Examination of witnesses (Questions 180
WEDNESDAY 22 MARCH 2000
OBE, COMMANDER RICHARD
HAWKINS and AIR
180. Whereas the first bombs were dropped on
24 March, something like that.
(Vice Admiral Sir Ian Garnett) Yes.
181. And Sir Charles was saying he would have
liked the planning to have been in place before the first bombs
were dropped. What prevented the planning actually being done,
even if it could not be publicly proclaimed, until the best part
of a month after the first bombs were being dropped?
(Vice Admiral Sir Ian Garnett) Because the PJHQ had
not received the Planning Directive. As I said earlier, we respond
to a Planning Directive from CDS. We cannot plan in isolation,
we need to be given the required end state, the constraints under
which we should plan, the degree to which we can consult Allies
or not, and the broad scope of what the UK is going to commit.
Until we get that direction we do not carry out the planning.
Chairman: I think we are asking the wrong
person this question, it should be for General Jackson. We will
ask General Guthrie that.
182. Accepting the fact that many politicians
announced throughout the tail end of March right through April
that this was going to be an air campaign alone, can I put to
Air Commodore Morris and Commander Hawkins the comments that were
made by the most recent ex-Chief of Air Staff, Air Chief Marshall
Sir Michael Graydon, on 9 May in an article which you may recall
about the campaign. This is what he said: "The principles
of war have by and large stood the test of time . . . the importance
of surprise and concentration of force remains as vital as ever.
In ruling out land forces NATO sacrificed a crucial initiative."
I will continue, there is just a little more. "It allowed
the Serbs to operate in a way they would not have done if a ground
force were poised to enter Kosovo at a number of points; the Serbs
could not have avoided concentrations of forces, armour in particular,
and this would have presented the targets that have up to now
been so difficult to locate." What I want to put to the two
officers who were so practically involved in the aerial bombardments
is: had we kept open the option of a ground threat, how do you
think in practical terms, bearing in mind those comments by the
ex-Chief of Air Staff, that would have affected your ability to
catch Serbian military targets in Kosovo?
Chairman: This is a career terminating
question for people at this level. I really would not expect them
to put their heads on the chopping block.
(Vice Admiral Sir Ian Garnett) I am very happy for
Air Commodore Morris to answer that question. The Sea Harriers
were not involved in the bombing, they were involved in air defence
183. I agree exactly with the question. But
can these witnesses answer that question?
(Air Commodore Morris) Can I just say that it does
actually describe a hypothetical situation and I am sure that
you would agree that you would not give an answer to a hypothetical
184. Oh, we would. If it was in our interests
we would, of course we would.
(Vice Admiral Sir Ian Garnett) I agree that the situation
may well have changed but to try to forecast what the impact would
have been is too difficult to come out and say anything definitively.
185. One part of it is not hypothetical and
that is this: if you were sending an aerial force to attack an
opponent, you would expect to see certain types of military formation
on the ground. I suggest to you that you did not see quite what
you would have expected to have seen under normal circumstances,
and the reason you did not see it wasbecause Milosevic
had been told in advance that there was no prospect of a ground
attackhe had buried all of this stuff in places where no
bombs could get at it. That is not exactly a hypothetical question,
I think that is an assessment that I can reasonably ask you to
make of what you actually saw.
(Air Commodore Morris) You have to react to the situation
as you find it. I do not believe that we deployed to Kosovo with
any great expectations of precisely the scenario and the situation
that we would have to face. Obviously we tried to shape the battle
space to our own advantage but we had to respond to the way that
our opponent would react. I would agree with your words you said
earlier, we would try to maintain maximum deterrence against an
opponent, and reducing your armoury as far as deterrence is concerned
may not be a very clever move, but I would suggest we reacted
to the circumstances that we were placed in and I believe we were
effective within those circumstances.
186. Just a couple more points. Given that it
is widely accepted that the purely military desiderata would have
been to have kept open all of these potential threats but Alliance
cohesion and/or public opinion prevented that from being said
openly, was it not a crossing of the boundary between the military
role and the politician's role for military chiefs to be put in
front of the cameras, as they were, to have to defend on military
grounds a situation which was, as we have discussed, largely political?
(Vice Admiral Sir Ian Garnett) I am not sure about
that because, after all, the military chiefs, myself included,
always appeared with their minister and he could handle the political
questions and we handled the military questions.
187. But the trouble was, and we quoted this
last week, we had a situation where the Chief of the Defence Staff
was having to defend the viewpoint that air power alone would
be sufficient to do the job when in reality the military advice
being given behind the scenes was probably that we were reducing
the level of threat that we were posing by ruling out the ground
force option albeit for necessary political reasons. Did that
not put him in a false position?
(Vice Admiral Sir Ian Garnett) First of all, I am
not sure what military advice was given behind the scenes. Secondly,
I think that really is a question for CDS and not for me.
188. We know that there were political constraints,
we have heard that, but were you operating according to any military
constraints at the early stages of the campaign?
(Vice Admiral Sir Ian Garnett) If you are referring
to the Directive I was given in terms of what I could and could
not do, particularly the targeting directive and the rules of
engagement, of course we operated under recognised military constraints,
rules of engagement, targeting criteria, what collateral damage
we were to avoid, what civilian casualties we were to avoid. Those
are well established military constraints which we fully recognise
and accept and we operated under them.
189. If the advice of most political commentators,
certainly in the US, had been taken, and I presume the advice
of some people in the military, if we had not started at the bottom
end of the escalation, started a third of the way up to show him
we seriously meant business as opposed to not irritating the Greeks
or the French or whoever, could we have done that? If you had
been given the political direction "Admiral, we are not going
to mess around with these people, we are going to drop some serious
bombs and have a sortie rate as high as that we had in the Gulf
and we are going to drop precision guided munitions", could
the British have responded had there been a decision to up the
ante very early on as opposed to agonisingly going up the levels
(Vice Admiral Sir Ian Garnett) Could I make one point
before asking Air Commodore Morris, who was in the NATO centre
in Italy, to respond to that. This was a NATO operation, we were
one small part of it. This is the point I want to make. It is
not a matter for the UK to respond, it is a matter for the UK
as part of the coalition to respond in the way you have suggested.
Perhaps I can ask Air Commodore Morris to give you some feel for
what we might have achieved, or what NATO might have achieved.
(Air Commodore Morris) Firstly, going back to the
original comment of operating under constraints, I had a very
clear targeting directive which gave me very clear guidance as
to what we could and could not do. We were operating under very
clear political guidance, initially, as to what we could and could
not expect to do, and I have no doubt that if you put a number
of military people in a room and said, "How would you go
about this? If you were talking, purely from a military perspective,
how would you try to achieve the goals?", you may well come
out with a different plan when you overlay political constraints.
That is understandable, and that is the way that we have to do
our business. As far as this particular crisis is concerned, I
believe that what we are looking at is not the number of sorties,
it is not the weight of effort, it is the effect that we are all
trying to achieve, and the effects can only be measured in terms
of the impact that it would actually have on Milosevic and his
government. Those effects will be dictated by the constraints
that you have as to what you can and cannot attack, and there
are all sorts of implications as far as collateral damage, et
cetera, is concerned. We recognise that those are difficulties.
I believe that the initial plan was sound as a coercive plan,
it was a measured plan, and when we saw that that was not going
to be effective we had to adjust the plan. We then had clear guidance
from the higher command structure within NATO where they actually
directed what the ends should be. It was then up to General Short
as the Air Force Air Component Commander to develop his strategy
and overall plan to direct what the means should be of achieving
those goals. He then came up with the plan of parallel operations,
strategic targets into Serbia and attacks against fielded forces
in Kosovo. That plan still had to be developed in the light of
both realistic political and military constraints. We can all
sit here with the benefit of hindsight and say, "It might
have been better if we had done this, but we did it that way",
but I believe, with the rules and constraints that we were working
to at the time, the plan was effective, but it did have to be
adapted as situations developed.
190. In terms of a triumph of politics over
military wisdom, I went on board Invincible and a number
of people were sceptical, what the hell was Invincible
doing there? We lead on to that because this directly relates
to the answer that you have given. Was it a political decision
or a military decision to deploy Invincible?
(Vice Admiral Sir Ian Garnett) It was clearly, initially,
a political decision, because no forces are deployed through just
a military decision. The Government decided that they wished to
contribute Invincible to the NATO effort. She was in the
area, she had a very useful military capabilityalbeit she
contributed to the air defence operation, because that is the
principal capability of Sea Harriersand she remained as
part of the operation for about a month. It was not just the Sea
Harriers that, of course, did the business. I will turn to Commander
Hawkins in a moment and he will give you more details of what
the other elements of the air group were.
Chairman: We will come to that. Mr Cann
has a number of questions.
191. This is not hostile questioning, I am a
great believer in aircraft carriers and I believe in the SDR,
but I do have to follow up what the Chairman said. What on earth
was Invincible doing there? Effectively, as far as we can
see, the Sea Harriers on Invincible only flew sorties to
defend Invincible. To what extent was there any real RAF
fly off in sorties from Invincible?
(Vice Admiral Sir Ian Garnett) Can I ask Air Commodore
Morris to give you one answer and then, perhaps, Commander Hawkins?
(Air Commodore Morris) The sorties that were flown
from Invincible were defensive counter air. They were Manning
CAPs for a period of time and there were a number of Combat Air
Patrols around the area of operations. The reason for having those
combat air patrols airborne 24 hours a day, seven days a week,
was to ensure that we could establish adequate control of the
air to allow NATO operations to be conducted in Kosovo and, later,
Serbia. Invincible's aircraft contributed to manning those
combat air patrols. They were not getting airborne to defend themselves,
they were there to provide a defence element for the overall area
192. How many sorties were flown by RAF Harriers
from Invincible? I understand the role of the Sea Harrier.
(Vice Admiral Sir Ian Garnett) Because the Harriers
were operating on shore, as we know, there was no point in deploying
them to Invincible.
193. As I understand it, the combat air patrol
is actually, in naval terms, there to defend the actual ships.
(Commander Hawkins) It can be. In this particular
campaign they were not used to defend HMS Invincible. There
was no realistic threat where she was positioned. The Sea Harriers
from Invincible flew defensive counter air over the theatre
of operations to protect high value air assets that were being
used in the campaign, and in so doing used their air defence capability
to the maximum whilst freeing off other coalition aircraft to
do what they were best at, which was the offensive support. They
were freeing off other NATO multi-role aircraft to carry out offensive
support missions and capitalising on their air defence speciality,
but they were not being used to defend HMS Invincible.
194. I am bewildered. What air assets were the
Sea Harriers defending?
(Air Commodore Morris) The air space in the region
was extremely complex and very, very dense in terms of the number
of aircraft. They were flying up to 1,000 sorties, or just short
of 1,000 sorties, in a 24 hour period at the height of the campaign.
We would ensure that at any one time there was a vast array of
combat air patrols up, support aircraft, rivet joint, ELINT aircraft,
AWACS etc. All of these aircraft, when they were airborne, were
there to gather information, largely, and we had to ensure that
that coverage was provided the whole time. Those assets are key
assets and they had to be protected from potential hostile intent
from the opposition. Of course, when we were then conducting offensive
operations into Kosovo, which were being flown virtually on a
24 hour basis, and offensive packages into Serbia, at the same
time we had to have defensive counter air combat air patrols airborne
at the same time, so it was a full time task. Some of the 14 nations
which were contributing forces were exclusively involved in manning
combat air patrols, and their contribution, although they did
not actually take offensive action, was as significant as anyone
elses, because they formed a part of the overall capability.
195. The combat air patrols from Invincible
were tasked to look after an individual aircraft?
(Air Commodore Morris) They were tasked to cover an
area of responsibility and all the assets that were operating
in that area would come under their defensive umbrella.
196. Did they shoot down any Serbian aircraft
(Vice Admiral Sir Ian Garnett) No.
197. Were they in combat with Serbian aircraft
(Air Commodore Morris) They did chase one.
(Commander Hawkins) There was one occasion when they
did engage, not with weapons, but with radars, and did chase off
Mr Cann: Did they catch it?
Chairman: A Serbian aircraft, not Italian.
198. Have we got any lessons to learn, do you
think, from the use of Invincible and, perhapsgoing
into the SDR, if the Chairman will allow mepropose to have
larger carriers with a larger number of aircraft with a greater
mode of delivery?
(Vice Admiral Sir Ian Garnett) I can give my private
view on the size of carriers, but I am not sure that it is relevant
to what we are doing today. What I can say is that air power deployed
at sea is complementary to air power deployed on shore. Aircraft
carriers have advantages and disadvantages; they are mobile, they
are flexible, they are sometimes difficult to find, they can operate
aircraft where you may be short of airfields ashore or host nation
support, they are, to a degree, self supporting. However, airfields
ashore have many advantages as well; they are bigger, they are
easier to resupply, they are more capable in many ways. So the
two bits of defence, aircraft carriers and shore based air power,
are complementary assets within the overall defence armament.
There would have been no point in the Harriers operating from
Invincible because they were firmly established and they
could operate very effectively. Invincible was coming through
the area, having returned from the Gulf, and was a very useful
military capability that the Government decided to contribute.
When it comes down to the size of aircraft carriers, that is really
a matter for those who have to think very carefully about the
balance of investment and capability. We can spend some time discussing
it, if you wish?
Chairman: On another occasion we would
be delighted. We are about to start our inquiry into whether there
has been any proscrastination so far on the carrier programme.
199. We all know the history of Invincible
and Illustrious class, they are not really aircraft carriers
at all, they are anti-submarine warfare through deck cruisers
with a complement of Harriers on board to provide combat air patrols
to protect it, we all know that. The FA2 has no real ability,
has it, in a combat role in terms of ground?
(Commander Hawkins) In common with all Harriers, the
Sea Harrier has an air-to-ground capability, however, it is very
much optimised for the air defence role. Without going to a classified
level I do not want to go into much more than that, but it does
have a genuine air-to-ground capability. On this occasion it was
decided to capitalise on its very good air defence capability.
(Vice Admiral Sir Ian Garnett) Of course, what we
are developing, as you know, as a result of the SDR, is a complementary
Royal Air Force/Royal Navy Harrier capability through Joint Force
2000. We are capitalising on the strength of the Harrier, optimised
for ground attack, and the air defence capability of the Sea Harrier,
and possibly we will produce an aircraft that can do both roles
under the umbrella of Joint Force 2000.