sure. Maybe we want to bring into our inquiry Lessons of Saif Sareea because there seem to be more lessons learned for us there than over the water.

Mr Hancock

  249. If you were putting an army together would you suggest that the British Army should have a significant element of tanks, for example?
  (Sir Tim Garden) I personally would not.

  Chairman: He is a helicopter man.

Mr Hancock

  250. Realistically on what our role is going to be you have to start making those sorts of decisions, do you not?
  (Sir Tim Garden) We do not have very many as it is. One of the problems with having a small number is you still need the ability to deploy them so it scales what you are doing.

  251. It ties up other resources.
  (Sir Tim Garden) Going back to Paul's thing about sharing in Europe, there are others who do have a lot of tanks so if we happen to find we need them, could we not—

  252. They are there. These are the sorts of decisions that we have to face up to and the Strategic Defence Review refused to do that, did it not?
  (Sir Tim Garden) We attempted to be a small United States, which is what we have done all the time. We have always talked about keeping a broad range of capabilities, although that is not totally true because we have got rid of the diesel submarines so we do not have any diesel submarine capability and we have got rid of the tactical nuclear capability. We have very few space capabilities anywhere in Europe compared to the United States. We have given up some capabilities but by and large the UK has taken the view that it should have a little of everything. That is a problem when you start shrinking in terms of your budget, that you want to keep a little of everything, because your overheads to support the little capability rise as a proportion of the costs.

  253. It comes back to your point, does it not, about Special Forces? If you have something that you are really good at and they are not properly resourced either in manpower or equipment then that is an area that we ought to be putting pressure on to see some changes.
  (Sir Tim Garden) You may be very good at something and it may no longer be necessary, that is one of the problems. You have got to start from what it is that you are forecasting you are going to need to be doing. We can be terribly good at something which no longer has any relevance. Getting the prediction of the future that you are trying to operate in is important.

  254. Is it good policy to build an aircraft carrier which needs two-thirds of its aircraft to defend it?
  (Sir Tim Garden) I could not possibly comment. I have been accused of being an airman over tanks.

  Mr Hancock: Or do you have a bigger aircraft carrier that has a more offensive capability?

  Rachel Squire: I am just reminding you of the British tradition of shipbuilding and the jobs that are associated with it.

  Mr Hancock: I want to see a bigger one, not smaller ones.

Jim Knight

  255. Ignore the fact that the tanks are in my constituency.
  (Sir Tim Garden) This is the bit that horrifies me, Chairman, if I may just make a point from a military perspective. We are talking about real threats, we are talking about putting people into combat, and there is nothing worse than hearing a discussion by politicians on the effect on jobs in their constituency because what we do is we end up buying inferior equipment, over-priced—not always as capable as it might be—there is a pressure to do that and from a military perspective if you want fighting forces that can do the job you should buy the best equipment to do it at the best price and that does not necessarily always mean that it is built in a shipyard or a factory in the United Kingdom, I am afraid.


  256. We must take your admonition in the spirit in which it was given. We promise we will not fight for our constituency interests if you promise, as a former flier, not to appear on television pontificating about a country that you have never flown over. I think we should have regard for each other's weaknesses.
  (Professor Rogers) Thank you very much, Chairman. In response to your particular point about the implications for forces, I would agree with Tim, I do not think there are huge implications from 11 September, the implications lie much more with the need for far greater thinking about the extent to which this is a grim symptom of future problems. This is where I think there is a much greater need for joined up thinking across Government departments and although there has been some progress it is still lacking.

  257. Before I ask Syd, who has been amazingly patient, I doubt whether you would, Professor Rogers, more likely in the case of Tim Garden, but if you were in defence manufacturing would you be looking pretty sick at the moment or would you be thinking "ah, opportunities"?
  (Professor Rogers) If I were a defence manufacturer I would look to diversify into wind and wave power as quickly as I could.

  258. That would solve the problem.
  (Sir Tim Garden) I think that is right. The signs are that the continuing decline in defence spending and that less of it will go on equipment anyway are there and unless there is a radical reappraisal, which I would argue for, then it will continue to be a pretty sorry story.

Syd Rapson

  259. One of the major interests the Americans have is surveillance. There is satellite surveillance and unmanned aircraft surveillance, which we are pretty weak on, certainly in Europe. If we look to Europe we would have to expand that role if we wanted to be able to operate independently without the Americans, and we cannot match them. You talked earlier about European countries to work within a defined budget would have to specialise on different things they are good at and what worries me is if a particular country in Europe says "Okay, we will do the surveillance part" or "we will do the heavy lift part" or "we will do something else" and they specialise, if they do not all agree to join in the club on a mission, the one which rules the specialisation, the whole thing cannot work. It is a rather big question and it is worrying me that the role we are taking in Europe and the way we are going, especially with defence budgets constrained and the specialisation, it is never going to work.
  (Sir Tim Garden) That is why I am not desperately enthusiastic about specialisation, I am much more enthusiastic about pooling and supra-national capabilities like NATO AWACS. Surveillance is an absolute example of why Europe should fund together to provide a capability that European nations can then draw upon. The ones who are not involved will not be involved for that particular operation but the capability will have been funded. It is so expensive it has got to be done that way.

  260. I am talking about a European facility as opposed to a British facility loaned to Europe.
  (Sir Tim Garden) Yes, but Britain could call upon it.

  Chairman: Thank you, gentlemen. I would not remotely say that talking about death and destruction could be enjoyable but it was very, very interesting and we are all grateful for your attendance and the helpfulness of your comments, thank you.

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