Examination of witnesses (Questions 540
WEDNESDAY 12 APRIL 2000
540. Which is?
(Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) We are looking
at a range of options clearly.
Mr Hancock: Yes, I know and we do not
know what we want.
541. We do know what we want. The SDR said.
(Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) The SDR has made
it quite clear that we want carriers that can deploy 35 or 40
542. But what type of aircraft to do what, and
the aircraft carrier gets bigger and bigger and bigger?
(Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) The aircraft carrier
(Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) You are more privy
to this than I am, Mr Hancock.
544. I am just interested to know what the Ministry
of Defence expect these aircraft carriers to do and what sort
of planes they expect to fly from that and whether there will
be a plane ready to fly on an aircraft carrier when the aircraft
carrier, which we still do not know how big it is going to be,
is in the water.
(Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) Shall I answer
that question, Chairman?
Mr Hood: Colleagues are getting a bit
restless. It must be getting near lunchtime!
545. It has been said that we had difficulty
building up UK land forces in Macedonia. Now, I can understand
that from the geography, but is it just the geography or have
we got problems with personnel, equipment and other matters that
could be remedied?
(Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) Well, I think the
SDR identified the fact that we need to improve the amount of
strategic lift that we have got and that was a clear conclusion
with which I agree. Now, at the moment we have various methods
of deploying people around and I might ask our logistic colleague
to speak to this since he has not had a chance to speak yet. We
can own assets to do it and we can take assets up off the market
to do it, but there is no doubt at all that in an ideal world
you would own the ability to transport all that you wanted for
an operation in assets to which you had immediate access. The
trouble about that is that for most of the time they would not
be doing anything particularly useful, so we have to strike a
sensible compromise between what we own and between what we can
be fairly confident we can get off the market when we need it.
That is the way we approach it.
546. The classic is the Falklands, is it not?
In the Falklands, because you were going to an exposed island,
you could actually buy in ro-ros and all sorts of stuff to use
to buttress the armed forces. In an area like Macedonia, Kosovo
or all the things the SDR is designed to cater for, you are not
going to have the port facilities and the ability to do that off
the shelf, are you, quite as much?
(Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) Well, we do have
port facilities in Macedonia and we used them.
(Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) Yes, but the fact
is that if you want to deploy them without a port, the only way
you can do that is with specialised amphibious ships and specialised
amphibious troops and we had some of those, but only in certain
numbers and we cannot put in a division of amphibious troops,
so if you want to do an operation on that sort of scale, then
you have to use ports, as indeed you would for an amphibious operation
after a while because whilst you can get the first wave across
a beach, any further logistic support or other support has got
to come in via ports that you have gained access to or by ports
you have constructed. To pretend that you can cut yourself off
from the use of any port permanently I am afraid just is not true,
but in the case of deploying large land forces in a planned way
into a country with whom we had a host nation agreement, ports
are always going to be very important and that is what is the
case in this case and perhaps Brigadier Rees would like to enlarge
(Brigadier Rees) I will obviously come back to the
strategic bit whether it is air, sea or the extent to which we
move freight by land in due course, but to concentrate on the
Macedonia issue, which I understood from your question was relating
to the structure and infrastructure of the countries and whether
that imposed any constraints on the way in which we operate, I
have to say that it did not. Although there is not a wide choice
of infrastructure, road, rail, et cetera, means of delivery, apart
from some slight choking at the bottleneck, which was the border
between Macedonia and Kosovo which was quickly sorted out when
a NATO bypass was arranged, apart from that and the fact that
Skopje airport runway was a little on the small side, but did
not pose any considerable insuperable difficulties, I am not aware
of any difficulties with Macedonia as a platform on which to operate
logistically throughout the entire operation.
548. A land operation?
(Brigadier Rees) Yes.
549. From everything you read in the newspapers
it was said that there was no way we could get into Kosovo in
any reasonable time through Macedonia, that is not correct?
(Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) We did get into
Kosovo when we needed to.
(Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) Yes, but any delay
in entering in an opposed way would be to do with the ability
to generate forces as well.
551. May I move on. ARRC. How well did that
operate? I see it as ten divisions of which about one and a half
are ever available for anything. Was it good?
(Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) I am willing to
venture an opinion but you are taking me a bit beyond my field
of responsibility. This is something that you really ought to
be asking the Operational Commander or the CJO. It is not within
my ambit of responsibility although I am happy to comment.
Mr Hood: We will be seeing General Jackson
552. Logistic support, did that work well in
the Kosovo operation?
(Brigadier Rees) Yes, I believe it did. I think in
terms of the lessons that we drew from Kosovo logistically, and
I think the supply chain, perhaps not surprisingly that the supply
chain worked bearing in mind that it is at first and second line
in terms of being integral and logistic support used on the ground
or in theatre, whether it would be land, sea or air, are well
tried and trusted mechanisms. Similarly, the base organisation
in the United Kingdom, and the whole supply chain that fed through
to the frontline was indeed tried and trusted as well. So it was
not that the operation itself posed any logistic difficulties
or challenges to that extent. Clearly we were not operating over
very long distances. I think the main lesson we really drew out
of it was the fact that the Chief of Defence Logistics' appointment
and the Defence Logistics Organisations which came out of the
Strategic Defence Review was really vindicated by that operation,
not only in terms of the recommendations it made for future capacity
of heavy lift, whether that be by surface or by air but in terms
of also the organisation that was put in place within the Defence
Logistics Organisation, for example to corral all movementsair,
sea and landunder one defence agency, the Defence Transport
Movement Agency, all storage under one Storage and Distribution
Agency. I think we have seen benefits arising from that which
was put in place obviously just over a year ago now which lasted
throughout that campaign and has enabled us to build on that.
553. Just to follow up on that, I spent two
nights on a mountain top in Kosovo, very cold, and I was in the
best tent, I suspect, that was available. The Americans seem to
have a much better system of looking after their people when they
are abroad, not just heated accommodation, not just getting it
up quickly, they are better at both, I think, than we are, but
also telephones home, e.mails home, and sometimes when I go to
some places and see our people I am ashamed at the way the ordinary
squaddie, if we can put it that way, is actually treated, compared
with the way that Americans are treated by their equivalent of
the Ministry of Defence. Are we trying to improve on this or not?
Is this one of the lessons of Kosovo, the fact that it is difficult
to retain people when they are not treated properly in the small
things because the small things, if you are stuck out there, you
have two football videos to watch and that is it, you are eight
hours on, eight hours off and eight hours asleep, the smaller
things matter a lot and I do not think we do them right. My perception
in Kosovo is that we do not.
(Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) I think it is a
reasonable perception, we have not done very well in this area.
My immediately preceding job was as the DCDS for Personnel and
we have started quite a lot of work as a result of this. We have
not done very well with our accommodation, that was what led us
to bring the emergency tenting in. I think there are a number
of reasons why we have not done well, some of them are to do with
legitimate operational causes; some of them, quite frankly, are
poor performance and not only by the Ministry of Defence, by the
contractor as well who is now on I think his fifth or sixth revised
date to produce this accommodation which he contracted to do.
But, in the long term what we are now putting in place is what
we call the Expeditionary Campaign Infrastructure, a package of
things which will be on the shelf and ready to go when this kind
of operation occurs again so that is our potential aim. It will
always be a bit difficult to do things like telephones and what
have you urgently because different systems apply or we destroy
the telephone network with our own bombs.
554. Admiral, we do have some comments to make
on accommodation later on and Mr Cann is now trespassing away
from what I invited him to ask you questions on. Can I come back
on to my agenda and talk about refuelling and lift. RAF tanker
aircraft used a type of air-to-air refuelling that means that
US Navy aircraft but not US Air Force aircraft can refuel from
it. Apparently UK aircraft, with some modifications, can refuel
from US tankers. Did the number of UK refuelling assets limit
our contribution to the air campaign?
(Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) No. I think actually
the Air Marshall has already talked about this quite thoroughly.
So common, with the exception of the American assets you mentioned,
is the fuelling system across NATO that the overwhelming majority
of our fuel is given away to other nations. In other words, the
fuel that we required was a very small proportion, about 15%,
of what our tankers actually gave away. None of our sorties was
in difficulty because of our ability to supply fuel. As I have
said, we actually gave away most of our fuel to other nations.
One could argue that it is the American Air Force that have got
a capability which is a problem.
555. We saw that when we were in the Gulf last
week when we were talking to the pilots of tankers, that was one
of the areas that we discussed. The MoD has underway currently
a programme which is looking to provide an air-refuelling service
through a PFI scheme. Has this been assessed in the light of the
lessons of Kosovo and what changes may be needed?
(Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) We have not settled
on how it will be provided yet, PFI is one of the possibilities.
We have yet to reach a conclusion on that. Obviously anything
we learn from Kosovo will be part of that.
556. Have any lessons from Kosovo been taken
into account in the Ro-Ro and airlift programmes that are underway
(Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) I think the Ro-Ro
programme which is, as you know, part of the SDR which is to procure
the six Ro-Ro ships is forging ahead. I am very hopeful that we
will reach a decision on that in the near future. The Ro-Ros themselves
are relatively simple ships, they are what they are. They have
a certain capacity and we see no reason to change that capacity.
In theory it might be nice to increase it but I am not at all
sure that if we did we would have a very valuable value for money
asset because it would not be employed for a very large part of
the time. Certainly, I would not wish to reduce it.
557. What difference would it have made if the
six Ro-Ros and three or four C-17s envisaged by the SDR had been
available for the Kosovo campaign?
(Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) We would have carried
more things more quickly and more conveniently. This is why we
are doing it, of course, why we are procuring these things.
558. Can I take you to questions about the munition
stocks. I understand we consumed about £45 million of ordnance
during the campaign and that extra expenditure has been approved
for replacement ordnance. Also, I understand you are reviewing
the stock levels for ammunition and other spares as a result of
Kosovo. At this stage, have you got any conclusions or anything
that has come out so far before your final conclusions?
(Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) Well, I have got
two people who might supply us with this, but to deal with your
first point first, the normal routine, which I think I can safely
say is virtually in agreement with the Treasury, is that where
we expend ammunition on this kind of thing, we replace the stocks
that we have expended to the levels that we were at before, so
that is paid by the contingency fund and that is what has been
done on this occasion. As far as the overall review of stocks
is concerned, and I will ask the Brigadier to talk about it, here
we have to balance keeping stocks on the shelf, which is expensive
and, by the way, sometimes deleterious to the ammunition stocks
themselves, with the ability to actually obtain further stocks
at short notice when we need them and that is actually what the
DLO is busy investigating.
(Brigadier Rees) Clearly ammunition, like all other
stocks, we aim to keep as little in-house as possible and we get
it in when we need it rather than holding vast stockpiles of anything
as a contingency. The exercise that has been referred to is the
sustainability planning guideline work which has come out of the
Strategic Defence Review and my understanding of that, although
I have not been personally involved in it, is that that work is
now well advanced and we are looking to draw some SDR-related
conclusions of those stockpiles, the extent to which we should
hold them, the range and depth, et cetera, towards the end of
this year, the autumn, when the conclusions of that work will
come out. Therefore, a review of stockpiles, such as they are
at the moment, clearly needs to wait to be carried out in the
context of the conclusions from that study, but we only hold that
ammunition which we need to hold which is consistent with the
way in which defence is operating post-SDR.
559. So it is too early to say that you have
yet got any message or lessons about when you need to get things
from the industry at times of emergency?
(Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) Well, we know what
the lead times are for different weapons and that is something
we are looking at at the moment, what to procure against which
contingencies, but we have had no operation which was inhibited
by the lack of munitions.