Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence

Examination of witnesses (Questions 140 - 159)



  140. So at the end of the day, bearing in mind the constraints under which you were operating, do you feel that we used our resources in the best way or do you think there was a waste of resources in the manner in which the campaign developed?
  (Vice Admiral Sir Ian Garnett) What resources are you referring to?

  141. I was thinking particularly of air resources and the use of non-precision weapons.
  (Vice Admiral Sir Ian Garnett) I think they were used very effectively. We were extremely effective in attacking targets in a demanding threat environment. We did not lose any aircraft. UK attacks, so far as we know, did not result in any collateral damage. We went to extraordinary lengths to minimise the risk of collateral damage and the risk of civilian damage and we played a very effective part in a NATO air campaign. I think those resources were used effectively.


  142. If there was such an endeavour to avoid civilian casualties, why was there such extensive use of dumb bombs whose accuracy is pretty awful?
  (Vice Admiral Sir Ian Garnett) I would like to turn to Air Commodore Torpy because we went to considerable lengths to trial the weapons before we used them knowing full well that they were not as accurate as precision guided munitions.
  (Air Commodore Torpy) Clearly the ideal situation would be to use precision weapons. The weather intervened on a large proportion of days during the campaign. What we did in response to that, so that we could maintain the tempo of the operation, was to look at what other options that were available other than precision guided weapons. What we did was conducted a number of trials on both the Harrier and the Tornadoes to see if we could improve the accuracy using unguided weapons. So we conducted a number of trials on our UK ranges to refine the procedures, made modifications to the aircraft so that we could use the aircraft in such a manner against certain targets within the collateral damage limits that we had set ourselves and produce a worthwhile contribution to the campaign. That is why we ended up bombing through cloud with the GR7s.

  143. If you drop dumb bombs at 15,000 feet, how many yards or miles can you actually get the bomb close to the desired target?
  (Air Commodore Torpy) At an unclassified level I am afraid I cannot go into the details of that.

  144. Is it in yards or miles?
  (Air Commodore Torpy) It is in yards.
  (Vice Admiral Sir Ian Garnett) We can give you a note on that.

  145. You are saying a dumb bomb, with a bit of luck and skill, at 15,000 feet can get within yards?
  (Air Commodore Torpy) That is correct.
  (Vice Admiral Sir Ian Garnett) Chairman, it is not just luck, it is as a result of very careful trials.

  Chairman: Of course.

Mr Hancock

  146. As you were head of joint operations presumably one of the things you were given at the start of this operation was the previous weather patterns for this area.
  (Vice Admiral Sir Ian Garnett) Yes.

  147. It seemed to me a little less than sophisticated that we were trying dumb bombs virtually every day that we started air operations. When were you first confronted with the fact that the smart weapons you had at your disposal were not going to be that usable?
  (Vice Admiral Sir Ian Garnett) I always knew that carrying out an air campaign at that time of year was going to be affected by the bad weather prevailing. We knew that air drop laser guided weapons could not be used through cloud. As the campaign developed and as we saw the impact of that bad weather we began, as you have heard, to develop and trial to improve our overall capability.

  148. But that was after operations started. If you foresaw this happening, why was it that we were not ready for this? Why did we waste, once again, a long period of time trying out bombs on ranges here to see how accurate we could get them when we foresaw that the weather was going to be so bad at times that we could not use the smart weapons that we had suggested we were going to use?
  (Vice Admiral Sir Ian Garnett) Although we were doing contingency planning we did not know that we were going to go into a bombing campaign until late 1998. So that was probably why we did not start doing trials. We were part of a coalition and other aircraft in the coalition, American aircraft, did have other capabilities that did allow them to bomb through the cloud. Although we were aware of the background and the weather, we were aware of our own capabilities, we knew that we would be part of an overall NATO coalition which had a range of capabilities but, and it is easy to be wise with hindsight, we did not then decide that it was sufficiently important to carry out the trials and develop that additional capability.

  149. Surely you had a duty to know in whatever operation, whether it was going to be Kosovo or anywhere else, the capabilities not only of the smart weapons but also the dumb weapons you had at your disposal. To suggest that you had to wait until you had it confirmed that the weather was going to be so bad that you could not use the sophisticated weapons you thought you were going to use that you then had to try out dumb bombs to see how good you would be at dropping them, I do not think the British public was aware of that.
  (Vice Admiral Sir Ian Garnett) We did not try out dumb bombs. What we wanted to do before we used them over Kosovo was to make sure that we knew precisely the accuracy we could achieve in order to minimise collateral damage and save civilian casualties. We wanted to be absolutely sure of the effect of using these weapons.

  Chairman: We are going to come on to this in a later session, so be prepared, tell your colleagues. We come now to intelligence. Obviously some things you may not wish to say in public and we can reach that crisis when we do.

Mr Gapes

  150. Not too soon, I hope. You referred to NATO's coalition having a range of capabilities and obviously one of those capabilities is different access to intelligence information. How accurate do you feel the intelligence that you received was on which you based your contingency planning?
  (Vice Admiral Sir Ian Garnett) I believe it was very accurate. We have many different sources to draw on. I have to tread slightly carefully here, as you will understand. I believe we had a very good picture, both from NATO sources and our bilateral sources we had with various countries, to allow us to build up a good intelligence picture of what was happening.

  151. Were there any areas, any gaps, which caused you anxiety?
  (Vice Admiral Sir Ian Garnett) There were no gaps that caused me great anxiety but you may wish to ask that question of CDI.

  152. I am sure we will, and your colleagues.
  (Vice Admiral Sir Ian Garnett) Can I just ask Air Commodore Torpy were there any gaps?
  (Air Commodore Torpy) Not in overall intelligence but clearly one of the lessons that we have identified out of Kosovo, and indeed other operations, is the overall ISTAR capability that we have in terms of identifying mobile targets and being able to respond very quickly to attack that sort of target. That is one area that we clearly are doing more work on.

  153. Is that because intelligence is based on sources which are from the air and with cloud cover and various other things, unless you have got people on the ground you cannot be sure that things have moved?
  (Air Commodore Torpy) It is a combination of all the different intelligence collection assets, so it is not just people on the ground. Weather is not the only thing which prevents you from gathering intelligence. The way the equipment, the troops are configured on the ground and the terrain, there are lots of different factors which make the collection of intelligence quite different against certain target sets.

  154. We were dealing with an adversary who had spent 50 years preparing for territorial defence and it was well known that the Yugoslav forces were based upon the ability to hide, to manoeuvre, to stay out of the way, the way in which the partisans had operated in the whole history of the Yugoslav defence structure. It could not have come as any great surprise to you, could it?
  (Air Commodore Torpy) No, we always recognised it was going to be a challenge.

  155. Were you then disappointed that the number of targets you hit was so few or was it what you expected?
  (Air Commodore Torpy) It was broadly what we expected against that sort of target set. Against static targets we were very successful but against mobile targets we always recognised it was a challenge to recognise them and to be able to respond sufficiently quickly so that we could attack them before they had moved on. That has always been the most demanding part of the targeteering.

  156. Given the experience you now have, what do you think could be done by NATO in future to make up for the shortcomings which have been identified both prior to and during this Kosovo operation?
  (Air Commodore Torpy) I think for all of the NATO nations, ourselves included, some of it is pure technical feasibility, so it is not a case of pure resources, it is that we do not have the technical ability to achieve some of the things we would ideally like to do in the time frames. It is a case of concentrating on trying to find technical solutions to improving what we call the Sensor-to-Shooter times.

  157. When you say technical ability, do you mean that you are so dependent upon the United States and there are not other sources of information?
  (Air Commodore Torpy) No, because even the US find it a difficult area of warfare to identify and target and attack mobile targets.

  158. What is your assessment of the political directions that came through from the North Atlantic Council and the Military Committee before and during the air campaign? Were these directions based upon adequate information and intelligence? Did they take account of the different types of targets to be attacked and the reality of conflict, or were they really unrealistic and not taking account of the reality as you saw it?
  (Vice Admiral Sir Ian Garnett) I think they took account of the reality. It became very clear during the campaign that it was extremely difficult to hit some of these demanding targets in Kosovo, the fielded forces. I think the political direction was clearly governed by the need to maintain Alliance cohesion. As you have heard, the air campaign developed to reflect the circumstances in Kosovo. I am not sure I can add very much to that answer, unless you think I have not quite answered the question.

  159. When you say the need to maintain Alliance cohesion, are you actually saying that for political reasons decisions were taken by the North Atlantic Council which were causing difficulties in terms of the military implementation of what was necessary and, therefore, there was inevitably a tension between what was politically acceptable and militarily necessary and desirable?
  (Vice Admiral Sir Ian Garnett) I suspect in any conflict there will be a certain tension between what the military would prefer to do and what we are directed to do by our political masters. That is inevitable because we are fairly simple people. Coalition warfare is much more complicated than that. I revert to an earlier point, which I think is well known. I think the centre of gravity, as we call it, was Alliance cohesion. That was all important and, therefore, we had to work in response to that overriding NATO priority and, therefore, the political direction that came down from NATO reflected that real political climate which was prevalent at the time and we did our best, I think very successfully, to respond to that political direction that came out of the coalition operation.

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