Examination of witness (Questions 40-59)|
THURSDAY 1 MARCH 2001
GCB, CBE Chief of Defence Staff Chairman
40. Some things the Committee returns to on
a regular basis. Mr Viggers mentioned again the Defence Medical
Services, which we have taken a great interest in over the years,
and we have said we are still recovering from Defence Cost Study
15, so it is not something on which blame can be attributed to
one Surgeon-General or one Defence Ministry, but we return to
it because the problem is still unsolved. Another area where we
are, some would say, obsessively interested is in the future of
the Territorial Army, on which we have produced numerous reports
and will continue to do so. Could I ask you what lessons have
you learned about restructuring of the TA since Options for Change
and the Strategic Defence Review? What lessons have you learned
about restructuring from the experience of Kosovo and the possibility
of the use of ground forces? We were extremely sceptical in our
report that we would be able to find the numbers that the Ministry
of Defence said we would have available of 55,000 unless one had
recourse to the Territorial Army. I would have thought that the
Territorial Army restructuring would have made that exceedingly
difficult. We would like your views on how you have seen the restructuring
and, we would argue, downgrading of the TA in the light of a war
that almost took place where they might have been deployed?
(Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) If I may, Chairman, I
would like to answer your question by going back further than
the restructuring of the TA to the restructuring of the Royal
Naval Reserve. You will see the relevance of that in a second.
I had responsibility for carrying through the restructuring of
the Royal Naval Reserve about eight years ago and it caused the
most dreadful trauma at the time as it was a pretty major upheaval
of how they were operated and how they should operate. It was
an unpleasant time for everybody and very emotionally upsetting
as well. However, I have to say that the morale and effectiveness
of the Royal Naval Reserve now is a million times better than
it was back in those days and it is a highly effective, highly
thought of, highly valued force. The experience that I have had
so far of the TA, and you must remember the restructuring process
has only really just been completed and is still bedding in, in
my initial taste of watching what has been going on is rather
the same as I had with the RNR. It has been a very upsetting and
difficult time for everybody as the restructuring has gone on
but the Territorial Army people are now finding themselves much
more usable and they are being used. Ten per cent of our forces
out in Kosovo are Territorial Army people. They find themselves
more valued. They are certainly more relevant to the sort of operations
that we might be involved in today. My initial soundings on this,
and as I say it is still early days yet, are that I am most encouraged
about where restructuring is taking us. Certainly from the people
I have met, and I am talking about TA people I have met, and I
have met some who have formed themselves into different units
and so forth, they are excited and pleased, now they have taken
the plunge and got on with it, about how it is turning out.
41. You said earlier on in your opening remarks
about the need in essence to have a footprint throughout the entire
country. This is one area where the footprint is lacking because
many of the TA centres have been closed, including my own area.
(Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) If I had a reservation
about the Royal Naval Reserve or the TA Reserves restructuring
ideas it would be just that very one, and I would not disagree
with that at all. It was a definite downside to reducing the size
of those forces because of the way it impacted on the footprint.
However, the upside aspects of it at the end of the day I think
do outweigh that downside.
42. Can you see a future for more than deploying
the Territorial Army simply on almost an individual basis? It
seems to me quite bizarre that you train the Territorial Army
regiments as a collectivity but they will never be deployed as
(Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) I think the great value
is the fact they can actually integrate in with the Regulars,
and that is where they are finding themselves so valuable at the
43. I would like to ask you about the Naval
Reserves, if I may do. Just a quick observation, that I have yet
to meet any senior serving Territorial who thinks that people
join the TA to be used as gap fillers for the Regular Army, although
many of them have done so. The prime reason people join Territorial
unitsmy grandfather commanded the most decorated one in
the last war and because he raised it and so on, commanded it,
it was able to go to war as a sub-unit. I would like to ask you
about the Naval Reserves. Could I put a thought to you. Within
the Naval Reserves there are two elements which are extremely
well recruited and very useful and have proved themselves again
and again and that is the Royal Marine Reserves who, for example,
produced 100 men for Operation Haven at three days' notice, and
we also have the Royal Naval Air Branch, an extremely successful
organisation. What those two areas have in common is that they
have access to key decision making points at all levels by part-time
reservists with civilian jobs. At any one time roughly half of
the five RNR unitsan odd numberare commanded by
part-time reservists. The new head of the RNR is going to be a
part«time reservist, in the same way the senior man in the
Royal Naval Air Branch is a part-time reservist. The result is
that you have a level of thinking in both of those areas which
looks outward to the civilian world and is very, very successful.
In contrast, you have the rest of the RNR which is grossly under
strength and where nobody, although there is a commodore on paper,
with a proper command is a part-time reservist and there is no-one
with any level of advice. I just suggest to you that if you want
to get employers on side, and there is a very strong feeling that
employers have to be got on side to make the reserve framework
work, the core of it will be to look round the reserves and see
that the bits that really work are the bits where part-time reservists
are in the driving seat. One last example, to pick up my colleague's
medical point. We had the Surgeon Admiral in front of us last
year and he did not know the name of the senior volunteer reservist
in his branch, instead he said he was relying on some full-time
reservist to give him advice on reserve matters. While that attitude
persists it will be hard to make our reservists useable.
(Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) Firstly, I would like
to correct just one point. You said that the RNR is grossly undermanned,
I think they are about 300 or 400 short of their target. It is
only a small service, it is only 3,500 or so, and they are at
about 2,700, 2,800 at the moment, that sort of figure. "Grossly
undermanned" may be a slight exaggeration.
44. If you take the Air Branch out it is proportionately
worse than the rest.
(Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) All the RNR units are
commanded by RNR officers. I am not quite sure what you meant.
45. The focus for advice, the officer who, for
example, at the RUSI presentation on Reserves, the officer who
gives the advice on RNR matters to the First Sea Lord, is always
a regular officer and always has been.
(Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) The Director of Naval
Services is a regular officer, that is correct, yes. The Commodore
of Reserves is an RNR officer.
46. And all the university units are commanded
by a regular?
(Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) All the university units,
the patrol craft, are all commanded by regular officers.
47. Do you have any priorities in relation to
the Reserves and Territorial Army? It seems to me the way in which
successive governments have organised the concept of the Reserves
has been grossly inadequate?
(Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) I am not entirely sure
what you mean by "priorities", Chairman, but I would
say that we consider the Reserves to be a vital part of our overall
capability. No-one should be under any illusions that we consider
them to be unimportant.
48. Looking at multinational operations, what
are the biggest hurdles that you face in co-ordinating the activities
with other nations?
(Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) The catch word, I guess,
is inter-operability. By that I mean two things: equipment inter-operability
and inter-operability of the mind. As far as the inter-operability
of the mind is concerned, it is that we must utilise opportunities
to train together with those countries with whom we might have
to go and do an operation. In fact, we have quite a good record
on this across the three services. That is in a reasonably healthy
state. So far as inter-operability of equipment is concerned,
that comes down primarily to communications and there the story
is not so good. The speed at which different countries go in their
communications architectures is very different, with America a
long way out in the front and some other countries desperately
far behind and other people in between. It is an area of considerable
concern as particularly the more advanced countries go more into
the sort of technologies available nowadays, in other words what
is known as network warfare. I think that one of my jobs is to
try to persuade those countries which are out in the front, and
particularly America, to bear in mind what I would call backward
inter-operability, in other words as you go zooming ahead with
your technology look over your shoulder and make sure you are
not leaving behind those people with whom you wish to operate
in the future. That is a special plea. I think in 10 years' time
the technology will be so clever that will not be a particular
problem, just at the moment it is a very serious problem.
49. How is the EU military committee coming
(Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) The EU military committee
is formed in so far that the people who sit on it are the current
Chiefs of Defence from the countries who form up the EU. We do
not yet have an established chairman of that committee and the
chairman is currently the Chief of Defence from the country which
holds the Presidency. There is going to be an election for a new
chairman on 26 March, not for a new chairman, for a permanent
chairman on 26 March.
50. They have a provisional committee at the
(Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) It is a committee which
meets and it either operates at the Chiefs of Defence level from
time to time, rather like the NATO military committee, but it
meets on a more frequent basis at the military representative
level where, for example, the United Kingdom representative is
the same officer who is also the military representative on the
NATO military committee. It is in being, the committee is actually
51. How is the Anglo-French carrier force coming
(Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) I am not aware of any
Anglo-French carrier force.
52. Can I ask you a question that the Secretary
of State was asked by John Humphreys on the Today programme.
"Do you envisage a day when a Royal Naval ship will be commanded
by a French Captain"?
(Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) No.
53. The Secretary of State's reply was "Not
in the near future".
(Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) I cannot envisage it,
54. Can you envisage a Royal Navy captain standing
on board a French constructed carrier?
(Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) No, but if I may amplify,
however, I would like to just tell the Committee if they do not
already know, during the Kosovo campaign the French carrier FOCH
was in charge of a task group in the Adriatic and a British ship
was under her command. The first time a white ensign was under
the command of the French since the Crimean War, I believe. Last
year, in the Naval Task Group 2000 which circumnavigated the world
and did a huge amount of work going around the world under the
commander of the task groupwho was a British officerwe
had the French ship ACONIT under our command. Although I do not
envisage an English person being in charge of a French ship or
a Frenchman being in charge of an English ship we already have
had, in the last year, a French commander in charge of an English
ship in the group and vice versa.
55. The Secretary of State was talking quite
fluently about the Anglo-French carrier force on the Today
programme on 3 November last year. He was talking in quite
positive terms about it. Presumably as and when such a carrier
force emerges, the operating name will be English as it is with
(Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) I am not aware of such
a force, Mr Viggers, I am afraid.
56. Relations with Russia were frozen in 1999
and I think there has been a significant thawin fact this
Committee has met the Chief of Defence Staff and the Deputy Chief
of Defence Staff of the Russian forcescan you say a word
about our relationship with Russia through the military channels?
(Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) Certainly. Following the
Prime Minister's meeting with Mr Putin some time ago, a couple
of years ago the Royal Navy established a special letter of intent
with the Russian Navy to conduct a number of activities in co-operation
with them, everything from exercises at sea to exchanging officers
and so forth ashore. That was all going extremely well, in fact
we had a very successful ship visit to Plymouth in the early part
of 1998 which went down very well, as the initial part of that
plan. Unfortunately, following Operation Desert Fox and subsequently
the Kosovo Campaign, the door was rather slammed on that initiative
because the Russians stopped playing. This is a great pity because
I believe it is in the maritime area in particular where we can
make the most ground in trying to establish confidence building
measures with any country, but particularly with Russia. The two
navies in fact at the working level get on very well. I know two
or three Russian Admirals extremely well and consider them good
colleagues or friends. It is much easier to make friends at sea
than it is when you are worried about sovereignty or land or whatever.
I do very much hope that very shortlyas I say, the very
first signs of a thaw are there to be seenwe will get back
on to the programme which we had arranged where we will work quite
frequently with the RFN, the Russian Federation Navy, as a start
to building up better rapprochement between our two countries.
57. Just to follow as an example. Did we learn
lessons from the KURSK disaster?
(Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) Yes, we did. In terms
of our own capability, we have honed some of our practices, although
I am pleased to say that by chance, as I am sure the Committee
knows, our Search and Rescue organisation was already about to
go and take part in an exercise and so we were in a position to
respond very quickly when we heard about the accident. We have
done some fine tuning to our procedures as a result of the accident.
I guess the most unfortunate thing, I am afraid, was that our
Russian friends were probably a little bit slow off the mark and
it was quite difficult to work with them. But, even yesterday,
we had a meeting, a submarine search and rescue meeting, with
the Russians which went very well indeed so they are very keen
to learn lessons and so are we so that we can co-operate in the
future should ever a submarine disaster happen anywhere in the
world in the future.
Chairman: We have to temporarily call
time. You will have a chance to regroup, we have to vote.
The Committee suspended from 4.13pm to 4.24pm
for a division in the House.
58. Before the break you were talking about
improving relations with the Russians. In connection with the
Kursk disaster were you as disappointed, as some of us were, when
despite the offers of sympathy and help which Britain gave to
the Russians over this terrible tragedy our reward for it was
to be accused of having precipitated the tragedyspecifically
that a British submarine had been involved in causing it. Is it
not the case that, within the last few days, there has been evidence
emerging about yet another note from one of the sailors on the
submarine confirming that the disaster was caused by an explosion
of a torpedo on board the vessel itself.
(Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) Absolutely. I find it
extremely disappointing that we were accused of having caused
the accident, after all we had done a lot to help. I just imagine
that was some of the old practices, going back to the secrecy
of the previous organisation and that culture has not gone away
yet. I only read the newspaper report that this letter has been
found. We have obviously always said we were not involved in this
particular accident nor was any other submarine. It was something
awful that happened on board and no other third party was involved.
59. Before we leave multinationality can I ask
you about the EU Rapid Reaction Force. Speaking militarily and
not politically, to what extent do you think that it will be,
to use the phrase, embedded in NATO?
(Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) First of all NATO is going
to remain the cornerstone of our defence. We are not going to
do anything where NATO itself wants to be engaged. It is difficult
to envisage how at anything other than the most low level task,
where NATO would have to contribute, if a European force which
was packaged together was to go into task in terms of the sort
of facilities that NATO has in terms of planning, intelligence
and that sort of thing. The sort of forces that would be utilised
would be the same forces that would operate for NATO anyway. The
training that we use in getting ourselves fit for our NATO tasks
would also serve us well whenever we had to do a European task
Chairman: We will come back to that.
We produced a report on personnel issues and we have a few questions