Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence

Examination of witness(Questions 140-159)



  140. Some of these exercises have been cut at very short notice. Some of the people have been deployed kit ready and some of the logistics of that operation has taken place and then the plug is pulled and there is then no real thinking about how they are going to reschedule those exercises. Some of these exercises appear to be terminated for good.
  (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) They are and of course we are not in control of events which sometimes cause them to be stopped. The current 19,000 people who are standing by to do duties for the firemen is a good example of the many activities that have been stopped in order to release these people to be available. Each of the services have their own criteria for measuring readiness and measuring fitness to fight. They report on those levels through their Single Service Boards to the Chiefs of Staff on the Defence Management Board as to where there are shortfalls and, at the front line level, Commanders in Chief are constantly reassessing where people are falling behind the power curve in being fit to fight and we are looking for chances at the first opportunity to bring them up to standard.

  141. Do you think then that the political wish list of our active involvement is now putting so much pressure on the Armed Forces that training is undoubtedly suffering and that that in turn is causing a retention problem where people are becoming dissatisfied with the fact that they are on one deployment and are then due to come home and then, within hours of being told that they are on their way home, that has been cancelled and they are moved off somewhere else? Do you think that that is having a very debilitating effect? Do you think politicians are taking enough note of what service people are actually saying about what is happening at the present time?
  (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) I think they are. The Chiefs' advice is listened to very carefully by the Secretary of State when a new requirement comes up as to whether this will be unbalanced but, in the last year, there have been circumstances which have been impossible politically not to actually deliver: the firemen's strike is one example and Afghanistan to a certain extent is another. As to the pressure of driving people out from retention, on the whole, my impression is that, yes, retention is not as good as it should be and I freely acknowledge that. In fact, it is an area that we need to keep on working at. Interestingly enough, I find that if you say to people who are leaving the service, whether they are officers or other ranks, "Why are you going?" generally speaking they say, "I have had a fantastic time for the last five, six or seven years. I am now aged 29" or whatever it is, late 20s/early 30s, "and I want to go and try something else. I look back on a very happy time. I have been thoroughly professionally satisfied but actually I want to go and try something else." That is not uncommon across society as a whole; people tend to do something for about five to ten years and then go and do something else, particularly when they have developed families and have domestic interests which are not necessarily compatible with long periods of separation. I do not think they are leaving because they are unhappy, they are leaving because there are new pressures which they want to accommodate.

  142. Were you unhappy that the New Chapter really did not tackle that issue clearly enough?
  (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) I do not think that the New Chapter was designed to be a root and branch survey of all that we do in Defence. It was a new chapter and the key word is "chapter". We had the Defence review after September 11th, the 1998 Strategic Defence Review, and decided by and large that what was in there was broadly sensible. There was some immature thinking if you like, immature in the sense that it had not been fully matured, on terrorism and really the New Chapter was designed to look at this new global threat which is now apparent to us following 11 September. It was not going back to all the activities we do in Defence and reviewing all those, so I would not have expected to see the New Chapter dealing with such things as people issues and so on.

Mr Jones

  143. Just on that point, Admiral, when we had the Secretary of State before us prior to the New Chapter coming out, in response to a question that I asked him, he actually said that part of the preparation for the New Chapter would be a review of all existing commitments. We had Mr Simon Webb before us a couple of weeks ago and I asked a question in terms of the extent of that review and that decision has been taken in terms of things in light of the New Chapter. What has actually happened in terms of that review? Have we actually taken some decisions in light of the events of 11 September that we should not be doing certain things, or is it the fact that the MoD have just had an increase in the budget and think, "Christ, the heat is off" in terms of ensuring not only that we are getting value for money in what we are spending but also possibly still continuing doing the same things we were doing before 11 September?
  (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) No. I think that there are things that we started to do emerging from our work on the New Chapter. One of the things which the New Chapter looked at was to balance between what we should do overseas and what we should on the homeland front. For example, on the homeland front, you will know that we have looked to see how we can use our reserves to help us in the new environment in supporting the civil authorities in a terrorist type of situation. Other activities emerging from the New Chapter really will take slightly longer to put in place, but we are actually engaged in looking at what equipment is required to give us this greater agility to be able to deal with the sort of fleeting threat that we identified in part of the terrorist modus operandi and, in particular, to speed up the process where between a sensor or a device detecting something going on, that information getting back to the person who has to make a decision as to what to do about it and then that decision being transmitted to the vehicle for dealing with the problem, which sometimes acts as a sort of sensor-to-decision-maker-shooter cycle which is sometimes called network centric. We are very busy looking at these sort of detector elements at the moment to see what kit will be required, but that is not going to come in overnight.

  144. Are there any areas where it has been decided that we want to move away from something that we have been doing to actually put concentration on what you are talking about?
  (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) We are working on that as well at the moment because, even since 1998, there has been a further evolution on our appreciation of the strategic context and, certainly during the course of the next year or the next few months perhaps, we will be looking to see whether there are some legacy systems which may or may not be appropriate for where we see our primary effort being placed in the future and there will be a balancing, if you like, going on —

  145. Is there a timescale on that process?
  (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) I think the Secretary of State has said that he would wish to put a White Paper out by the summer of next year so, at the very latest, one would expect to see these ideas captured in that White Paper.


  146. If our Armed Forces are overstretched, I would say grossly overstretched, so that small operations have repercussions on what remains not just for training but probably other elements within the Ministry of Defence, what will the consequences be and this is potentially a difficult question for you to answer, Admiral? Is it 19,000 troops who have been taken out perhaps to act as firemen. Now, 19,000 out of just over 100,000, if you throw in the Navy as well—how is our ability to mount even a small operation going to be affected? Are they going to come from those elements within the Armed Forces such as the Royal Navy and we hear of ships being unable to operate temporarily because their crews are fighting fires. I am not trying to ask you any stupid questions but I am just wondering, if you take out 21,000, what the consequences will be.
  (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) The consequences are already serious as far as I am concerned. It is 19,000 out of closer to 200,000 with the Army and the Air Force. Those people have been taken out already; they have been busy since September training to do the jobs that they may be called upon to do in knowing how to work these green goddess fire-engines or learning how to become breathing apparatus wearers and so on. So, I have effectively lost those people as of two months ago and, to find those people, we have had to strip out frontline units and the Navy have provided about 3,000 or 4,000 and the Army 12,000 and 6,000 organisational people as well, so ships are alongside without their crews because they are busy standing by doing fire-fighting. Likewise, the Air Force and the Army have had to take people from operational units and the situation at the moment is such that if there were an operation, a medium sort of operation, going on, we would have great difficult in coping with that. A small operation, we do have reserves to do that.

  147. Without seeking to lead you into an area that might be delicate, if a strike takes place—we all hope it does not take place—and if it lasts as long as the last strike, will this put severe constraints on the Government's ability to make decisions that otherwise it would take or not take should there not have been a strike?
  (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) We are trying to balance our efforts such that certainly for a couple of months or so, we can cope with other eventualities but, if this runs on into next year or well into next year, this will cause us extreme difficulty.

Patrick Mercer

  148. After the Gulf War, we suddenly had manoeuvre warfare introduced as a mantra which was introduced to the British forces as if it were something new, now we hear that the Americans are looking at fire rather than manoeuvre—they are trying to rebalance their thinking—and they have come up with the concept of a network centric warfare philosophy whereas Britain is looking at a network centric capability. What is the difference between the two?
  (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) You need the capability to deliver the philosophy and I do not think there is any difference between the two. The Americans will have a network centric capability which will deliver a philosophy which is, as I have already described ... It sounds a little bit jargonish but it is really to have a sharper process of passing information around and to be able to take action on something very, very fast as soon as you detect it.

  149. There has been some criticism of this as I am sure you are aware and, looking at Jane's Defence Weekly, it talks about responsiveness reach, resistance, survivability, interoperbility, affordability, etc. Group Captain Anderson, who I gather is the Deputy Director of Equipment Capability in the MoD, makes it clear in his statement that the United Kingdom will not be able to afford anything as all-embracing as this. Is the British contribution going to be half-hearted following definitely in the wake of what America can deliver?
  (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) It certainly will not be half-hearted and we certainly do not have the sort of budget that would allow us to do probably as much as our United States friends, but what is going to be very important to do is to make sure that what we do get is inter-operable with the United States and indeed with our other potential coalition partners. We will be using such money as we have to improve our capability in this particular area and a lot of the effort will be devoted to making sure that we remain inter-operable with our allies.

  150. You referred earlier on to fleeting targets and striking of these. You will recall the fuss that went on at the lack of adequate strike against Serb armed forces in Kosovo which could be argued were also fleeting targets. Are we not behind the curve on this? Should we not have been looking at attacking these sort of targets some several years ago?
  (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) Maybe we should have done but that is what we are doing at the moment. 11 September has focused our effort on the non-state actor which is what produces the fleeting target and that is where our efforts are going into trying to do better what we cannot do at the moment.

  151. We have touched on equipment programmes already, but what equipment are we going to sacrifice in order to produce more equipment for this style of ...?
  (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) Firstly, as I said, we have been given more money in the spending round to see how we can modernise ourselves in this particular aspect. It is too early for me to say what we are going to do in addition to that in terms of rebalancing what is no longer relevant or no longer necessary against the strategic context in which we are working. That process is going on at the moment. It is too early for me to make any sort of comment about what sort of equipments might or might not be hung onto.

  152. I suspect your answer to my next question will be the same with regard to the training demands. If we do not know how equipment is going to be balanced, how is training going to be balanced?
  (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) The training will follow on once we understand exactly what we need and we should make sure that the right regimes are put in place to make sure that people can use it properly.

Syd Rapson

  153. The Secretary of State, when he launched the New Chapter, talked about the benefits of network centric capability—a new buzz word for us—and he gave a long quote which said that everyone should work together and be involved instead of one after the other. At the end of the quote, he said that old decision-making structures, whilst providing safeguards which we must always find a way to keep, will be too cumbersome and too slow in the years ahead. So, they envisaged a change of speed and direction in the chain of command. Can you just describe the principal changes in the doctrine particularly in respect of the chain of command which you expect to flow from this increased network centric capability.
  (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) It is the speed at which things will happen rather than necessarily a change in the structure themselves. We will have to have sharper understanding of what our rules of engagement might be, which means that we have to get the legal processes properly sorted out and use some really quite clever forward thinking about what sort of action we think we might be required to take and make sure that we are legally clear to do it. That would help out with the process. As I said also, getting the information back to whoever the decision-maker is, whether it is the Commander on the ground or whether it is back to PJHQ in Northwood or whether it is back to the Ministry of Defence for Secretary of State clearance or whatever. That process is moderately cumbersome and we really need to improve our communication and the way we actually pass information, which is all part of using this sort of windows capability in a sense really and then getting the message out again to whatever the vehicle is that is going to actually deliver the strike against some sort of target. It is a process of speed rather than actually changing the structures.

  154. How would we develop these new ways and how would they be tested because it is a new way of thinking and a new way of delivering the information?
  (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) To a certain extent, some of these structures are in place already and it will go very much hand-in-hand with the work we are doing on what the Army sometimes call digitisation of battle space, in other words you can see the realtime picture all the time which will allow the decision-making process to be that much faster. How will we test it? We will do exercises to test it.

  155. Exercise after exercise. The other thing that worries us is speed and the increased speed in making decisions and the chain of command being shorn and the new information coming in and the time between sensor-to-shooter is reducing all the time. How can we be sure that our philosophy is correct and that we are doing things the right way when the technology is making things move so much more quickly?
  (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) We have an organisation called our Doctrine Centre which will be providing advice on how doctrinally we want to use all this equipment which will be going alongside the policy side as well. So, as our policy has now been set, so we will now start developing our doctrines which will match the equipment which we will have in order to actually execute the doctrine.

  156. Is there a difference between the American way of shortening this time—and the sensor-to-shooter is a very critical point in this—because they have a different philosophy of approach than we would have? We have said in the past, rightly or wrongly, that the British tend to check back to make sure that things are correct whereas the Americans are more likely to go ahead and do it because it is more beneficial to strike first and think afterwards. Is there a difference in philosophy or are we just being a little romantic in thinking that we are much more superior in our decision-making?
  (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) We do not think we are superior in our decision-making. Technically we will be working similarly, along sort of similar lines. So far as the decision-making process and the authority for action to be taken is concerned, we very much hope to be working to compatible rules of engagement, which is what it comes down to.

  157. Is there inter-operability between us and the Americans over this difficult field?
  (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) That is what we are working on. The Americans are a long way ahead of us at the moment and a long way ahead of our allies as well and we have to try and make sure that we stay in touch with them otherwise we are not going to operate together.

  158. Presumably we are the only other country that can be linked in with the Americans as closely and that the other allies are somewhat distant from that.
  (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) The Americans are very conscious of the fact that they need to pay attention to what I would call backward inter-operability. In other words, they have to be looking over their shoulders the whole time to make sure that people are there because I am quite certain that our United States allies would not wish to be in a coalition framework for any activities they undertake and you can only have a coalition which is effective if you can actually talk amongst each other.

Jim Knight

  159. Yesterday we visited an RAF base and, when we were talking to some of the people who do the reconnaissance work there, they talked about some of the information they were getting and feeding and that strategic decisions were now becoming blurred towards tactical decisions. It raises the issue that we might get to the situation where we have too much information, particularly where we get to a point where it is coming right back here to the centre and these tactical decisions start to be made in too much detail. Is that a concern?
  (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) This is the President telling the soldier in the trench to do something.

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