Examination of witness(Questions 160-179)|
GCB OBE ADC
WEDNESDAY 6 NOVEMBER 2002
(Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) It is a concern and we
have to ensure that we have protocols or procedures in place which
do not allow what you might call long screw drivering and which
is sensible. Your point about too much information is a very,
very valid one. What we are seeking to achieve is knowledge superiority
which is very important. What we can do without is knowledge overload
and knowing how to sift data is a whole new science really because
there is so much data that is available and it is in fact already
a problem in working out how to use what you have and we are now
having to teach our people to be far better pullers of information:
you are sitting in front of your screen, we can be pushing out
tons of information at all times which would completely overload
the operator. He has to be taught how to know that, within his
screen, there are tons of information and he must be very adept
at knowing what to pull out of it which would be useful to him
and that is a whole education process which we are currently engaged
161. I take your point about knowledge overload,
but how far up the chain of command does that knowledge have to
go for someone to actually make a decision to fire? You said earlier
that you wanted to shorten the time frame between seeking and
striking and to cut out part of the equation. Knowledge overload
or too much knowledge makes that a difficult decision to call
and surely it now has to go too far up the line for a decision
to be made.
(Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) I agree with you entirely
and of course there is always a great propensity for the people
at the top to want to know all the detail that is going on, which
they do not need to know at all, because it is fun, apart from
anything else. I think we are actually quite good at delegating
in the UK in our Armed Forces and in giving local Commanders quite
a lot of authority to go ahead and do things, and we must make
sure that we continue to remain sophisticated in that sense and
we are and, right down to the corporal level, we are pretty good
at giving people responsibility and we will actually make sure
in this new regime that we continue to exercise that type of discipline.
162. Will the critical decisions about whether
an aircraft drops a bomb or not be speeded up or will they be
slowed down because you have so much knowledge available to tell
you that there could be a potential problem and that there needs
to be a political decision made, and are the structures in place
in order that, once you have this knowledge very quickly, the
procedure for actually making a decision is going to be speedy
enough for it to be effective when it is actually delivered?
(Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) We have such procedures
in place now and, in the future, the better equipment that we
have will allow us to be speedier. The process is there now and
it passes decisions up the chain. There are levels of responsibility
which are delegated and the chain process pushing things up is
well-established which will ensure that in the future it will
be operated far more quickly than it is at the moment.
163. Maybe the MoD can practise information
overload with the Defence Committee! They have not honed their
skills on that yet. Maybe, Admiral, you are offering hope for
(Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) I am sure we can do better!
164. In the supporting documents of the New
Chapter, it did say that you were going to produce a new document,
amongst all the other things you are doing, to wind down "...
to capture the key elements of the UK military approach to counter-terrorism."
Is that document being produced? What will it be called? When
are we likely to see it?
(Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) This is the work that
I spoke of going on in the Doctrine Centre. I do not know what
it is going to be called yet because it has not been produced
and, as to when you will see it, I think it will need to be in
place during the course of next year and I am sure there may well
be some sort of chapter in the White Paper on this particular
subject, but I do not know yet because we have not developed the
final product and we have not come round to thinking about how
it will actually be produced.
165. Why the delay? We have been facing terrorism
for some time, it is 13 months since 9/11 and the document on
how the Military deal with terrorism seems to be a matter of urgency,
not something you can handle slowly through the processes.
(Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) I am looking for a final
product here, that is not to say that nothing is actually going
on at the moment in how we should conduct our business, it has
been going on since 12 September. So we are working on, if you
like ad hoc procedures which we are getting on with for
the moment and those are being refined as the work is going on
in the doctrine areas.
Chairman: That is reassuring.
166. I want to go back to an area that Mike
Hancock was questioning you about earlier on in terms of personnel.
The New Chapter has, as you have said, come with new resources.
Some would argue that rather than there being a shopping list
for nice new bits of kit, we should be spending more of that money
on our personnel in dealing with some of the issues which Mike
Hancock raised and, in response to that, you talked about quality
of life and the problems of the pace of activity in the Armed
Forces at the moment and, certainly in my Dorset constituency
when I talk to the families of service personnel, it is a real
problem. I want to hear more from you about what the New Chapter
can do for retention and should we be looking more at using some
of those new resources to deal with personnel issues?
(Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) Perhaps I muddled the
Committee on the new money and the New Chapter. The new money
was not just tied to the New Chapter; it came out in Spending
Round 2002 that was a hike in Defence spending. Some of the money
we expect to spend on developing our new thinking within the New
Chapter. Other parts of the money will be spent on other parts
of the Defence programme. In that context, you are absolutely
right to mention people. We can have the best kit in the world
but if we do not have the people to man it or the right sort of
people to man it, then we are in deep trouble. We are already
spending a certain amount of money on our people and we probably
need to do more certainly in areas such as accommodation, looking
after families properly and making sure that people's welfare
is being properly supported when they are on these long tours
of duty. It is something into which we are putting a huge amount
of effort. We have a whole framework which has been developed
over the last couple of years which will be called the Armed Forces'
Personnel Strategy, which has an action matrix in it and is being
constantly scrubbed over, if you like, by the Defence Management
Board and by the Chiefs of Staff Committee to make sure that we
remain constantly focused on where we can make improvements for
167. Does that include a conclusion to the Armed
Forces' Pensions Review, which you may have quite an interest
(Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) I am afraid that whatever
Armed Forces pensions come out, it will not affect myself or most
people currently serving unless they choose to change it. Yes,
we are hoping to produce a report on the Armed Forces' Pension
Review in the coming months and I very much hope that that will
be welcomed by people in the Armed Forces and particularly seen
as attractive by people who want to join the Armed Forces.
168. When you are addressing these personnel
issues, are there particular services and specialisms within services
that you think you need to address?
(Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) Yes. I think the Chairman
mentioned the fact that we were heavily overstretched in the Armed
Forces. I would qualify that slightly. I am a great believer in
stretching the Armed Forces because that is what people join the
Armed Forces to do. They do not join to be sitting on their backsides
in some barracks or some dockyard, they actually join to be doing
something. So, on the whole, I do not believe that our people
are overstretched although we are going through a peak at the
moment and I mentioned that we are probably going through a blimp
at the moment because of standing by for the fast track, but there
are categories of people who are definitely stretched and we are
focusing on those areas very hard indeed and we need to work out
ways of trying to persuade such people that what they are doing
is being properly valued. Whether that is done through some sort
of financial retention incentive or whether it is done through
a non-financial retention incentive, we balance those things and
we try to do something about it and indeed we are in close consultation
of course with the Armed Force Pay Review Body who look at these
matters very closely indeed and will no doubt give us the wisdom
of their advice in their report next February.
169. I am very happy to accept the intentions
to address these issues but, at the same time, the New Chapter
includes proposals that clearly envisage greater demands on certain
key sectors of enablers, high readiness light troops, ISTAR and
so on. How do you and you successors deal with those conflicting
(Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) I think it comes back
to the rebalancing process, that we see it as being a necessary
activity which we are going through at the moment and which will
be revealed later on. We are very much in the process of seeing
how we actually put more emphasis into something, and I think
you mentioned enablers in particular, and where there are areas
in the programme which are not so important nowadays, but that
is something that we are actually still undergoing at the moment.
It is about the thinking process that is under way at the moment.
170. One of the constant feedbacks that I get
from former service colleagues is that not only is there a tremendous
problem in terms of keeping up the manning levels as a function
of both poor recruiting and poor retention, but one of the bedevilments
at commanding officer level is the level of unfitness, soldiers
who are unfit to serve, ranging from crazy details like dental
problems through to, particularly in the infantry, lower leg problems.
Do you have any comments or thoughts about that?
(Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) If I may just pick up
one point first of all. You say that recruiting and retention
are bad news at the moment, but actually we are having quite a
good year in recruiting terms at the moment and we are very close
to our targets across all three services. So recruitment at the
moment is reasonably healthy. On the subject of fitness, we certainly
find that fitness can provide us with a problem in what we call
"gains to training strength", in other words getting
people through the initial training establishments. A lot of effort
now is being put into making sure that we do not challenge people
too rigorously on the first day they arrive, that there is a paced
increase in activity levels throughout the training course and
that people are tested when they are fit rather than when they
are actually unfit. A huge effort goes into making sure that people
are brought along as far as possible. I do not think that the
sort of problems we had, say, three or four years ago where people
were being failed for fitness reasons is quite as big now as it
was then because of this new regime that has been put in place
which actually brings people along rather than banging them within
two days of arrival, finding that they are unfit and then firing
them. They are actually now encouraged to come along at a sensible
pace, so that they are fit when they actually leave their training
establishments and pass the necessary fitness tests.
171. Is there a suggestion of a confidence problem?
If we are going to go to war in Iraq, there is going to be some
sort of difficulty in the context of the International Criminal
Court and how much cover or not our troops and servicemen are
going to get in a putative campaign in the Gulf. What are your
comments about this?
(Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) In any conflict that we
might be called upon to become engaged in the future in the context
of the International Criminal Court, I have been reassured that
there is no likelihood of any British soldier, sailor or airman
being dealt with other than through the British system. They will
not go in front of the Criminal Court; the British Courts will
be dealing with them.
172. You have been comprehensively reassured
on that point?
(Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) Yes.
173. May I just come back to your answer to
Patrick Mercer's question which I think you addressed in part
but not entirely. The question was about the ongoing fitness levels
within the Army, not about the troops being stressed very early
on in their training. I can accept entirely the change in philosophy
there. The problem that we face is that in answer to Parliamentary
questions month after month after month, the ongoing fitness levels,
the number of troops and other service personnel who are not fit
to serve has increased and there is a significant problem: 10
per cent of the Armed Forces at any one time are not fit for duty.
(Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) I am sorry, perhaps I
did misunderstand. All members of the Armed Forces are required
to conduct a fitness test, which is a physical fitness test, and
I am not aware of there being any particular problem about that.
However, on any one day of the week, you are absolutely right
in saying that there are large numbers of people who are unfit
for medical reasons of one sort or another and that is something
which is undesirable and which we need to better in driving down,
but it is not a function of people being unfit in the context
of not having made themselves fit, it is a case of medically unfit
for whatever reason.
174. It is the length of time. Surely the real
problem you are facing is that many of those service personnel
would have been normally treated in service hospitals and would
have been treated and discharged in the course of this, but the
problem at the moment is that many of them are having to be dealt
with on long waiting lists at their local hospitals during which
time they are not actively in service and they are not doing any
service duties whatsoever. Some of it is for very long periods
of time when a reasonably easy operation would have put the soldier
or sailor right very quickly. What are you doing or what is the
MoD doing to bring about an improvement in that situation?
(Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) Firstly, I think that,
as a percentage, the number of people who are unfit is probably
not vastly different to the days when we had dedicated service
hospitals. In those days, however, we had more fat in the system
in people terms and people being absent or downgraded for medical
reasons were not felt as keenly as they are today where we are
very, very tautly manned and one person missing is a serious deficit,
whereas in the past he might have been absorbed because we were
more generous in the way we actually manned our ships, air squadrons
or army regiments. A lot of the people who are unfit do not necessarily
require operations, they require such things as remedial care,
physiotherapy and that sort of thing, and we are putting money
or putting effort into coalface remedial capability which would
reduce the manpower build of people who are unfit quite significantly.
We are also looking at fast tracking some of the people who require
to have some sort of medical treatment. We are spending money
on it and looking at how to improve it but it is not a situation
which I find satisfactory because there are lots of people there
who are not being employed in the way they should be.
Chairman: If we had had satisfactory
answers from the MoD witnesses who came a few weeks ago, maybe
we would not have to ask almost the same questions to you, Admiral,
but we visited Saif Sareea and we observed what was going on.
We have read the National Audit Office report; we have read the
documents that the Ministry of Defence sent to us, but we have
a few additional questions.
175. Last year's exercise was designed to test
the Joint Rapid Reaction Force. Your appraisal report on the exercise
concluded that "the ability to sustain a medium skill war
fighting force on an operation of extended range is questionable
and the exercise did not test this rigorously." Why did not
the exercise test the war fighting capability more rigorously?
(Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) You will have to remind
me what report you are talking about. The exercise tested our
people extremely rigorously. We need to remember why we do these
exercises. This was an exercise conducted to give our people the
opportunity to take part in something which was at a reasonably
enlarged scale level. I do not mean that in the context of the
totality of numbers but large scale in the sense of what they
had been exposed to in the past. The purpose of this exercise
was to give our soldiers, sailors and airmen a chance to see what
a battlefield is like or what a brigade is like or a squadron
and so on, and also to do it on an away from home basis to see
how we manage. Indeed, we achieved that and I think the NAO report
made it perfectly clear that this was a highly successful exercise,
which I subscribe to. The 25,000 or so people who took part in
it gained immeasurably. We do not do these exercises very often
because they are very large and also we do not have the capacity
to do them on a regular basis. It was an exercise which probably
no other country could do, possibly with the exception of the
United States, on that scale and I am very pleased about the way
it went. I recognise that a lot of lessons were learned but that
is why we do exercises, to find out how well we are fitted out
in terms of our training, in terms of our kit, to be able to deal
with an operation. There are certain components that we will not
put into an exercise because we want to make sure we do not use
up all our kit allotment pending a real operation but I think
the exercise was a success.
176. Was the exercise not meant to test people
or machinery to their limits? That did not happen with, for example,
tanks where there were problems. We were told that what they wanted
to do was to make sure they got them there rather than tested
them to the limit. What is the point in doing that particular
exercise if you do not test to the limit?
(Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) If you spoke to the people
working in the desert at temperatures of 50 degrees, they would
probably consider they were being tested pretty much to their
limits. You cannot make it tougher than that.
177. The document, "A Directorate of Operational
Capabilities Appraisal of Exercise Saif Sareea", was presented
to the Defence Committee. This was the document.
(Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) If I can refer to that
particular document and other documents of that genre which
we produce, we are probably light years ahead of any other armed
force that I know of at being self-searching in the way we are,
actually going out and doing these exercises in order to examine
exactly where we have any difficulties, faults or whatever. I
have been involved in my 42 years in the armed forces continuously
in a process of reassessment, exposing where we find we have difficulties
and getting on and trying to improve on that basis; rather than
not to expose them and hide behind some chimera or some imagination
that we are better than we really are. No one else puts themselves
through this self-flagellation in the way that we do and we are
very proud of it. I would not do exercises if I did not think
we were going to get honest lessons learned. I certainly would
not want to be in the position where every time we do something
in order to find out where our weaknesses are we get beaten up
by everybody for having exposed those weaknesses in a way which
no other country does, and probably no other government department,
as far as I am aware.
178. The only thing that concerned us was that
if we spent £97 million to show how we could get there, we
have noticed there is a lot of sand in Oman and we know that Challenger
1's record in dealing with sand was less than perfect. What bemused
us was the answer. Frankly, we could not believe that the MoD
would be so negligent as not to have an appraisal of the equipment
performance. It seems to me, spending all that money in proving
you can get there, it would be fairly logical that you test the
case whilst you are out there. How much does it cost to see if
tanks operate successfully in sand or not?
(Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) The whole of that money
was not spent just on the tanks. As far as the people were concerned,
they all gained immeasurable experience from the exercise, of
operating first of all in large formations which they would not
normally do for many years. The young people who did that will
carry that forward throughout their careers up to becoming NCOs
or senior officers and they will look back on that as a most rewarding
experience, to understand what large formation operations are
like, whether they may be Army or Air Force. You have had technical
advice from other people who have sat before the Committee about
179. That is a very sensitive point because
they did not send people who were technically competent. They
sent two policy people, essentially.
(Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) The problem about the
workability of the Challenger 2 tank is not something which gives
me particular concern at all. We found out that we had made a
mistake in assessing the number of filters that we required to
run in the particular type of dust levels that were encountered
out there. We did not place on the tanks the type of armour that
we would normally have for an operation because we only had a
limited number of sets and we did not want to use them on an exercise.
Had we put that armour on, it would have significantly mitigated
the amount of dust congestion that happened. I am absolutely certain
that we under-estimated the requirement for filter use but such
activity as we got out of our tanks, when we started to preserve
our filters in order to get training benefit as opposed to just
a logistic exercise, was significant. All tank crews got some
training benefit out of working in very unpleasant, very hot,
sandy conditions. All those people who were in those tank regiments
will have learned a huge amount about what they should do in the
future in any desert type campaign. The logistics organisation
has learned an awful lot about what it should require in terms
of recognising what type of sand it is and how many filters you
will need. I believe that this was a hugely rewarding process.
Yes, we made mistakes but that process makes us all the more confident,
if we are engaged in an operation in those circumstances in the
future, that we will be able to deal with the situation very well.
Chairman: We are not criticising the
tank, which is a fabulous tank. We wish more countries wished
to buy it. Our criticism was not even of the armed forces. Our
criticism was against the people who were telling us what did
or did not happen on the exercise that we were able to observe
and draw our own, not professional, but common sense judgments.