Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 480 - 499)



  480. ***. Are you satisfied that they have the manpower and resources to respond to incidents, particularly if they are in more than one location?
  (Brigadier Houghton) Within the element of the technical response force of the *** team we are aware that a number of *** and therefore they would have to be ***.

  481. Who decides on the priorities of deploying those resources *** ?
  (Brigadier Houghton) If it were multiple incidents it would have to go back to COBR.
  (Mr Bowen) It would be Ministers.
  (Brigadier Houghton) There are several levels of decision that COBR have to make in relation to CBRN-type incidents. *** would be one of them.

  482. The concern over concurrent devices. If you have a biological attack the character of which is more of a difficult drip-feed thing where disease might be spreading, then you have a different sort of attack. Do different attacks increase the problem, stretch you more, or does it make no difference?
  (Brigadier Houghton) You are into specific scenarios. If you are saying that the biological attack has happened —

  483. The closest we got to understanding the way that might work in terms of a biological problem was foot-and-mouth which had hot spots and everything like that.
  (Brigadier Houghton) You are then into the consequence management of a thing like that and then *** is over. We would not be dealing with that. The whole idea of *** is that it is pro-active and ***.
  (Mr Bowen) Going back to this business of Ministers, the Cabinet Office Briefing Room set-up is designed to give strategic guidance and one element of that is looking at priorities and saying this must be done first or this must be done second or later on. For these really very complicated issues and incidents to be dealt with you need that top level communication and it is not just co-ordination for the sake of it, you need that strategic guidance in order for the different services which are deployed—and it is not just the Ministry of Defence; other elements are involved and the Ministry of Defence is only one part of it—to do their job and to know in what order they are to treat it.

  484. Are you doing anything to try to increase the capacity and capability of *** so you are less likely to give Ministers that difficult issue of whether to prioritise North Durham or South Dorset?
  (Mr Davenport) It had been done before 11 September because the threat pre-dates that; we beefed up *** capacity in particular to deal with ***. Yes, more consideration has been given to devoting more resources to that. It is a Home Office lead principally.

  485. I warn you we shall get really tired of Home Office lead answers.
  (Mr Davenport) They provide the money; that is the fact.
  (Mr Bowen) And the lead.
  (Mr Davenport) There are obvious resource limitations but the capacity has been improved and consideration given to improving it further.

  Mr Knight: Would you use the Yeomanry Reserve as part of the Joint NBC Regiment in the case of an incident on the mainland?
  (Brigadier Houghton) No, their specific capability is that of ***. The capacity of the civil authorities for decontamination massively outstrips what we have. Every fire tender is equipped for *** . At any one time there are 200 on the streets of London alone. We have ***, so it is a matter of a completely inappropriate contribution.

  486. What was the nature of the MOD and armed forces' involvement in last year's Operation Trump Card?
  (Brigadier Houghton) Trump Card is a ***. During the last session I articulated the three levels of exercise,***. At that level Trump Card exercises at gold command and we were reasonably well involved with that, certainly exercising the C2 elements of *** and some of the ***.

  487. Remind me what the C2 element is?
  (Brigadier Houghton) Command and control elements.
  (Mr Davenport) There has been a much more recent exercise to test the Government's response to a radiological/nuclear device.

  488. What was that called?
  (Mr Davenport) That was called ***, located in far-flung Inverness. That was a ministerial exercise, *** and it involved Ministers playing in COBR. We are still very much in the process of learning lessons from that. It was the first full test of ***, since *** was reconfigured last year.

  489. As you just said, lessons are learned from every exercise. Have you produced a report on the lessons learned from Trump Card and then from *** ?
  (Mr Davenport) We shall be doing so from ***. Trump Card was not our lead; it was the Metropolitan Police leading.

  490. Do you not internally review your own performance within that and your interaction with the other departments, other agencies in that sort of exercise?
  (Mr Davenport) Yes, we would do to the extent we were involved in it.

  491. Do you produce a report out of that internal review of how you performed?
  (Brigadier Houghton) Yes. Out of Trump Card specific lessons were learned about ***. Because Trump Card tested a number of chemical and biological devices being placed around London, some of them with a terrorist involvement, we had some lessons learned specifically relating to the counter-terrorist operations ***. Those lessons have been taken up and acted upon.

  492. Have all those lessons been implemented?
  (Brigadier Houghton) Correct and many of them reflected within the revisions to ***.

  Jim Knight: Is there any documentation on that which we could see, please?

  Chairman: We decided that if it is ministerial level we will write a letter.

Mr Hancock

  493. I am interested in the de-contamination side of things and Porton Down's role and who leads an operation. My thinking is that if an incident comes it will come with a substance we do not know, it will not be readily identified and presumably the best way of making that effective is to put it in the air. I am interested to know what the process is for organising the response to an airborne contaminant which is extremely toxic and how that is being managed.
  (Brigadier Houghton) Are we talking radiological?

  494. I do not know. I am talking about a chemical, biological, whatever. A terrorist somewhere is thinking that he has to create something which cannot be dealt with easily. They come up with something which goes in the air in some form, is sprayed into the air and it causes massive panic and problems and is not easily identified because we are breathing it in or touching our skin or whatever. How do we respond to that?
  (Brigadier Houghton) Depending on the nature of the device there is any number of routes by which it can be reported in. None of these happen to be Ministry of Defence lead, which is just the way it happens to be.

  495. In the papers we have received the suggestion is that the police will lead on this.
  (Brigadier Houghton) No, not on all of them. For instance the *** within the country to see whether things happen. There is a *** which is under DTI sponsorship. There is *** going on. A range of government agencies appropriate to particular scenarios have statutory responsibilities to be on the lookout for these things.

Syd Rapson

  496. In normal circumstances we understand the air surveillance control systems (ASACS) for normal every day activities are under the control of NATO and they call in interceptors, etcetera. How are command and control of air defence assets organised? Are these routinely under NATO or are they under RAF Strike Command?
  (Air Commodore Cook) The answer is that they are routinely under NATO. The UK forms part of what we call the NATO Integrated Air Defence System. Within NATO airspace is divided into two regions. Forgive me for giving you the background but it is important to understand how the systems works if we are going down this route. It is divided into two areas: north and south. The UK air space falls within the northern part of the NATO system. Within that there are five Combined Air Operation Centres which are responsible for specific areas. The UK region is controlled by and responsibility lies with the Combined Air Operations Centre (CAOC) No. 9 which is co-located with Strike Command. The commander of CAOC, as we call it, is the Deputy Commander in Chief of Strike Command who is a three star. The Royal Air Force's or the UK's contribution to policing the UK air space is two-fold. One is through the provision of fighter interceptors and secondly through what we call the airspace surveillance and control system, the military radars and the control and reporting centres which are responsible for monitoring the radar. The latter is responsible for providing what we call the recognised air picture, a complicated picture which draws in the military radar, draws in a selection of national air traffic radars, it can draw in the radar picture from airborne platforms like the AWACS and it can draw in the air defence picture from the Royal Navy. The ASACS people within the UK provide that recognised air picture. Exercising that whole procedure of perhaps detecting unusual activity, deciding whether we need to intercept that activity, will all be done through that NATO command but with close liaison between the military control reporting centres and the CAOC. The final decision to launch and to intercept is for the commander of CAOC.[1]

  497. Seamless as such.
  (Air Commodore Cook) Yes, it is.

  498. It is a combined operation and they are both involved.
  (Air Commodore Cook) Yes, but within the UK it is UK assets which police that air space.

Mr Howarth

  499. If we had a situation in the UK where the attack on the twin towers was repeated, decisions would have to be taken very quickly including decisions as to whether to shoot down a civilian airliner or not.
  (Air Commodore Cook) Yes.

1   Note from Witness: In practice it is routinely delegated to the Duty controller in CAOC. Back

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