Select Committee on Public Accounts Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses(Questions 280-297)



  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) I have to say no.

280.  If not, how was she chosen? Who does the choosing and do the troops have any say in the matter?

  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) I do not speak for the troops. It may be that they have a different view. I do not know.

281.  Do they have a say in the matter?

  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) I do not think they chose Geri Halliwell. I suspect this was something dreamed up, perhaps by you, General?

282.  Did you choose her, General?

  (Lieutenant General Reith) I had never seen her before, but I did see Geri Halliwell.

283.  Is that why you chose her, because you had not seen her before?

  (Lieutenant General Reith) No, I did not choose her. The Services Sound and Vision Corporation (SSVC) sponsor these shows on our behalf and they choose. In fact there was Geri, but also Steps, who were the top number one group within the UK at the time. I can tell you that every soldier loved the show.

284.  They do not actually have a say in who comes. It is chosen for them.

  (Lieutenant General Reith) It is a matter of who one can get through the entertainment industry and SSVC are much better at getting that sort of thing than we are.

  Mr Williams: They do have a say in whether they attend or not.

Mr Osborne

285.  In questioning from Angela Eagle you accepted that not everything was tested in this exercise. I just want to pick up on a couple of things which were not tested. The first was the Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Defence Regiment which it says in this report you decided not to deploy because of regional sensitivities, which I of course accept. Obviously that is quite a crucial consideration, particularly at the moment. How are you trying to integrate their work into the general deployment of the Rapid Reaction Force?

  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) We do test that in other exercises and have done so. In fact we tested it very fully in Exercise Bright Star in 2001 and on other occasions. In other words, this is not the only exercise we do. We are satisfied that it works well, indeed it leads other countries. We have a better NBC capability than any other country we know and we are planning to increase that capability.

286.  That is good to know. The second thing I think is probably more integral. You are probably able to bolt on the NBC thing but I do not know. You did not really operate with close air support in this exercise. Is close air support not absolutely integral to modern war fighting?

  (Lieutenant General Reith) We did. Because of the real world situation some of the Tornadoes had to be moved to a real world task, but we still had the GR7s, the Harriers, operating during the period of the exercise in Oman for the exercise.
  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) I did see close air support happening when I was out there.

287.  I am quoting from paragraph 1.31 which says, ". . . the impact of arising concurrent operations on air and maritime forces meant that planned elements of their involvement in the Exercise, such as anti-submarine warfare and close air support, had to be abandoned. The participation of Special Forces . . . was also restricted". It just strikes me that of all these things, submarines, use of Special Forces, air support are the sort of bread and butter of military operations. If you say there were exercises involving air support—

  (Lieutenant General Reith) One type of aircraft was moved because it was needed for specific tasking.
  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) It was not fully exercised, but I think we are pretty satisfied about our close air support operations in Afghanistan. We have tested close air support quite a lot in an operational context.

288.  Obviously one can envisage that a lot of that air support in operations is provided by the United States of America. There were unfortunate incidents in the Gulf War. We could debate whether those were avoidable or not. Are you now pretty satisfied that our troops can work in close air support with the United States?

  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) Yes, I think so. It is outside this exercise scenario, which is why I am thinking quite carefully. We do have very detailed arrangements now with the Americans for ensuring with tactics, techniques and procedures that we deconflict from those sorts of problems. They are never completely removed, they cannot be, from the battlefield, but we have done a lot of work with them to minimise the risks to our own forces.

289.  The general was in charge of deploying this Rapid Reaction Force.

  (Lieutenant General Reith) We had tactical air control parties which go with any of the formations we deploy, who are our link to the air. They exercise regularly with all allies within NATO so that we can actually control the air. We work with the Americans in particular on a regular basis.

Jon Trickett

290.  I just want to move on to something entirely different. I shall try not to be conflictual on this occasion. I want to try to understand the business of command and control. I notice that paragraph 2.3 states, ". . . the Exercise demonstrated that a medium-scale operation of this nature could be managed successfully". In paragraph 1.27 I note that the command and control structure was an ad hoc arrangement because the standing Joint Force Headquarters had been moved to Florida as a result of the operation in Afghanistan. This leads me to two questions. The capacity of your command and control structure to deal with simultaneous operations in two separate theatres of war, particularly where one operation might be of a larger scale than the one we are dealing with here. I am conscious that I am asking these questions in open session, so I might be treading on dangerous ground. I do not know. It does seem to suggest that we would be well stretched, perhaps over-stretched if a conflagration re-emerged in Afghanistan or Kosovo or somewhere whilst we were dealing with the larger scale operation. What are the implications for command and control?

  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) I shall ask the General to answer in detail but this is one of the very positive lessons from the exercise. After the Strategic Defence Review, we set up these arrangements to provide flexible ways of doing command and control, so we do not just have one form of headquarters that we can put into the field, we have several permutations of headquarters which can be fielded simultaneously if necessary. We demonstrated that when we went off to Afghanistan for real, concurrent with the exercise Saif Sareea II. One of the best lessons we received and a positive one was that we do have a very flexible concept in our Joint Rapid Reaction Force, which enables different formations to provide operational headquarters, depending on the size and scale of the task, concurrently. That was the plan and I think that works. The General can tell me whether it does or not.
  (Lieutenant General Reith) We work different styles of headquarters. We can work with the Joint Force Headquarters on its own, that is a fully worked up and trained headquarters, or we can use it to reinforce another headquarters and so forth. On this particular exercise—remember that the real world situation developed as we were going into the exercise—I made a judgement that I needed the Joint Force Headquarters elsewhere. We stood up 1 Mec Brigade headquarters, who went out and did the task that the Joint Force Headquarters was meant to do. They had been trained by my people and I kept back some elements of the Joint Force Headquarters to give them added depth and because it was slightly larger than their normal headquarters requirement in Oman. They went in and reinforced them. That actually went in and worked very well. In terms of the operational strategic level communications, of course the difference here from a normal operation was that not only were we running the communications to both sides of the forces, two lots of forces who were opposing each other, but we had to put in the whole control structure as well, with all the umpires and everything else. I was effectively using three lots of communications, where I would only normally be using one. It worked. It was stretched at times, but it did work.

291.  We have talked about the problem of communications elsewhere during this session. I am more interested in command and control rather than communications. I did refer to this question of medium scale rather than large scale. Can you give us an assurance that if a real operation rather than an exercise were to take place and perhaps there were two theatres of war in different parts of the globe—and it is not difficult to conceive, that could easily happen—what then happens to command and control structures?

  (Lieutenant General Reith) At the time of Saif Sareea last year I was running eight different operations around the world and communicating and commanding and controlling. At the moment I am actually much less than that.

  Jon Trickett: So paragraph 1.27 which raises my eyebrows, should not raise my eyebrows really. I think I have made my point.

Mr Williams

292.  A section we have not looked at at all, paragraph 2.10. We know how important morale is for troops and this deals with welfare and provisions and the new operational welfare package which was tested for the first occasion on this exercise. I understand that it met expectations as far as the static troops were concerned, for understandable reasons, but there was less enthusiasm amongst those who were mobile, tank crews and so on and that you have been reviewing the guidance. Are you in a position to give us any information on that review or would you like to put up-to-date information in as a written note to us? Perhaps that would be better.

  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) We should be very happy to.[15] We regard it as a successful trial. Any weaknesses there were more about making sure that the people who were deployed got the same package rather than that there was a different package which should be brought forward. It is really a question of making sure that those who are in the remoter areas get delivery of the provisions in our existing operational welfare package rather than changing the package.

293.  But you are issuing guidance addressed to that.

  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) Indeed.
  (Lieutenant General Reith) My headquarters have been working on this. We are recommending different scalings for the mobile troops so that when they do stop, we are able to get Internet connections as well as telephones in to them very quickly and then have different scaling so that they can spend more time on the telephone, that is using up the periods when they would have been travelling. They will get the same allowances.

294.  Thank you very much, that is helpful. Earlier in the year we did a hearing on combat identification, friendly fire. We remember the sad incidents in Desert Storm and there have been one or two in Afghanistan. In this report we were told that 10 to15 per cent of casualties traditionally are from friendly fire;[16] in an attack situation that can rise to 22 per cent. Have we made any advances? I remember in the Kuwait war that we lost some armoured vehicles which had white crosses on the back. In the context you are talking about a tank going along throwing up a lot of dust and an aircraft coming in at high speed with rockets, are we any further ahead than we were when we had the evidence earlier this year?

  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) I do not think the General was at the previous hearing, so he is not fully aware. I think this was historic data and at the time we questioned whether that would be the case in real conflict. It was the result of this rather strange recent event. Unusually, in the Gulf War there were very, very few casualties of any kind and therefore it made the figures seem much more serious because nine of the 16 or 18 people who were killed were the result tragically of friendly fire. We do not have data of large-scale warfare activity to be able to validate 15 per cent or 22 per cent, so those figures seem—

295.  This contained a lot of American evidence, if you remember.

  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) They are not figures that we would recognise or anticipate. In that hearing we had showed a degree of difference between us, where we were arguing on our side that the vital thing in combat was to minimise the casualties from whatever cause and to ensure that we used manoeuvre concepts to reduce the risk that our people would suffer losses, whether it was from the enemy or from friendly fire. Above all, the thing was to keep the number of casualties down and that still is the thrust of our work.

296.  I seem to remember that at that hearing we were way behind the Americans who were employing much more in terms of electronic devices to protect their armoured vehicles and other vehicles from friendly air attack. I assume we have not got much further on that.

  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) We did talk about the importance of situational awareness rather than simply Target Identification systems. We are fielding SIFF, which is an identification of friend and foe system, throughout our forces.[17] It will not provide us with total situational awareness. I do not have the details here because I was not prepared for this particular hearing, but you are right that the Americans do have more situational awareness than we have. That is where we are going, that is where we are planning to go in the future. Meanwhile we do use tactics, techniques and procedures to minimise the risk of friendly fire incidents. There is also work going on in NATO for common standards and working with allies is always tricky. We have made particular effort to work very closely with the Americans in `deconfliction'.

  (Lieutenant General Reith) Mr Trickett mentioned command and control. Control is one part of this and by putting in very simple measures like fire support co-ordinating lines, whereby nobody is meant to engage from the air one side of a line or another, you can put controls in. We were applying those during the Gulf War and there is no doubt that there was an error by a pilot where he engaged well inside the fire control line, our side of it, which he should not have done. He was tired, it was his third mission and he saw an opportunity through a cloud and he thought it was enemy. It was an individual's misjudgement rather than anything else. By and large the control lines do protect our ground forces.

  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) Those are the training and procedures I was referring to.

297.  Very last question of the session. You made considerable comment about the new combat outfit in polyester. Earlier this year I seem to remember advice from airlines to passengers was not to wear synthetics but to wear natural fibres because they found that in the case of aircraft fires many people suffered injury from synthetics melting on their bodies and causing extensive skin burns, whereas they might have escaped those with natural fibres. I suppose it is a trade-off as to advantage and benefits.

  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) It is true that now we have the polyester-rich combat fatigues, which were chosen because they were tougher and harder wearing, they do not breathe as well as the cotton-rich combat fatigues used previously. We are always trying to get this right. It is that difference which is leading us to evaluate the temperatures at which people should operate in. Maybe we should cap the polyester-rich version at 39C and issue desert combats which have better breathing capability for conditions above that. We are certainly on the case. I had not thought of the fire hazard issue. I do not know whether it changes our judgement, but we are happy to build that into the assessment. 18

  Mr Williams: May I thank the three of you? It has been a really interesting hearing. We may have clashed, but that is because we genuinely want to get the answers and I am sure you genuinely want to provide them. We look forward to the written replies you have promised and we look forward to the next time we see you. If your two colleagues are lucky, they will not have to accompany you.

18 Ev 27.

15   Note by witness: Proposals to address the need to better deliver the Operational Welfare Package to mobile land forces should be finalised in the next few weeks. These will then be the subject of further staffing within the Department. The proposals will aim at improving the delivery, including speed of delivery, of welfare services (including access to communication) to mobile land forces. Back

16   Note by witness: Actually, the total number of casualties killed during the Gulf Conflict was 15, of which nine resulted from friendly fire. Back

17   Note by witness: This system is designed for air to air, ground to air and maritime environments. Back

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