Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence

Examination of witness(Questions 200-219)



  200. There may still be time to come back in before you retire.
  (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) I could not possibly comment.

Mr Hancock

  201. I am slightly depressed by your response to Patrick Mercer about the question when the lessons are not learned and your analogy that, looking at the Falklands and the 1945 War, you would see that they were fairly similar. It is a very depressing tale that the lessons are not taken note of. I want to ask a specific question relating to the Apache helicopter because if lessons were ever going to be learned, if you are going to procure something which is so significant a development for the armed forces, you would certainly want to be sure that you had the capability of putting it into operation. Where was the failure there? I would be grateful if you could tell us when you, as Chief of Defence Staff, were first made aware that this was a significant problem that would take years to overcome.
  (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) So far as the delivery of the helicopter itself is concerned, by and large, that is meeting our expectation. What is holding up the programme has been the training of the pilots to fly the thing. I was extremely disappointed at finding out that we are not going to get this capability in as quickly as I would wish. I guess that probably I knew about it within the last year and that the simulator was suffering the delays that you are aware of.

  202. Why was not Parliament told? You were told a year or 18 months ago and the Ministry of Defence have an obligation to keep Parliament informed. This was a significant, major procurement development, running into billions of pounds.
  (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) I cannot answer that question.

  203. Was it kept just at your level?
  (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) I should not think so. It is not my direct responsibility to track what is going on in the procurement world. As a user, I have a very active interest in getting the capability I want in.

  204. You have responsibility for the training of the personnel who are going to operate this aircraft. Surely that was a significant flag waving exercise on the part of someone?
  (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) I will track any equipment coming in because obviously it will be factored into my appreciation of what our operational capability is. It is not my responsibility to drive the projects. That is another part of the department.

  205. We have made significant changes in the order of battle and all sorts of things to accommodate the role of these aircraft in the future of our armed forces. The capability to be able to fly them was the key factor. We do not buy new fighter planes without making sure the pilots are ready to fly them and the two things should have been working togther.
  (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) I agree.

  206. At the personnel level, the morale sapping situation must have been devastating in the armed forces.
  (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) I am seriously hacked off. How we got into the situation, I believe, is information that is available. The business of getting a simulator on line has been slower than it should have been for three or four reasons.

  Chairman: We are rather cynical. Two years and ten months' delay is almost normal. It does not come on the radar screen if it is five or eight years, I am afraid.

Mr Hancock

  207. Why was it not possible to send our pilots to be trained in the United States on the simulator they use?
  (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) We have done a certain amount of that, certainly with our instructors, but now the simulator is on line and we are putting our pilots through it. We have reassessed the length of time it takes us to train our pilots as well.

Patrick Mercer

  208. All of our operations, be they high profile operations in Afghanistan or lower profile operations continuing at a lower level, have involved special forces. Have we enough special forces and, if not, how are we going to increase them? Should we increase their size?
  (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) In the New Chapter, we recognise in the new strategic context the value of our special forces and we are looking to see if there are ways of enhancing their cpapabilities.

  209. We have met a fairly negative series of responses from a variety of different people about this, saying that it is just not possible. Every capable soldier, sailor or airman that can be moved into special forces is already there. Do you accept that?
  (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) The course to become a member of special forces is a very demanding course with a very high attrition rate so you do not flick your fingers and increase your size by five, 10 or 20 per cent. It is a tough course and getting the right calibre of people through it is a lengthy process. Whatever our aspirations are about what we think we should have, realising them in practice will probably take a long time.

  210. Are you optimistic?
  (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) Yes. It will not happen quickly and we will work on our own internal PR to try and make sure that we carry the people forward through the course.

  211. Similarly, we see organisations like the Royal Marines being used time and time again. Is there a possibility to train line units for those specialist roles so that there can be more flexibility and the possibility of not just using the Royal Marines as the spearhead, with operations like Anaconda?
  (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) Yes, I believe there are ways of bringing our line units in to do some of the tasks that are sometimes more traditionally sent to the paras or the marines. I believe there are competent infantrymen around who could do some of this responsibly.

  212. What is being done about that?
  (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) At the moment, we are still looking to see how, given the amount of activity that is going on at the moment, in the army we have room to get the extra training in for such regiments. That is something we are still looking at.

  213. Is there a solid programme in place?
  (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) Not yet, no.

  214. That has not progressed very far?
  (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) No.


  215. We have asked hardly any questions on the Royal Navy and how, as a purple commander, you keep in touch with your own service. In terms of the size and shape of the surface fleet, what numbers are we operating on now? Is it 32, 30, 28, 21?
  (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) You mean so far as the destroyer and frigate forces are concerned, as opposed to the vast majority of the other ships?

  216. Yes.
  (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) At the moment we have 32 but we are going to have 31 when HMS Sheffield goes.

  217. Is that the base line?
  (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) Based on the Strategic Defence Review assumptions, we reckoned we needed to have broadly speaking 26 ships in the operation side to discharge the tasks perceived in the SDR. In order to deliver that capability, we needed 32 destroyers and frigates. With the introduction of the Type 33 frigate and the better availability we think we can get out of it and the improved maintenance processes that we have within our maintenance organisation, we believe that we have 31 ships and can still provide the 26.

  218. Just one last question, I did allude to it before, the story that appeared in the Daily Telegraph on 2 November, not written by Michael Evans, I understand. Is there any truth in it: "Brown warns defence chiefs war on Iraq is `too expensive'", "Treasury balks at £15 billion bill for attack on Iraq"? Is somebody whingeing inside the MoD? Is it speculation? Even in your student days—this IS going back a few years, not as far as me though—have you heard of a case where Chancellors do seem to impose their views on the conduct of a war?
  (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) I will start with the article in the newspapers that was referred to there. It is something outside my knowledge and it is untrue as far as I am concerned.

  219. That is a Hoonism. I would expect that from the Secretary of State.
  (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) Obviously, if we are going to be engaged in operations, the Treasury needs to be consulted on a variety of issues. This story about him blocking some activity is one which was news to me, another piece of fictional reading I am getting used to in some of my newspapers.

  Chairman: Perhaps we should invite Mr Gilchrist and the Chancellor on to the War Cabinet because they seem to be having a big effect on the conduct of operations.

  Patrick Mercer: That is not what he has just said, actually.

  Chairman: Thank you very much. It was very interesting and very relevant.

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