Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence

Examination of witnesses (Questions 180 - 199)



  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 operations.

  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 question.

  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.

Dr Lewis

  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 was—because Milosevic had been told in advance that there was no prospect of a ground attack—he 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 of escalation?
  (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 capability—albeit she contributed to the air defence operation, because that is the principal capability of Sea Harriers—and 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.

Mr Cann

  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 of activity.

  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 at all?
  (Vice Admiral Sir Ian Garnett) No.

  197. Were they in combat with Serbian aircraft at all?
  (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 an aircraft.

  Mr Cann: Did they catch it?

  Chairman: A Serbian aircraft, not Italian.

Mr Cann

  198. Have we got any lessons to learn, do you think, from the use of Invincible and, perhaps—going into the SDR, if the Chairman will allow me—propose 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.

Mr Cann

  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.

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