Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence



Examination of witnesses (Questions 80 - 104)

WEDNESDAY 15 MARCH 2000

MR KEVIN TEBBIT, GENERAL SIR CHARLES GUTHRIE, AIR MARSHAL SIR JOHN DAY and MR SIMON WEBB

Chairman

  80. Most have moved back.
  (Mr Tebbit) Exactly.

Mr Cohen

  81. I want to ask a series of questions about the bombing campaign but not repeat about the pace of the campaign which has been dealt with effectively already. Could we start with what role the UK had in the decision to initiate bombing and also put it in the allied context of the decision making process for the initiating of bombing?
  (Air Marshal Sir John Day) The UK, along with all the other members of NATO, were fully part of the decision making process of issuing the NATO ACTORDs of deciding that would give authority to the Secretary-General, Mr Solana, and that he then had the authority to let SACEUR start the bombing campaign. With our Permanent Representative in NATO, Sir John Goulden, we were fully involved in that process, along with the other allies.

  82. We heard from Sir Charles about the constraints, the political constraints and the military constraints.
  (General Sir Charles Guthrie) Legal constraints too.

  83. Yes, indeed, legal constraints. The military ones specifically Sir Charles mentioned, the bad weather. To run through some of these, the lack of sufficient precision guided weaponry, was that a factor? The safety of the pilots? Perhaps making them fly too high? Any actual assessment of the FRY's anti aircraft capability? Can you run through the military constraints?
  (Air Marshal Sir John Day) If I can cover the low level one first. Any decision to carry out any military operation is a balance of risk and looking at all the factors. What NATO looked at with regard to whether it went at medium level or low level, it looked at the vulnerability of the aircraft and hence the crews, it looked at the pre-knowledge of target details, including the exact location, time and the location of the attack—just because you know where something is now does not mean to say you will know when the attack hits there—the tactical and strategic value of the target and then weighing that against the risk to the air crew. It was quite clear that throughout the campaign the balance of risks favoured staying at medium level. Once the Serbian air defence system had been degraded to a certain extent, aircraft, particularly for tactical targets in Kosovo, were given authority to come below 15,000 feet on the pilot's discretion, depending on the target, target acquisition and the value of that target. We were prepared at all stages to go low level if the balance of risk and the benefit changed. We were prepared particularly to go at low level for the ground entry if the ground forces had been opposed and, indeed, our crews were specifically requalified for day and night low level operations.

  84. Did we have enough aircraft to do this job as we had set out and were they the right type of aircraft?
  (Air Marshal Sir John Day) We had enough aircraft. I answer that in the fact that we were part of a coalition and the number of aircraft that we provided was part of an overall package of 900 odd aircraft. We provided our fair share, bearing in mind the other commitments that we had already. They were certainly the right type of aircraft. We happened to have aircraft that were best configured for bombing as opposed to air defence but that was what the pressure was for so we did, yes.
  (General Sir Charles Guthrie) Can I answer your question about all weather precision strike? We do have a precision strike capability, that is the Tomahawk missile, that can operate in most weather conditions. The problem we have with the laser guided weaponry is that it can be deflected by cloud or poor weather and what we would really like, and what we are looking for, is to have a GPS guided system, such as the Joint Direct Attack Munition, JDAM, which is used by the United States. Now we are looking at options to solve this problem. We are not yet in a position to announce the results of the work but we hope to do so very shortly because it is a gap in our armoury.

  85. That is interesting information. I know it is all about costs and policy decisions but would we be in a position at some point in the future if there is a similar war or similar conflict to adopt a purely precision guided strike policy and not have to use random bombs?
  (General Sir Charles Guthrie) I am not sure what I would call random bombs because you can drop dumb bombs very accurately. I do not think we would want to go to a completely precision guided lot of weapons, certainly we would like to have more. We would like to have more not just because of hitting the target but, of course, avoiding collateral damage. On many occasions our pilots returned with their bombs because they did not dare drop them through cloud in case they hurt the civilians below.
  (Mr Tebbit) It is an interesting point. I am always candid, as the Chairman knows, I have made a great break with the past in terms of frankness.

Chairman

  86. That is really very helpful. It confirms everything I believed.
  (Mr Tebbit) One thing I learned which was quite interesting was just how much cloud and bad weather there was in Kosovo. This was not surprising, we should have known it all the time. I am sure our meteorological people would have been only too pleased to have told us what to expect. The fact is we were surprised that there were only 21, 22, 23 days—I cannot remember—out of the 78 where it was absolutely clear. It has brought home the problem of laser designation through cloud. Also, we thought the laser designators were more effective through cloud than they were. I will not pretend this was not a frustration for the coalition as a whole. Personally I have a much greater interest in weather men now than I did at the beginning of that campaign.

  87. I think there are a few redundant males in the BBC available to give you weather advice, Mr Tebbit. Can I ask in bombing, if you do not have precision guiding missiles and you are bombing from 15,000 feet, what are the chances of hitting the ground let alone the target?
  (Air Marshal Sir John Day) The chances of hitting the ground are 100%.

  Mr Cohen: Where?

Dr Lewis

  88. Not into the sea?
  (Air Marshal Sir John Day) Yes, or the sea. Perhaps I should pick up the point on precision guided munitions. We intended that the campaign would be conducted with the precision guided munitions but it was hoped that it would be a fairly short campaign. As we became thwarted by the weather, the Royal Air Force went out and cleared some of its dumb munitions, as they are named, from medium level and this proved that we were getting consistent and good accuracy, not as good as a precision guided munition that guides properly but certainly good and consistent accuracy. Therefore, ministers cleared us to use those weapons through cloud or where there was broken cloud and there was a chance you could be thwarted against suitable targets. Now those targets have to have a very low probability of collateral damage on civilian buildings or people. We do not know, because there was cloud, we cannot guarantee that we struck the target but there was certainly at least one occasion where an unguided dumb thousand pounder completely destroyed a radio relay facility that previously a laser guided bomb had failed to hit because it did not guide properly. Now that does not mean to say laser guided bombs are not good. The fact of the matter is if we know today the precise co-ordinates of where we are trying to hit, the precise co-ordinates of where the aircraft is through GPS and modern navigational systems, gravity and a bit of bomb fall characteristics do the rest. You have got a bit of wind to take into account. We did find, to our surprise, that we got much better accuracy than we had expected and that was achieved through trials during the campaign.

Chairman

  89. I heard a number of pilots complaining very strongly when I visited Gioia Del Colle in Italy how little training they had in this kind of bomb dropping. Were you satisfied the training was adequate?
  (Air Marshal Sir John Day) As I explained, this was not a technique that the Royal Air Force had used for many, many years. Because the trials were conducted in the UK the pilots involved at Gioia Del Colle, you are right, probably did not have a chance to practise. However, it is a very simple technique for a trained Harrier pilot in that he just flies the aircraft, having set the equipment up properly to a point in space, and then releases the weapon. Providing it has all been set up properly and the calculations have been done properly, gravity will do the rest.

  Chairman: We will have a good session next week, I am sure, with some very searching questions.

Mr Cohen

  90. On the targeting plans, what was chosen and what was omitted? We know the North Atlantic Council Military Committee selected the broad category of targets. I wonder, in view of the allied unity being a factor, were any countries able to veto those targets before they were allocated to specific countries to carry them out? Who decided which countries would do what targets? Presumably some countries vetoed the targets they were given, I believe we did. Sir Charles talked about the international law. Can you explain that?
  (General Sir Charles Guthrie) The target plan was brought together by NATO and they took into account the aircraft availability, the suitability of the weapons system, I imagine the experience of the air force and they put together a very thorough plan. We knew what targets we had on that plan. Now I do not want to go on about what other nations did but we did turn down targets because of collateral damage.

  91. Did other countries then pick up those same targets we had turned down, to your knowledge?
  (General Sir Charles Guthrie) I am not sure about that. On occasions, yes, I think.
  (Air Marshal Sir John Day) On occasions, yes, but it was probably because additional information had become available.
  (General Sir Charles Guthrie) When we turned down a target, it did not mean to say we would not do it the next day or in two days' time, but what we wanted to do was to check it out absolutely to see proximity of civilian housing in areas. When we did know that we could accept it.
  (Air Marshal Sir John Day) And the military justification for the target as well.
  (General Sir Charles Guthrie) Yes.

  92. Individual countries, their political oversight of the targets, other countries particularly, in your opinion did that slow down the pace of the operation?
  (General Sir Charles Guthrie) I do not think I am really in a position to judge that, you would have to ask NATO that question I think. I do not think that we were affected by political oversight. We discussed our targets with our Secretary of State for Defence and the law officers took a very close interest and the Prime Minister got involved in targeting too, but very seldom. There was definitely political control.

  93. Again on this broader NATO role with targeting, you got it right at the end with this approach of strikes against the VJ forces on the ground in Kosovo, with attacks on high military targets in the FRY, a combination of both. That was only really picked up in the second phase so you got the winning formula at the end but it was somehow reached without any clear direction, or it feels like that?
  (General Sir Charles Guthrie) It goes back to this question that we were not at war with Serbia, we were ratcheting and putting the programme up, the plan up, and putting increasing pressure on Milosevic.

  94. Right.
  (General Sir Charles Guthrie) Unfortunately, Milosevic could have saved everybody a very great deal of time and pain if he had seen sense earlier.

  95. I appreciate that point. We all agree with that.
  (General Sir Charles Guthrie) Yes.

  Mr Cohen: Just before I leave this point on bombing, I have got four quick points which I will roll in together. They are separate but I will roll them in quickly to save time. We have seen newspaper reports that in some aspects the United States went it alone on some of the targets they decided to bomb. Have you any suspicion or any indications that might have been so? Secondly, there is recent news that some of the target lists were open to too many people to see and could have resulted in security problems, including for our pilots? Thirdly, the issue of getting a broadcasting centre, this may have political implications. Is the broadcasting centre deemed to be a legitimate target? What is the thinking on that? Finally, coming back to the use of cluster bombs, what thought was given to the longer term consequences of using things like cluster bombs?

  Chairman: Before you answer that, as we have a section on the Royal Air Force next week, cluster bombs we can ask about next week, hitting the broadcasting centre next week, target lists available to Serbs, if not the Defence Committee, we will discuss when we deal with intelligence and the US going it alone, we will ask that again next week. Those questions that cannot be dealt with, despite Mr Cohen's valid attempt to roll them all into one, I think they are all very good questions so we will serve you notice for whoever is coming in next week.

  Mr Cohen: You successfully rolled up the censorship into one.

  Chairman: Not as successfully as I would have liked. Peter Viggers.

Mr Viggers

  96. The object of the option was said at the beginning to be to avert a humanitarian disaster, so a few questions about co-ordination with the Department for International Development. Did the MoD/DfID relations work well?
  (General Sir Charles Guthrie) Very well indeed. We established them and we have worked increasingly closely with DfID over the last few years. We established very good relations in Macedonia when we were there together. DfID provided a lot of expertise which we could not possibly do and we were able to help DfID with building camps and the running of camps. I think it is very close.
  (Mr Tebbit) Internally we had a daily meeting and DfID was always present at our internal meetings. The Permanent Secretary in DfID chaired one of the groups that was running as we went through this process to ensure that, as it were, the military operations and our aid/humanitarian operations were entirely co-ordinated. Was it safe to drop food to civilian populations or was it not? Did it affect the military operation? Would it be effective? Those sorts of questions were continuously co-ordinated between us.
  (General Sir Charles Guthrie) The Secretary of State for DfID actually appeared on the same platform in the Ministry of Defence as I did on several occasions.

  97. So when did DfID first set up a presence in the Permanent Joint Headquarters?
  (General Sir Charles Guthrie) In the Permanent Joint Headquarters—
  (Air Marshal Sir John Day) They were in the MoD right from the first day along with the Foreign Office.
  (Mr Tebbit) Within the central building.
  (General Sir Charles Guthrie) In the Ministry of Defence every morning at the Minister's briefing there was always somebody from DfID there, sometimes Clare Short, sometimes the Permanent Under Secretary, there was always somebody there, so we were tied in with their plans.

  98. Did you know when the first meeting between officials from NATO and officials from the UNHCR took place?
  (General Sir Charles Guthrie) No, I do not.
  (Mr Tebbit) Not the first meeting.

  99. Perhaps you could advise us. Once the air campaign began, NATO forces in Macedonia and Albania were quickly overwhelmed by refugees it appears. What lessons have been learned from this?
  (Mr Tebbit) One practical lesson is just how good the military is in providing tented camps very, very rapidly. In fact, one of the problems I have these days is trying to persuade the aid ministry that we actually do things other than humanitarian relief. The UNHCR were in the lead in the theatre in dealing with these things and the aid agencies did take a little time to get up and running and in the meantime, I say as a civilian, I thought the armed forces performed absolutely splendidly and worked until they dropped. Without what the army did, for example, over the Easter period an awful lot of people would have been in the open in very, very terrible conditions.

  100. Have there been enquiries and discussions about how liaison might improve in the future? Have you been in discussion with DfID?
  (Mr Tebbit) I think our own liaison was first class. I do not think we could have done anything that would have got MoD/DfID out into the field faster than was achieved. I think there is a bigger issue, as it were, for the aid agencies own co-ordination in these areas and I am sure they have been doing a lot of work on it. I am trespassing off my patch.

Chairman

  101. Thank you. What were the most difficult day to day issues that the MoD had to handle in relation to the PJHQ and the rest of Whitehall? Were these difficult issues successfully managed?
  (General Sir Charles Guthrie) I think it went well. We were able to meet every single day with people from the headquarters in different ministries and we had video conferencing facilities, so we were in each other's minds. PJHQ and the Ministry of Defence in general worked together very well indeed. I think that because this was a very high profile campaign, perhaps the Ministry of Defence did rather more on this occasion than it would over something like East Timor. One of the things I have learned is that perhaps PJHQ should develop rather stronger ties with some of the other national headquarters, for instance the American headquarters in Tampa, the United States' headquarters in Europe, the French headquarters, but I think we can develop that quite easily.

  102. Perhaps you could drop us a note at some stage, Sir Charles, there is no desperate rush, on lessons derived as you have started to tell us.
  (General Sir Charles Guthrie) Yes.

  103. And perhaps too on relations between SHAPE, NATO HQ and Commanders in the field. Do you think from your observations on that and those of your colleagues that this was handled well? In your note to us maybe you could include that also.
  (General Sir Charles Guthrie) Yes.

  104. Mr Tebbit has a flight to catch and we are truly accommodating where necessary. Our questioning was a bit like the NATO campaign, we expected to end the questioning fairly early and it went on rather longer. I am not accusing you of Milosevic style dissembling or deception but I am afraid we will have to invite you to come at some stage to continue.
  (Mr Tebbit) I would be happy to do so.

  Chairman: Thank you very much. Our inquiry will roll on. Thank you very much.


 
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