Examination of witness(Questions 180-199)|
GCB OBE ADC
WEDNESDAY 6 NOVEMBER 2002
180. Congratulations for that answer because
it is a very good answer in terms of admitting that mistakes were
made and also pointing out that the exercises are to look at weaknesses
and to learn from last ones. I think that is a good response.
What does not help this Committee and I do not think helps the
press either is when you get people like Simon Webb coming before
us a couple of weeks ago, trying to make excuses, coming up with
the nonsense which he did, saying that the real test of the exercise
was to take the tanks there, not actually to use them when they
were there. Your approach, in terms of openness and saying that
things went wrong and you learned from them, is a far better way
of dealing with it than trying to come up with the Civil Service
speak that we had last week. In terms of unjustified criticisms,
your approach is better. Can you say to civil servants, "Do
not come before this Committee to try to somehow hide and say
that things are all right", because it leads to lack of confidence
in us and also there is the idea that there is something to hide.
On the desertisation of Challenger tanks, I take the point you
make about the armour, but are there going to be any steps taken
to desertise Challenger? I was at a company in my constituency
last week who said that they had been asked to look at this issue.
Are we going to learn from the problems which you quite rightly
identified as part of the exercise?
(Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) We have increased our
stocks of filters, for a start. We have the armour which we can
desertise the tanks with and we are looking at a programme of
desertisation at the moment.
181. We do not want to give the wrong impression
because we do believe that exercises are good. They should be
increased and they are a great thing. Saif Sareea was a good exercise
but the planning for it at slow time because it was an exercise
was not real and we had two years. A lot of it was logistics and
getting stuff prepared, getting the right number of spares, stores
and everything required over slow time. If we planned for two
years for the exercise and there were significant failures which
we are learning from, what will happen in short term, urgent operation
planning, because it is the logistics in getting prepared and
having the back-up in this country ready to go out that worries
me. Can you bridge that gap? I know it is not real and that it
is an exercise.
(Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) I think it is a very fair
point. If we are going to spend a large amount of money on any
exercise, relative to whatever size it is - Saif Sareea was a
very expensive exercise but there are many smaller exercises -
and if you are going to get the best benefit from the exercise
to identify where you are going to be looking for lessons to learn
and so on, you want to make sure that you get maximum value out
of the exercise and out of the money you are about to spend. Your
planning process is going to be artificially long because you
are trying to make sure you think of all the angles. If we are
going to do that, what can I get out of that particular activity?
Where can I look for lessons to be learned? Is our doctrine going
to be right? Are the soldiers going to put up with it? Are they
properly fit to do it? Is the kit going to work? You think up
all the angles you possibly can. Additionally, if you are going
to involve a third party in the exercise - in this case, for example,
the Omanis - they must be brought along as well. Their pace may
not be the same as ours in terms of getting ready for it. Yes,
any exercise is probably going to show what your speed of response
can be in a real situation. I would therefore ask you to look
at what happened in December last year when the Bonn conference,
I think on the 12th, decided that there would be something called
an International Security Assistance Force based in Kabul, completely
alien territory as far as we were concerned. No one had even heard
of Afghanistan other than back in the 1800s. On 12 December, we
were told to take charge of this International Security Assistance
Force. In the space of three or four weeks, we had assembled a
force of 5,000 from 19 countries. We had people on the streets
of Kabul by the beginning of January bringing calm, comfort and
security to that city. It was a brilliant operation done in absolutely
unprecedented speed and when the chips were down we delivered
because we had practised that sort of thing in exercise in the
past and we had learned our lessons.
182. Can we go to Afghanistan? What principal
lessons have you learned from Afghanistan? The difficulty is,
as you have already indicated, about a peace keeping operation
and also to have a fighting situation, a combat situation, side
by side. Did that pose certain difficulties and challenges?
(Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) We certainly thought very
hard about it because we could see that potentially it could present
difficulties, particularly if you are trying to do a peace keeping
operation in one part of the country and you are doing some direct,
aggressive action in another part of the country. The countrymen
might take a dim view of the peace keepers who might be perceived
as being rather aggressive in that area. We put quite a lot of
effort into deconflicting the activity that was going on in Kabul
with what was going on with the activities outside the International
Security Assistance Force. We made it very clear to the Afghanistan
people themselves that we were there operating under a United
Nations mandate, that we were very much a security assistance
force. We made it clear to Mr Karzai, who was the person in charge
of the administration there, that we were there to help him very
much with security in the town of Kabul. All I can say is it seems
to have worked. No one has levelled charges at us for having double
standards. The effort we put into getting that right is a lesson
we learned. The effort was worth it and the fact that there has
not been a negative response shows we probably got it right.
183. What were the principal lessons you learned
(Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) You have a lot of talking
to do with all the various players, particularly with the incumbents
of the country, in this case, Mr Karzai, and indeed talking as
far as possible to local warlords as well.
184. In terms of the combat side in Afghanistan,
there was a great emphasis in terms of special forces. I do not
expect you to talk about the operational side of it but has that
skewed your thinking in terms of the balance between the peace
keeping role and also concentrations in terms of special forces
for future missions that possibly could face us next year in Iraq?
(Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) The New Chapter made clear
and we recognise that in the future strategic context the role
of the special forces and the activities the special forces are
engaged in are going to be even more important than ever. That
is why there has been emphasis on that. So far as commenting on
what, if any, special force activity is going on, that would not
185. Whilst endorsing the speed and the efficacy
of the initial operation of getting into Afghanistan and the reaction
times that we achieved, is it not a bit surprising and disappointing,
the length of time it took 45 Commando Troop to put together the
(Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) That was not a thing which
particularly concerned me from this end of the telescope. One
of the reasons it did take a long time was to get the infrastructure
right in Bagram which is where was where they flew out to. It
was important also that we dove tailed in with the American commander,
under whom they were operating, to get his times right so that
we appeared on the scene when his troops were ready for us and
not before that. Although it did take about four weeks or so to
get the whole Commando troop out there, I was not particularly
dismayed that they could not get out there earlier. It was a function
of what was going on in the theatre rather than a function of
our ability to get them out there earlier.
186. Was the criticism of the American military
(Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) What criticism was that?
187. There was extensive criticism in the US
Marine Corps paper about the length of time the Royal Marines
(Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) Perhaps the Americans
should have spoken to the American commander who was the guy who
was driving the
188. In the context of Afghanistan, it draws
me back to an exchange that went on a bit earlier about rules
of engagement. You said that the Americans were way ahead of us
in terms of network centric capability and the rules of engagement
that follow from that. In Afghanistan, we saw one or two incidents,
most memorably the wedding incident, where things went wrong.
I am interested in how rules of engagement to junior ranks would
work if we had Predator type UAVs in Afghanistan style operations.
Are they predelegated to carry out targeted attacks on individuals?
(Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) I did not say the Americans
were ahead of us on the rules of engagement. I said they were
ahead of us in terms of their technical network centric capability.
We do not normally comment in detail about what our rules of engagement
are but in broad terms the answer is that there are differing
levels of authority given as one cascades down the command chain.
At the very bottom level, literally the private, he has a particular
set of rules which he applies, his intrinsic right to self-defence
being the most fundamental. There are different levels of authority
given to different ranks as to what they might or might not be
allowed to engage with, given certain criteria. The reason I cannot
go into too much detail about it is that it depends on the different
rules drawn up for different circumstances. They are very carefully
articulated and passed down the command chain. They are briefed
on a twice, if not three times, daily basis to all the relevant
commanders all the way down the command chain. If a local commander
feels that he has been constrained in what he is able to do by
his rules of engagement, he is absolutely entitled to send in
what is called a rule of engagement request saying can he have
more authority to do such and such. That will then go up the command
chain and that authority will be given to him, if appropriate.
189. Have you thought through the sort of level
for unmanned vehicles?
(Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) An unmanned vehicle is
in a sense no different from a manned one, in so far as pictures
are passing back and one has to make decisions. The driver will
be operating under some rule of engagement which may be similar
to that of a person in a manned aircraft, as to whether he is
allowed to press his button to release his bomb. I do not think
there is much difference between unmanned vehicles and manned
vehicles in terms of the application of our rules.
190. We had a briefing a few weeks ago when
we asked questions on whether the UAVs that we are going to procure
eventually will be able to do more than take photographs and we
were told that they were not.
(Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) I was replying to Mr Knight's
question in the context of where we know UAVs have been known
to drop weapons. Were we to have such UAVs that dropped weapons
that currently exist, the RoE would not be given.
191. I know you are not as totally involved
in the procurement process as Sir Robert Walmsley would be but
if we are going to spend a lot of money on UAVs to have a wide
range of capability at this stage, when perhaps it is still possible
to build into the specification the ability to do nasty things
other than take photographs, it would be prudent that one should
explore this more fully. Have you had any opportunity for looking
at what is being planned? It might be a useful process for you.
(Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) I am afraid I have not
had the benefit of reading the evidence.
192. We will send you a transcript.
(Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) As far as my mind is concerned,
on the subject of UAVs, it is entirely right to exploit the use
of UAVs to the utmost extent and if that includes carrying weapons
I would not close up that opportunity at all. I would see that
as being very attractive to explore.
193. Returning once again to Challenger 2, Kevin
Tebbit has appeared before the public accounts committee and he
said, "We have a number of options available to us, which
we will adopt if necessary, which will ensure that our tanks have
full protection against dust should they be required for questions."
We have mentioned tanks. Could you give us some further reassurance
that, should the Chancellor allow ground forces to be used - and
I was not aware that the Chancellor of the Exchequer played a
major role in developing strategy or tactics - can you offer us
your personal guarantee that they will work and, despite what
the MoD witnesses said to us, you do have that capability of making
all the adaptations, be they large or small, necessary to make
the tanks operational and effective?
(Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) Yes, absolutely. We do
have that capability. We have the special skirts which are put
on and special extra armour to put on. That is available. The
extra filters are being bought and I would be confident that,
if we had to operate in a desert environment for whatever reasons,
our tanks would give us the type of performance we would wish.
194. Have you given the Jordanians any guarantees
that, should they use their Challenger 1 tanks, they will be able
to operate? Do we give a six month guarantee to them?
(Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) I have not spoken to the
195. Very wisely side-stepped, Admiral. With
the other equipment that was used in the Gulf, less dramatic but
important, the desert clothing, boots, uniforms, tented accommodation,
communicationsbig surprise that Clansman did not work very
well - helicopter rotor blades, forklift trucks, AS90 artillery:
when you visited Saif Sareea you probably saw some of these things
not working as one would have hoped. You have read all the reports.
Are you as the senior military person satisfied that we do have
the capability within the Ministry of Defence genuinely to say,
"Right, we must put it right"? Are there any principles
involved? Every time our Committee looks at a war and lessons
of a war, by the time we get on to the lessons of the next war,
we find that some of the things that did not work previously still
do not work. Are you satisfied with the process by which you can
appraise success and failure? Do you have the mechanisms, the
resources, to develop the technical competence and political will
to derive the lessons from that exercise or conflict?
(Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) We have the processes
and certainly I have the will. It is a factor of human nature
that, for example, if you were to look at the lessons learned
from the Falklands War and bounce those off the lessons learned
from 1945, there is a depressing amount of similarity between
the two. I would not guarantee that, were we to engage in some
future conflict, we would not find that we were relearning whole
lessons each time because that is the way it happens, largely
because of the nature of turnover of people within the armed forces,
memories are short and so forth. In pursuing the things which
we think are very important in following up lessons and where
we have asked the Director of Operational Capability, DOC, who
wrote that report, you will see in that report that there will
be a list of recommendations. The chiefs of staff are under my
chairmanship. I demand that DOC returns to my committee every
six months and takes us through the recommendations of any report
he has written to show us what progress he is making.
196. Can you make it every three months?
(Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) You have to give sensible
time. I am just talking generically at the moment about how things
operate. Were something to crop up which would want us to move
ahead faster or to ensure that progress was fast enough on certain
things which were relevant, clearly there would be more pressure
to bear but, to answer your question about process, yes, we do
follow up these lessons learned. I send for the DOC to explain
what is going on and if we are not happy then we chase it up.
197. If the troops are deployed and the same
lessons are drawn six months from now, people like us will say,
"Why was not proper action taken after Saif Sareea?"
and it will be very embarrassing for those people to come in and
tell us who delayed what might be fairly simple. I presume the
question of army boots which has been bedevilling the Army for
about 400 years, certainly as long as I have been on the Committee,
(Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) You would be fully justified
in being angrily cross if we went into an operation and found
we were living with some deficit or something which diminished
our operational capability as a result of lessons learned as recently
198. I find it reassuring that there is a process
to follow up these deficiencies. Would it be possible, publicly
or even to this Committee, to let us know where you are up to
because the response we got last week was defensive, trying to
say there was nothing wrong with a lot of these things. I think
that is part of the problem in terms of public perception and
the media perception of the MoD. They do an exercise. One of the
key things that happens is to learn a lesson in an exercise rather
than in a combat situation. Would there be a mechanism whereby
we could look at where we are at with some of these things because
they have had a lot of publicity in the last six months or so.
I think it would be reassuring to the Committee and certainly
to me that some action is being taken.
(Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) I would need to take advice
199. One of the great things to console my colleagues
who have not been around for 400 years is that, in the event of
a crisis, the ability of the defence industry and the military
to improvise is quite startling. Things that should have taken
five years in the normal cycle tend to be done in a few days or
a few hours. We hope, as we have perhaps had some notice of what
is going to happen, that we do not have to rush once the command
(Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) As soon as we are kicking
into a new operation, one of the first things I will send for
is the lessons learned from the last type of operation of that
nature that we have done. As part of our planning process, I will
be asking my team, "What have you learned about X, Y and
Z from the last time?" We have to make certain that, should
we be engaged in any future desert campaign, we will be turning
back to those lessons to make sure we have dealt with all the
criticisms that have been levelled at us.