Select Committee on Public Accounts Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses(Questions 260-279)



260.  How long were they there beforehand?

  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) They were there for about three or four months at a guess.

261.  Am I right in thinking that we have British forces on a small scale, advisers and so on, in Oman pretty much all the time?

  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) Yes.

262.  There is a very helpful map here at the front of the report. With the very helpful scale you have supplied I worked out that Oman is some 250 kilometres deep at its narrowest up to about 450 kilometres and about 900 kilometres long. It is not a particularly large country. I would have thought that if you have people there all the time and in the buildup these several thousand people . . . I think I am right in saying, am I not, that we have historically supplied senior officers to the Royal Omani forces, that people sometimes leave the British Army and go into the Royal Omani Army? That has been a long-standing thing, has it not?

  (Lieutenant General Reith) It has changed over the years. We do have people there on loan with them, but there are no people on contract—

263.  What I am trying to say is that there has been a long-standing relationship.

  (Lieutenant General Reith) Yes.

264.  What I find staggering about what you said a minute ago in answer to an earlier question is that you found out subsequently that they do not normally exercise in the south of Oman. How could you have all this relationship over such a long period of time, advisers there all the time, thousands of people there months before this exercise started and nobody said, "Oh, chaps, where do you normally exercise?".

  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) But you see—

265.  I am sorry, I was asking the general.

  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) But I was just going to answer. I am not implying—

266.  Sir Kevin, would you mind if the general answers my question.

  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) Okay, but that decision was not necessarily for the general.

267.  What am I missing?

  (Lieutenant General Reith) What you are missing is the fact that the people who work with the Omani Army do not work for us. They go there for a period and for that whole time they are working under the Omani Army.

268.  Are you telling me they do not come back to the Cavalry and Guards Club, have a gin and tonic and say "Oh, we were exercising in the south"?

  (Lieutenant General Reith) They are on loan to the Omanis, they wear Omani uniform and they are part of the Omani Army.

269.  I find it literally incredible that you could not have known until after this thing had got going that the Omanis do not normally exercise in this area. Is it not just something you find out in the course of your travels?

  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) That is not necessarily a reason for not exercising in that area.

270.  I did not say it was, but the fact that you did not know had an impact on the kind of sand and that had an impact on the success of the project.

  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) You are still misunderstanding what constitutes success or failure of the project.

271.  Let me just read you something which Lieutenant Colonel Millen of the Royal Dragoon Guards said. He is talking about `just-in-time' delivery of parts like air filters. He said that that kind of delivery does not work if you are talking about strategic level deployment. He is contracted to provide combat power and was not able to do so because in spite of the best efforts of the logisticians of all ranks on the ground the logistic flow did not get to him. He had massive frustrations. He goes on to talk about the problems and concludes that the problem was the air filters and in particular, even when the air filters were available, getting them to the right place. They wondered why the Omanis did not have these problems and they concluded that the problem was that the Omanis, as well as having slightly modified tanks, had a different kind of skirt, the skirt which is referred to here, which would cost you only £460,000 to get right.

  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) We have discussed skirts already and applique« armour. Had we been in an operation, we would have had that arrangement. It is also the case that the British Army does not just operate in Oman or the Middle East. It also operates in Europe, in the Balkans where we have extensive forces and therefore we have to cater for a range of possibilities rather than just one. We had not judged that it was necessary to `desertise' a proportion or indeed all of our force. As I said before, that proved to be a judgement we need to review and we are reviewing it.

272.  Indeed you should have done.

  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) I do come back to success criteria. The NAO report tells you that by the standards we set for our exercise it was a success. We met all of the objectives. One of those objectives was to put our equipment and our people through very arduous training conditions and see whether they could actually fight in those conditions. The answer was yes, they did.

273.  Lieutenant Colonel Millen says he could not.

  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) Well then he disagrees with the Chiefs of Staff.

Mr Rendel

274.  I have occasionally driven across deserts, indeed I did so only about two weeks ago. I always find in desert conditions that on the whole an air conditioner is probably more useful than a heater. It appears that some of the vehicles which were used in this exercise actually had to turn on their cab heaters in order to keep the engines cool. Can you assure us that if we are to go to war in any Middle East state, hypothetically during the next year, we would not be using any vehicles in which they had to turn on the cab heaters whilst crossing a desert in order to make sure the engines were kept sufficiently cool?

  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) No, I cannot give you that assurance. I can talk about the equipment. The Land Rovers, the new equipment we have, work absolutely superbly and you have seen in the report 95 per cent availability of Land Rovers. They are absolutely brilliant. The new equipment we are bringing into service performed extremely well indeed. The problems we had were these so-called B vehicles, which are 25 years' old, which we have given a life-extension programme to, which are due to be replaced in 2004-05, which will not all be replaced in that time. Meanwhile we shall have to use them. For old vehicles they perform very well.

275.  So for the next three or four years at least we may have to have vehicles being used in deserts where you have to turn on the cab heater.

  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) I think that is anecdotal. It may or may not be true. I do not think that was the general experience, but it is an interesting observation.

276.  When the armed forces procure equipment, what efforts do you make to purchase equipment which is usable anywhere in the world in its own right, flexible enough to be used in all environments? Or, if you cannot do that, and I can understand how different environments may require different specifications, what efforts do you make to make sure that the equipment you buy can be modified quickly and easily in order to make it usable in conditions which are not those for which it is primarily designed.

  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) Since 1998, since the Defence Review, we now look at much wider projection of our armed forces than before and the new contracts for equipment which we are now issuing, the new plans we are working on, specify a much wider range of environmental tolerances. The issues you are essentially talking about are legacy equipment which we already have, which was produced for the north German plain, Cold War period, where we have to modify. Modifications are available and are quite straightforward to do and are not onerous if you are fighting a war.

277.  Anything which you are procuring new now will either be usable in all environments or will be easy to modify.

  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) That is right. That is absolutely correct. Even the legacy stuff is not that difficult to modify, it is just that it costs money and we have to make judgements.

278.  The final question which I cannot resist asking you. Is Gerri Halliwell your favourite entertainer?

  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) Me personally?

279.  Yes.

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