Select Committee on Public Accounts Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses(Questions 220-239)



220.  I am slightly concerned that we appear to have a certain number of tanks ready to be used in an operational situation yet actually only some of them could ever have side armour on.

  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) No, not "ever". We operate on warning time and the Defence Review in 1998 set out various assumptions which were approved by the Government. One is that if we were to operate on full scale, mobilise everything, there would be sufficient warning time to up-armour, produce more, to equip our force completely. We are not working on short warning time for a full-scale war; in other words we do not judge the Russian threat to be imminent.

221.  It would be useful to have a note of how much of the side armour is ready to go on the tanks if they are needed in an operational situation.

  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) That may be quite difficult, but I shall do my best. This is a very difficult area.

Mr Williams

222.  Difficult in a security sense or in a data collection sense?

  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) This is purely in a security sense. We do not wish to give any information away which could be helpful to an enemy or an adversary at any stage.

223.  Is it the sort of information you would give to our sister Committee, the Defence Committee?

  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) We have not given it to the Defence Committee either.

224.  No, they have not asked for it. If they did, is it the sort of information you would give to them?

  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) I shall look into it and see what we can do.[12] 12

Mr Rendel

225.  I understand that the side armour effect had been discovered on the Challenger 1; so the general was telling us previously. It was not known until after this exercise whether it would have the same effect on Challenger 2 because I understand you then went back and did another test.

  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) We wanted to demonstrate this.

226.  General Reith was saying earlier that a later test was done to make sure that it had the same effect on the Challenger 2. Would it not have been sensible to use this exercise to test that effect on the Challenger 2 rather than waiting until afterwards to see whether it had the same effect?

  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) The armed forces decided not to do that and their rationale was to protect operational capability and because this armour we are talking about is extremely important and we do not want to damage it unnecessarily in anything other than an operational situation. That was why it was decided not to field it.

227.  Not even on one tank, although later you did use it on one tank when you did your later test? You must be prepared to make a test with one tank as you did so later.

  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) We did so later because we were acting on exercise lessons. Back again to a very basic point which I have not mentioned here. We do exercises and training in order to learn lessons, not to be perfect. We learned lessons there which we are now applying; 2,000 lessons throughout the exercise.

Mr Davidson

228.  May I start by picking up some issues relating to the Container Handling Rough Terrain system in paragraph 2.23 and onwards? As I understand it, it is a five-year contract which maintains the vehicles in the United Kingdom and Germany. If it was within the last five years, as it must be, that is since the Gulf War. Why did you sign a contract which did not make any concession to the possibility of these vehicles going outside the UK or Germany?

  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) That was where the contract ended. It is a lesson we have learned and we are now looking at extending the contract to operate elsewhere.

229.  When did the contract end?

  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) That was the contract. The contract is still in place.

230.  When was it signed?

  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) When was it signed originally?

231.  Yes.

  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) I could not tell you.[13]

232.  If it is a five-year contract, it must have been signed since the Gulf War, which was 1992 or so. I just find it surprising that since the Gulf War the MOD was prepared to sign a contract which specified that maintenance of equipment would only apply to the UK and Germany. Can you just clarify that for me?

  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) They are the places where the equipment is based, therefore the contract was organised accordingly. The exercise was a one-off activity. We have now learned from it that this also matters, so we are in the process of looking at extending the contract. It is a lesson we have learned.

233.  Did it not occur to somebody at the time of signing this contract that this equipment might be used outside the UK and Germany, for example in a subsequent Gulf War? Can you understand my concern?

  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) It was always a possibility that might happen, but I suspect the judgement was made at the time for cost-effectiveness reasons that it was not worth building in the extra cost for a global support contract.

234.  That is interesting. Presumably the alternative was to maintain it in-house and there is an issue then about the public sector comparator which was used. Do I take it then that the public sector comparator which was used only specified the UK and Germany?

  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) No, I do not think we did use a public sector comparator for this. It was taken off contract from the people who do these things. It is not unusual for it to be prohibitive to try to develop within the armed forces skills which are very, very specific and relate only to a very small number of equipments. It would have been very expensive. We only have one defence budget.

235.  I understand that, but it was prohibitive to have the contract applying outwith the UK and Germany, so prohibitive that you did not do it.

  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) I agree. We are now looking at extending the contract. It is a lesson we have learned, that this was a problem we experienced during the exercise and we are taking steps to remedy it. It was the lowest availability of any equipment.

236.  Yes, I know that. May I come back to the question of the Omani desert. Earlier on you indicated that the situation was so severe in the south Omani desert that even the Omanis do not exercise there.

  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) Yes, I have learned that subsequent to the exercise.

237.  The point of exercises is to undertake what the social services department used to call "valuable learning experiences", but surely somebody ought to have clarified with the Omanis whether or not they ever trained in this area and discovered that nobody did it. If we discover that this is the only area of this type of desert which you are likely to find in the whole of the Gulf States, there is surely an issue there about whether or not it is an appropriate training environment. My anxiety is that we focused more on what happened in the south Omani desert, perhaps at the expense of the other parts of the exercise which were more typical.

  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) That is true; that is right.

238.  From which more appropriate and significant lessons might have been learned. Can you understand my anxiety?

  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) Yes, I can indeed. The basic answer is that one is also in the hands of the Omanis in these things. One has a bilateral discussion, negotiation, to agree on areas which would be available for us, to agree on various things, which imparts a certain degree of inflexibility and artificiality to the exercise. Some of those parameters may actually be harder than it might be in ordinary operations. Where we had to do our exercising first, in the south Omani desert, was one of those aspects. The other thing was a strain on the communications, where we had to provide the communications for them as well as us. We had to do it for both sides when one would usually only do it for one. I think that is the reason.
  (Lieutenant General Reith) In the negotiations with the Omanis, clearly they were very sensitive of the impact on their environment and their people. The area they offered for that period of training was in that southern region. As it transpired, we found later that they did not exercise on a normal basis in that area themselves, but they did exercise with us on the final phase when we combined with them in the last phase of the exercise in that same area. On a normal basis they did not, so we found afterwards.

239.  That was a valuable learning experience again then.

  (Lieutenant General Reith) Absolutely.

12   12 Note by witness: This is highly sensitive information the disclosure of which would not be in the interest of national security or defence. Back

13   Ev 27. Back

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