Examination of witnesses (Questions 433
WEDNESDAY 12 APRIL 2000
433. Admiral, welcome to the Defence Committee.
I see you have an impressive team of supporting colleagues. I
wonder if I could invite you to introduce your colleagues?
(Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) I
thought it was quite important to have one of each uniform to
demonstrate how joint we are. I am Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham,
the Deputy Chief of Defence Staff for Equipment Capability. To
my left is Air Vice Marshal Steve Nicholl, who is the capability
manager for Strike within my organisation. To his left is Brigadier
Andrew Figgures, who is the capability director for Direct Battlefield
Engagement, one of the particular capability areas that we run.
On my right is Mr Carl Mantell, who is the Director for Capability,
Resources and Scrutiny and on his right is Brigadier Ian Rees,
who is the Director Defence, Physical Supply Chain. He is not
a member of my organisation but is a member of the Defence Logistics
434. During this session, we want to explore
some of the lessons arising from the performance of particular
equipment in the Kosovo campaign. What has been your role since
the conflict in assessing the lessons learned and doing something
(Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) If you will forgive
me, I know the Committee likes brevity but it might be worth your
time if I explain what the purpose of my organisation is. Since
October, we have been establishing the equipment capability area
within the Ministry of Defence as part of the Smart Procurement
initiative. The aims of this organisation are to produce a clear
customer for each of our equipment projects who can set and agree
targets with the supplier who is the Defence Procurement Agency,
to bring together requirement generation and financial planning,
which previously was in separate parts of the organisation and
to produce an equipment financial plan which we own. We specifically
attempt to separate capability management which is what we are
in the business of, defining areas of capability and managing
them, from equipment solution provisioni.e., when we define
what sort of capability we want we do not in the first instance
consider how that might best be met in equipment terms. That is
the role of the Defence Procurement Agency so we try and put each
role where it most obviously belongs. We approach all of this
from a joint capability direction, not from a single Service platform
replacement approach. We do not make assumptions about this. It
is perhaps worth saying what I think capability is because there
is a lot of confusion and debate about this. It is perhaps easiest
to say what it is not. It is not just equipment; it is a combination
of equipment, doctrine, training, support and manning. I try and
encourage my people to look at it like that so that we do not
immediately leap to the conclusion that we need to go out and
buy something. We first examine whether changes in our procedure,
tactics and so forth might improve matters. In general, we proceed
by conducting a balance of investment across our capability areas
and by assessing what is the gap between the capability which
we have and the capability which the Defence Strategic Plan tells
us we need. To do all that, I have four capability managers, one
of whom is Air Marshal Nicholl on my left, who control and direct
each of four major areas: strike, strategic deployment, manoeuvre
and information superiority. The last is quite an important one
because it is the first time we have tried to bring together for
a joint organisation the responsibility for information warfare
and information superiority. Under them, there are 15 directors
of equipment capability who head up areas which represent the
capabilities that we decided to divide our work into. None of
those capability managers owns the totality of any individual
Service's programme. The Services' programmes are spread across
all of the areas. We really have grouped by capability and not
by environment, Service or platform. Our role in addressing the
Kosovo lessons learned is part of our normal routine business.
We are regularly assessing the capability we think we need, matching
it against what we have, establishing what the gaps are and then
looking at ways of filling them. It is in that spirit that we
have approached the Kosovo lessons learned as important inputs
to our capability definition and to our gap analysis, but not
giving them in the first instance any greater priority over any
other gaps and information we have, but letting them take their
place and seeing within those capability analyses where these
might help us to improve. As you would expect, some of them we
are taking forward urgently and some in a slightly more analytical
way. That is what our role has been.
435. As a result of the Kosovo experience, to
what extent have you had to reorder your equipment priorities?
Are there any requirements previously on your wish list which
now look less important or relevant following the conflict?
(Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) Of course, and
the most obvious example of something that needs addressing has
been perhaps our insufficient capacity in the Smart and precision
guided munitions area. We have work underway in that area, but
we are giving it a higher priority now. Air secure communications
is another area we have had to re-examine and give a higher priority
to in the work that we are doing. I think it is fair to say that
there are no lessons from Kosovo which did not figure in our analysis
beforehand. What has changed is the priority that we are attaching
to some of them. Of course, in doing that, we have to think of
the other scenarios in which we might operate and make judgments
about what the most likely ones are and where the Kosovo lessons
learned would be directly applicable and where they might not
436. Are we talking about Tomahawk here?
(Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) No, precision guided
munitions of all sorts.
437. Of all sorts including Tomahawk?
(Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) Yes.
438. And the laser guided ones?
(Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) Yes.
439. Do you have a role in contributing to and
taking forward NATO's Defence Capabilities Initiative and the
United Kingdom and NATO studies of the lessons of the Kosovo campaign?
(Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) The Defence Capabilities
Initiative is one of the factors within which I must work and,
yes, I am required in doing my work to look to see what opportunities
there are for collaboration or for cooperation or for improving
interoperability. We do that through a series of working groups
and contacts which we are in the process of developing. As I observed
in the beginning, we started setting up this organisation in October.
We have already had meetings with more than one NATO partner and
are establishing relations both at the top level in the organisation
and at the Director of Capability level so that they are talking
to their colleagues in different nations.
440. Are the gaps in capability identified by
NATO and also by the recent WEU capabilities audit broadly the
same as those on the United Kingdom's agenda for improvement?
Where do our requirements differ from our allies?
(Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) I do not think
that in broad principle they do differ very much. I have not yet
seen the Kosovo lessons learned from all nations but there is
a consistency of theme in those lessons learned broadly consistent
with the lessons we learned which I have already outlined the
key parts of. There is a broad agreement across NATO as to the
areas which need to be improved.
441. In answer to my first question, are there
any requirements previously on your wish list, you said that there
were but you did not go into much detail as to what the differences
(Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) The ones I specifically
mentioned, the precision guided munitions and secure communications,
are two obvious example of high priorities. So too are strategic
lift, both by land and sea, but those were part of the programme
beforehand and indeed were capabilities identified in the Strategic
Defence Review as being important areas in which we had a shortfall.
The four areas I have mentioned are those which are the most significant
and the most important.
442. You have not been set up long so we have
to give you the benefit of the doubt. The learning process for
you is still very much part of the game plan, but you have had
the benefit of having instant action to reflect on. It is the
failures there, the weaknesses of our equipment and what have
you, that concern this Committee, and our ability to be in better
shape the next time. What do you think were the significant lessons
that you have to put to good use and the way in which you are
going to direct your field of influence? On three specific points,
can you tell us about how you feel we are going to make steps
to improve three of the major drawbacks? One was the lack of a
secure voice communication for our aircraft. Secondly, the failure
for us to be able to refuel all types of aircraft and being tied,
particularly with the US, only being able to deal with the US
Navy. Thirdly, the heavy reliance on secure wide area networks
and Internet technology and the failure of us to be able to deliver
our own system there. Could we deal with those three as one and
then the other lessons that you feel you have to now spread the
(Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) Live operations
are in a sense a kind of laboratory. We perceive them in that
way and indeed would expect to have a lot of lessons to learn
after each one. Not all the lessons are the same of course. The
lessons in the Gulf War were very different in some respects to
those in the Kosovo War and the reason was that the terrain and
the objectives were quite different, so you would expect to learn
different things. So were the groups of nations that came together
to join those operations different. That would cause you to learn
different lessons too. To address the specific things you have
mentioned, as far as the aircraft, I will ask Air Marshal Nicholl,
who is the expert here, to give you a bit more detail. As far
as secure communications for aircraft were concerned, we had a
system of frequency hopping radios which provided us with a deal
of security and which we shared with a number of members of NATO.
This particular operation was the first sign that the Americans
had fielded a new type of secure radio which was incompatible
with our frequency hopping radio. Consequently, we discovered
that we had to keep up to date here. It is the case that the Americans
are able to give a great deal more resource to this than we are.
They are therefore finding it easier to keep up with the technology,
but we have made provision now for trials of secure radio and
action has been taken. The Secretary of State has made an announcement
about it and if the trials are successful, our aircraft will shortly
be fitted with that, both those operating in this particular campaign
and in due course on a wider basis. As far as refuelling is concerned,
I will ask Air Marshal Nicholl to give you the detail but it is
the case that we refuelled a number of aircraft from different
nations from our tankers during the operation. The exact numbers
I do not know. I dare say Air Marshal Nicholl does, but it is
also true that within the American forces there is more than one
system of refuelling used. Loosely speaking, there is a probe
method and a boom method. We use the probe method. Not all American
aircraft do. Our tankers are not equipped to supply those who
use a different system. As far as secure communications are concerned,
I think it is important to understand that eventually the sorts
of operations that we were engaged in in Kosovo were largely urban
operations, mainly of a static nature, which is a different kind
of concept of operations and requirement from that of fluid, mobile
warfare. We have had to make different provisions for it. Brigadier
Figgures can give you the details of that. We have certainly learned
what we have to do there. We have made provision to deal with
it. As a matter of course, like most other departments, we have
to make choices with our resources. We deal with the most urgent
things because we know that when we face particular circumstances
we can take urgent action to put the individual matters right
or to address the specific needs of an operation. In most cases,
we know how we are going to do that too. Sometimes, as in the
case of secure communications for aircraft, we find a new problem
we have to address.
443. What you say is very plausible, or it would
be if there were not such large gaps between the real action and
the quiet periods between. You are talking as if this came as
a complete shock to everyone that we were having to put all this
together to go to Kosovo. All of these things must have been readily
apparent to your, your predecessors and other senior commanders
and certainly must have been known by senior ministers. We had,
in effect, pretty substandard kit when it came to taking on this
sort of operation.
(Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) I do not think
I accept that. For a start, the operation was successful, but
to address the specific questions that you have mentioned, the
new American secure radio was fielded for the first time in this
444. That was a surprise to us, was it?
(Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) We had not had
to operate with them before.
445. They had not told us that they had switched
to a new system, our chief ally?
(Air Vice Marshal Nicholl) Yes, we did know that they
had applied a secure element on top of the HAVE QUICK II two radios
that was, in effect, the NATO agreed system. What we were surprised
by was the fact that they not only had it available on their aeroplanes
but they insisted on using it in this operation. I say "surprised";
that was a limitation. The fact is that there is a NATO lag behind
the speed at which any one nation and the most powerful nation
on its own can make the decision. There was an American decision
to move forward without waiting for allies and to apply that in
this particular operation. That was potentially a problem.
446. Were they made aware that that would probably
(Air Vice Marshal Nicholl) Yes, and we had during
the operation a number of work rounds. This was not a disaster.
The work rounds involved use of code words to deal with the extra
level of classification. Those code words imposed additional workload
on particularly single seat pilots, who in effect have a substantial
number of additional words and mental processes to go through.
That adds to the problem but it is not in and of itself a complete
stopper. We would like to do better. The lesson that we have learned
from Kosovo is that we should follow with the Americans in putting
this additional level of security on and that the rate at which
the ability for one to buy scannersthe sorts of things
that we know intercept mobile phones and so on, dealing with the
hopping radios and the rapid rates of change that we have on our
radios at the momentdoes mean that we have a limitation.
On refuelling, I turn your comments round completely the other
way. The American Air Force is not interoperable with anyone else
other than the F16s that it has sold round the world. The US Navy
and the US Marine Corps we were able to refuel. 85% of the fuel
that United Kingdom tankers gave away they gave away to other
nations. No other nation is in a position to say that it was as
interoperable. During the campaign, because of the incredibly
intense air to air refuelling activity, this is a small piece
of terrain, the sort of size of Wales, and at times there were
100 tankers a night getting airborne. There was a huge problem
there. We alone of the NATO nations put the Joint Tactical Information
Distribution System into our refuelling aircraft and made them
far and away the most desirable tankers in the force. The fact
that some parts of American forces could not use it is not our
problem. You may be aware that one tanker captain was awarded
the Distinguished Flying Cross and that was specifically, apart
from his overall operational experience, for the support he provided
personally to two EA6B Prowler American aircraft electronic warfare
447. Can I take you back to this problem about
compatibility of systems? Is that a general problem for all the
NATO countries, that the Americans have their own specification
and nobody else is able to be compatible, or is it a specific
problem that we have? Are there any other NATO countries that
are able to have a better relationship than we are?
(Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) As a general rule,
it is quite a widespread problem. The fact is that the Americans
are able to put far greater resources in than most other NATO
countries and they are a single country as opposed to a group.
When they discover some new development, they tend to introduce
it into service there and then, which is a reasonable position
for them to take, but it may introduce difficulties in the remainder
of NATO's forces that are at different stages of development or
different stages of procurement and cannot therefore immediately
448. I understand the problem but my question
is: are any other NATO European partners in a position to have
a better communications link than we have on those issues that
(Air Vice Marshal Nicholl) To take a simple example,
yes, those that have bought the F16 or the F18 have an immediate,
easy fit and easy integration for some systems where we, with
a different background, would have to do much more work. Even
if we chose the same weapon or the same communication system,
the same data mechanism, we would have a much more difficult ab
initio integration problem than those for whom the Americans
had in effect already developed it. It is not an even handed thing.
It does vary. I would not want the Committee to feel that this
is something where the Americans are treating us with disdain.
We are only 50% of their problem. There is a tension over there
as well between the Atlantic community and the Pacific community.
449. This is a problem relating to specific
aircraft, as opposed to a general problem?
(Air Vice Marshal Nicholl) When we apply a new cryptographic
system into an aircraft, each aircraft needs that system installed
in a different way and has different integration problems. Classically,
for example, we have to go through a whole system of studies on
electromagnetic compatibility. Does this piece of radio affect
the compass? The way it affects the compass in our aeroplane will
be different to the way it affects an F16 or an F18 or whatever.
The Americans will have put money and effort into establishing
compatible systems for their aircraft. It is then available to
those, if they can afford it, who also own F16s or F18s to go
and buy that off the shelf. It is not always available cheaply,
but it is available to them. We have to do that integration work
from scratch for our aircraft.
450. What were the major weaknesses in our equipment
capabilities, as you see it?
(Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) We have discussed
communications at some length. As is well known, we believe that
we need a better precision bombing and precision guided munitions
capability than we had then. We need a better strategic lift than
we had then. We knew that already. We were in the throes of acquiring
it. Those seem to me to be the most important lessons. Obviously,
when we are able to field a new army communication system, we
will have a better army communication system on the ground too,
but that work is also well underway. I think I stand by my statement
that there were no capabilities that we were unaware of. What
has changed is the relative priorities.
451. If we judge our ability to remedy those
failures with the way in which you would evaluate the MOD's ability
to put right the wrongs, would you not feel that some of our NATO
allies would be able to fill some of those roles for us with a
more specialised role for individual countries within NATO for
future operations of this kind, rather than us trying to afford
to put all of our wrongs right or all of our capabilities in good
order? Would it not be better for us to have more of a specialised
(Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) It sounds as if
you are inviting me to redo the Strategic Defence Review off the
452. We have been through this since the Strategic
Defence Review and we have to learn some lessons. What we know
is that our capability was defective in lots of areas.
(Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) I do not recognise
that picture. I think we were very effective in the majority of
areas but of course we have things that we need to put right,
most of which we had identified before. It is true that at any
given moment we can only use the resources that we have and we
have to make choices. That is not unique across government. I
have no doubt at all in my mind that one could reach an agreement
in which different countries undertook to provide different parts
of the capability. That seems to me to be a political question,
not a defence one, because it will obviously restrict those countries'
abilities and capabilities in other circumstances. The capabilities
that we are going to field are those that have been identified
in the Strategic Defence Review and form part of the government's
453. When will your wish list be available for
us to look at?
(Mr Mantell) We have already published an initial
stab at that. Lord Robertson did that before he left to be Secretary
General of NATO. We have a plan later in the year to publish rather
more on this. I do not, I am afraid, have a precise date.
454. Is it in great detail or is it just typical
(Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) It will explain
the lessons that are learned. The thing that my organisation is
concerned to do is to make sure that we try and identify which
lessons are going to be universally applicable to any kind of
operations, which are specific to the particular kind of operations
in Kosovo and which are the most likely to take place. That is
not just for me; that is Ministry of Defence policy and arguably
a government policy issue as well. Then we will address the capability
gaps against those needs, but it does not follow that every lesson
learned from Kosovo needs to be implemented with the same urgency.
Quite clearly, we cannot do all the things that we are currently
doing and a whole lot of new things unless we are fortunate enough
to be given a much bigger resource. That is not my call either.
455. You referred to the need for more precision
guided munitions. From the experiences in Kosovo, which precision
guided weapons give us the best capabilities and which are less
(Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) There is a different
range of weapons which are appropriate in different sets of circumstances,
depending upon the terrain, the overall political objectives and
the sorts of targets that you are trying to take on. In the case
of Kosovo, for example, it was particularly important to minimise
the risk of collateral damage. It was also pretty important not
to increase the risk of casualties on our own side because both
of those things would have had a strategic impact on the operation
as a whole, both within NATO and perhaps more widely. That will
determine the way in which you approach things. So will the weather;
so will the terrain. The sort of weapon that you want for attacking
a tank in a desert where it is open may be different from the
sort of weapon you want for attacking a tank hidden in a school
playground. We would always want a range of weapons and, as you
know, we have a range of weapons. We have what are rather unkindly
referred to as dumb bombs. We have now developed a system for
achieving much greater accuracy than we had before. We have cluster
bombs. We are doing some trials to try and integrate the Maverick
air to ground weapon into our Harriers. We have laser guided bombs
and we are investigating what other sorts of weapons may be appropriate
to give us a full, all weather capability.
(Air Vice Marshal Nicholl) I can only support the
fact that it does require a range of weapons. The particular circumstances
in Kosovo highlighted one key feature and brought that up in priority.
That was less the way it is commonly referred to as the need for
all weather capability to keep operations going day after day.
This was essentially a political and coercive operation. In military
terms, at least in some circumstances, it does not matter whether
you drop the bridge today or tomorrow. The fact that it is raining
today and you have to wait until tomorrow may not be a military
problem but it may be crucial to maintain the pressure, in this
sort of operation, therefore to have attacks running today. That
ramps up the requirement for an all weather precision capability.
The problem with all weather precision capabilities is that they
tend not to be reactive. They are only useful, in most circumstances,
against pre-identified, static, longstanding targets. In the very
long term, we hope to be able to create a much more reactive all
weather capability but that is in the much longer term. In the
short term, the advantage of our laser guided systems at present
is that the designating aircraft is actually looking at the target
area and therefore has some indication as to whether the target
is there or has moved or whether something that will affect collateral
damage decisions has moved into the area. Crews were able to look
at the target area and say, "I am not happy. I am bringing
the weapons back", and to take a very rigorous approach to
avoid that strategic difficulty that the Admiral outlined.
456. As I understand it, I supported what we
did in Kosovo and I still support it. We did the right thing.
Nevertheless, at the end of the day, it is fairly apparent that
we managed to take out about three tanks during the whole process.
When you watch the TV screens, as people like me do, it is the
tanks that you regard as fairly important in ethnic cleansing.
Has this been taken on board, our inability without collateral
damage to take out armoured weapons on a field of what we would
regard as neutral territory?
(Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) The taking out
of tanks when they are in the open is relatively straightforward.
The fact is that they did not come out. They went and hid in a
variety of places. In some cases, you might be able to see them
but if you are determined, as we were, to avoid collateral damage
you still cannot attack them. If you damage a tank that happens
to be parked in a school playground, it does not matter what weapon
you use, however precise it is, you are almost certain to cause
collateral damage. The important point about the campaign was
that the tanks did not come out. If they had, they would have
been destroyed in much greater numbers. They did not come out
so that kept them off the streets, so to speak. It also meant
that the Serbian army was able to preserve them. If people are
not going to field forces, it is almost impossible to destroy
them without risks of collateral damage. That was a constraint
that was laid on the operation.
457. You are satisfied, are you, that we have
the capability to take out tanks that are in action?
(Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) Yes.
(Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) Yes.
459. Can I take you back to your answer where
you said that we needed a range of weapons? In evidence given
to us previously, we have been told that the Tomahawk Land Attack
Missile exceeded expectations. If that system is so accurate,
if it is immune to the weather problems that we have had and which
you have referred to and it also provides safety and security
for those who are deploying it so that we do not have casualties
amongst our pilots, why should we not simply put all our eggs
in that one basket and go down that route, given that it is accurate,
it is an all weather weapon and we do not lose our own pilots?
(Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) It is accurate
against static targets. Its guidance system requires it to know
where the target is before it is launched. It cannot be adjusted
in mid-course so it is no good against mobile targets. It still
would have the same effect having a much larger warhead than some
of these other weapons that we have been talking about with collateral
damage if it were used in circumstances where it was surrounded
by buildings you did not want to destroy. You have seen the effect
of a Tomahawk on a building. If you use that against a tank, even
if you knew where it was, it would risk collateral damage on a
major scale. It is also much more expensive than other weapons.
That is not surprising. War is an economic activity. It does not
make sense to use a weapon that is more expensive than the target.
It would in the end cause the other side to be able to outlast
you financially, a well known historical fact.