Select Committee on Public Accounts Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses(Questions 20-39)



20.  I am not surprised you do not.

  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) I do not want to try to make that sort of excuse because the fact is that they did clog up very rapidly in those conditions. It was always open to us to make the modifications that the Omanis had on their tanks. We could have done so at the outset. It is not difficult to do it, it was just a cost-effectiveness judgement for an exercise. We are still satisfied that we exercised the tanks thoroughly and got all the training value we required for the JRRF out of the exercise as far as the tanks were concerned.

21.  Are you saying that had it been a rapid reaction real situation the tanks would have been ready, or would not have been ready? I assume they would not.

  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) Had it been a real operation, they would have deployed with side armour enhanced. I do not want to go into too much detail.

22.  How long would that have taken?

  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) That would have been automatic. We hold the stocks, but we decided not to put them into the exercise in that form because we could have faced a real-life operation concurrent with the exercise and would then have needed them, so we judged. As I said at the beginning, one of the fundamental issues here to understand is that we have to balance what we did in an exercise with what we do in operations and cost-effectiveness throughout. Throughout the exercise those judgements had to be made. If this had been going to war, we would have gone with whatever it took to win. Since it was an exercise, we balanced it against other operations and cost.

23.  Have you managed to sell many Challenger tanks since this report appeared?

  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) No, I do not think we have sold any more Challenger 2s to the Omanis.

24.  It was not a bad advertising programme you could have had, was it?

  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) It is a very fine tank.

25.  I am sure it is. It just does not work in the desert, not if it gets into the wrong bit of desert.

  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) I am clearly not succeeding in getting the facts across to you. May I ask the general to do so?
  (Lieutenant General Reith) May I start by saying that I was chief of staff of the British division during the Gulf War and I do know the difference between different types of sands because we had the same problem then.

26.  You should have told him.

  (Lieutenant General Reith) No, no. The point is that during the Gulf War we had Challenger 1 and this is Challenger 2 and it is a completely different tank. As a tank it is outstanding. It has probably the best turret system of any tank and in terms of accuracy of fire is far better than any others around.

27.  That is great, but if it cannot move it is no good, is it? If it is stuck there in the middle of the sand it is not much use.

  (Lieutenant General Reith) It was not stuck there, in fact we completed something like 70 per cent of the training with all the squadrons. I made the judgement then, because we had found that the air filters were not making the specification—four hours instead of 14 hours and therefore obviously more than three times the number being used up—that rather than have an embarrassment when we were doing demonstrations with the Omanis at the end of the exercise, because part of the value of this exercise was for defence diplomacy purposes and we had all the ministers and chiefs of defence of the Gulf Co-operation Council attending the demonstrations at the end, I made sure that every single one of our tanks which were on the demonstrations completed the demonstrations with no problem whatsoever. It was a judgement call and the fact was that the only reason we were not able to use the Challengers throughout the whole period of the exercise was because we ended up with a much greater demand on spares than we had originally planned for. When it comes down to dust mitigation, I should say that I was the sponsor of the trial for up-armouring Challenger 1 and what we find is that when you put appliqué armour onto the sides of the tank, it actually has a suction effect which drives the dust out from behind the tank rather than allowing the dust to swirl over the engine.

28.  Yes, it says that in the report. I understand that.

  (Lieutenant General Reith) Since Saif Sareea II we have further trialed Challenger 2 in Canada with the applique« armour on to check that is still correct for Challenger 2. We have had a valuable lesson, we have rechecked it and we are satisfied that the ingestion is reduced remarkably.

29.  Canada is an appropriate place to test it.

  (Lieutenant General Reith) It is a dust test.

30.  It has the same dust as Oman, does it?

  (Lieutenant General Reith) It varies in the same way that Oman does.

31.  You got into the same sort of trouble with the self-propelled gun, the AS90. There was a flaw in the use of the self-propelled gun. I think each gun cost about £1million.

  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) Yes.

32.  One million pounds each and all because the department says that the heat shield placed in front of the plastic air intake filter could not prevent total meltdown, which caused two guns to be withdrawn. "This was not a design fault because the original design stipulated thermally-stable plastic tubes". Where did they go? Did someone steal them?

  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) This is simply a question of the heat of the Omani desert. This was a heat problem.

33.  But they were stipulated to be thermally-stable tubes. Where were they? It says this in the report you have signed up to, "This was not a design fault because the original design stipulated thermally-stable plastic tubes". Did the department take that out of the specification when the order was placed?

  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) I cannot answer that question.[1]

34.  Someone must be able to. It is quite important. You have signed up to it. You know it cost £1 million in each case. Why was it not there if it was in the original design specification? Is there anyone in the Ministry of Defence to volunteer? Put up your hand if you know the answer.

  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) The design specification for the AS90 was not for 44°C in the desert. The design specification for the AS90 was for temperate climates. This was a Cold War legacy system designed for the European battlefield.

35.  No, no, with respect, listen again.

  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) I am listening.

36.  That is irrelevant. This exercise exposed a flaw. This was not a design fault because the original design stipulated thermally-stable plastic tubes.

  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) Yes.

37.  Where were they?

  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) And it goes on to say that that was not incorporated because when the AS90 was procured it was for temperate conditions and therefore, I assume, it was not converted into the production.

38.  But we are talking now of a Rapid Reaction Force.

  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) Yes, indeed we are.

39.  It may not go into temperate areas.

  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) We are having to convert systems which were designed for the north European plain to operate in different conditions. You are quite right that the heat shield on the AS90 gun was not sufficient to withstand the temperatures we encountered in the desert, which is why we are now considering—and this is a different case from the Challenger tank, the Challenger tank is not such an old system—modifications which will strengthen the resistance to extreme heat and temperature. Again, this was an exercise experience and as a result of that we are now changing the specification on the AS90 to cope.

1   Ev 26. 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 9 December 2002