Select Committee on Defence Fourteenth Report


Air-to-Air Missiles

153 There were also problems with air-to-air missiles. Our MoD witnesses did not volunteer evidence that there were any equipment lessons to be learned for the Sea Harriers. We were therefore concerned to learn from the NAO report that fuselage-mounted AMRAAM missiles suffered from proximity to heat and vibration during take-off and recovery. Within two months over half these missile stocks deployed were unserviceable. Subsequent trials have apparently led to new procedures being introduced (for the maintenance of the aircraft, and the way it is landed) which will reduce the incidence of damage.[366] As a result of these new procedures, Sea Harrier operational flying in Southern Iraq earlier this year has caused no damage to the missiles.[367] We expect to be kept informed of any continuing incidents of damage to the Sea Harriers' fuselage-mounted missiles.

Submarine-launched Precision-guided Munitions

154 Operation Allied Force saw the first operational use by the UK of its newly acquired capability to launch conventionally-armed cruise missiles from its submarines. The Tomahawk Land Attack Missile (TLAM) is a United States made, conventionally-armed, long-range, land-attack cruise missile that has been in service with the United States armed forces for some years. The UK had to accelerate trials in order to introduce the missile into operational service in time for the start of the air campaign, and the nuclear-powered attack submarine HMS Splendid took part in Operation Allied Force after only one live test firing. HMS Splendid remained under national (rather than NATO) control throughout the operation.[368] The UK apparently fired 20 of the 238 TLAMs used in Operation Allied Force. The 218 US launched TLAMs were fired from six ships and three submarines.

155 The UK TLAMs appear to have worked well. Indeed the performance was described as "outstanding" and we were told by the MoD that it "exceeded our expectations of it throughout".[369] Of the 20 TLAMs fired, 17 apparently hit their targets.[370] Such a success rate—85%—seems good, if not quite up to the almost magical reputation which cruise missiles have acquired in popular mythology. Overall, it is reported that 198 of the TLAMs fired hit their target—a very similar success rate.

156 Despite its accuracy, the TLAM is not the preferred weapon for all occasions. It is most useful against static targets, but as it has to be targetted before launch and cannot be adjusted in mid-course, it is less effective against moving targets. Furthermore, as Admiral Blackham somewhat bluntly remarked, war is an "economic activity" and it may therefore not always be cost-effective to use a missile to destroy a target of lower value than the weapon itself [371]—though against an economically weaker adversary this may not hold true. However, in their joint statement to the Senate Armed Services Committee on 21 October 1999, General Clark, Admiral Ellis and Lieutenant General Short mentioned that the rapid re-planning flexibility of Tomahawk to respond with a quick-strike on a "pop-up" target had been demonstrated. Jane's Defence Weekly reported in July 2000 on reports from the US Navy that—

    26 TLAMs, including 16 unitary and 10 submunition variants, were fired at 18 mobile targets during the conflict. According to the USN's figures, 10 ground-based aircraft and 14 radars were damaged or destroyed and TLAMs accounted for nearly 50% of all the mobile air defence radars struck.[372]

The same article revealed, incidentally, that 8 TLAMs had been used in the attack on the TV headquarters on 23 April—indicating that serious rather than symbolic damage was intended. The use of TLAMs for so-called 'tactical targetting' has encouraged the US Navy to press ahead with its procurement of the Block IV Tactical Tomahawk variant, due to enter service with them in 2003. We understand that the TLAMs being procured by the Royal Navy are all to the Block IIIC unitary warhead standard. We also understand that the Block IV may also be potentially available to the UK. We recommend that, in the light of the experience of the utility of Tomahawk for use against tactical and mobile targets, the MoD reconsider the decision to stick with the current standard of the TLAM.

157 We also have concerns about possible looming problems of longer term support for the Block IIIC version. When challenged on this point, the Secretary of State told us—

    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.[373]

Replacements for the Royal Navy's expended TLAM missiles each currently cost over £1 million—certainly relatively expensive. Confirming that the process of equipping the whole attack-submarine flotilla with TLAMs is underway, the Assistant Chief of Defence Staff (Operations) told us that although the Americans were apparently committed to changing the configuration of their next generation of TLAMs—

    They do have residual stocks of the old one and therefore our capability can be maintained ... 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 ... We have still got exactly what we wanted.[374]

This claim does not seem to correspond exactly with reports about other advantages of the new configuration. In any event, if Block IIIC missiles are no longer supported in the US, the costs of updating earlier TLAM variants may cost as much or more than the originals. It appears however that the cheaper US Tactical Tomahawk may not be usable from the launcher systems of current UK attack-submarines without substantial modifications to the vessels. Against this fluid and uncertain background, the MoD is soon to complement its TLAM missile stocks with an RAF air-launched capability— Storm Shadow.[375] This conventionally-armed stand off cruise missile is expected by the MoD to enter service in 2002[376] (nearly eight years late[377]). Each system has its own merits, as well as costs. It is important that the UK should be able to capitalise on the success of cruise missiles in Operation Allied Force, and we look to the Department in its response to this report to set out its strategy for defining its long-range precision-guided land attack capability and the mix of air and sea launched systems it intends to acquire or maintain.

Secure Communications and IT Networks

158 Another significant deficiency was the lack of secure communications. In our recent report on Major Procurement Projects we described the weaknesses of existing communication systems for ground forces, and the unacceptable delay in introducing the 'Bowman' integrated voice and data communication systems. There were also communication problems with the air campaign. The UK used a frequency hopping radio, which was vulnerable to interception by Yugoslav scanners.[378] We were told at SHAPE that so far as interception of communications was concerned, "The Yugoslavs had us cold". The United States used a more secure system, though one that was not fully interoperable with the systems used by the UK or other NATO members.[379] Nor did it prove invulnerable to interception.[380] DCDS (Equipment Capabilities) told us—

    ... we did know that they [the USAF] had applied a secure element on top of the HAVE QUICK II radios that was, in effect, the NATO agreed system. What we were surprised by was the fact that they not only had it available on their aeroplanes but they insisted on using it in this operation. I say "surprised"; that was a limitation. The fact is that there is a NATO lag behind the speed at which any one nation and the most powerful nation on its own can make the decision. There was an American decision to move forward without waiting for allies and to apply that in this particular operation. That was potentially a problem.[381]

That our pilots could not communicate securely and that they could not always communicate with American pilots was a major shortcoming. That NATO should be surprised at the use of this new, more secure but non-interoperable system by the Americans suggests either a woefully poor speed of response or exchange of information within NATO on a vital matter, or a worrying degree of isolationism on the part of the USAF. The Secretary of State announced in March this year that the UK would proceed with trials of an enhanced system[382] and we expect the government, in their response to this report, to set out a precise timetable for remedying this problem.

159 The US is making increasingly extensive use of secure internet/intranet technology and Wide Area Networks. The UK and NATO are seeking to do likewise, but the pace of US change is threatening to outstrip the resources of the others and thus exacerbate the capability gap. As DCDS (Equipment Capabilities) told us—

    The fact is that the Americans are able to put far greater resources in than most other NATO countries and they are a single country as opposed to a group. When they discover some new development, they tend to introduce it into service there and then, which is a reasonable position for them to take, but it may introduce difficulties in the remainder of NATO's forces that are at different stages of development or different stages of procurement and cannot therefore immediately change.[383]

160 During the Kosovo campaign, connectivity between national and NATO systems was poor, compounded by concerns about access to, and exchange of, classified information. The MoD is aware that this an area of critical importance impacting on the UK's ability to contribute effectively to multinational decision-making at all levels and to provide forces that, in future, can integrate successfully with the forces of other nations under a US or NATO lead. We know, too, that work is in hand within the MoD under the generic heading of Joint Digitisation of the Battlespace. DCDS (Equipment Capabilities) explained that Joint Digitisation of the Battlespace is—

    ... about the handling of a huge range of information in an automatic way. Information technology at its most advanced is what we are talking about, presenting a picture for all those involved in fighting a battle at an appropriate level for their role.[384]

    The prospects of it [JDB] being achieved are good. You will then ask me what the timescale is and that is a bit more difficult ... 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 ... It is a pretty demanding task.[385]

We recognise the complexity of the task. However we know that the programme to digitise the battlespace has been going on for some years. We urge that work on joint digitisation of the battlespace is hastened, and wish to be informed of the progress to date, and the nature of the further work planned, in the MoD's response to our Report.


161 At paragraph 127 above we discussed the weaknesses of the MoD (and the Alliance more generally) in making effective 'battle damage assessments'. The sorts of reconnaissance capabilities that would bolster BDA also have a role to play in finding and targetting mobile forces. Operation Allied Force revealed just how limited is the capability UK forces possess to find mobile forces and, once they have been found, to target and engage them rapidly before they can move again (a capability which is measured in terms of the 'sensor-to-shooter' timescale). This capability requires improved communications/data links and, in some instances, better munitions. The MoD is aware of these deficiencies.[386] Admiral Blackham, DCDS (Equipment Capabilities), told us—

    We do not yet have the comprehensive Intelligence, Surveillance, Target-Acquisition Reconnaissance [ISTAR] 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 [Airborne Stand-Off Radar] system ... 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 [Unmanned Aerial Vehicle] systems, which are new, modern airborne systems.[387]

162 Our predecessor Committees have commented in reports in 1991[388] and 1995[389] on the MoD's poor record in delivering the Phoenix unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) programme (which will be replaced by the Sender and Spectator systems currently under development[390]). The Phoenix contract was signed in 1985, and has been much delayed because of numerous technical and contractual difficulties, examined in some detail in our predecessors' inquiries. We were pleased to hear that after nearly a decade of trials that were needed to iron out its technical shortcomings, Phoenix was finally accepted into service by the MoD in December 1998.[391] We were told that Phoenix aircraft were operational in Kosovo from 9 June 1999,[392] as the air campaign came to a close, and during the deployment of ground forces into the province, and that it proved effective—

    On the 'D-day'....Phoenix detected 12 Mig-21s at Pristina as the Serbs were withdrawing. These were detected at some considerable range. It is interesting that a previous [remote-piloted vehicle] had flown over the same location and had not located them; it had declared the area clear. [Phoenix] has a much better resolution than comparable systems. Now when the Russians occupied the airport, Phoenix overflew the complete area and was able to identify vehicles and give information on their activity. Because of the low cloud in that area, Phoenix was often the only UAV in-theatre that was able to provide any information on a regular basis. It was tasked with monitoring the ground security zone and it did that effectively. Prior to D-day, it conducted a search of all known Serb positions and this proved in fact in the majority of cases the Serbs had withdrawn. It gave our forces a tremendous capability which we did not have before.[393]

Subsequently, NATO requested Phoenix to use for monitoring compliance with the Air MTA.[394]

163 In the 18 months since it has been accepted into service, 16 Phoenix UAVs have been lost or destroyed in the course of 200 sorties, including 13 during operations—ten were lost or destroyed in 1999 during operations in support of the Kosovo campaign, and three more during further operations there earlier this year.[395] Our predecessors had noted the system's vulnerability, particularly when being recovered at the end of its flights. They were also told by the MoD (although they were not convinced) that while in flight the aircraft's small size made it a difficult target for small-arms fire, and its slow speed would make it difficult for sophisticated air-defence systems to detect.[396] At first sight, the high sortie loss rate (8%) it has experienced while in-service suggests that there is still a need for measures to protect the aircraft, and we trust that the MoD will be looking to see what protective measures might be possible. There is a balance to be struck, however, between providing enough protection to prevent readily avoidable losses and investing so much in such measures that the MoD becomes reluctant to put Phoenix in harm's way. It is precisely its relative inexpensiveness compared to manned aircraft—around £300,000 each to replace[397]—and the absence of risk for the remote 'pilot', that allows the craft to gather high value intelligence, albeit at a higher risk of being lost.

164 There are nevertheless some areas in which the aircraft's systems could be usefully developed, to enhance its wider utility. Phoenix was designed in the Cold War as an aid to artillery targetting,[398] relaying its target imagery data to its operators on the ground. But in Kosovo, despite its belated deployment, it showed its utility as a surveillance platform for a wider range of uses, including targetting for strike aircraft. Its utility in such a role could be enhanced if its imagery could be linked to other aircraft, giving a commensurately shorter 'sensor-to-shooter' time, and we welcome the trials currently being conducted by the MoD of systems to provide this extra capability.[399] In the Kosovo air campaign it was important, as we have said, to avoid collateral damage and civilian casualties, and this is likely to the case in many similar future conflicts. It is also welcome, therefore, that the MoD's proposals continue to place a human 'in the loop,' rather than seeking to introduce systems that would relay target information directly to strike aircraft. With ASTOR still 5 years from entering service[400] and target in-service dates for Phoenix's successors (Sender and Spectator)yet to be established,[401] the momentum behind developing the capability of Phoenix to provide targetting data to strike aircraft must be maintained.

Air-to-Air Refuelling

165 Operation Allied Force revealed that there was insufficient NATO air-to-air refuelling capacity, compounded by a lack of interoperability in this area between most air forces (including the US Navy) and the US Air Force (which provided the majority of aircraft to the operation).[402] The UK deployed significant air-to-air refuelling assets to the theatre and the MoD emphasised the fact that 85% of the fuel transferred by RAF tankers went to non-UK aircraft. This suggests that the UK provided more than most other NATO members.[403] Air Vice Marshal Nichol reminded us that—

    ... one tanker captain was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and that was specifically, apart from his overall operational experience, for the support he provided personally to two EA-6B Prowler American aircraft electronic warfare operations.[404]

The real problem with air-to-air refuelling appears to lie with our European Allies.

166 Despite this apparent disproportionate contribution of the UK, the Chief of Joint Operations asserted that the UK requires a greater air-to-air refuelling capability.[405] The UK's existing capability, provided by an ageing fleet of 35 VC-10s and Tristars, is due for renewal as part of a public-private partnership—the 'Future Strategic Tanker Aircraft' programme.[406] It will be essential that the lessons of Operation Allied Force are incorporated in the specification of this PFI service contract, expected to be let in 2002. These tanker aircraft are not only valuable force multipliers but also enable operations that, without them, would not be possible. We expect the response to this report to set out how the MoD is going to ensure that the tanker fleet is sufficient for likely future needs and that new tankers become available soon enough to replace the present ageing fleet before they are obsolete. There have been suggestions made of establishing a European tanker fleet—this is clearly an area where wholesale duplication by each of the Allies of this capability is likely to be inefficient. It will be essential that the UK's own requirement is addressed in the wider context of the European-NATO shortfall in this capability.

Infantry Equipment

167 The participation of UK ground forces in KFOR's entry into Kosovo also gave rise to leaked reports in the media about the inadequacies of the SA80, in particular in its Light Support Weapon form, and the lack of secure tactical communications. We discussed the shortcomings of tactical secure communications at length in a recent report.[407] The concerns about the SA 80 are old, well-documented complaints which pre-date Kosovo and which have concerned the Committee before.[408] It is disappointing that it is taking so long to resolve them. We know, though, that the MoD is acutely aware of these shortcomings and has provided an update on the measures in hand in its Lessons report.[409] Ministers have recently announced a programme of remedial work on the weapon.[410] We shall monitor the results.

366  NAO, p 31 Back

367  Ev p 266, para 101 Back

368  Cm 4724 Back

369  QQ 263, 265 Back

370  Jane's Defence Weekly, 19 July 2000, p 3 Back

371  Q 459 Back

372  Jane's Defence Weekly, 19 July 2000, p 3 Back

373  Q 1164? Back

374  QQ 1165-1167 Back

375  Cm 4724, para 7.26 Back

376  HC Deb, 24 January 2000, c70w; 18 April 200, c429w Back

377  HC (1999-2000) 613, op cit, p 100 Back

378  Ev p 73, Q 443 Back

379  Ev p 61 Back

380  Ev p 245, para 27; Ev p 257, para 78; QQ 442 and 282 Back

381  Q 445 Back

382  Cm 4724, para 4.5 Back

383  Q 447 Back

384  Q 479 Back

385  Q 481 Back

386  Q 232 and Cm 4724 para 7.41 Back

387  QQ 520-1 Back

388  Second Report, Session 1990-91, The Procurement of the Multiple Launch Rocket System and the Phoenix Remotely Piloted Vehicle, HC 49 Back

389  Seventh Report, Session 1994-95, Reconnaissance, Intelligence, Surveillance and Target Acquisition, HC 319 Back

390  Tenth Report, Session 1999-2000, Major Procurement Projects, HC 528, p 74 Back

391  HC Deb, 19 June 2000, c32w Back

392  Ev p265 Back

393  Q 517 Back

394  Q 519 Back

395  HC Deb, 19 June 2000, c32w Back

396  Seventh Report, Session 1994-95, op cit, paras 44-45 Back

397  Their original cost was £164,000 plus VAT, when ordered in 1985 (HC Deb, 19 June 2000, c32w). But the NAO report Kosovo; The Financial Lessons of Military Operations (1999-2000, HC 5300 notes that 12 lost unmanned reconnaissance aircraft were valued at £3.5 million - or £290,000 each. Back

398  Q 517 Back

399  Q 528 Back

400  Its original in-service date was 2003. Latest estimate is 2005, a delay of 29 months (HC (1999-2000) 613, p 66) Back

401  Tenth Report, Session 1999-2000, op cit, p 74 (para 7) Back

402  QQ282, 442, 446 and 554 and Cm 4724 para 7.45 Back

403  Q 446 and Cm 4724 para 7.41 Back

404  Q 446 Back

405  Q 282 Back

406  Cm 4724 para 7.41 Back

407  Tenth Report, Session 1999-2000, op cit, paras 41-59 Back

408  Third Report, Session 1992-93, The SA80 Rifle and Light Support Weapon, HC 729 Back

409  Cm 4724, paras 5.31 and 5.32. Back

410  HC Deb, 23 June 2000, cc 318-319w Back

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2000
Prepared 24 October 2000