Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence

Examination of witness (Questions 20-39)



Mr Gapes

  20. What is your assessment of the military value to the United Kingdom of a missile defence programme?
  (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) I think that what we have to be aware of is that countries are developing ballistic missile systems which are soon going to have a capability which starts to come close to what was previously held in Russia. In other words, they will certainly have a trans-continental if not an inter-continental range capability. I think we would be very silly not to look to see how we could counter that particular threat. If there is a way of doing it, rather than just the deterrent of having mutually assured destruction, then we should give it quite serious thought. What worries me slightly about that, if we decide there is a system which can counter this threat, is that I suspect it would be extremely expensive. I have got no idea what the figures might be but I guess it would be very expensive. My concern would be that if we were ever to decide to invest in it, that money for it should be given as an addition to the defence budget and not try to be found from within the defence budget.

  21. Can I explore that a little bit further but first make the comment that, of course, the Ministry of Defence has just published a document about threat assessment which says that for the period up to 2030 it does not perceive a missile threat of that kind to this country. That is just a comment. Can I ask you this question on possible reductions elsewhere if we had the expense of such a programme. Do you believe that such reductions would result in a lower capability and a reduced ability for us to carry out the expeditionary strategy which is in the current policy of the Government?
  (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) Yes, I do.

  22. So would you feel that the military value of any missile defence system, in whatever form it developed, would compensate for such a reduction in other capabilities?
  (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) No, I do not, not if we are to retain a full expeditionary capability. I think this would have to be an add-on. If we had some national missile defence capability it would have to be an add-on to our expeditionary capability, unless we had another Defence Review which decided to do away with the expeditionary strategy and we went for something else. On the present defence budget, I do not believe that we could maintain a sensible expeditionary capability and afford a national missile defence system as well.

  23. That is very clear. Can I just put to you that what you are saying in effect is unless there was a significant increase in the defence budget we would not be able to go ahead with the missile defence system without seriously undermining our other defence capabilities and our ability to carry out the expeditionary strategy, support for the UN peacekeeping and all the other issues in which we are involved?
  (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) Yes.

  24. How do you see the so-called revolution in military affairs affecting how you go about your work?
  (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) I am not sure I fully understand any more what is meant by the "revolution in military affairs". It was a good expression three or four years ago or so, but I am not sure that the revolution has not already happened and we are now dealing with the aftermath, if you like, or rather we are in the aftermath and we are dealing with it, or is a revolution in military affairs something such as the asymmetric point that Mr Viggers raised, or is it a mental revolution in military affairs? I am really not sure how to answer the question. We are working very hard at trying to make sure that we are staying at the leading edge of technology, at least understanding where it is taking us, and exploiting it where we possibly can. I do not think that we are ignoring any area because it looks like being too difficult, we are keeping an eye on it. We are trying to exploit where technology is taking us to enable us to do our business as well as we possibly can. As I said, I think the revolution bit was a good expression 10 years ago but I think we are up with it.

  25. Let us clarify it then. The emphasis on more sophisticated, more expensive equipment, does that inevitably mean less men and women in our Armed Forces? Does it mean a greater emphasis on war without casualties, making conflict more remote and, in a sense, almost like video technology? I am trying to summarise.
  (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) I understand exactly. I think the answer to the question comes in two parts really. First of all, we should certainly be exploiting technology where it allows us to reduce the manpower bill. A very good example of that, if I can use a naval example because it is easier for me to do that obviously and it is also a very clear one, is if we take the Type-23 frigate, which has a crew of about 180 at the moment, that particular ship is more capable than the Type-22 frigate which has a crew of 280 people on board. That saving of 100 people is significant when you multiply it by a few crews. We shall continue to drive down manpower where possible, where technology allows us to, up to a certain point. If I can go to the other end of the spectrum, for example if you are fighting a war you are always required to have boots on the ground at the end of the day if you are to occupy territory to complete the war. The silver bullet answer, which is what you were implying, having a war without casualties, is one which is really revolutionary in military affairs and is well beyond this century and probably the next century as well, I suspect. Therefore, we are always going to require the man in the system somewhere, but we will do it with fewer of them, men or women in the system. I do believe it is totally responsible to look to see where we can reduce the size of the crews, or number of people required to support a particular equipment, wherever we possibly can.

  26. Can I switch focus slightly. There is a lot of debate about greater role specialisation among the European members of NATO. What should the United Kingdom specialise in?
  (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) We already specialise in a number of areas from which our coalition or NATO allies or coalition allies benefit. For example, our Tomahawk firing submarine, our Trident missile firing submarines, the strategic lift which we are getting in at the moment, the C17s and the ro- ro ships when they come in will be, certainly as far as Europe is concerned anyway, a capability which other countries do not have. Our nuclear attack submarines, although France has got some, but amongst the other European countries we are the only owner of those and elements of our Air Force and Army equally have got capabilities which other countries do not possess. In a sense when we are operating in the Alliance, and certainly so far as our European colleagues are concerned, we already have a number of specialities which they are able to use to the benefit of that particular force which has been put together.

  27. What should we leave to them that we do not have?
  (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) I think that there are one or two areas which they are exploring which we will be certainly very interested to use. For example, the Dutch are exploring theatre missile defence, and I do not think we have a need particularly to go down that route at the moment if they are. I think that that can work well. In fact, we are looking at working with the Germans, looking at improving our suppression of enemy air defences as well. It is an area which they are quite good at. Those are two particular areas.

  28. Clearly there are not many that you are prepared to leave to other NATO partners in Europe?
  (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) I do not think so, Mr Gapes, because of our wish, if we are to maintain a properly packaged expeditionary capability, we must have a pretty reasonable hand of cards to be able to exploit that when we send it off around the world. Not too many of our partners are willing to go wandering around the world doing the sorts of jobs that we do.

  29. Does that mean that specialism in the European sense means we do things that other people do not do but in general we do everything?
  (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) Apart from the two or three things I actually mentioned, such as, for example, suppression of air defence, theatre missile defence, we already have got most of the capabilities that we need to do our expeditionary warfare which, yes, certainly some of the other nations are able to benefit from as a result.

  30. As a result we will continue to spend significantly more proportionately than some other NATO European allies?
  (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) Other European countries do not have the same defence strategy that we do. Certainly our expeditionary strategy is one which is not shared by most of the European countries.

Mr Viggers

  31. You were talking about specialisation, can I just ask again about medical services? The French, I believe, have 15 military hospitals, we are proposing to have none. Is that an area where we are yielding specialisation to another country? Are we content to yield it to France?
  (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) We are not doing anything that I am aware of, of handing over to France to look after our medical facilities. We are certainly going down a different path from France in terms of their hospital side. I cannot speak for what the French medical system is, I am not particularly well versed in it. There is certainly no thought particularly at the moment of going down a role specialisation route in so far as hospitals are concerned.

  Chairman: We have some questions on jointery. Jimmy Hood.

Mr Hood

  32. What are the biggest remaining stumbling blocks to fully effective joint operations amongst the UK Armed Forces?
  (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) I think that we have probably done just about as much as we want to do on the operation side now in working towards joint forces. We have a joint Harrier force, a joint helicopter force; we have a joint nuclear biological and chemical warfare regiment; we have a joint logistics organisation and, of course, our permanent joint headquarters. I think that probably is as far as we sensibly need to go at the moment to produce the sort of joint organisations which will optimise our expeditionary capability. There is not a lot more you can bring together which makes sense in the environmental sense in terms of the ships, tanks and aircraft type of modelling. Outside the operational area we are still looking at seeing where there may be sensible rationalisation of some of our training areas and work has been going on for the last year on that and we are expecting to come out with some completion to that within the next few weeks.

  33. Are there any significantly unique problems faced separately by each of the three services? To what extent do these need a single service solution?
  (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) I am sorry, I not sure I entirely understand.


  34. The limits of jointery, there are some things, apart from the fact the navy are best at sailing at ships, which can only be done by a single service and are not in any way amiable to further development in jointery?
  (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) There are a variety of things where there are deep specialist environmental subjects which are only pertinent to one particular service. Oceanography, for example, or aspects of tank craftsmanship, if you like, armoured warfare. There are a variety of specialist warfare areas which only make sense to be conducted within a single service training machine in terms of the operation as well.

  35. Have you come across instances where jointery has been tried and proven to be a failure and, therefore, reversal to the more traditional single service approach?
  (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) I think the only one where we looked at it very closely was in the ground based air defence systems where the Army has an air defence missile system and the Air Force also operates it. In fact, in a sense, this rather answers Mr Hood's question as well. When we looked at it very, very closely indeed and did our evaluation, although they both use what might look to the untutored eye pretty similar weapons systems, the way in which they are used are certainly different. It did not make sense in that particular case to have an amalgamation, to have just one ground based air defence system which was a joint one. That is a good example, Mr Hood, of what you were getting at there. They were so differently operated that there was no sense in bringing them together.

Dr Lewis

  36. I am not quite sure why these questions that I have been allocated to ask come under jointery, towards the end they tend towards multinationality which I know is coming up later. I know Mr Hood has some more questions about jointery straight after this. For what it is worth I have a number of questions about Trident. Trident, and before that Polaris and Chevaline were always described as minimum strategic deterrents during the 1980s and the 1990s. Do you consider that the conduct and posture of the UK Trident force now is commensurate with the risks that the UK faces today or in the years ahead?
  (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) Yes, I do. We looked at this in the Strategic Defence Review in 1998 and we took a very, very close look to see how we could bring down to what we believed to be the minimum acceptable posture the number of missiles, number of warheads and so forth, and a number of changes were recommended and, indeed, have now been implemented. We now have adjusted our posture, we have adjusted the number of missiles and warheads. To answer your question directly, I think we now have the right sort of level of posture and number of weapons deployed which is commensurate with the sort of situation we might find ourselves in.

  37. So if the various tests were relaxed further, it would not be possible, would you say, to make further savings without significantly endangering our security?
  (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) I believe that to be the case, yes.

  38. Are there any military reasons why in trying to find another way out of this problem the UK and the French submarine based deterrent forces should not move closer together?
  (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) My understanding of the French strategic doctrine is that it is quite significantly different from ours. The doctrines themselves are fairly incompatible, so I do not believe that there is any room for having some joint force, for example, or combined force with the French.

  39. So you would not anticipate a time coming when it would be practicable in terms of the military tasks that you have in mind for Trident that the two forces should ever consider merging?
  (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) No, I do not. One should be aware, of course, that our strategic system is also assigned to NATO so that it is available for the Alliance already. I do not think anything could be gained particularly by going to some sort of tied together force with the French.

  Dr Lewis: Thank you.

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