Examination of witnesses (Questions 480
WEDNESDAY 12 APRIL 2000
480. Whether digitisation means enhanced security.
You are saying it also means many other capabilities as well.
(Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) In the sense that
I used it, it has got little to do with security. Secure communications
is a prime thrust of our communications work. Digitisation is
a battle-fighting aid, providing information and a battle picture
at all levels, so I used it in that sense, not in any other sense.
481. We have been acquainted with the concept
called "Joint Battlespace Digitisation". Would you care
to explain that a little bit and given that there have been problems
with inter-operability of communication systems and with the progress
of Bowman, as we said earlier, what are the prospects of this
(Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) The prospects of
it being achieved are good. You will then ask me what the timescale
is and that is a bit more difficult. I would not like you to think
that this is virgin territory. We have already got large parts
of the Forces where digital information is exchanged on high-data
rate links both amongst our own Forces and with other forces of
other nations. The maritime area is one and the air is another,
but the land side has always been much more difficult partly because
of the concept of operations and partly because of the nature
of the terrain and earlier we talked about "wooding"
and all the other things that interfere, but we anticipate that
we will be able to pull the whole of this battlespace together.
It is a pretty demanding task. If you imagine the Kosovo operation,
the number of units involved, the number of aircraft, the number
of ships, the number of soldiers and so forth and the number of
command centres both locally in the area, the theatre, and back
to the capitals of all the nations, that is the kind of network
we are trying to build. The land digitisation of which Bowman
is a key part is a subsection of that lot.
482. We have been advised that the need to grapple
with this problem was recognised as long ago as 1995, but that
there has not been a great deal of progress in the MoD since then,
and it has been suggested to us that part of the reason for this
has been the reluctance of the individual Services to compromise
on their aspirations to meet the need for a central system. Do
you feel in fact more optimistic than this suggests?
(Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) I do. I have spent
nearly all my service life, 39 years now, in an environment where
information has increasingly passed in this fashion. The thrust
is well recognised by all concerned. Indeed, a key part of my
new organisation, as I said at the outset, is the creation of
a capability manager with information superiority with the specific
function to pull together all of this across the three Services
and indeed he is the man, not the single Services, who is charged
with developing all these systems. Perhaps it is important to
point out that in my new organisation, I have the money for all
the equipment and I have the staff for all the equipment and none
of the single Services has any acquisition staff or any of the
acquisition money, so there is no single Service approach to it,
nor am I required to get the specific agreement of the single
Services to what I have proposed. Obviously of course I would
be foolish to ignore their views and I take them very seriously
into account and the Chiefs of Staff and the FPMG all take a view
of my work, but it is approached very broadly from a joint direction
and the digitisation scene belongs to the capability manager with
information superiority who will pull it together from a joint
perspective. As a matter of fact, he is a civil servant, so he
should be free of any of these prejudices. So I am confident that
we will be able to get this together and that we will have no
trouble with the single Services, and indeed I do not anticipate
483. You said that Bowman was introduced because
Clansman was ineffective in those areas like Pristina. It strikes
me as strange that we seem to learn that lesson now. What form
of communication has been used in places like Belfast for years?
(Brigadier Figgures) A system using a similar concept
as Polygon, so repeater stations and it is a static infrastructure,
secure, so we were able to field the Polygon system because of
our knowledge of communications in Northern Ireland and we were
able to get the requirement established and very quickly in hand
and the procurement.
(Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) But you do actually
need to be on the ground in the area that you want to use it in
before you can install it. You cannot put it into Pristina in
anticipation, but you actually have to have static stations of
various sorts, so you have got to be there first.
484. What about all this stuff we have been
reading about troops having to use mobile phones then in Pristina
and not only to make their own calls, but of operational purposes?
(Brigadier Figgures) There is a large population of
mobile phones in the Army and in the Services. Clearly when they
arrived there, the combat radio, Clansman, they had problems with
it and soldiers, being resourceful, used that which appeared to
be most effective, but they said, "We needed something which
gave us the appropriate security and would operate", hence
the Polygon requirement.
485. So it was true, that they are using them
for business as well?
(Brigadier Figgures) I am sure soldiers use mobile
phones for every need and requirement.
(Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) As I do myself.
Incidentally, if you are implying that mobile phones are somehow
free of these wooding effects, that is not true. In fact you have
only got to come and stand outside the Ministry of Defence where
I have to go and use mine, next door to the Horse Guards' Hotel
to discover that they will not work and they will not work because
of wooding caused by the buildings on either side, so they are
subject to exactly the same limitations, but, as I say, you cannot
put in a system like Polygon until you are already there on the
486. I always thought that was because of the
funny stuff you have got inside the MoD!
(Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) Well, you must
come and visit us. There is a big sign as you go in, saying, "Please
switch off mobile phones".
487. Let me come back again to Joint Battlespace
Digitisation. Try saying that after a few whiskies late in the
evening and you will have difficulties! Accepting the fact that
you evidently believe that this initiative is being driven forward
in the MoD with sufficient urgency and accepting the fact that
you believe that single Service requirements are not standing
in the way of a central need, how are you going to extend this
into the multinational area? Will the UK's command and control
systems need to conform to United States or NATO systems or will
theirs conform with ours? Would we not be better off procuring
systems with which our allies have made better progress perhaps
rather than continuing to develop our own?
(Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) Well, I think it
is important to say, as I think I already have, that when we approached
one of these areas, we had no preconceptions about what piece
of equipment should match it and when we go out to a competition
for something, everything is up for grabs. Now, inter-operability
is a key part of our work and I am hoping to be able to introduce
inter-operability criteria into our requirements to make quite
sure that it is properly paid attention to. We have got methods
in place and we have already discussed the DCI, Defence Capabilities
Initiative, in some of the work groups that we have with other
nations in this area. We have got the machinery in place to try
and ensure that we get that kind of inter-operability and I am
confident that we can do it. I barely go a day without hearing
"inter-operability" mentioned, and indeed I was in the
Pentagon two weeks ago and every single person I called on, some
30 people, all used the word "inter-operability", and
I am not sure they meant exactly what I mean by it, but, nonetheless,
they used it, so this is deeply embedded into our psyche now,
and I am confident we can do it. It is never going to be as straightforward
as it might appear philosophically. Nations inevitably replace
their systems at different times from each other because of their
history; you are where you are. We have got a programme in which
we have invested quite a deal and so have other nations. There
are of course other considerations to do with industry which are
not my consideration, but will be the considerations on awarding
contracts, so there are practical snags which have to be overcome,
but the thrust towards inter-operability is well established and
I have no doubt at all that it will be met and, I repeat, individual
Services do not have requirements, or if they do, I do not recognise
488. I just have a couple more questions, one
of which goes back to where we started when talking about the
fact that it was accepted that we did not have sufficient secure
communications in the campaign. This is rather a large question,
though it may not lead to an overlong answer. Have you been able
to assess what damage was done to our operations in Kosovo because
of insecure and inadequate communications?
(Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) We have the mechanism
for doing that. I am not sure that I would want to answer that
here, but I could give you a note, if you want.
489. I am sure we would like to have that because,
after all, our overall study is focusing on the lessons of the
Kosovo campaign, so I am sure that would be enormously helpful.
Given that there was this shortfall, what part of it was due to
United Kingdom equipment capabilities and what part of it was
due to those of our allies, and what is being done nationally
and particularly within NATO to remedy such shortfalls and to
improve the inter-operability of communications? You have touched
on that last point already.
(Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) If I may, I think
I would like to follow up the rest in the same note, if that is
490. That would be helpful. Finally, we have
a memorandum submitted by the MoD and this stated that the US
Navy and Air Force are now heavily reliant on so-called "Wide
Area Networks" and Internet and intranet technology, and
that the connectivity between these systems and UK and other NATO
systems is poor. If this unsatisfactory situation indeed exists,
what are we to do about it?
(Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) We are doing something
about it. It means introducing quite a lot of new equipment and
that is not something that we can do overnight, much as I would
like to. You did not mention in that, by the way, video conferencing
facilities which the United States also uses widely and which
we are now using. I do not think a single exercise or operation
ever goes by without demands for new command and control equipment
to match the latest that the Americans are using. It is as fast
as that, and it is not that far off the requirements for several
millions pounds to arise for a single exercise to match that,
so we are doing what we can to keep up with it. It would be nice
to think that we could somehow restrain the Americans, but I do
not think there is any chance of that at all. We are doing what
we can to keep up with it and there is work in hand to develop
all the facilities that you mentioned.
Mr Hood: I would like to move on to SEAD
and electronic warfare.
491. I am interested to know what lessons we
have actually learnt about our ability to suppress enemies' air
defences up at 15,000 feet, what we have learnt about what we
could do above 15,000 feet and where you feel we have gaps in
our ability to suppress their ability to knock us down.
(Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) Once again I will
get the technical expert to give you the technical details, but
I think it is worth saying at the outset that this is a very difficult
area to assess. What we do know is that only two aircraft were
shot down during the entire campaign which, given the number of
soldiers of theirs, is quite extraordinary against one of the
more robust air defence systems in Europe, and I think we all
know just how robust the Yugoslav defences were when they were
Yugoslavia and they are still pretty robust, so I could say that
that is one measure of success.
492. It depends on how much they used them,
does it not?
(Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) Indeed it does
and what is really difficult is to know how much they used. This
is a bit of a cat-and-mouse game, as you know. If an air defence
system emits, you can detect it and you can launch ARM missiles
at it, anti-radar missiles at it. If, on the other hand, it does
not emit, which it does not necessarily have to these days, you
will not necessarily know whether you have had any success or
not in suppressing it, nor can you fire anti-radar missiles at
it if it does not emit. Moreover, some of these systems are mobile,
so it is quite hard to judge exactly what your success has been
other than by the most obvious criteria, that they did not shoot
us down, which of course is the purpose of an air defence system.
Perhaps the Air Vice Marshall would like to enlarge on this.
(Air Vice Marshall Nicholl) You said it depends on
how much they are used. There were a huge number of missiles fired
and we do not have a log of how many were fired, but we know from
evidence from our own pilots that there were guys who had 20 missiles
fired at them in five minutes, so there were a very substantial
number of expensive systems used by the Yugoslav system, but,
as the Admiral says, countering it is extremely difficult if you
focus solely on SEAD, that is, your ability to kill their systems.
In what is very widely known in the public domain, the O'Grady
shoot-down in Bosnia, the radar was only on for a few seconds,
just in the terminal phase, and that means there is nothing specifically
identifying the target as an air defence system. It looks like
a tank with telegraph poles on the top, but it is mobile and,
other than its shape, it is not easily identified as a threat
until the radar comes on and that is a significant limitation
that we all face. The MAN-PADS, the low-altitude systems, a man
carrying something the size of a photographic kit, are even worse.
That means that there is a problem and we have to face that and
recognise that and we are doing work on novel ways of addressing
all of that. I do not guarantee any solution, but we are doing
research and we do have work under way looking at how we can tackle
(Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) Which work will
include defence suites of course and also tactics, quite importantly.
(Air Vice Marshall Nicholl) And the key thing is that
the objective is not actually SEAD, but the objective is to have
freedom to fly where we wish and to operate where we wish, so
it is a combination and I think the solution is much more likely
to be a much more integrated system involving miniature air-launch
decoys to confuse the systems, changes in jamming
493. But to send off decoy aircraft, unmanned
aircraft, you have got to be fairly close to be able to do that
effectively, have you not?
(Air Vice Marshall Nicholl) Miniature air-launch decoys
have the ability to go hundreds of miles.
494. Do they?
(Air Vice Marshall Nicholl) Yes.
495. If we take this a stage further, learning
the lessons from Kosovo, knowing that our capability is fairly
limited up at 15,000 feet, and we talk about Europe as a stand-alone
defence mechanism for the future, would we ever be in the position
to go anywhere where we would put ourselves in a similar position
to Kosovo without having a Prowler-type aircraft to support us?
(Air Vice Marshall Nicholl) My answer would be yes,
we would. There is obviously a risk equation. The Prowler was
important in keeping the risk down and as to whether we could
operate with the fortunate outcome that we had of no pilots or
no crew lost at all and only two aeroplanes down were there no
Prowlers there, my answer to that, I am afraid, would be that,
as things stand at the moment, no. As to whether the solution
has to be a Prowler-type aircraft, no, it does not. There are
other technologies we could use and there are other systems, but
I would not want to go into that in open forum.
496. Are there any of our European allies who
have a capability which even comes close to what the Prowler can
(Air Vice Marshall Nicholl) No, there are not. In
terms of a penetrating, jamming aircraft, we are discussing with
allies what we do from this. We have shared with the French and
the Germans our air lessons learned and discussed with them how
we might take this forward.
497. It is an extremely big weakness though,
is it not, for a European effort, a solely European effort where
the Americans were not in any way contributing? They would not
consider, I am sure, Prowler aircraft as NATO assets which will
then be available to Europe in something they were not wanting
to get involved in, so this is a deficiency that is going to have
to be filled pretty damn quick if the European Defence Initiative
is actually going to have any real momentum where they could actually
say, "We can deliver an air-type campaign for 60 days"
in a place and with a sophisticated air defence mechanism at their
disposal. We would have to say that we could not do it, would
(Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) Well, it is perhaps
not surprising that the Alliance Co-ordinator up until quite recently
assumed that all members of NATO would come to the party and the
Americans were an important provider of capability, and I do not
think one ought to be in the least bit surprised at that because
NATO never conceived of fighting without the Americans, so that
was a perfectly respectable position to take.
498. Now it has changed.
(Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) Now we have got
to look at the extent to which we think the European allies by
themselves might operate in these sets of circumstances and address
it and that is what the DCI is all about.
499. Surely it is in the area of satellite intelligence
that we are so dependent on the Americans and this is something
that the Europeans have got to grapple with?
(Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) Well, I think we
are entering realms which go beyond my remit at the moment. The
extent to which Europe might attempt to provide capabilities which
currently reside only with the Americans is clearly a judgment
that goes beyond my capability.