Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence

Examination of witnesses (Questions 380 - 399)



  380. Yes.
  (Vice Admiral Sir Alan West) I put it in the brackets of ISTAR—Intelligence, Surveillance, Targeting and Reconnaissance—and what we need to get better at is what the Americans call sensor to shooter, which is being able to use your sensors, ranging from strategic right through operational tactical sensors, to pull all that data together to actually be able to identify targets very quickly and then link that through to the thing you are shooting at it with. That did not work as well as one would like it to work in the future. That is an area we are putting a lot of thought into in terms of structures and in terms of connectivity and in terms of what equipments we need to do all of that.

  381. Right.
  (Vice Admiral Sir Alan West) You mentioned the 15,000 foot ceiling, as the war went on, in fact for specific targets, aircraft were allowed to go down below that and go down to the 6,000 feet level to conduct certain operations against targets. We knew from Yugoslav Army doctrine, which stemmed from Soviet doctrine really, how much emphasis they put on concealment, camouflage, decoy, all of these sorts of things and indeed regularly flagged that up. I can remember reporting to the Chiefs of Staff on a number of occasions, that they were doing this and we were seeing a lot of that. Once you set your air forces over the country and they are looking for something, it is very difficult for a pilot to be able to tell the difference between a clever decoy—but when you get closer, you do not think it is clever but actually it is quite clever from those heights—and the real thing. If a decoy fits in with something which he thinks is a target in that area as well it is actually extremely difficult for them to tell that. We knew they were good at that and we knew that was an issue and a problem. It is something we will have to get better at doing.

  382. Thank you. On BDA, Battle Damage Assessment specifically?
  (Vice Admiral Sir Alan West) One thing that we realise that we need to teach people about is the three very clear distinct phases on this. There was a sort of feeling in the country that BDA was a picture of a cockpit camera showing "I think we are probably all getting a bit fed up with this building, are we not", boom, that is not BDA. BDA is split into three phases. The first bit actually is the pilot talking and the cockpit camera and him saying "I think I hit it, we think we have got it". There is then another phase beyond that where you are looking at what impact has this had on what we are trying to do. Normally we were not just trying to get that target, it was something larger we were trying to get a hold of by destroying that, what impact has that had. We have to use all sources to come to that decision. Primarily though imagery is still important. The final one is the overall impact on the campaign and how it has affected that. ***. You add that all together. You need to pull those three together. It does mean that to get the accurate Battle Damage Assessment, that takes time. There is inevitably, and one understands it completely, a great push to get it to the media. They all want to know "What did we do last night? What did you destroy". It is all rather like video games, is it not, "We hit eight of them, let us tick those off". There was a pressure for that. I think we need to teach people a bit more cleverly and probably we were not very clever at that but it was not that straight forward.

  383. I understand that point. Just leaving to one side for a moment the infrastructure side of the house and just focusing on deploying military targets. Would you accept that our assessments were very optimistic?
  (Vice Admiral Sir Alan West) I think that some of the statements which effectively came from pilots returning from NATO were on the optimistic side. In a sense I do not think that surprised any military people that it was that way, that has always been the case. The chap comes back, he is high, he has hit the thing, he says "Yes, I destroyed it" and that is the danger with that first very quick analysis. I think probably it was a little optimistic.

  384. When we discussed what seemed to us to be the grossly optimistic final claim that General Wesley Clark made—I think it was 200 tanks, a hundred and something APC, lots of artillery pieces and the rest—what was very striking was looking at the detailed BDA by category—and they were figures when we were over at NATO—was not only the fact that we could not really find any analyst who seemed to believe the claim but more specifically the percentage breakdowns, for example, from memory, only 10 per cent of all claims were deemed to have been dual hits. That must be the first war that has ever happened, that just under ten per cent have been claimed by more than one person. Only 11 or 12 per cent were deemed to have been hits on decoys. That, again, seems an extraordinarily low figure, given the quality of the decoy effort. The impression one was left with was—not just because we saw lots of kit pulling out and there was virtually none left on the ground and very few transporters—that NATO's final figures for BDA were really pretty grossly optimistic?
  (Vice Admiral Sir Alan West) I think probably they were optimistic. I did not put lots of effort into the full BDA of all Kosovo.

  385. I understand.
  (Vice Admiral Sir Alan West) There were lots of countries attacking and therefore that task was given to SACEUR. SACEUR did the study you are talking about and he gave the criteria for how he arrived at those figures. Really, unless I sat down and tried to do something myself I would not want to say that.

  386. Last question, Sir Alan, the issue of BDA was obviously a problem in the Gulf War, and some of it was a perception problem that you outlined earlier, the fact that the public's expectation of early BDA was unrealistic. Would you say that there were lessons from the Gulf War that perhaps we should have implemented or would you say that there were new problems here, perhaps because of a different terrain or whatever, in terms of looking forward to how we can do it better in the future?
  (Vice Admiral Sir Alan West) We had implemented a number of the things that were brought up in the Gulf War. I was a lowly captain running the maritime side at that stage in the intelligence world but I seem to remember a certain airforce officer, sitting over there, who got extremely focused as a two star on some of the problems of this and tried to get it sorted out. We have started improving those. I think there are a small number of lessons that are specific to theatre. But I have to say, call me a cynic, generally when everyone talks about lessons learnt, generally to my knowledge it is always lessons relearnt, the majority of them, and making sure they are properly implemented is really quite a task. It is extremely difficult sometimes but that is what we have to concentrate on. I do believe that our ability has got better because of the lessons of the Gulf War, and what has been put in. I think we have still got a way to go. I was pleased on the intelligence side with what my people did but still there are things to improve there. It is an area I want to actually invest more in, in terms of putting some more resources in there. I am doing that at the moment and trying to do that. Certainly we are not complacent about it and the issue I touched on of ISTAR, sensor to shooter, is extremely important. I believe we have got to get to grips with that. ***


  387. In terms of the personnel, you have analysts for targeting and Battle Damage Assessment, have there been any reductions in staff? Are you absolutely satisfied the men and women who are doing it are using the best equipment and they have had all the best training that is necessary? It seems to me it is that last five per cent of expertise is the difference between identifying a picture correctly and not identifying it correctly?
  (Vice Admiral Sir Alan West) First of all, if I could just say I have to make it clear there are a lot of people involved in BDA down in theatre and the Permanent Joint Headquarters as well, it is not just in my area. In terms of photographic interpretation, I am responsible to make sure they are all trained and that is done at Chicksands. I am content that we actually train them to a extremely high standard, and it is looked up to in fact by most countries in the world as being a very high standard. Being a military officer I always want more resources, of course, so the more money you give me, the happier I am. That is why we have the civilians to keep a check on us because we are frightful people really. Of course I would like to have more money. I think we have shifted resources across into this area. I put in extra people into that area prior to this happening. I think probably I will want to put a few more into there and no doubt I will have fights over money and things like that but that is just the way it goes. I had sufficient to do the job I was meant to do during Kosovo and I think my people did that, although it did mean, as ever, they had to work amazingly long and hard hours.

  388. You threw a lot of chat up in that answer but your numbers, did they go down before the war started?
  (Vice Admiral Sir Alan West) No, in fact my numbers did not go down.

  389. They did not?
  (Vice Admiral Sir Alan West) I thought, looking at SDR, that my numbers were going to drop but in fact my numbers overall did not drop.

  390. In those specific areas?
  (Vice Admiral Sir Alan West) In fact, I increased the numbers in those areas because I saw it as an area where we needed to have extra strength and I shifted it, so what happened was I took them from other areas. I would much rather somebody had given me a proper goal and said "Let us recruit some extra people" but that is not the way of the world, quite rightly we have to be kept under some constraint.

Dr Lewis

  391. I recall at the time of the bombing of the Chinese Embassy there was a probably deliberately mischievous report in the media that said that the co-ordinates for that particular attack, unlike all the others, had been passed to the military by the CIA. Would you like to take the opportunity to dismiss that?
  (Vice Admiral Sir Alan West) That is an issue obviously for the Americans, I would not want to comment on that. What I would say is because it was such a precise attack, that added to the feeling of some people "They have done it on purpose". I am completely convinced, I have to say, from my close knowledge of my American colleagues, and having seen their reaction when it happened, that it was a major cock-up. They definitely did not intend to do it. *** but I can assure you it was a total cock-up and that is all I am willing to say on it.

  392. A little earlier you stated *** that NATO cohesion over the term of the campaign was a crucial factor in Milosevic's mind in deciding how long to resist. To what extent was the belief that ground forces might or might not be used a similarly important factor in his mind according to your intelligence assessments?
  (Vice Admiral Sir Alan West) Early on, as I say, ***. I have no doubt, being a military man, what I believe is you ought to leave every option open but, of course, there are always political imperatives which might override those. For example, if you cannot keep the NATO Nations together you have lost straight away so there must be other issues. In the military sense, I like to keep the options open. As we moved towards the end of the campaign ***. There are a whole series of issues which impacted on Milosevic. One was NATO was not breaking up. Every little thing like attacks on a railway bridge, attacks from the media, it seemed that the alliance was staying together. I think he could not see it was going to break apart so that was a worry to him. There is no doubt that the Russians in fact put a lot of pressure on him and I think they were extremely helpful to us at the end of the campaign. ***. The air campaign was having an impact on him. It was painful. Some towns effectively by destroying the company that produced the guns, it meant there was no employment there which was a problem for him because that was causing unrest there. ***. I would not be the least surprised if he did not actually listen to what was said at our press conference in NATO to get the best idea of what was happening, I would not be surprised. So anyway, whatever it was, he reflected that. When you add all these issues together it was all those. In fact we were surprised at the indictment of Milosevic and I was slightly worried about it personally, I thought "Gosh, this will entrench his position", the reality was it definitely rattled him, it really rattled him. In the long term it might have entrenched his position but it rattled him at that time. When you add all those together which one was more, I do not know, but all of them together finally made him come to agree to the peace accord.

  393. It is the first time we have ever been told the indictment rattled him, are you able to explain why you believe that to be the case?
  (Vice Admiral Sir Alan West) ***. Clearly the way he reacted showed it had done that.

  394. You would say then that this package of five things—cohesion of the alliance, the role of the Russians, the threat or potential of a threat of ground forces, the use of air power and the indictment—all were significant contributory factors?
  (Vice Admiral Sir Alan West) Yes, I think it was all of them. It was them coming together and then the Finnish President going there. There is not one thing. It is no good people saying "Oh, air power", no it did not "land forces", no it did not. It was a mixture of all these things.

  395. Those who say it was won by air power alone are over-simplifying it?
  (Vice Admiral Sir Alan West) Yes, I think they are. The air campaign had a very major impact.

  396. Let us suppose that a ground invasion was going to go ahead at some later stage when we were in a position to do that. What forces would Serbia have been able to deploy against a ground invasion? What was our assessment of the fighting qualities of the Serb military?
  (Vice Admiral Sir Alan West) ***. They were starting to prepare positions and things up there. How well would they fight? We know historically the Serbs are good at fighting the defence of their country but having said, if you remember in Krajina when that fighting got really bad there with the Croatians, they collapsed very rapidly. Our assessment was that ***. Although the country is quite difficult in terms of NATO offensive operations, it is like a little bowl surrounded by mountains, ***.

  397. Is it possible for you to put a percentage figure on the extent to which you think the fighting qualities of the Serb military as a whole were degraded by the bombing campaign? Would it have reduced their ability to resist by some large figure like 50 per cent, or some relatively small figure like only 10 per cent?
  (Vice Admiral Sir Alan West) It is very difficult to do that. I think what is certain is that to go around and kill women and children and turf people out of houses you actually need just a few bully boys with a few guns and, therefore, you can hide heavy weapons and artillery primarily in holes in the ground or in tunnels, which is what they did. They hid most of their heavy stuff and very occasionally would pop a piece out to use it and they would go and do the sort of operations that I have described quite easily. If they wanted to stop a joined up army they would have had to pool those heavy weapons together. Once they started doing that then I have no doubt that the air force that we had amassed at that stage would have comprehensively destroyed them and they would have been in appalling order trying to get themselves into a proper defensive position. Because it is all mountainous, that is why I say they probably would have held out for ***. Even light troops fully dug in, as long as they have got resolve they can hang on but once that had broken through then, as I say, I believe that would have collapsed.

  398. Once again we see the situation where the fact that initially they knew there was no ground threat enabled them to protect their material and their men, but had a ground threat materialised they would have become much more vulnerable.
  (Vice Admiral Sir Alan West) ***. Their assessment of how long it would take us from saying "we are going to go and do a land campaign" to it actually happening, that would have been their assessment of what we could achieve. So they knew they had a window of opportunity even if we were planning it.

  399. Given that we over-estimated battle damage caused by the air campaign, was there a danger that that could have resulted in us being over-optimistic in assessing the number of forces that NATO would need to manage a ground invasion?
  (Vice Admiral Sir Alan West) Just going back to whether we over-assessed the damage caused, we have got to be quite careful what we are saying here. The damage caused to fixed targets was very much as we expected. Possibly there was an over-estimation of damage to the numbers of tanks and numbers of guns. As I say, I did not do a full analysis of this, NATO did and I would accept the figure they came to, possibly there was. We need to be careful with that because the key thing is not body counts, and the Americans learned this in Vietnam, that is not what matters, it is actually the effect of what you are doing. The effect of what we were doing, because they were hiding their things and they were moving at night, was having an impact on what they were doing, quite a severe impact. Whenever they came up against a little limited light opposition, like the UCK maybe in a couple of areas, they found it extremely difficult to deploy any forces with the power to beat them easily because they were scared to bring tanks out into the open because when they did they were killed. It was having an impact on them. It did cause an impact but, to go back to the video arcade, not in these numbers. CDS used to get very annoyed that people were asking how many were killed because, as he quite rightly said, this was not what this was about.

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