Select Committee on Defence Fourteenth Report


Logistics, Support and Sustainability

168 The 1998 Strategic Defence Review argued that the likely nature of future operations in which the UK would become engaged demanded an enhanced expeditionary capability for UK armed forces, and it set out a strategy for achieving this. In the words of the previous Secretary of State, 'in the post Cold War world we must be prepared to go to the crisis, rather than have the crisis come to us'.[411] This expeditionary capability involves not only a capacity to deploy to a theatre of operations but also to support forces there for whatever period is necessary, including a period when high intensity operations are being conducted. Although the Strategic Defence Review has not yet been fully implemented, Operation Allied Force was precisely the type of expeditionary deployment envisaged in the Review. It therefore provided a test case for the UK's ability to deploy and sustain forces in a crisis overseas.


169 The UK Air Transport Force flew over 500 sorties to move equipment and personnel using the Hercules C-130, VC10 and Tristar aircraft. These sorties supported both the air operation and the build up of ground forces. They also formed a part of the humanitarian relief effort.[412] Most of the heavy equipment however was moved by sea. These movements utilised the two roll-on, roll-off (Ro-Ro) ships already under long term charter to the MoD. We were told that, because of early planning and deployment, the time taken to move material by sea did not affect operational capability.[413] Nevertheless, the Department's strategic lift capability was insufficient for the task and it was forced to make 'considerable' use of commercial lift.[414] Although more cost efficient than maintaining a large capacity in-house, the need to resort to commercial operators exposes the MoD to the vagaries of the market. During Operation Allied Force, 23 ships were chartered and 50 flights were contracted. Because it entered the market for ships early the MoD was able to secure the necessary vessels at good prices before competition increased.[415] Chartering aircraft proved more problematic. Two UK firms have a heavy air lift capacity, both using Russian registered aircraft. Because of Russian opposition to the NATO operation, the use of these aircraft was limited during the actual bombing campaign. Only 16% of the chartered flights took place while Operation Allied Force was in progress.[416]

170 The Department is well aware of the shortfall in strategic lift,[417] and securing improvements in strategic lift was a key element of the SDR strategy.[418] The Chief of the Defence Staff, General Sir Charles Guthrie, commented that "we need strategic lift, Ro-Ros and a large, wide bodied aircraft",[419] and later Vice-Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham told us, "We need a better strategic lift than we had then".[420] The Department consistently held to the position that there was no reason to change the requirement for heavy lift identified in the SDR. That requirement, however, has not always been consistent. We noted in our recent report on major procurement projects that the proposed acquisition of 25 A400M transport aircraft, announced recently by the Secretary of State, was less than the 'up to 45' subsumed in previous requests for proposals issued to Airbus.[421] Admiral Blackham told us in that inquiry that the reassessment was the result of work to balance air and sea lift capabilities,[422] but although the need for Ro-Ro ships had been demonstrated in the Kosovo campaign, its requirement was still put at six vessels.[423] Problems with strategic lift are not limited to the UK. The Chief of the Defence Staff again told us—

    We were pleased with our ability to get significant numbers of forces into theatre rapidly and to sustain them there... but it is clear that some of our Allies and partners need to do better in this area.[424]

171 This limitation has also been a source of complaint from the United States. In evidence to the Senate Armed Services Committee, Secretary of Defense William Cohen stated that 'All Allies were able to get air contributions to the crisis quickly; however the KFOR deployment was slower than desired.'[425] This is something of a polite understatement so far as other European nations are concerned, an issue we discuss below. Senior US military and DoD officials have consistently made the point that a capability gap exists between the US and its Allies in terms of strategic mobility.[426] It is clear that this is a problem that NATO as a whole will have to address if it is to deploy successfully to similar crises in the future.[427] Both the MoD and our European Allies acknowledge this, and we reported recently on the logistic elements of the so-called Helsinki 'headline goal'. We concluded—

    Achieving the back-up elements of the headline goal ... will be the real test by which this latest initiative will stand or fall. Redressing the European capability deficits identified in the DCI and the WEU capabilities audit will be a very taxing task, and the effort to do it more efficiently through collaboration will be an added challenge requiring sustained political commitment.[428]

Increased strategic lift is of critical importance for the realisation of European aspirations to have a genuine European rapid reaction military crisis management credibility.

172 In Kosovo, the problem of the shortfall in strategic lift was successfully overcome by resort to commercial charter. It could have been a very different story had an opposed ground entry actually been undertaken. Towards the end of the air campaign the British government agreed to provide a force of over 50,000 ground troops to KFOR for an opposed entry.[429] This would have constituted a five-fold increase over the forces then deployed in Macedonia. While the MoD appeared confident that they could have achieved this, not least because of the early start they had made in planning for this possibility, whether it would have been the case for other European members of NATO is less clear. Even the UK timeframe appeared very tight and, as the MoD acknowledges, there is no guarantee of such a period of planning in the future .[430] This is further evidence that suggests that the credibility of the current order for strategic lift, and of the balance between air and sea lift, needs further examination.


173 Equipment and supplies for British forces serving with KFOR came from the UK (or occasionally MoD stores in Germany) through the port of Thessaloniki in Greece (or in the case of urgent supplies, the air base at Skopje in Macedonia). Movement was then by road to British forces in the field. Local ill-feeling against the air campaign was very apparent, particularly in Thessaloniki, and a number of KFOR vehicles were stoned.[431] As Lord Gilbert commented—

    The Greek Government was faced with consistent opinion polls showing 90% opposition. There were problems in getting stuff through Thessaloniki, the port; the trade unions were very unhappy about it ... the Greeks felt very sympathetic towards people they regarded as their co-religionists and they took an extremely dim view of Kosovars generally. The particular significance of this for the Greek Defence Minister was that Salonica was his constituency and he went down there on more than one occasion to try to calm things down to allow NATO to get its stuff up into Macedonia for KFOR. The other government that I think showed remarkable steadfastness was the Government of Macedonia ...[432]

The support of the Greek and Macedonian authorities ensured that the logistics chain was not broken. This experience indicates how important host nation support is to such an operation. Without the continued support of the Greek and Macedonian authorities, sometimes in the face of considerable domestic opposition, KFOR's logistics resupply would have been compromised. Those politicians in these countries who stood by NATO exercised considerable political courage.

174 In a memorandum to the Committee, the MoD stated that—

    We need to progress work already outlined in the [SDR] regarding the ability of our Services to¼ be supported logistically on operations of an expeditionary nature.[433]

The logistics chain to KFOR, although lengthy, generally used well-established procedures. The two major innovations were the centralisation of transport under one agency, the Defence Transport Movement Agency, and the centralisation of storage under the Storage and Distribution Agency. Both appeared to work well.[434] Although transport infrastructure in Albania was poor, we were told that in Macedonia, where KFOR was based, this posed no logistical problems.[435]

175 Support for British aircraft was, as we have noted above, hampered by their dispersal amongst a number of bases. Harrier GR7s were based at Gioia del Colle in Italy, VC10 tankers, E-3D AWACS and Nimrod were based at Ancona also in Italy. Tornado GR1s began operating from RAF Bruggen in Germany, supported by VC10 tankers, before being moved to a French air force base at Solenzara in Corsica,[436] and Sea Harrier FA2s operated off HMS Invincible. For a comparatively small force (at the end of the campaign consisting of 24 strike aircraft—the equivalent of just two squadrons), a surprising number of bases were used. Although each basing decision may have made sense individually, as a whole the result was to complicate support.[437]

176 Availability rates for those aircraft deployed were kept at reasonable levels, Harrier GR7s averaging over 70% and Tornado GR1s over 80%.[438] This suggests adequate logistic support in theatre, although the challenges were perhaps not as significant as appears at first sight. Operational sorties effectively replaced a similar number of otherwise programmed training sorties,[439] for example, and the sort of flying done in Kosovo—at 15,000 feet—was in many ways less demanding on the aircraft than the low flying training that was displaced.[440] Nevertheless critical shortages were apparent for both the E-3D airborne early warning aircraft and Sea Harriers (FA2s). Indeed the NAO reports that just under half of the Sea Harriers' flying hours were achieved only by cannibalising or 'robbing' other aircraft in the fleet.[441] The resort to cannibalising front-line aircraft in order to keep up the deployed Sea Harriers' availability is clearly a matter to be taken up by the new joint Task Force Harrier's command.


177 During Operation Allied Force, the RAF delivered 244 precision guided munitions and 761 gravity ('dumb') bombs. Of the latter, 230 were 1000lb bombs and 531 were cluster weapons. 20 TLAM cruise missiles were fired from HMS Splendid. In addition 6 ALARM anti-radiation missiles were fired. On average 12.8 bombs or missiles were delivered by the UK each day of the campaign, with a peak of 63 on 3 May 1999.[442]

178 At the outset of the campaign it was intended that all weapons used would be precision guided: in fact the majority of weapons used were not. The MoD consistently asserted that stockpiles were not a factor in this decision.[443] Vice-Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham told us that there had been no area in which the UK was running short of supplies of munitions.[444] The Chief of Joint Operations also told us that the UK was not constrained by stockpile levels in any way, right up to the very end the campaign;[445] he also told us that he was not hampered at all by instructions to conserve missiles because of expense.[446] The same line was taken in the MoD's report on the Lessons from the Crisis

    Sufficient numbers of weapons were available throughout the operation, with contingency plans in place to ensure that additional weapons would be available if needed, although these were not in the event required. Precision Guided Munitions were in particularly high demand during this operation, and this put our stockpile of this weapon under some pressure. Nevertheless, the majority of our stockpile of each of the weapon types used remained available at the end of the conflict, which would have enabled us to continue air operations for some time thereafter. Current stockpile guidance is being reviewed in the light of experience of the air operation and the planning for a ground operation, to ensure that we have the right quantity and balance of weaponry in stock.[447]

The Department also informed us that contingency plans had been put in place to ensure additional weapons would be available if necessary from NATO allies, but that these arrangements were not required.[448] This phlegmatic assessment of the rate of consumption of precision guided weapons contrasts with the assessment of the National Audit Office, that—

    In April 1999 the Department initiated procurement action for [precision guided munitions] as stocks were below the planned contingency levels and, had bombing at maximum levels been possible each day and night during the campaign, there was a real risk of exhausting stocks of precision guided munitions within a number weeks.[449]

Very few of the Urgent Operational Requirements issued during the campaign related to munitions.[450] However, Human Rights Watch, whose report is based largely on NATO evidence, comments—

    During [the last three days of May], the intensity of the attacks also peaked. This was also a time when the percentage of precision-guided munitions being used by NATO aircraft was declining (due to inventory shortages and cost considerations).[451]

179 It is also evident that in achieving a balance between stocks and weapons used, the UK benefitted from the comparatively low percentage of strike missions by its forces which led to weapons release (34%).[452] The MoD itself made the link—

    The numbers of weapons used in the Operation did not exhaust current stockpiles which were adequate numerically for the task. However, the rules of engagement, weather and a trend to a medium altitude bombing campaign precluded the use of our weapons on a number of occasions.[453]

We recognise that more favourable circumstances, allowing a higher tempo of operation, might have also allowed the conflict to reach a conclusion more quickly. But this is not a proven proposition, and the trade-off may not have been a linear one. The crucial point remains that had the campaign continued for longer, as it might well have had to, or had the air assets had to be transferred to close support for an opposed ground attack, stockpiles might well have come under much greater pressure. In our view, the MoD's relaxed attitude to the rate of consumption of precision guided munitions during Operation Allied Force depends far too much on the effects of extraneous factors on the rate of use. There is no doubt that more unguided weapons were used during the campaign than it was intended at the outset.

180 There was concern in the US about TLAM cruise missile stocks even before the operation started, and this increased during the conflict as cruise missile usage was higher than anticipated. Long-range precision missiles such as TLAM were used extensively during the early stages of the campaign and during periods of bad weather. Only on 21 of the 78 days of the campaign were weather conditions reported as being favourable for air operations.[454] SACEUR, General Wesley Clark, admitted to 'the heavy use of the cruise missiles early on when we had targets that were suitable for cruise missiles, and when we needed them to keep the pressure on during periods of especially bad weather'.[455] The MoD suggested that NATO commanders were able to continue operations at a lower intensity through the use of various assets including UK and US TLAM, other US cruise missiles, and the US Global Positioning System-guided Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM). Later in the campaign, as we outlined above, UK pilots were able to use 'dumb' bombs released by using GPS, when they believed the value of so doing outweighed the risks of collateral damage. Nevertheless, it is clear that in bad weather, and when the need for accuracy was critical, HMS Splendid with its TLAM cruise missiles represented the only European unit available to contribute to the attack element of the campaign.[456] Unsurprisingly therefore the MoD has concluded[457] that as a result of the Kosovo campaign, the UK's capacity in the smart and precision guided munitions area now needs to be addressed with a higher priority. We would agree that the UK's smart weapon capability needs to be reviewed, but this review needs to be urgent and radical in the light of the lessons of Operation Allied Force.

181 There is clearly a balance to be struck. Keeping large numbers of weapons on shelves is not cost-efficient and many weapons deteriorate after a time in storage, making them unusable. But equally, sufficient quantities need to be available to support operations. The current balance struck between stockpiles of precision guided munitions and reliance on the ability to replenish those stocks at short notice may carry too high a risk to the ability of the RAF and Royal Navy to support certain types of operations for any length of time. As we noted in our report on the Royal Ordnance Factory, Bishopton,[458] the Department had been reviewing its weapons stockpile plans as a part of the SDR, the results of which were expected by the end of 1999.[459] This review was still under way during our current inquiry,[460] and we continue to look forward to hearing its results, which are now seriously overdue.

182 Despite the MoD's confident assertions that stockpile levels had no direct impact on operational decisions, we conclude from the evidence we have taken that, had a significantly higher percentage of sorties led to weapons release or had the weather allowed a greater use of precision guided munitions, then stock levels could have been a constraint affecting the UK's contribution to the operation.

411  Cm 3999, The Strategic Defence Review, Introduction para 6 Back

412  Ev p 188, para 18; Cm 4724, para 7.31 Back

413  Cm 4724, para 6.48. Back

414  ibid, para 6.46 Back

415  NAO, paras 3.10-3.12 Back

416  ibid, paras, 3.9-3.12; Cm 4724, paras 6.46-6.48. Back

417  Cm 4724, para 6.46 Back

418  Eighth Report, Session 1999-2000, European Security and Defence, HC 264, para 55 Back

419  Q 1 Back

420  QQ 441, 450 Back

421  Tenth Report, Session 1999-2000, op cit, para 31 Back

422  ibid Back

423  Q 556; Cm 4724, para 6.47 Back

424  Q 1 Back

425  Prepared Statement of the Honorable William S. Cohen to the Senate Armed Services Committee Hearing on Operations in Kosovo, 20 July 1999, p.6 Back

426  See for example Combined Prepared Statement of General Wesley Clark, Admiral James Ellis Jr and Lieutenant General Michael Short of the United States European Command before the Senate Armed Services Committee, 21 October 1999; Joint Statement of William S. Cohen, Secretary of Defense and General Henry H. Shelton, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Senate Armed Services Committee Hearing on Kosovo After-Action Review, 14 October 1999, p.10. Back

427   At the IAT Interoperability Symposium, 22 July 1999 Back

428  Eighth Report Session 1999-2000, European Security and Defence, HC 264, para 55 Back

429  Q 33. In its white paper on lessons learned, the Department indicated that the government was willing to provide 'up to 54,000' Army personnel, including 12-14,000 reservists. Cm 4724, para 8.11 Back

430  Cm 4724, para 6.46 Back

431  Cm 4724, para 8.28; Q 910 Back

432  Q 1041 Back

433  Ev p 189, para 28 Back

434  Q 552 Back

435  Q 547; NAO para 5.2 Back

436  QQ 110-1 Back

437  NAO, para 3.5 Back

438  Ev p 240, para 2; Q 107 Back

439  NAO para 2.13 Back

440  NAO 2.14 Back

441  NAO, para 3.5 Back

442  Ev p 241, para 5, p 242, para 13 and p 255, para 66 Back

443  QQ 86-8 Back

444  Q 574 Back

445  Q 271 Back

446  Q 276 Back

447  Cm 7424, para 7.34 Back

448  Ev p 252, para 47; Q 18 Back

449  NAO, para 3.5 Back

450  QQ19-20, 271, 559, 562 and 574. Back

451  Human Rights Watch, op cit, p 7 Back

452  Ev p 241, para 5 Back

453  Ev p 243, para 9 Back

454  Cm 4724 p40 Back

455 Back

456  World Defence Systems, June 2000, pp 56-7 p 56-57, RUSI Back

457  QQ 435,436,437 Back

458  Fifth Report, Session 1998-99, Security of Supply and the Future of Royal Ordnance Factory Bishopton, HC 274 Back

459  ibid, para 36 Back

460  Q 558 Back

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