Select Committee on Public Accounts Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 120-134)



  120. What I am asking is whether that information which is going forward and your concern which you have shown us affects what you are doing operationally now on the ground or not? It sounds as though you have not factored it in at all.
  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) May I make a further point? Depleted uranium has been shown to be the most effective way of attacking tanks and getting through armour, which is my point about a military effect on the battlefield. I do not myself feel that depleted uranium is particularly central to this issue of combat ID.

  121. Do you think that the increased probability of friendly fire deaths from having different nations working together with different services at the same time in complex scenarios is a good reason to avoid entangling different armies and the like because of the cost of friendly fire?
  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) No, I do not. It has made some of the work more complicated and more complex than would otherwise be the case, but coalition operations are a reality now and indeed we are learning to work together and better together. That is one of the reasons it has taken some time to get our battlefield target identification agreement established, which we finally got in June 2000, because it did require us to get six different countries together on what the standard should be.

  122. In terms of the United States and us, do you feel their propensity to want to provide the bombing cover and not the military personnel on the ground in various scenarios illustrates that they put more value than we do on combat ID and loss of our own people?
  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) No, I do not think that is fair. It is certainly the case that the US has engaged in a great deal of air bombing. They are certainly using much more precise systems than ever before in order to do so. Precision is an important element in the way in which we are looking to go. If you look at what has been going on in Afghanistan and as a result of 11 September, there is a much greater resolve by the United States to deal with problems by whatever means necessary.

  123. So they do not value their soldiers more than we value ours.
  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) That is a value judgement which would be very difficult to discuss.


  124. Thank you very much for those questions. Two or three from me to wrap things up. Please turn to page 20 and paragraph 2.37 where it says, "Whilst the Department knows that it is currently spending £398 million in total on Combat Identification . . . it is unable to identify all of its Combat Identification-related expenditure". How do you assess whether you have a balance of investment at the correct level for any one discrete capability if you do not know how much you are currently spending on a capability such as combat identification?
  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) Combat identification is not a capability: it is an enabler which crosses a large number of different capabilities. We measure our balance of investment issues according to four major capability areas as the General knows only too well. One of them is manoeuvre, another is strategic deployment, another is strike, another is information superiority and combat ID cuts across all of those areas. Combat ID is not an output. Combat ID is an enabler to deliver military effectiveness, neither is it an input, so we do not capture it in that form in the budget. The second point is that it also cuts across things like information systems, training effort, doctrine, techniques and procedures and therefore again it is hard to capture a specific figure. For example, we train soldiers to do many things, part of that will be identifying a T72 tank as distinct from a British tank. I cannot say how much money we are putting into that. The fact that we cannot identify in balance of investment terms combat ID as such is not in my view a weakness in our budgeting procedures.

  125. Combat ID is not a capability?
  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) It is not a capability.

  126. May I ask Sir John about that because this is an agreed report? If you read paragraph 2.37 it does seem to be suggesting that it is a capability or have I misunderstood it?
  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) It is not a discrete capability. You can use the word loosely: I am using it in a specific sense. The way we budget our capabilities, the way we do trade-offs, is in four main areas. It is a capability, yes, but I was talking about it in the way in which we budget in the Ministry of Defence, according to the way the equipment is looked at for balance of investment and outputs.
  (Sir John Bourn) It is not a capability in the sense that Sir Kevin is using the word "capability" but, as he has said, it is a capability in another sense.

Mr Gardiner

  127. It strikes me that it is rather like saying signalling on the railways is not a capability, it does not deliver passengers on time and so on. It is an enabler, it actually enables you to get passengers from A to B. We would think it a pretty poor railway if we did not know how much we were spending on signals, particularly in the light of certain events with recent disastrous consequences. I should have thought that you would have regarded this in exactly the same way as that. I think the Chairman is absolutely right: it is something you should know. You should know how much you are spending on it because it actually is the thing which is enabling you to deliver what you want in the battlefield scenario.
  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) I do agree with you. All I am saying is that we would have to gather that information from various strands. It is not just the signals, it is all sorts of other elements in this particular area. For example, the Bowman system is costing us £2.2 billion. Within that will be ingredients which will make a huge difference in terms of combat ID but it is not as specific as the SIFF programme which are very specific combat ID indicators. That is really the only point I am making. I am not disagreeing with you. The importance of understanding how much one is spending on enablers is important. What I am saying is that they are not outputs as such.


  128. The best disguise for an enemy would be to mimic your uniforms, your equipment, your radar signatures so as to take advantage of your procedures to avoid fratricide. How do you guard against this?
  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) There are all sorts of interesting ways to deal with it.
  (Major General Fulton) We talked quite a lot this afternoon about situational awareness. The key thing with situational awareness is building up the blue picture and building up a picture of other entities on the battlefield; there are opposition entities and there are also potentially neutral entities, but actually the higher the intensity of the conflict, the less likely that is. The composition of the blue picture is absolutely vital and that is why it is so important that one picture is shared between everybody else and a lot of investment—the Permanent Secretary has mentioned Bowman—and the value from that investment will be understanding exactly where our own forces are. The airborne stand-off radar which I identified earlier will also identify movements on the battlefield, build up a picture of the battlefield. We know where our own people are. What that leaves then is a number of unidentifieds, so that cues other sensors that we have to focus on those. That still does not solve the problem. We will still have to come back to what it is doing, whether it is behaving in a hostile manner and a whole series of questions like that. Deception has been with us as long as warfare has been with us and it is one of the issues which will ensure that there will never be a point at which we have solved the combat identification problem. We will never reach a point at which the problem is solved. This will always go on because there will be measures and counter measures as long as we go. That is why we have come to the conclusion that target identification, which in 1991 was seen as the solution, through the 1990s was seen as not being sufficient on its own and why situational awareness and tactics, techniques and procedures, about which we have talked a lot this afternoon, are important. Commodore Nance's story about the Kuwaiti fast patrol boats and the conclusion of it might actually go some way towards answering the question.
  (Commodore Nance) We have to and every commander wishes to preserve his forces from being killed by himself and therefore adopt such tactics, techniques and procedures and other equipment measures to protect his forces. Obviously it is part of his concern for his command. Not only does he wish to take them into combat and do so effectively, he also wishes to bring them back. He wishes therefore to make sure that he can identify them and one of his highest concerns will be to make sure that his opponent cannot exploit those mechanisms that he uses, whether they be equipment, whether they be situational awareness or by knowledge of tactics, techniques and procedures. The simple one of daily changing code words and passwords is one that is enshrined in history and it is an indication and an expression of how a commander would wish to protect his forces under those circumstances. It is a genuine concern and unfortunately it is something about which you have to take risks. You cannot always change the passwords just for the sake of argument, because you spend more time with your troops wondering whether they have heard the new password and you create more problems. Assurance is really important and how to deliver that requires all three pillars of what we have been talking about, not just one. I hope that helps understand that.

  129. You mentioned the 13 things the Department had done over the last 10 years to improve combat identification. I shall not ask you what they are now, but could you do a note for us?
  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) I should be happy to. It was my own personal note as I prepared for this. I simply jotted down the various elements in terms of what we have done. I am ashamed or almost embarrassed to give you a note of my own personal jottings but perhaps I could write to you personally, Chairman, say this was the note I made and then you can decide whether it is worthy to show to your colleagues. [7]

  130. In all the incidents of friendly fire resulting in fratricide, which forces killed whom, that is did the Americans kill Americans or UK forces or vice-versa? Can you answer that or would you like to do a note on it for us?
  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) In which scenario?

Mr Steinberg

  131. In the Gulf for example. That was the example you gave us. Who actually killed whom? Did the Americans kill the UK soldiers or did we kill our own soldiers?

  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) Mostly we both killed Iraqis, you will be pleased to hear. That was not just a facetious point, I am just trying to make the basic point about why we do these things. My information is that the US killed 35 of their own people and we lost nine from friendly fire incidents. I think that probably helps to some extent.

  132. Not in the slightest because you have not told us who killed them. You have not told us who killed the nine. You just said friendly fire. Did the Americans kill them or did we kill them?
  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) I am not clear whether all of those were killed by the United States or whether we had some of our own. I am not sure whether it all relates to that one particular much publicised incident, I think it does. Yes, it was all US.

Geraint Davies

  133. One last question about the Rapier system. I understand that the Rapier system cost £2 billion and it can only operate at 25 per cent. What would actually happen at 100 per cent operation? Because we can only operate at 25 per cent is it the case that there is a sense in which we wasted £1.5 billion of the value of that system in not designing out the problems of friendly injury and with hindsight you should have spent more money earlier on trying to design out some of the problems so that you could have used it at a higher percentage of operation than 25 per cent?
  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) I am sorry if we have had a dialogue of the deaf. I was trying to explain that this related to one particular operational mode in one particular campaign in Kosovo. It does not relate to the generality of operational use of the Rapier system. I should be very happy to give you a note about how we use Rapier and its role and its value and what it does in general. It would be misleading for me to try to explain Rapier's cost effectiveness related to this one particular incident.[8]

  134. So you are saying you can use it 100 per cent in certain scenarios.
  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) Yes; indeed.

  Chairman: Thank you very much for what has been a very interesting session. I have just flown in from China so for me it is quarter to one in the morning and I still found it very interesting indeed. It is a very important subject. May I just say that this year I am doing a Parliamentary Armed Forces scheme with the Royal Navy and although we have had to ask some very difficult questions today, I know all my colleagues who do the scheme are enormously impressed with the sheer professionalism of the Armed Forces and the steps you take to keep your casualties to an absolute minimum. We are very grateful for all you do. Thank you very much for coming here this afternoon; we are very grateful.

7   Ev 18, Appendix 1. Back

8   Note by Witness: Ref footnote to Q 78.


previous page contents

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

© Parliamentary copyright 2002
Prepared 21 August 2002