Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence

Examination of witnesses (Questions 200 - 219)



  200. An assault weapon bearing RAF engines, as they do at present?
  (Vice Admiral Sir Ian Garnett) That is a different issue, Chairman.


  201. How many pilots did we have available to fly those aircraft who were qualified to land at night? Are you satisfied that we had the right number?
  (Commander Hawkins) In HMS Invincible we had the standard peace-time complement of Sea Harrier squadron, which was seven aircraft and 10 pilots. At that time approximately two thirds of the pilots were night qualified, which is usual in peace-time, and that is of the people who were on board the ship at the time. At very short notice we could have augmented the squadron to provide a full complement of night qualified people.

  202. How many additional Sea Harriers did we have available to join? If we had lost an aircraft or two, would Yeovilton have been able to supply additional ones? Would they have had the right qualities, which were being maintained? Is it true that Yeovilton were asked and we were told there was only one Sea Harrier available for deployment?
  (Commander Hawkins) I cannot answer that specific point, but I can say that there was an adequate number of FA2s available at Yeovilton at a reasonable notice to deploy.

  203. I would like reassurances that what you have said is absolutely true.
  (Vice Admiral Sir Ian Garnett) Can I just clarify, Chairman? You would like a note on the total FA2 capability available for operation?

  Chairman: Generally available and could be deployed very swiftly. We will now move on.

Mr Hancock

  204. My questions really do concern your role in the overall planning of things and the plan that was presented to you as head of the operation to actually implement. Can you tell us, when you saw the plan, when it was first given to you, what the targeting strategy was and how all of this was going to be interwoven? Were you satisfied with that? If this report is going to mean anything, we need to know whether or not you asked for changes, or were you unhappy about any of it?
  (Vice Admiral Sir Ian Garnett) Is this the air campaign?

  205. To begin with.
  (Vice Admiral Sir Ian Garnett) We saw the air campaign emerging from NATO. I was responsible for contributing, under the direction of the Ministry of Defence, the air assets that the United Kingdom had decided they would offer up. We were aware of the targets and I was satisfied that we could provide a very useful contribution to this NATO air campaign.

  206. When you were doing that were you satisfied that the plan and the assets actually could deliver the end result that was required, and when were you made aware that there were deficiencies in equipment and certainly in the capabilities of some of the pilots?
  (Vice Admiral Sir Ian Garnett) I am not aware of any deficiencies in the capabilities of some of the pilots.

  207. I was with the then Minister for the Armed Forces and we were told by the squadron commander in one of the places that we visited that pilots had to return to the United Kingdom for further training because there were not sufficient pilots qualified for night flying. I find it hard to believe that they were deployed in the first place and then sent back to the United Kingdom for further training?
  (Air Commodore Torpy) I think that was probably in the context of the Harriers. When KFOR was going to be inserted it was judged at that stage that there may be a requirement for low level night operations. The crews who had been deployed for the bulk of the air campaign clearly had not had the opportunity to carry out night low level operations, and the intention was that if night low level operations were required they would return to the United Kingdom and carry out some night training before they were used to support the ground insertion.

  208. They did come back to the United Kingdom and it meant that the pilots who remained had to do more flying missions than were reasonably required of them.
  (Air Commodore Torpy) That is a currency issue, because they had not had the opportunity and it is a skill that perishes very quickly.

  209. How can you plan an operation when you knew that you had pilots that were not sufficiently capable of delivering what the plan involved them doing?
  (Air Commodore Morris) As the Commander in Italy at the time I never had any doubts at all about the capability of any of the aircrew and what they were flying in, across of all the aircraft types. Nobody was actually deployed to theatre unless they had undergone the essential training to actually go to theatre. Once the cease-fire came about it became obvious, as we all now know, that the insertion of KFOR was going to take a 10 day period, and exactly as Air Commodore Torpy has said, we then felt that there might be a need to go in at low level. Clearly at that stage we had two choices, we could bring in some pilots that were night low level qualified and who had been trained in the United Kingdom already but were not current in theatre and operating in that air space and that environment, but it was the judgment at the time that it was better to return some pilots who were current in theatre and, if you like, were blooded in theatre, so that they could come back and re-familiarise themselves in low flying. It took a matter of a few days. I believe that it was a very, very sensible move to do that and was making the best use of our resources. We never had, at any time, any qualms about the capabilities of the people that were out there. We would not have put people in a combat situation unless we were satisfied that they had sufficient training.

  210. Tell me about the aircraft. When were you made aware, as head of joint operations, that some of the operations would require aircraft which were not capable of delivering the modified Tornadoe and that it was not at your disposal because it could not carry some of the weapons that you might be asked to deploy from it? When were you made aware that the modified Tornado was not going to be an asset that was going to be able to fly in Kosovo?
  (Air Commodore Torpy) I presume that you are referring to the GR4, which had gone thorough the midlife up-date. There was never any intention of using GR4s because the delivery of those aircraft was not in the timescale for allied operations and Op Allied Force. Our intention was always to use the GR1.

  211. Are you saying that none of those planes, if you had wanted them, were available? I draw your attention to what the Minister for the Armed Forces said in the defence debate on this issue if you are now saying that none of these aircraft were available for combat missions if necessary?
  (Air Commodore Morris) My peace-time job is Senior Air Staff Officer, Number 1 Group. Number 1 Group is responsible for the fleet management and command of Tornado GR forces, so obviously we knew only too well, and it is on-going with other operations that we service and provide the capabilities for, but it is our responsibility to deliver the capabilities. The Tornado GR Force at the time was going through its midlife up-date programme, and it is still on-going. The plan was always to meet our operational commitments under the JRRF commitments etc, with the GR1 Force, as we actually migrate from one type to another. At that time we had not gone sufficiently through the up-grade programme, and GR1 was always going to be our favoured option, and it gave us the capability which met our needs at the time. We could have delivered GR4s had we wanted to, and they could have been effective, but not in all of the roles that we might have wanted to use them for at that time. So the GR1 was definitely the right aircraft to go with. We are now a year on, the situation is changing and we would expect that some time in the not too distant future that will change as the midlife programme is completed. It was no surprise to anybody, it was purely a fleet management task, which is day-to-day business.

  212. Could you tell us what influence you had over the approval and the selection of targets?
  (Vice Admiral Sir Ian Garnett) Targets are generated within NATO. Targets were allocated to nations for attack. The approval process that happened in the United Kingdom was dealt with in accordance with the delegated powers and was approved at the highest level politically and from a legal point of view.

  213. How quickly were you aware whether or not the intelligence analysis of those targets had been successful so that you, as head of joint operations, could talk to your subordinate commanders in the field about the success or otherwise of attacks on targets? At any time did you have to reconsider your position, the type of equipment that we were using, the type of bombs that were being dropped, et cetera?
  (Vice Admiral Sir Ian Garnett) The battle damage assessment process, which is what I think you are referring to, the assessment of what you have achieved, is continuous. Every day I, or my representative, briefed the Ministry of Defence Ministers on what had been achieved in the previous 24 hour period. We took that information from a range of sources. There were the initial reports from the pilots that carried out the mission, there were then further reports generated from many sources in NATO as to whether, in retrospect, we had achieved what we thought we had achieved, and then over the next few days we built up a wider picture. That is the three phase battle damage process that we go through. So, it was a continuous daily process of judging what had been achieved and assessing what the impact might be. Air Commodore Morris was intimately involved in that. He might want to give you a feel for what happened.
  (Air Commodore Morris) The target selection was very much a process. The NAC group approved target sets or grouping, they are not individual targets, and we had a number of targets which would be available for tasking against NATO assets as part of a 24 hour period. I would be involved in the allocation of those targets to us, so that, if I felt that it was right to do so, I could turn down a target. On the other hand, if it was a target that required high level approval, then I would pass that up the chain to the PJHQ to get the appropriate level of approval for the given target. Once the target had been attacked, obviously the important thing then is to gather the information in as quickly as we possibly can. The first thing that we rely on is the mission reports coming back from the pilots, which are sent within a very tight timescale to ensure that we get a hot debrief. I would speak on the phone to the mission leaders, the formation leaders, and we would get an instant debrief from any on-board films that we might have and, of course, we would then start to look, in slower time, at other sources that were available to tell us the effects of the mission and the execution of those.

  214. Would you say that you were getting an accurate enough picture of what was really happening on the ground, particularly in Kosovo, with regard to what damage was being dished out? If a pilot came back through the system and found a target, who could actually give him a further right to engage that target? You talked about the right of engagement, if a pilot had seen a target, or you yourself had selected it as being a good operation for us, how much flexibility did you have?
  (Vice Admiral Sir Ian Garnett) I did not personally authorise targets, that was not the way the process happened, it was part of a NATO operation. Air Commodore Morris has described to you how it actually happened in theatre. If a United Kingdom pilot could not identify his target he was under strict instruction, which was always obeyed, to bring his weapon home. We were not going to take risks with people who thought it was the right target and dropped their weapon just in case. I was absolutely sure that any United Kingdom air crew who could not positively identify the target, within the constraints that they had been given, would not attack outside their instruction. I was entirely confident of that.

  215. That was borne out by what pilots said. Can I ask one final question, and it goes back to the role of Invincible and the Harriers? I was a little confused about what you suggested their role was, Air Commodore, when you said that they were there to protect other air assets, and you went on to try to persuade us what they might have been. I was interested to know what you were protecting them from and, considering the distance out to sea that the ship was and that these planes had to fly, I am interested to know whether any of them fired anything in anger? If they did, what were they firing at, an air target or a ground target? You told us they saw one plane off. Can you answer that for us?
  (Air Commodore Morris) Absolutely. Out of the overall effort from NATO the vast proportion of sorties were really supporting sorties, and I would regard defensive air and manning combat air patrols as a part of that. It is an essential part of mounting an air campaign, and if you actually drop your guard, even though there was no perceived threat after the initial days and weeks of the campaign from the Serbian Air Force, if they had got even one aircraft airborne and had either conducted an offensive bombing operation into a neighbouring country, or had engaged one of our high value asset aircraft, then obviously that would have been a major drawback for us. So, even though we did have control of the air to an adequate degree, we could not drop our guard, we had to man these combat air patrols 24 hours per day, seven days per week. It was our insurance policy, that we could control the air. It takes a lot of time and effort to do that. The contribution to that effort came from the vast majority of the contributing nations.

  216. Did they fire at all?
  (Commander Hawkins) They did not actually fire, no.

  217. Were any of the British planes ever under any threat themselves?
  (Commander Hawkins) Yes.

  218. They were?
  (Commander Hawkins) Without going into a classified level, when that was so it was a known event which was controlled. There was obviously the need, on occasions, to prosecute radar targets. A particular ability of the Sea Harrier's radar is to look down over terrain and spot low flying targets. Obviously part of the mission was to, as far as possible, investigate what those targets might be. In so doing, on occasions, they would be aware that targets on the ground were looking at them, although no Sea Harrier was actually positively fired at, as far as I know, by a reasonable ground-to-air weapon. As far as the position of the ship, I am sorry if I gave the impression that the ship was a long way from where these combat air patrols were taking place. They were not a very great flying distance from the theatre of operations, so the carrier was an appropriate distance away.

  219. But allowed the planes to have an effective role?
  (Commander Hawkins) Allowed the planes to have the vast majority of their mission on task.

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