Examination of witnesses (Questions 460
WEDNESDAY 12 APRIL 2000
460. That is a new quote for my book: "War
is an economic activity".
(Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) Of course it is.
The Tomahawk is the ideal weapon for certain circumstances. It
is not the ideal weapon for attacking armour.
(Air Vice Marshal Nicholl) There is also the problem
of the constraints on the launch platforms. What you are interested
in is the guidance system, the cruise capability, the long range
entry so that people are separated. Two years from now, we will
be starting to field Stormshadow, the air launched equivalent,
and the nation will possess hundreds, as opposed to the numbers
that you know of Tomahawk in tens. The capability is attractive
but it is very expensive, as the Admiral says.
461. We have also seen recent press coverage
about the possibilities of converting the Paveway II and Paveway
III to a GPS based system. What are you doing to remedy the difficulties
of using laser guided weapons?
(Air Vice Marshal Nicholl) The Admiral mentioned that
we wanted an all weather precision system. We would like to deliver
just the warhead and keep all the expensive, clever bits as much
as possible. In looking at all weather precision guided weapons,
we have several choices. We could go down the JDAM route but that,
because it is a different weapon to those that we possess at the
moment, would involve considerable costs in the integration. There
may be a cheaper route by putting JDAM-like cleverness and GPS-based
guidance into the shape that we currently own with Paveway II
and Paveway III. That requires some work but we are doing the
work to establish what is the best route forward on this and how
we integrate it. It is not a panacea. When the bombs are sitting
underneath the Tornado, they cannot see the satellite. It can
take up to 30 seconds for a GPS system to lock onto the satellites
and start navigating. That only starts a few seconds after the
bomb has dropped and comes out of the shadow of the aircraft.
There is a huge range of circumstances in which simply sticking
a GPS weapon onto the aircraft is not a solution. It does you
no good at all. What you need is an integration with the aircraft
so that you can pre-prime the weapon with where it is, where the
satellite is, the current universal time and so on. That takes
a lot of integration and is not cheap or simple. I might also
add one other thing about precision guided weapons. I sense from
reading evidence to the Committee before that you think dumb bombs
are a silly way to go. We need to be clear that dumb bombs have
a considerable capability. If I was required to attack this building,
the Houses of Parliament, I would be quite confident of our ability
to hit it with dumb weapons from medium altitude. Post the work
that we did on better precision with dumb bombs during the Kosovo
campaign, I would be pretty confident of our ability to hit this
wing and this corridor with dumb bombs. We are seeking the precision
to be able to hit this room or the one next to it with precision
guided weapons. The problem with precision guided weapons is that
they are guided and if the guidance fails I have less probability
of hitting St Thomas's Hospital the other side of the river with
a dumb bomb than with a system with the ability to fly itself.
If it mislocates the satellites, I do not know where it is going
to go. It will go a long way. It is a low probability but it may
be a collateral damage risk that I am not prepared to accept.
462. You are not telling us that the lesson
from Kosovo is that you know how to blow up Parliament easier?
(Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) It is a tempting
463. You have indirectly answered a number of
questions I was going to ask, but there are some specific points.
You referred to Maverick earlier. You referred to the Joint Direct
Attack Munition, JDAM. Those are American systems. You said that
no weapon was a panacea, but the reality is if you are carrying
out assessments you will be clearly at some point making a judgment
as to which route we go down. Can you tell us at this point in
time what assessments you feel are the best way forward?
(Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) We clearly need
the ability to be able to be much more precise in the way that
we attack things. We need to be able to be confident that we can
attack the target that we want to get to. We are giving a lot
of thought and effort to precision but at the same time we also
have to be aware that we may find ourselvesas we did, for
example, in 1990confronting large armed formations in the
open desert. We may need a different kind of capability. We need
to keep as big a range of munitions as we can but we are, without
doubt, short on the all weather precision capability and we are
doing our best to improve that but we will not put all our eggs
in that basket.
464. How much is this driven by cost factors?
(Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) In any activity,
you have to make choices. I do not suppose the Ministry of Defence
is unique in that. Our aspirations could quite easily out-pace
the budget that any conceivable political party might wish to
allocate to us. I think that is also true of other government
departments. We have to make choices to live within our allocated
resources. That is not new either. Nor, by the way, is it unique
to this country.
465. Clearly, we cannot afford everything that
we want. You have referred to so-called dumb munitions as opposed
to smart munitions. If you had to make the choice and you could
have a large quantity of relatively cheaper munitions, as opposed
to state of the art American systems where we cannot get the quantities
that we require, where would you come down?
(Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) I would not make
the choice. I would rather keep both capabilities on the grounds
that I would be able to acquire increased quantities of one or
the other in extreme circumstances should I need to. Indeed, all
the operations we have conducted in recent years have shown that
we have been able to go out and acquire more of whatever it was
that we needed. That is part of our assessment process: how could
we top up this capability that we need, rather than keep large
numbers of things on the shelf which, as every shopkeeper knows,
is a very expensive way to do business. I would rather keep the
capabilities of both and a stockpile of a sensible size and then
be in a position to go and acquire more when the circumstances
466. Taking an incremental approach rather than
going to a state of the art system? Is that what you are saying?
(Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) No. I would want
to be in a state of the art system but I would not want to sink
myself into it so deeply that I could not afford to be in any
other system. We need a range of choices, depending on circumstances,
terrain, targets and so forth.
(Air Vice Marshal Nicholl) Can I illustrate specifically
with Maverick? We are in the process of acquiring Brimstone, an
excellent anti-armour weapon for a vast range of circumstances.
There are some circumstances that we have discovered in Kosovo
where our current cluster weapon was not desirable and Brimstone
itself would have problems. Maverick fills that niche capability.
It is not something that we would have necessarily felt we could
afford to go out and acquire, to get the totality of the system.
As it happens, the fact that the Americans have integrated Maverick
onto the AV8B, directly equivalent to our Harrier GR7, means that
it looks as thoughand we are doing the work to confirmwe
have a cheap route to fill in that little corner, but it is stay
with the main thrust, as the Admiral said, and fill in the corners
where you can.
(Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) We know where we
can get Maverick missiles when or if we need to increase the number.
467. Could I take you back to an earlier answer?
You quite rightly reminded us that you cannot use highly expensive
systems continually to destroy very cheap ones because with an
even remotely comparable aggressor you would run out of money.
You also rightly reminded us of the difficulties both of finding
targets because the stuff was tucked away and of avoiding collateral
damage to the targets. Could I nonetheless rephrase Mr Cann's
question to you by saying how is it that Britain managed to use
up apparently the whole of its stocks of some of its smart bombs,
certainly a very high proportion of its smart bombs, that America
managed to use up an absolutely unthinkably expensive amount of
Smart bombs as well and some not so Smart bombs and at the end
of it we appear to have found so very few enemy targets knocked
out on the ground when we arrived there?
(Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) There was a wide
range of targets that
468. I am talking of military targets.
(Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) There is a suggestion
behind what you said that we spent all our effort trying to attack
tanks. We did spend quite a lot of effort trying to do that but
we also spent a lot of effort trying to attack a very large number
of other targets which were successfully attacked. I have to repeat
that, if tanks are not fielded, they cannot be attacked. I would
regard it as a sign of one of the successes of the air campaign
that it stopped tanks being fielded. That reduced the chances
we had to destroy them without, in many cases, unacceptable risk
of collateral damage, but it did not mean that they were out on
the streets, terrorising people. We know that they were hidden
away. One must understand that in a coercive campaign you are
trying to change people's behaviour. That is the object of the
exercise and that was achieved.
469. Yes, but with enormous numbers of unsuccessful
shots against not just tanks but APCs and all the other moving
targets. The second question is this: what this campaign, although
you say it is different terrain, had in common with both the Gulf
and the Falklands was a very low amount of built up area. In that
respect, it may not be typical of campaigns of the future. Had
we been facing something more like Grozny, where very considerable
amounts of heavy kit could be tucked away in reinforced concrete
buildings, we would have had very little option but to use large
amounts of weapons, either dumb weapons or a dumb capability,
with inevitably very large amounts of collateral damage because
smart bombs do not offer a solution to operations in built up
(Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) I agree with you.
We have all seen the results of the Grozny activity and the sorts
of things that the Russians found themselves doing. There has
been a very large amount of collateral damage.
470. Can I take you back to the impact of what
we are trying to achieve? Does your remit, when you think about
choices of weapon systems, include thinking about the wider psychological
effect of the use of a particular weapon system on an enemy? For
example, would you bring into your calculations about which weapon
system to use the impact that it would have on, for example, Milosevic
or in some future conflict another figure on the other side, and
how they might react if they were attacked by a Tomahawk as opposed
to by bombs delivered by aircraft?
(Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) In generic terms,
I suppose so but I would not want to push that too far. Assuming
that I were in a position to be able to judge the impact on Milosevic
or Saddam Hussein's mind of what we might do, I suppose I could
attempt to take it into account. What we are trying to do is specify
our capability in terms of outcomes. What do we want to be able
to do here? In terms, broadly speaking, of military outcomes,
we want to destroy this or blow up that or deny access to the
other thing and then invite our suppliers to present us with ways
in which we might do that, having first assured ourselves that
there are no tactical, doctrinal or other things that we can do,
organisational training, crew support and so forth, that would
allow us to do it with what we already have. Whilst we understand
the general thrust of warfare and we make some judgments about
that, I think it becomes a bit difficult if we have to analyse
the particular minds of particular leaders of particular countries.
I am not sure that I could analyse a politician's mind as well
471. If you are dealing with an opponent who
operates hiding of systems, huge numbers of decoys, does not engage
directly and you have a weapon system whereby you could get very
close to his seat of government by using that as opposed to just
bombing generally and perhaps not hitting many tanks or anything,
is that not a factor you would take into consideration?
(Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) Indeed. Perhaps
I have been a shade dismissive. We do some psychological research
but of a generic sort. It is really difficult to get down to individual
people's minds. Of course we try and judge that kind of impact,
yes, and that will be one of the factors we take into account,
but in the end we have to specify a capability in sufficient clarity
for someone to decide what sort of equipment might match it.
472. Can I ask a final question about weather
forecasting? Large numbers of our aircraft flew back with their
bomb loads because of poor weather. They were not able to use
them on the targets because they could not clearly identify the
targets or because they were concerned about collateral damage
or the target moved and therefore they were not sure where it
was. Does this suggest that we have sufficiently capable weather
forecasting or were we just unlucky that we chose to launch this
air offensive at a particular time of year in Kosovo and probably,
if we had done it at a different time of year, we would have had
(Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) One of the things
with which I comfort myself every day, especially today, is that
I am not responsible for the weather. I know you have had already
had a session with the Chief of Joint Operations on this subject.
It really is not my field. This is not a piece of equipment. My
understanding is that we got excellent and accurate weather forecasts
from the Meteorological Office throughout. It is true that the
operation was conducted at a time of the year when the weather
was not very good. It was a surprise to people that quite so few
days out of the 78 were suitable days for visual bombing of the
safe sort that we wanted to do. We did not control when the operation
started. That was determined by the behaviour of the person we
were trying to change. I am not sure what we can usefully say.
The level of accuracy of weather forecasts that we get from the
Met Office is very good and was very good throughout the Kosovo
(Air Vice Marshal Nicholl) It certainly was. Operations
would be launched when it was known that there was patchy cover.
To run an operation over somewhere like Wales and find that the
forecast is for showers and your particular operating area happens
to be where there is a shower but somebody else either going to
the same place an hour later or going somewhere just 20 miles
away finds his operating is clearthat accounts for a significant
proportion that came back.
473. What about equipment problems? Were there
any problems of interoperability because of the weather?
(Air Vice Marshal Nicholl) I am not aware of any other
than in the generally poor weather and the very dense air traffic,
for want of a better word, in the tanking area. That is why we
fitted the Joint Tactical Information Distribution System, JTIDS,
which gives other JTIDS equipped aircraft the precise location
of the aircraft and gives the command set the precise location
of the aircraft. That is the only thing I am aware of.
474. At least we have discovered so far that
it is easier to obliterate the House of Commons with a not very
smart bomb than to analyse the mind of a politician. Indeed, if
you do the one, you do not have to worry about the other. I am
not a very smart politician when it comes to communications systems.
I know very little about them and therefore in the best military
tradition I have been deputed to ask you questions on this subject.
Some of these questions will touch on things you have already
answered, but I hope you will bear with me as I work my way through
the series that has been put together. A number of communications
problems seem to have been thrown into relief by the fact that
the form of warfare that increasingly we are expecting to be engaged
upon is expeditionary warfare rather than set piece battles where
communications would be run from a permanent headquarters far
in the rear. This clearly complicates the problem. It is hardly
surprising that we did have communications problems in the Kosovo
conflict. Can you confirm that our forces have insufficient secure
communications and datalink capabilities for operations like Kosovo?
(Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) You are talking
predominantly about ground force communications, I think. What
drives the architecture of a communication system is the concept
of operations, obviously. There is a considerable difference between
fluid, mobile operations and static operations in built up areas
which I will ask Brigadier Figgures to enlarge upon in a moment.
The Committee is well aware that we are in the process of trying
to introduce a completely new army communication system which
has two prime aims. The first is to provide secure communications
at the appropriate levels and the second is to provide a basis
for full digitisation of the battle space. It would be true to
say that we have not yet got full digitisation and we are not
alone in that, but we have planned so to do. It will be built
upon the present system. The present army system, Clansman, is
old and difficult to support, although we can support it for as
long as is necessary, expensive though it will be. That is one
of the reasons why we want to get the Bowman system in, but it
still cannot deal with the conduct of operations in a built up
area. For that reason, we had to introduce a system to do that.
We have experience of that of course in Northern Ireland, where
we have to do the same kind of thing. We were able to introduce
a system which allows us to do it. Rather than me attempt to describe
ground operations communications, we had best ask Brigadier Figgures
to talk to you.
(Brigadier Figgures) The issue with combat net radio
in built up areas is the straight line propagation of the radio
waves. If one were operating in the shadow of this bottle, one
would not be in communication. The way to overcome it is by having
a static network with repeater stations which allow you to see
into these shadows. That we achieved with the deployment of Polygon,
which was a secure radio system for Pristina, and Polygon Plus
which is going to be deployed outside. If we were fighting in
built up areas, clearly communication is very important down at
the lowest level. One does not have the luxury of setting up such
a static situation. The personal role radio which will enable
riflemen in sections to speak to each other and section and fire
team leaders to speak to their respective riflemen will enable
us to achieve the necessary communication when fighting in built
475. Those will work in steel clad buildings,
(Brigadier Figgures) You are referring to the Faraday
cage effect. Any radio will have that problem but not all buildings
are complete Faraday cages and indeed you will be aware probably
from the fact that your car radio works that there is an aerial
outside but you can also get your transistor radio to work inside
the car. So yes, they will work, but there will be attenuation
of the signal.
476. You have touched on a number of the points
that I have got in this little mix of questions. First of all,
you mentioned Bowman. Now, there were press reports suggesting
that Bowman is close to collapse. Is that true and, if so, what
will you do about it?
(Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) It cannot collapse;
it is the Army's most important equipment priority and in my top
two or three, and indeed, part of it has already been implemented.
Brigadier Figgures referred to the personal role radio which is
part of that set-up which will be placed on contract later this
year, but it is a very difficult and demanding specification,
trying to cope, as it does, with a wide range of communications,
a wide range of vehicles in a wide range of terrains and it is
a daunting challenge, but I have every confidence that we will
find a route through.
477. Now, reference was also made to Polygon
and these are the hand-held telephones given to the Army at Pristina.
Are you satisfied that they are providing adequate, secure and
inter-operable communications and is it intended that this Polygon
equipment would be extended to all UK troops and, if so, what
sort of timescale do you have in mind?
(Brigadier Figgures) It is secure. The level of security
would not be that which we would use for war fighting, but it
is secure and meets the requirements of the operations that we
are undertaking in Pristina. The question of extending it, yes,
we are going to extend it through to Project Polygon Plus which
will extend the Polygon commercial system and it will give all
UK troops access to it.
478. Have you any idea of the timescale?
(Brigadier Figgures) That is under way at the moment
and the in-service date I cannot give you at this stage.
(Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) It is perhaps worth
adding on security that we tend to talk about security as if it
is a blanket thing, but it is not of course. What matters is the
denial of the information for the period in which its early use
would be of benefit to the opposition, and in some cases that
can be a very short period indeed. Typically, with tactical operators
around built-up areas, it does not have to be very long, so you
can certainly accept different degrees of security, whereas strategically
of course you would want something quite different.
479. Applying my distinctly underwhelming level
of knowledge about these things, you referred earlier to digitisation
and I assume that, when talking about digitisation of communications,
we are talking of something analogous to the fact that my mobile
phone being digital is far harder to listen to from the outside
than the previous versions, so, in other words, does digitisation
equal much increased security?
(Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) No, we are talking
about something much wider than that. We are talking about the
handling of a huge range of information in an automatic way. Information
technology at its most advanced is what we are talking about,
presenting a picture for all those involved in fighting a battle
at an appropriate level for their role, but what was the question