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Army (Command Structure)

3.30 pm

Ann Winterton (Congleton) (Con): I am pleased to have gained a further opportunity for a short debate on Army matters. On this occasion, it is on the future operational command structure. Since the announcement last July, the Army has been a focus of debate from both a military and a political point of view. I suspect that that state of affairs will continue for some time to come, bearing in mind the many contentious issues that must be addressed.

During that time, Ministers have poked fun unfairly and without justification at hon. Members who have expressed opposition to the culling of infantry regiments, alleging that they wanted to return to the days of biplanes. That happened in the main Chamber. Yet the Cheshires are to be relegated from being a regiment to becoming merely the first battalion of a new regiment named after Mercia, an Anglo-Saxon kingdom that was in existence more than 1,000 years ago. If that is not looking backwards, I do not know what is. I am pleased that Soldier magazine described the Cheshires as one of the magnificent seven—those regiments which to date have never been amalgamated. Only time will tell whether the promises of Ministers and the Army hierarchy to keep regimental identities will materialise.

I was intrigued to read the other day that the Scottish regiments are to keep their cap badges while the English regiments are to lose theirs. The reason given was that the colonels of the English regiments did not request that cap badges be retained. Quite frankly, I find that difficult to believe and I would be grateful for confirmation of that. In addition, will the Minister confirm that no further discrimination is taking place?

I confess to having a foot on both sides of the border, as members of my late mother's family served in the Black Watch. Second Lieutenant Tom Gillespie, who was my mother's uncle, was killed by Turks in the first world war and my own uncle Bill ran away from home to serve in the Black Watch in India for six years. I believe that there should be parity of treatment between English and Scottish regiments, as both are part of the British Army.

I have found the confusion about how many trained Army personnel we have extraordinary; a figure of 103,780 is given. How many are to be made redundant? Is the future establishment figure of 102,000 the rough, or the exact, target? As the whole purpose of the shake-up is to move personnel around, why is the future establishment of the various corps not known? It is nonsense to say that all 36 future battalions will be operational, because training free of call-up always has to continue.

It was said a year last November that there would be no infantry battalion cuts. However, the chief of staff stated on 16 December that two years had been spent looking extremely hard at what capabilities and structures will be needed in the future. The result is that three battalions are to go and that one battalion of the Parachute Regiment is sensibly to be moved sideways. It is somewhat confusing. A tangled web has been woven, no doubt as a result of continually changing financial constraints, which have also continually been denied. That has done nothing for the morale of our soldiers,
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especially those away on operations in hot spots such as Iraq. They have no idea what they will be coming home to.

We have heard much about the future Army structure. The chief of staff has made it clear that it could take up to 12 years to achieve, with much emphasis being placed on the medium sector. One of the main areas of concern is the future operational command structure, which I believe may turn into something very different from what it is at present. It could come under tremendous strain. That is apparently unforeseen by the generals and defence staff.

The worst-case scenario is one in which the United Kingdom loses operational control of its armed services and UK defence industries are also adversely affected. The present restructuring of the infantry could pale into relevant insignificance compared with what may come in the future. A week ago, the Foreign Secretary stated that he expected the European Union's arms embargo on China to be lifted, claiming that that would have little practical effect. Nothing could be further from the truth, however, because that will leave the Government siding with the EU against the interests of the United States. While the Foreign Secretary is totally unconcerned and thinks that everything can be smoothed out with the US, the indications are that the US Congress will find the situation unacceptable. If the ban is lifted, the already strained special relationship with the US will go up in flames, putting a stop to technology transfer and the flow to us of information from the US. Any possibility of the UK obtaining a waiver from the international traffic in arms regulations has now disappeared, pushing us further from American arms and towards EU arms.

That brings me neatly to the Galileo satellite navigation system, in which, it must be noted, China has a 20 per cent. stake. On 18 December last year, French Defence Minister Michèle Alliot-Marie, speaking at the launch of the French Helios 2A military reconnaissance satellite, confirmed that the EU's Galileo system would be available for French military use. That was just one week after EU Transport Ministers, at the Transport, Telecommunications and Energy Council in Brussels on 9–10 December, had reiterated in their written conclusions that Galileo was a civil programme under civil control, as the Ministry has claimed here in the UK.

On 22 December, Andrew Brookes, an aerospace analyst at the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies, stated:

He went on to say that it could be used for pinpointing the location of weapons and troops on the ground. The USA has already said that if Galileo were used against American interests and it could not jam the system, it would take it out. Even the recently issued EU Commission publication, "Looking beyond tomorrow: Scientific research in the European Union" says that Galileo will play a role in security operations such as humanitarian aid, the evacuation of refugees, peacekeeping and crisis resolution, which implies military use without actually admitting it.

That brings us to the future rapid effects system—FRES—which is key to the medium sector of the infantry, on which so much emphasis is placed.
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Following the interview with the Chief of the Defence Staff in the winter edition of Defence International magazine, one wonders whether the top brass understands what FRES actually is. General Sir Michael Walker gave the impression that it was about vehicles. Vehicles are an important aspect, but FRES is a system that is put in them. It is supposed to be a totally integrated battle information system, equivalent to the American future combat system. It allows realtime intelligence from multiple inputs to be processed, electronically integrated and then disseminated to all individual units in a fighting formation at vehicle and sub-unit level, all with amazing speed. Furthermore, input is permitted from the sub-unit level, and it can be integrated into the overall battle plot and shared immediately with all other units. We could end up with a bodged, halfway position in which we get a medium-weight transportable armoured vehicle with some highly sophisticated battlefield surveillance platforms, but multi-feed processing and system integration and the widespread distribution of information may be absent.

There are two issues. The first is money. As we know, the Chancellor has thrown prudence out with the bath-water and the UK is heading for a financial black hole. Other than the first stage of FRES, the assessment phase, costing £113 million over two years, the overall cost of the project will be £6 billion. Neither those costs, nor the onward anticipated running costs, have been budgeted for. That might seem like a lot of money, and it is, but in defence terms it is not nearly enough; it is only one eighth of what the Americans are spending on an identical system. When the money dries up and the Army is well and truly on its way to reorganising around the medium sector, the salvation proposed will be to take on a partnership arrangement—but you can bet your bottom dollar that the Americans will not become our partners, as I will explain in due course.

Secondly, the FRES technology will depend on accurate navigation—the Galileo system—because future partners in this project will demand it and compatibility with the US system will be virtually impossible and too expensive. FRES, or what we understand FRES to be, will be ideal for conventional warfare, but today that is low on the list of probabilities. FRES will not stop terrorist activities or add to the social side of peacekeeping and reconstruction. Each unit will be expensive and, as I have said before in my previous debate, can easily be taken out by someone dressed as a civilian at little expense to them, so it is a very vulnerable system.

If FRES gets up and running, it will change the concept of how the Army operates. At the moment the commander has the facts and makes decisions based on the information available, giving orders to the troops who do not have access to the information on which those orders are based. Under FRES, unless the information is coded to keep it from the troops—which would defeat its objective of speed—they will know as much as, if not more than the commander, and that will put the whole command structure under horrendous strain.

If FRES is a botched job, which is the most likely option, commanders will still have to analyse and interpret data from diverse sources. On a modern battlefield, with so much input, the problems are data management and information overload. The more
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information is put into the system, the more difficult it gets to rank its importance and analyse it. The volume increase simply adds to stress and confounds good decision making.

Procurement is another vital issue for both the armed services and the UK's defence industry. In keeping with the general ethos of the Monnet method, the European Commission has elected to secure greater defence—and thence political integration—through economic means, pursuing the route of integrating EU member state defence industries. Extending the remit of the procurement rules to defence is one of the ways chosen to achieve that.

The Green Paper published last September is alarming. It talks about the Commission's intention to contribute to the gradual creation of a European defence equipment market,

and proposes establishing

At the centre of the Commission's initiative is the newly formed European Defence Agency, which will work with the Commission to promote common, EU-wide procurement and standardisation through the armed forces of member states.

If the Commission gets its way, the standardisation programme will become compulsory, managed through CEN—the European Committee for Standardisation—rather than NATO. Given that the United Kingdom is already co-operating with Galileo, and will possibly do so in future with FRES, the point will come when we are so absorbed into the EU system and equipment programmes that we will no longer have the technical capacity to act independently and we will be so far removed from the US systems that we will be incapable of operating alongside US forces.

All this appears to be happening in slow motion, without anyone really understanding what is going on or any conscious political decision to cast our lot one way or the other. We think that we can steer a middle course, which will most likely end in disaster as we are locked into further European co-operation whether we want it or not. Let us not forget that the headline goal, and one of the several milestones identified within the 2010 horizon, is the improvement of performance of all levels of EU operations through appropriate compatibility and network linkage of all communications equipment and assets, terrestrial and space-based, by 2010. That, not surprisingly, happens to be the same date stipulated for FRES.

Finally, we come to the UK's involvement with the EU deployment. An EU battle group would have a force commander and an operation commander who would be directly responsible to the Political and Security Committee, acting by unanimity. The force commander would be determined on a case by case basis. For a battle group operating under the Berlin plus arrangements, the operation commander would be the Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe. Outside the Berlin plus arrangements, the operation commander would be determined on a case by case basis, possibly drawn from the nation providing the major troop contribution. As in all EU involvement, there would be a transitional stage.
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Some future crisis will no doubt prove the present system cumbersome, far from the situation that our chief of staff correctly envisages—that is, meeting an operational need for a more agile, deployable and flexible force. This would result in calls for streamlining, and no doubt a future EU treaty would turn the Defence Council into a defence commissioner, and unanimity would change to qualified majority voting, as we have so often seen before.

While the future Army structure is laying the foundations for the next decade and beyond, it will be future financial difficulties, coupled with inept political decisions about where our loyalties and responsibilities lie between the USA and the EU, while we slip and slide deeper into integration towards an EU army and defence force, that will result in the disappearance of parliamentary accountability.

I do not want to see the traditional role of our armed services subverted away from the defence and security of the United Kingdom. I do not want to see British troops under the command of anyone other than a commander answerable to the Secretary of State for Defence, who is himself answerable to the British people through Parliament, which remains sovereign.

3.48 pm

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Mr. Adam Ingram) : I congratulate the hon. Member for Congleton (Ann Winterton) on obtaining time for this debate. I am grateful to her for giving me the opportunity to explain an important element of the armed forces structure, and at the same time hopefully deal with what I believe to be a number of misconceptions surrounding this issue.

The hon. Lady addressed a wide range of issues in her speech. I shall try to deal with the many elements that she raised. However, I open my contribution on the subject of this debate, which is the operational command structure of the Army. The best way to illustrate that is to look at the main operational deployments in which British forces are currently engaged, and to set out the different command structures that apply and why. The main deployments are, of course, Iraq, Afghanistan, the Balkans and Northern Ireland.

I will deal with Iraq first, where we have just over 8,000 troops. They form part of the coalition force, which is operating under UNSCR 1546. The vast majority of our troops are in the south of Iraq and come under the direct command of the General Officer Commanding Multinational Division (South East), who in turn comes under the US General Commanding Multinational Forces (Iraq) who is headquartered in Baghdad. However, at all times British forces remain under the operational command of the Chief of Joint Operations at the Permanent Joint Headquarters in Northwood. Indeed, the CJO, or another British officer retaining operational command of British Forces, is a feature of all the command structures that I want to mention today. All British forces are also operating under rules of engagement agreed by British Ministers and within a British legal framework—regardless of the coalition or international security organisation they are operating within. There was much discussion in the House recently, and of course in the media and among the wider public, about the command arrangements for
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the Black Watch battle group that deployed last year to North Babil. The arrangements that I have just set out were essentially the same. Although the commanding officer of the 1st Battalion the Black Watch reported to a US officer, he ultimately remained under the operational command of the Chief of Joint Operations and the UK rules of engagement.

In Afghanistan, the UK forces are deployed under two complementary command structures. Those form a part of the international security assistance force around Kabul, and those in the provincial reconstruction team are part of a NATO operation under the command of a French general. Those forming part of the US-led coalition focusing on counter-insurgency operations are under the command of the US commanding general. However, as in Iraq, all British personnel remain under the operational command of the CJO and, again, operate within a British legal framework. In the Balkans we find two different structures, but the same overriding principles apply. British personnel in Kosovo form part of KFOR, which is a NATO operation, again under the command of a French general. Those in Bosnia now form part of an EU operation, EUFOR, under the command of a British general.

I hope that the hon. Lady will accept that British forces in operations overseas remain under British command, and in all these cases, under the overall command of the CJO. We do not envisage any change to the way in which we work with our international allies and partners in coalition operations. Indeed, improving interoperability is at the heart of what we have in mind.

The hon. Lady raised the subject of the development of EU battle groups. She accurately set out some of the issues associated with that. The precise command arrangements for any EU battle group mission would be determined, as she said, on a case-by-case basis, and would be subject to unanimous agreement by the 25 member states. However, as with EUFOR and other current operations, it is likely that operational command of deployed forces would be retained by the CJO.

I have said that there are no plans to change the way that we operate. We are still in the process of putting the concept together. What I find intriguing about the hon. Lady's position is that it is as if she is denying the need for international effort. If she is not denying that, she is unable to articulate how partners work together. They cannot operate in separate stovepipes. They must come under one single command in theatre. There then has to be a national reference point for all of that, and, as I pointed out, we work clearly through our chain of command to British Ministers—ultimately to the Prime Minister—and also within the British legal framework. There are no plans to change that, and I feel that setting this hare running is based on nothing but prejudice.

Let me just also comment on the command structure for forces operating in Northern Ireland, because there is a slight variation there. The 11,000 personnel in the Province are under the command of the General Officer Commanding Northern Ireland, and he reports to the Commander-in-Chief Land Command. However, on a day-to-day basis, the GOC works to support the Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, who retains primacy on security issues.
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I have covered a number of disparate operations, but it is important to understand that in all circumstances British forces deploy in a coherent command structure, and with the right guidance and ROE. With current operations, the retention of operational command safeguards that. Future operations may see it achieved through different command and control arrangements, but the outcome will be the same. I have in mind here the possibility of a large-scale NATO operation. Nothing of that nature is envisaged, but if such an eventuality had to take place, we would have to work with our NATO partners—I assume that the hon. Lady is a strong supporter of NATO—to work out the best structures to achieve our objectives, so the issues are real.

We choose to operate with trusted allies and partners precisely because this type of co-operation provides operational benefits over and above those available were we to operate alone, for which last option I think the hon. Lady was arguing. For example, through operational burden sharing, UK forces are able to call upon the deployed assets of other nations, thus making support available when it otherwise might not be. Ultimately, operating with allies and partners can enhance the safety and effectiveness of our troops.

Let me deal with the future Army structure, which the hon. Lady touched on in her opening comments. The future Army structure is underpinned by two complementary changes. The first is a move towards a more balanced force, organised around two armoured brigades, three mechanised brigades, a light and an air assault brigade, and a Royal Marines commando brigade.

It is important to emphasise that we cannot use front-line forces that we are unable to deploy, and we cannot sustain operations if we lack sufficient supporting forces. That is why we are moving ahead with the second element of the reorganisation, which is making the Army more robust, resilient and able to sustain the enduring expeditionary operations that have become standard in recent years. The requirement is for us to make significant enhancements to key specialist capabilities—including those involving communications, engineers, logisticians and intelligence experts—that underpin what we need for an expeditionary Army in a new, strategic context. We also want to make fighting units, including the infantry, more robust by ensuring that they have adequate numbers.

The hon. Lady asked about the size of the British Army today. Of course, it is significantly bigger now than it was in 1997. The current figure will remain broadly the same, depending on normalisation in Northern Ireland. When normalisation in Northern Ireland comes along, it will create a new set of conditions that have to be dealt with. Six battalions are tied up in dealing with the issues in the Province. I hope that that will not be required in future. If those six battalions are no longer required there, that will create a set of new conditions that will allow us to do different things.

Of course, we are talking about more than just infantry and boots on the ground. We also have to create a deeper and broader strength in the British Army. That is why enhancements on which we have already decided include the creation of a new commando engineer regiment, a new port and maritime unit, an additional strategic communications unit and a new logistics support regiment for each deployable
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brigade. We are also creating a number of new sub-units for surveillance and target acquisition, bomb disposal and vehicle maintenance capabilities.

Those are new capabilities, not cuts. The hon. Lady said that some people in this Chamber were treating the issue with some humour. These are very serious issues, but the issues that I point out—the way in which we are adding new capabilities—and the extent of the debate have been missed by many commentators. Of course, what I say also applies to equipment.

Sadly, I will not even be able to touch on Galileo or China, as I have only two minutes left, but I shall try to. In future, we can deliver effective armed forces through network-enabled capability, something that other nations, primarily the United States, are looking at. That is why we have to move down the road of major procurement strains and of introducing Bowman and Falcon, enhanced intelligence collection assets such as Watchkeeper—the unmanned aerial vehicle—Soothsayer electronic warfare capability, and modern vehicles such as the Panther armoured reconnaissance vehicle. The hon. Lady touched on the undoubtedly ambitious FRES armoured fighting vehicle programme, which will modernise the armoured vehicle fleet and be the basis of medium-weight capability.

Ann Winterton : Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Ingram : I have one minute left. On Galileo, let me just say that it will be a civil system, under civil control. That has been confirmed by successive EU Transport Councils. The UK has emphasised that that should remain the case. In December, as the hon. Lady correctly pointed out, the Transport Council stated that any decision to alter the civil status of Galileo would have to be agreed unanimously by member states under pillar 2 of the EU treaty. That is the constitutional structure under which Galileo exists. It is quite clear that what we have laid down with our NATO partners will protect the integrity of that system. The global positioning system, not Galileo, is currently the basis of NATO operations, and will remain so into the future. Galileo will be a civil system. That has been expressed time and again in the Chamber and elsewhere.

4 pm

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

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