Select Committee on Defence Sixth Report

Effects on Air Crew

  1. In discussing these issues in terms of theoretical scenarios, we should not lose sight of what it is that we would be asking RAF pilots to do. They are trained to intercept and shoot down enemy military aircraft. They—or their colleagues—are also trained to attack targets on the ground and to do so in the knowledge that, however carefully chosen those targets are, collateral civilian casualties cannot be ruled out. But those are both very different things from asking them to shoot down a hijacked civilian passenger aeroplane very probably on a flight to or from the UK itself. We asked what support MoD and the RAF were providing to the air crew who might be faced with such a task. The answer which we received suggested that training had concentrated on the mechanics of the operation.[72] No mention was made of any provision for care or counselling after the event. This year is the twentieth anniversary of the Falklands War. We have had ample recent experience of the damaging psychological effects which combat can have on participants. Being ordered to shoot down an aeroplane which is full of civilian passengers and within visual range is, in our view, likely to be an extremely traumatic experience. We firmly hope that it will never happen, but it may. We recommend that the MoD and the RAF provide specific additional psychological advice and training for interceptor aircrew of the QRA aircraft which may be called upon to respond to a rogue civilian aircraft incident.

  3. The UK's air defence system was designed to be part of NATO's air defence against the Cold War threat of a Soviet air attack. The attacks of 11 September, however, have demonstrated a continuing need for an integrated air defence system. There are questions over how successfully NATINADS can be adjusted to tackle the threat from rogue civilian aircraft.
  4. We were impressed by the arrangements which were made, at short notice and within the existing constraints, to provide the UK with an air defence capability against rogue civilian aircraft. That capability, however, is less effective than it could be because NATINADS is still structured to provide defence against attack by military aircraft from the Soviet Union.
  5. That threat no longer exists. It was discounted in the SDR in 1998. NATINADs now, in practice, polices and monitors rather than defends NATO airspace. It is important that we retain integrated air surveillance of NATO's airspace. Indeed there would be benefit in extending such surveillance beyond NATO's boundaries, where possible. NATO also needs to preserve an air defence capability, but that capability should be orientated to respond to existing, not historic, threats. We recommend that the Government initiate within NATO an examination of how NATO's integrated air defence system should be restructured to provide the optimal air defence capability against new and emerging threats including those from 'rogue' civilian aircraft.
  6. Defence of UK waters

    MV Nisha incident

  7. The UK's defences against a potential terrorist attack from the sea were given an extensive and public run out in the MV Nisha incident at the end of 2001. The MV Nisha was a cargo ship carrying 26,000 tonnes of raw sugar to the Tate and Lyle sugar refinery in Silvertown, east London. It picked up the sugar in Mauritius, but also called at Djibouti. It was suspected, on the basis of intelligence, of carrying terrorist material. In the event that suspicion proved unfounded and after a five-day search it was allowed to complete its journey. The episode was described to us as 'a successful run-out of the counter-terrorism machinery'.[73] That machinery involved a number of agencies and, as the Director of Naval Operations told us, was led by the Home Office—
  8. Essentially terrorism is a criminal offence and ... because it is a criminal offence, that takes the lead for that in the UK to the Home Office and ... other government departments. In terms of looking at the monitoring of merchant shipping or the searching of containers and security in ports then that is not a Royal Navy task drawn down from a Ministry of Defence remit ... We are not dealing with a wartime threat to the United Kingdom and home waters.[74]

    Similarly, no military naval patrol is maintained specifically for counter-terrorism deterrence,[75] although a frigate or destroyer on any patrol, exercise or operation may be expected to have the capabilities needed to undertake counter-terrorist duties: the 'inherent flexibility of warships enables them to deploy, at short notice, the requisite capabilities in support of maritime interdiction.'[76]

  9.  In the case of the MV Nisha incident, the COBR mechanisms were employed.[77] The Cabinet Office Briefing Room (COBR) is the national crisis centre from which the central Government response to all types of major crisis is co-ordinated. The Home Secretary would take the chair in response to a terrorist incident in Great Britain. Ministers and senior officials from other government departments with a significant interest would also be present.[78] It provides strategic command and control for a response to a terrorist incident.[79] The Royal Navy's involvement was to shadow the MV Nisha in the period before she was boarded and then to escort her to where she was held and searched. And, as we discuss below, the Ministry of Defence Police were also involved in the operation.
  10. The information which led to action being taken against the MV Nisha came from intelligence sources. As it turned out that information was incorrect. In general seaborne terrorist attacks will only be identified in advance through intelligence. We were told that work was going on to improve the use of intelligence in the maritime aspects of counter terrorism.[80] We discuss the use of intelligence below (paragraph 82), but, however valuable intelligence can be, experience shows that we cannot expect it to identify every threat or that every threat it does identify will be real.
  11. Key Point Defence

  12. The MoD has long maintained a list of 'key points'. These are sites where security is essential to the 'ability of the country and the armed forces to conduct military operations.'[81] The MoD's responsibility for the protection of those sites is, as we have seen, pretty much all that is left of the armed forces military home defence role. It is engaged under the defence mission relating to regional conflict within the NATO area. Brigadier Houghton, describing the relevant mission as to do with aggression against NATO's flanks, explained that it was the appropriate mission because it—
  13. ... gives a threat level at which certain of the action relating to military home defence will start to be implemented. It does not have to mean that it is an aggression against NATO's flank. We last looked at implementing some of the measures of military home defence during the Gulf War ... key point defence relates to military home defence as a result of a build-up of tensional crisis in the world by which the domestic front could be threatened by some form of what we would view as conventional forms of attack.[82]

  14. There are currently around 160 MoD key points. They include such sites as 'the BT Tower, the Foreign Office, 10 Downing Street.'[83] There is also a separate list of economic key points whose protection is the responsibility of the Security Service, as part of the protection of the critical national infrastructure.[84] There are existing arrangements under which the Armed Forces can assist the police to protect key sites in the UK from terrorist attack; but no such assistance was requested in the wake of 11 September.[85]
  15. Brigadier Houghton told us that the policy relating to key points would be considered as part of the work of the SDR new chapter.[86] We discuss below the MoD's responsibility for the protection of military sites. We have reservations, however, about extending the role of the Armed Forces to include the protection of civil sites. On the other hand we must not put at risk the security of sites which are critical to the continuing functioning of UK government and armed forces. We look forward to the Government's consideration of this issue in the SDR new chapter.
  16. Military Sites

  17. The MoD began a major review of its own security organisation in 1999. The conclusions of that review were implemented from 1 April 2001.[87] The MoD told us—
  18. The aim of the review was to create a structure that would better reflect risk management principles and the requirements of corporate governance, aligning responsibility for the implementation of security more closely with ownership of the risk and budgetary resources. The new structure is more suited to a joint approach to defence issues, as required by joint expeditionary operations, the demands of the information age, and the formation of the Defence Procurement Agency and the Defence Logistics Organisation.[88]

  19. Security at MoD sites has historically been at high levels, not least because of the threat from Irish terrorism. Armed guarding has been the normal practice at military establishments for over a decade, initially against the threat proved by the provisional IRA and most recently against Irish republican dissidents.[89] It is carried out by service personnel and Ministry of Defence Police (MDP) officers. Following 11 September further measures were taken.[90] Particular additional threats were identified in respect of US military establishments. Between 11 September and the end of January 2002, an extra 1 million was spent by the MDP on the increased alert status and protection of American assets.[91] We welcome the prompt action of the MoD to increase the level of protection to our Armed Forces and those of the United States stationed in the UK.


72   Q 522 Back

73   Q 539 Back

74   Q 537 Back

75   Ev 34 Back

76   ibid Back

77   Q 539 Back

78   Ev 259 Back

79   Ev 28 Back

80   Q 534 Back

81   Q 321 Back

82   Q 321 Back

83   ibid Back

84   QQ 325, 328 Back

85   Ev 33 Back

86   Q 329 Back

87   Q 134 Back

88   Ev 30 Back

89   Ev 31 Back

90   Ev 32-3 Back

91   Q 247 Back

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2002
Prepared 24 July 2002