Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence

Examination of witnesses (Questions 560 - 582)



  560. So you have not run out of anything?
  (Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) Indeed in some cases we made very small dents in the stockpiles, so small that it makes one wonder.

  561. How many "Urgent Operational Requirements" were needed to acquire more stores and munitions and what sort of stores and munitions were involved?
  (Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) Let me just say a word about Urgent Operational Requirements. They are usually procured either because there is something which is quite specific to the particular operation, but has not been necessary before or, alternatively, because a new technology has become available at short notice and we want to short-circuit, at any rate temporarily, the normal trials and procurements and get it into service so that we can use it. Sometimes when we do that, by the way, we then have to come back subsequently and make quite sure that we have done proper trials and tests in order to ensure the safety of our own people and proper value for money. The third reason for doing these is sometimes, as has already been indicated, to increase stocks of particular things which we think we are now about to expend, so in any operation that we have done, we have always had Urgent Operational Requirements and I would anticipate that we always will. It is a very well-oiled system and can move very fast, literally in a matter of hours. Having said all that, I think there were 25 unclassified UORs which were lodged, some of which in fact lapsed because of the nature of the operation in that the operation terminated in a different way from the way we thought or terminated quicker than we thought. There was also a range of classified ones. The unclassified ones we can give you a list of now, and the classified ones I think we could supply by a note if you wanted.

  562. It is probably easier in terms of time if we had a note. It would be also interesting to know how many classified ones there were in terms of the comparison perhaps because clearly if there are large numbers, that would also be of interest to us.
  (Air Vice Marshall Nicholl) Can I just make clear on the 25 that only a small proportion of those were directly munitions which I think was where you started.

  563. Well, if you can send us a list, that would be helpful.
  (Mr Mantell) We have already put the list in the library of the House.

  564. Was it necessary to regenerate any defence equipment from storage?
  (Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) I do not think it was, no. I am not aware of any case where it was. Is anybody aware of any case where it was?

  565. Perhaps you would send us a note on that as well?
  (Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) Yes, I will send a note if there was. I would be quite surprised if there was.

  566. Can I move on to the main Urgent Operational Requirements. Do not give me the whole list but what were the main ones that were approved?
  (Mr Mantell) We have already discussed, Chairman, Polygon and Polygon Plus, both of those were obtained as UORs.
  (Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) To give examples, temporary field accommodation, which we have touched on already. There was tactical navigation target location system for the air reconnaissance combat vehicle; some additional GPS handsets; snow and ice clearance equipment; the improved tented camp, to which we have referred already; some quarrying equipment which was necessary for the particular operation; a range of tactical radios which we have talked about already; mobility water vehicles because we envisaged having to have a large number of people in place for quite a long period of time and we had to supply that.

  567. Were any of these approved in anticipation of an opposed ground intervention?
  (Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) There were a range of UORs being developed against a number of contingencies but none of them was approved until they were necessary—let me expand that a bit—until the lead time for them made it necessary to do them.

  568. In other words, nothing was approved specifically on the assumption that we were potentially about to go into ground intervention which was opposed?
  (Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) I would have to check on that. We would not normally approve a UOR until the length of time required to obtain whatever it was came up against the stops so that if we did not get approval at that point we would not get it by when we needed it.

  569. Perhaps you will write to us on that as well.
  (Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) In the case of any ground involvement it was sufficiently far ahead to be quite comfortable.

  570. Were any of the UORs approved but not met by the end of the air campaign?
  (Brigadier Figgures) Some clearly, we mentioned Polygon, were initiated partly in a campaign once they were on the ground.

  571. I am talking about the end of the air campaign.
  (Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) Related to the air campaign itself.

  572. There may have been other things which were approved and the air campaign ended and as a result they were not contingent.
  (Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) There were such things.

  573. Could you tell us on that as well please?
  (Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) Indeed.

  574. What capabilities had shortfalls without UORS being issued? Did you find yourselves with capabilities where you were running low or you had a shortfall?
  (Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) There was no case where we were running low of stores and supplies of munitions we needed. There was nothing that would have inhibited either continuing the air operation or moving on to a ground phase but there were things which would have made it easier and better which we would have wanted to acquire had we moved on.

  575. Will you be in a position to tell us what they were?
  (Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) I will look at it, certainly.

  576. You will write to us?
  (Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) In some cases we would not have defined them in detail because we were still quite a long distance away in time from any such ground activity.

  577. Is it not difficult though. We have had the Gulf War, and clearly there were lessons from equipment then, why were we in this position -this was a relatively short campaign, it did not go on for a long time—of having to have Urgent Operational Requirements at that stage? Is it because our stocks were inadequate or our preparations were inadequate?
  (Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) No, I do not think it was either of those things. As I said, I think we will always be in that position. For one thing, there are some things which are specifically needed in the operation. We only have to consider the climatic differences in the Gulf and in a new military Kosovo to see that you might want completely different kinds of equipment. Moreover technology goes on, it is ten years since the Gulf, I am told that is about seven or eight Mr Gates' generations in terms of technology.

Mr Hancock

  578. Not with bombs, you ended up dropping second world war bombs.
  (Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) We are not talking about bombs, we are talking about a range of other things.

Mr Gapes

  579. Can I just say, when you write to us, can you send us a note on the lessons you learned from the equipment programme from this UOR?
  (Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) Certainly, but I would not want to leave you under any impression that we would ever be able to dispense with Urgent Operational Requirements, not least because it would not necessarily represent good value for public money to buy things that we might never use.

  Mr Hood: Admiral, we are going to complete this evidence session with a question on accommodation. Dr Lewis?

Dr Lewis

  580. I was a Member of the Committee when it visited Kosovo last autumn, but you will have gathered from the questions from my colleague Mr Cann how concerned the Committee was about the sub-standard accommodation available for the troops. I must say that in 1998, as part of the Armed Forces Parliamentary Scheme, I visited Croatia and I was alarmed that the personnel there were very poorly accommodated with a great lack of privacy in some cases. Our understanding is that the MoD already had the expeditionary support infrastructure that you referred to earlier under way as a project when the Kosovo campaign began, but that that could not be accelerated and that, therefore, you had to fall back on two other types of accommodation. The first was called "Temporary Field Accommodation" and the subsequent one was called an "Improved Tented Camp", so if the later one was an improved tented arrangement, one dreads to think what the first one might have been. We understand that one of the reasons for this deficiency was that the Treasury felt unable to act in terms of funding accommodation until it became clearer what the UK's post-conflict role would be in Kosovo and that in fact funding approval only took place in July 1999, whereas of course the crisis had been upon us for several months by that stage. How did we get into such a mess over camp accommodation for our troops and what is the system now deployed? Is it still, some of it, temporary field accommodation or is it all improved tented camp?
  (Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) It is actually the other way around. The temporary field accommodation is the better one; those are the solid buildings. You are quite right, we did let a contract in July for it. Of course the difficulty at that point was that we did not know where we were actually going to be. We had not finally settled on which areas were going to be controlled by whom and where these camps should actually be placed, which is always going to be a difficulty, so whether there was or was not any delay over funding would not have made the slightest difference because we did not know where we wanted to put them, and we did not know that until the commanders had been in the areas which they were allocated and understood the local geography and topography. The contract for the temporary field accommodation provided for, I think, some 20 odd units in fact of varying sizes ranging from small accommodation for about 25 people up to accommodation for several hundreds to be delivered by the end of December. That was the contract that was signed. In the meantime, to tide us over the early part of the winter, we went for the improved tented accommodation on the assumption that we would take delivery of the temporary field accommodation on time, although, as I said, it did turn out to be quite difficult to pin down very quickly exactly where we ought to be. In practice, we are still waiting for delivery of some of it, but there have been difficulties over the building of it, there have been difficulties over the provision of safety documentation to do with electricity, water and other services, and it has been a difficult experience for both us and the contractor. We have had a number of revised dates. The final accommodation will now be handed over in May, I think I am right in saying, and obviously it is a salutary experience from which we will need to draw out a large number of lessons.

  581. Time is pressing, so I will not pursue this further, other than just to ask are you saying, therefore, that there is a considerable rigidity in supplying accommodation in expeditionary cases of this sort and that really one cannot have a little more flexibility than we appear to have had this time and that one really cannot have more in the way of stocks or other accommodation in the pipeline until one really knows exactly where one is going to be locating this?
  (Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) Clearly you can have them by having in your stock cupboards anything you want to have. There is always going to be a difficulty in deciding exactly what you want, the numbers of people you are going to accommodate in which places and what services you need to deliver and what to lay on. That is actually the detail which has caused the difficulty.

  582. Do you feel in that case that we foresaw everything we could have foreseen or would you consider that, in fact, to some extent, our planning was deficient in that we could have tried to foresee a little more than we did?
  (Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) I think it is always possible to say that from this position and clearly we will have to do better next time. It will always be difficult to know exactly what you want and to know exactly who you are trying to accommodate and where and in what circumstances.

  Mr Hood: I have to say that for once, who am I to defend the MoD, the MoD put the money up front, it was not the MoD's fault, it was a breakdown in the contract arrangements and hopefully lessons will be learnt. Admiral, can I thank you on behalf of my colleagues for coming to the Defence Committee today. It has been over two and a half hours. I have a reputation in this House for my meetings being brief, I have now completely lost that. It has been very good of you. It has been very interesting, I am sure it will help us in our deliberations on lessons to be learned from Kosovo. Thank you.

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