Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence

Examination of witnesses (Questions 1160 - 1179)



  1160. I do not dissent from that view and I think it is a very laudable sentiment to have before, during and after the campaign and I doubt there is a dissenting voice in the country about that. We are talking about lessons learned and one of the lessons learned is we have to take a bit more time verifying and making sure we are telling the British people the truth about what we are doing before we rush on another daily press conference to say, "We have knocked out another 50 tanks and the ones we have not hit are hidden in deep bunkers." I would be interested to know if you have any proof that those bunkers actually exist because I have not met anyone who has been there who has actually found one and there were 450-odd pieces of armour.
  (Mr Hoon) Without trading visits to Kosovo, I certainly saw evidence of very precise bombing when I was there dealing with weapon dumps, very precise, very accurate bombing that destroyed the dump but left the lightening conductors surrounding the dump intact. That struck me as a pretty clear vindication of the success of the bombing campaign.

  1161. It makes you wonder why the same weapons were not used on Belgrade.
  (Mr Hoon) The reality was that they were from time to time used on Belgrade but there were other operational difficulties, cloud in particular was one of them, that made that more difficult but, again, visiting Pristina is a very good (even today) insight into how accurate the bombing was. What I found remarkable when I was there shortly after the end of the bombing campaign was how life appeared to have returned to something like normal so quickly. The reality was that certain buildings were no longer there and the rest of the buildings, unlike previous air campaigns I can think of, had not been damaged, not even been touched in some cases.

  1162. If I can move on to some specific questions about the operation. Would you go into a similar operation, if you were called upon in the future, on the basis of current stock levels of precision guided munitions? There was a fundamental point, was there not, where we got very, very short of them?
  (Mr Hoon) The answer is yes.

  1163. You are satisfied that the stocks that we ran with would be sufficient to be repeated into a similar operation?
  (Mr Hoon) Yes.

  1164. Is our TLAM capability/missile launch capability sustainable into the future and would you agree that without a larger capability we will be somewhat hobbled by the fact that we will be dependent on the US to supply them but if the US was not in the action we might have a difficulty?
  (Mr Hoon) We are continuing to make sure that the Royal Naval submarines have TLAM capability, but it is no secret that that capability is very expensive, not just expensive for the United Kingdom but expensive for the United States, and these are very sophisticated, very expensive weapons that of necessity are used with restraint.

  1165. Do you expect to equip all our SSNs with that type of munition? That is what you have said. You are sure? That is still the commitment? We can afford that within the defence review?
  (Mr Hoon) It is a process that is underway.

  1166. Okay. The Americans are changing the style of missile they are going to use, are they not? They going for a different type of TLAM. Are we satisfied that we will continue to be able to get hold of the right missiles for our boats as opposed to the changed version that the Americans are going to use or are we thinking ourselves of switching to a new type of future tactical Tomahawk?
  (Rear Admiral Moore) Mr Hancock, you are right that the Americans are thinking of changing or they are going to change. They do have residual stocks of the old one and therefore our capability can be maintained.

  1167. And we are satisfied with that?
  (Mr Webb) Polaris ran on for years and years after it had gone out of American service, this is not unusual.

  1168. Are we satisfied? The Americans are changing obviously because they think that the newer missile is a better and more controllable asset. Are we satisfied that we should be running with something they feel is no longer satisfactory as a weapon? As I understood it, they have had reservations about it.
  (Rear Admiral Moore) What the American change does is give extra range to the missile and therefore that will give them more options for how they use it. That does not denigrate the ability of the missile to carry out what it is designed to do.

  1169. So we are satisfied that we have got the right weapon?
  (Rear Admiral Moore) We have still got exactly what we wanted.

  1170. In the right configuration and we will not be spending huge amounts of money to convert our subs to a changed weapon in the near future?
  (Rear Admiral Moore) No.

  1171. Can I then deal with the issue of the response between MoD and DfID about humanitarian circumstances. I read with great interest the first report, the previous Secretary of State's report about responding to the humanitarian crisis there. Are you satisfied that the political co-operation which appears to be apparent is matched by the departmental co-operation that is essential if political initiatives are actually going to be deliverable?
  (Mr Hoon) Yes I am. Indeed, I think one of the benefits in a sense of looking at Kosovo in the round was the fact that British forces were engaged on essentially humanitarian tasks from time to time and I think they have indicated very positively the benefits to them of being involved in that kind of exercise. I think it is something that we need to continue to improve in the sense that we need to understand more about in particular the way that NGOs operate, but I think it is, equally, a two-way street and if we are to work successfully with NGOs in this kind of operation they need to understand a little more about the way in which the military operate, but I think they have been a very considerable success in that area.

  1172. What concrete proposals do you have then to make sure that the lessons of Kosovo are going to be put into good practice within your Department and theirs and with the wider NGO family?
  (Rear Admiral Moore) They have been already because in Sierra Leone we have been dealing there with NGOs and we have been dealing through DfID with them and directly both with the Ministry of Defence and the Permanent Joint Headquarters so we have absolutely realised those lessons.
  (Mr Webb) In Kosovo it goes on to this day. There is an interesting programme going on in Kosovo now to help re-settle Serbs. We talked to DfID and money came forward for projects. It goes on all the time and it is really very successful.

  1173. What are you doing about the critical area of giving our own military personnel at all levels the right sort of training that enables them to deal with the humanitarian crises they are confronted with, particularly if it goes on over a long period? It is one thing helping out over an earthquake, it is another thing being stationed for four months to six months dealing daily with personal tragedy, and young men and women are being confronted with that on a daily basis, as I have done, and it is not a very pleasant experience and can have a very detrimental result on you as an individual.
  (Rear Admiral Moore) As regards personal training I think that is happening inevitably as more units get experienced in this sort of operation and commanding officers will of course be aware that they need to make sure that their people are ready for that sort of experience but on an organisational level we are reviewing at the moment civil and military co-operation as a subject to see how we do it and how we could improve it so we can fix the military into that sort of role when it is a valid role for military forces.

  1174. Is there extensive debriefing in operation for service personnel coming back to the UK after tours to Kosovo and Bosnia going over some of the experiences they have had to enable them to adapt back easily into their military role?
  (Rear Admiral Moore) I cannot answer that specifically but a commanding officer will have the authority to do what is required to bring his people back into their normal operational state.

  1175. Then on to a political question to you, Secretary of State. Are you satisfied that the right training and assistance is being given to those young men and women who are doing this job on our behalf, despite the fact they are being asked to do even more with their time and training is being squeezed in some instances and training exercises are going by the board because of other pressures? Are you satisfied that the pressures on them are so great that they are being denied this opportunity?
  (Mr Hoon) Yes I am. Can I emphasise this, that the main thrust of the training will always be in relation to war fighting. That is what they are there to do and that is what they do very successfully and I would resist any suggestion that that training would be neglected for any other kind of training that would be less effective than the war fighting capability that our forces have and continue to have and continue to require because what we have found, in particular in the immediate aftermath of the end of the air campaign in Kosovo, is that the kinds of skills that are provided as part of war fighting are the kinds of skills that are necessary in quite a dangerous environment like Kosovo. One of the reasons why our forces have been so successful both in war fighting but in the kind of operation that Kosovo requires is because they have that essential war fighting capacity and that they are trained for that.

Mr Brazier

  1176. Why are so many exercises being cancelled then?
  (Mr Hoon) So many exercises say are not being cancelled, Julian, I am sorry.

  1177. The largest Commando exercise was cancelled last year and that is pretty central to the plans.
  (Mr Hoon) One exercise was cancelled for one year.

  Mr Brazier: Because of a shortage.

Mr Hancock

  1178. I am interested when we see people leaving the Services. Two constituents of mine have left the Services and both of them felt badly affected by what they had experienced in Bosnia and it was in their opinion the main reason that turned them away from a life in the British military. They felt, unhappily, that they did not get, firstly, good enough briefing about what they were going to encounter. I understand in one case this was difficult because they were there in the very early days and it was difficult to know what young men and women were going to be experiencing. The second one went twice and he had a very bad experience as did the whole company he was with. They left the military after quite long lengths of service both with bad experiences of what they had gone through but more importantly they felt they had been let down after that experience.
  (Mr Hoon) We have learned a number of lessons from what took place certainly in the early period in Bosnia, and I am very conscious about that when, for example, we look at things like rules of engagement. We all know what the problems were in the early period and undoubtedly because the international community had not properly thought through what was happening in that early period we did not equip any of the forces that were sent to deal with the kind of situations that they faced, but it is something that we have recognised and something I make it quite clear I am very conscious of when, for example, I am asked to look at rules of engagement because we would not want our forces to be put into that situation again.

  1179. Are you satisfied they cannot be put into that situation again?
  (Mr Hoon) If they were then I accept the responsibility for it. What I am saying is that I have learned that lesson very clearly and when asked to look at rules of engagement I am very conscious that I will not put British forces into that kind of situation.

  Mr Hancock: That is good news.

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