Examination of witnesses (Questions 520
WEDNESDAY 12 APRIL 2000
520. That is interesting. Clearly it has been
a success. I am pleased about that. Let us talk about where the
gaps were. Phoenix was clearly operating well, now tell me what
(Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) We do not yet have
the comprehensive Intelligence, Surveillance, Target-Acquisition
Reconnaissance capability. We have got a lot of bits and pieces
of it between various NATO nations. What we want is a modern,
highly capable, intelligence gathering system, one which can then
lead us forward through the various phases into target acquisition
and engagement which is supported by data links and which is reliable
and readily available. To do that we are going to procure the
ASTOR system, I think you knowthe Airborne Stand-Off Radar.
521. Tell me how it will fit in?
(Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) It will provide
a very long enduring airborne radar which will enable us to monitor
what is going on; also the communication data links that are required
to support the rest of the pack. There are other bits of a new
reconnaissance pod for the Tornado and another one for the Jaguar,
the Sender and Spectator UAV systems, which are new, modern airborne
systems. All of this will enable us to have much more comprehensive
and multi-sensor intelligence surveillance.
522. Mobile targets?
(Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) Yes.
523. That is interesting. The Americans refer
to "dynamic targeting", do they not, and I presume that
is what we want to be contributing to.
(Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) The Americans have
got some such vehicles in service. Indeed, their vehicles might
be one of the possible solutions to this problem.
524. Wherever we have been as a Committee we
have been, I would say, brutally aware that we are almost entirely
dependent on the Americans for intelligence. It is a bit hurtful
to know that it is probably our only source. What is your view
(Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) I do not think
it is entirely true but I do not think I can go into the details
in this particular forum. Certainly we do have heavy dependence
on the Americans but I think it is far from being a one way street.
I think the Americans would say the same thing to you.
(Air Vice Marshal Nicholl) Specifically in Kosovo
style approach, on electronic reconnaissance our capability is
recognised by the Americans as being a substantial contribution
to them. During Kosovo we were heavily dependent on the current
American JSTAR system which is the direct equivalent of ASTOR
except that ASTOR is a more modern system and therefore produces,
by some important measures, about three times the quality of the
product as the current JSTARs. The Americans are going to do an
upgrade which will give them a system similar to ASTOR but ASTOR
also has a very crucial benefit, over mountainous terrain; in
Kosovo there are substantial flat areas but there are also substantial
surrounding mountains if you are trying to stand off and look.
And the fact that ASTOR will operate up at the 40-50,000 foot
altitude as opposed to the 25-30,000 foot makes a huge difference
to the area that you can see into.
525. The surveillance picuture is kind of building
up for me too. You have told me about Phoenix, you have told me
how ASTOR will fit into that, did you tell me if Phoenix could
talk to other aircraft as well as to the ground?
(Air Vice Marshal Nicholl) Not directly as things
526. Is that a shortcoming?
(Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) No. It is an air
traffic problem certainly. It is tactical, it provides information
back to tactical command which he can then apply.
527. Would you like it to?
(Brigadier Figgures) We got over that by having a
forward air controller with the ground control station such that
normally he directs the close air support, he can see the image
and relay the target points and what he wants done about them
to the commander.
528. You would not have to have that if it could
(Air Vice Marshal Nicholl) Can I illustrate with some
clear information. There are US systems at the moment whereby
the reconnaissance picture actually appears in the cockpit of
the aircraft that you want to do the attack. That involves huge
band width, there is a lot of data to be passed to put up the
image. The image is head down and it is not easy for the pilot
to see in some circumstances. Indeed, some US crews say they do
not like it, I only say some. We are working currently in trials
with a system whereby data from the controller of the Phoenix,
noting a target and spotting it, putting the cross hairs on it,
those cross hairs will appear in the helmet of the pilot, if you
turn your head, you are looking at the same point on the ground
that the Phoenix is, all automatically relayed. We are not there
yet. We have a trial system running, it is flying daily, I have
flown it. It is a different way of doing it but the end result
is exactly the same.
(Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) I think it is important
to keep it in perspective. Phoenix is what it is. It is a tactical
system originally designed for targeting the Central Region. None
of us is claiming that it is the answer to a maiden's prayer.
It is what it is. We have got plans under the ISTAR development
programme to have two more UAVs, one of which will be tactical
and one of which will be at formation level, in order to develop
this scene further.
529. Now you talked about moving through to
the end game and presumably the end game is to see how much battle
damage has occurred. How are we going to get better information
about that because there are some serious shortcomings on that?
(Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) That is a matter
of having the vehicles and improved sensors, so that is what we
have to do.
530. So these two will complete the shopping
basket of surveillance?
(Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) I am not sure it
will complete it. These are predominantly war fighting aids, but
the sensors which they can deploy can be used for a range of purposes.
This is a very rapidly developing field as well, by the way.
(Air Vice Marshall Nicholl) We are also looking at
the potential to get the weapon to tell you what it has done rather
than using aircraft or a UAV to look subsequently.
531. I have got some allocated questions and
one for myself as well. The SA80, I think everybody I have spoken
to in the Army regards it as an absolute disaster in terms of
operability. It also was a disaster in terms of the amount of
money it cost to develop it. You have to strip it down to 14 pieces
to clean it rather than four, like the previous rifle that was
used. Having said that, that is all on record, as for Challenger
2, as opposed to Challenger 1, people who have to operate the
tank were involved in the design stage all the way through. Now,
have we learnt that lesson or have we not?
(Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) I certainly hope
so and it would certainly be my own hope that we should do that.
As you have already heard, the SA80 improvement programme involves
the details of all the people who are actually going to be involved,
but, if it is any consolation, every time I stand up in any kind
of forum and talk on this kind of thing, I emphasise this particular
point and try and encourage industry and everybody else involved
to actually go and stand in a trench for a few days and see what
it is like because I think the human engineering part is absolutely
532. Cleaning a rifle at one o'clock in the
morning in a muddy trench is a bit different from being a civil
servant in MoD drawing lines.
(Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) Indeed. Happily
civil servants, and I think even Mr Mantell, would not claim the
designs as theirs.
533. I now want to talk about aircraft carriers,
if I may, because we have had them swanning about in the Gulf
for a few months now, which have got sufficient Harriers on board
by and large to provide air combat patrols to protect themselves,
but not, as far as I can see, to do anything much more, so I am
a big supporter of the SDR proposal for big new carriers which
can actually launch air attacks.
(Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) I am not aware,
by the way, that they are protecting themselves. I do not think
they have anything to protect themselves against. I think they
are providing a contribution to the whole air defence picture.
534. According to our notes, it is mainly combat
(Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) Combat air patrols
are against any air threat to anybody. They are not anything to
do with defending carriers specifically, but they are exactly
what they say; they are patrols against any potential threat from
535. I appreciate what you say, Admiral, and
that may well be the case marginally.
(Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) You have perhaps
had more experience of this than I have!
536. But I know what they were designed for.
They were designed to fly Sea Kings in the Fair Isle's Gap.
(Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) I am not challenging
you on large carriers; I think that is most estimable.
537. That is right. Well, we are in agreement
then. At the end of the day we call them aircraft carriers, the
ones we have got, and they are not. They are Sea King carriers
with air combat patrols above them and you can put a few RAF jets
on them, okay, and ruin their engines with the salt, but, apart
from that, they are not a lot of use for the kind of projection
Mr Hood: Could I just remind my colleague
that we are asking questions, not having a chat.
538. Well, it is not often I get into an argument
with an Admiral! I think we have covered my first question, that
we need bigger carriers. Yes?
(Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) We need carriers
that can do what we want them to do.
539. And these do not?
(Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) Yes.
Mr Cann: So we are agreed.