WEDNESDAY 6 NOVEMBER 2002
Mr Bruce George, in the Chair
Mr Mike Hancock
ADMIRAL SIR MICHAEL BOYCE GCB OBE ADC, Chief of the Defence Staff, Ministry of Defence, examined.
(Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) No, thank you, Chairman.
(Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) The Ministry of Defence work in teams which work on the New Chapter and make sure that the Chiefs of Staff and the committee which I chair were being apprised of the work as it progressed. Of course, many of the team working in New Chapter are uniformed officers as well as civil servants and of course there is my membership and co-chairmanship with the Defence Management Board which also finally approved the work for the Secretary of State. Clearly, that particular Committee was totally involved. So, Chairman, I think the answer really is that I am involved in the root and branch of the whole process.
(Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) Yes, we approved the framework and then the teams would come back as the work was being developed and it would be iterated as it went through the Department and, at an appropriate level, we would take it when it came to the Chiefs or before the Defence Management Board.
(Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) Yes, they have. It has been an extraordinarily busy 18 months. We have had a variety of operations to undertake both outside this country such as in Macedonia and the Balkans and Afghanistan obviously, all the events on from September 11th, and Sierra Leone, as well as domestic pressures, if you like, in the Armed Forces such as foot and mouth disease which we contributed towards and currently, for example, standing by to help on the Fire Brigade side of life should we be required. So, it has been a very busy time for our people and certainly all the things you mentioned there are what I keep my eye on. The reason I keep my eye on those is to fulfil what I believe is my aim which is to make sure that my people remain fit to fight or, if not actually fighting, discharging whatever duties they are undertaking in a highly efficient, competent and grownup sort of way.
(Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) Yes. I think the very fact that we have the best defence budget for some 20 years in the Summer of this year as part of Spending Round 02 was an enormous fillip to the morale of the Armed Forces. It was a recognition of the hard work that they are doing and they felt because of it, but you are quite right, it has not taken away all the pressures that are on us budgetary-wise particularly in the light of the way we need to address the new challenges that we have been looking at since September 11th of last year and how we are going to conduct what we call sometimes the global war against terrorism which requires us to focus on attributes which we had not previously been giving the sort of attention they deserve.
(Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) Yes. We need to watch the balance of commitments against the resources, in other words the manpower and kit we have, and that is why we try very hard when we get involved in operations to complete them in an expeditious way and pull out as soon as we sensibly can, and I think the brilliant operation that was conducted in Macedonia last August was a very good example of that and likewise in our operation in Kabul when we actually ran the first of the ISAF operations, the international security system operations, which again was an outstandingly well conducted operation. We try to draw down when we can and that is why, in working in the Balkans at the moment, trying to treat the Balkans as a region rather than as separate provinces, we have been able to reduce one battle group there in the last few weeks and have pulled another 1,000 people out. So, we are looking the whole time to cut our cloth, if you like. Also, yes, we will have to be learning new techniques to deal with this new threat because the nature of the terrorist threat is that you have no build-up in the way you have with the conventional operation. You will have a very fleeting opportunity given to you through intelligence or whatever and you must react very, very quickly when that fleeting opportunity occurs to take the action required to dowse it, snuff it or whatever the case may be. So, we need to be a little more agile and we have to have the right equipment to allow us to be more agile.
(Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) You have put your finger on one of the dichotomies I have in saying that I want to be 'fit to fight'. One of the challenges which I find are there to stop me realising my aim actually are operations themselves because, if you are very busy doing something such as Sierra Leone, what you are doing there is an excellent job in training, for example, the Sierra Leone army, but what you are not doing is your battle group training with your infantry battle group or your brigade above that or, if you are on a ship on counter-narcotics operations in the Carribean, you are doing a cracking job, as we saw a couple of weeks ago pulling in £100 million worth of cocaine or whatever it was, but what you are not doing is any anti-submarine warfare. So, it sounds a dichotomy, it sounds counter-intuitive, but operations can be very much against my requirement to make sure we are fit to fight on all fronts. We have had to draw down on our exercise because of the pressures in going to Afghanistan, for example. We must try to make sure that we measure very carefully where our people are falling behind in their training schedules and try and make room in the programme without further wrecking their quality of life. You must actually manage the pace.
(Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) The management of this is done by myself through my single service Chiefs of Staff and in turn from them through their Commanders in Chief. They have to watch on the one side the balance of quality of lives so that people are not working their socks off 24 hours a day and, on the other hand, to recognise that they must be doing a certain amount to make sure that their skills are being maintained. So we look at the exercise programme, we judge it against the operational programme and try to do the best we possibly can.
(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.
(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.
(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 but that it was missing out on developing our ... 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 September 11th. 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.
(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.
(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 -
(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.
(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.
(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.
(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.
(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.
(Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) Maybe we should have done but that is what we are doing at the moment. September 11th 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.
(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.
(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.
(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 PGHQ 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.
(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.
(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.
(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.
(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.
(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.
(Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) This is the President telling the soldier in the trench to do something.
(Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) It is a concern and we have to ensure that we have protocols or procedures in place which do not allow what you might call long screwdrivering and which is sensible. Your point about too much information is a very, very valid one. What we are seeking to achieve is knowledge superiority which is very important. What we can do without is knowledge overload and knowing how to sift data is a whole new science really because there is so much data that is available and it is in fact already a problem in working out how to use what you have and we are now having to teach our people to be far better pullers of information: you are sitting in front of your screen, we can be pushing out tons of information at all times which would completely overload the operator. He has to be taught how to know that, within his screen, there are tons of information and he must be very adept at knowing what to pull out of it which would be useful to him and that is a whole education process which we are currently engaged in.
(Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) I agree with you entirely and of course there is always a great propensity for the people at the top to want to know all the detail that is going on, which they do not need to know at all, because it is fun, apart from anything else. I think we are actually quite good at delegating in the UK in our Armed Forces and in giving local Commanders quite a lot of authority to go ahead and do things, and we must make sure that we continue to remain sophisticated in that sense and we are and, right down to the corporal level, we are pretty good at giving people responsibility and we will actually make sure in this new regime that we continue to exercise that type of discipline.
(Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) We have such procedures in place now and, in the future, the better equipment that we have will allow us to be speedier. The process is there now and it passes decisions up the chain. There are levels of responsibility which are delegated and the chain process pushing things up is well-established which will ensure that in the future it will be operated far more quickly than it is at the moment.
(Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) I am sure we can do better!
(Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) This is the work that I spoke of going on in the Doctrine Centre. I do not know what it is going to be called yet because it has not been produced and, as to when you will see it, I think it will need to be in place during the course of next year and I am sure there may well be some sort of chapter in the White Paper on this particular subject, but I do not know yet because we have not developed the final product and we have not come round to thinking about how it will actually be produced.
(Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) I am looking for a final product here, that is not to say that nothing is actually going on at the moment in how we should conduct our business, it has been going on since 12 September. So we are working on, if you like ad hoc procedures which we are getting on with for the moment and those are being refined as the work is going on in the doctrine areas.
Chairman: That is reassuring.
(Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) Perhaps I muddled the Committee on the new money and the New Chapter. The new money was not just tied to the New Chapter; it came out in Spending Round 02; that was a hike in Defence spending. Some of the money we expect to spend on developing our new thinking within the New Chapter. Other parts of the money will be spent on other parts of the Defence programme. In that context, you are absolutely right to mention people. We can have the best kit in the world but if we do not have the people to man it or the right sort of people to man it, then we are in deep trouble. We are already spending a certain amount of money on our people and we probably need to do more certainly in areas such as accommodation, looking after families properly and making sure that people's welfare is being properly supported when they are on these long tours of duty. It is something into which we are putting a huge amount of effort. We have a whole framework which has been developed over the last couple of years which will be called the Armed Forces' Personnel Strategy, which has an action matrix in it and is being constantly scrubbed over, if you like, by the Defence Management Board and by the Chiefs of Staff Committee to make sure that we remain constantly focused on where we can make improvements for our people.
(Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) I am afraid that whatever Armed Forces pensions come out, it will not affect myself or most people currently serving unless they choose to change it. Yes, we are hoping to produce a report on the Armed Forces' Pension Review in the coming months and I very much hope that that will be welcomed by people in the Armed Forces and particularly seen as attractive by people who want to join the Armed Forces.
(Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) Yes. I think the Chairman mentioned the fact that we were heavily overstretched in the Armed Forces. I would qualify that slightly. I am a great believer in stretching the Armed Forces because that is what people join the Armed Forces to do. They do not join to be sitting on their backsides in some barracks or some dockyard, they actually join to be doing something. So, on the whole, I do not believe that our people are overstretched although we are going through a peak at the moment and I mentioned that we are probably going through a blimp at the moment because of standing by for the fast track, but there are categories of people who are definitely stretched and we are focusing on those areas very hard indeed and we need to work out ways of trying to persuade such people that what they are doing is being properly valued. Whether that is done through some sort of financial retention incentive or whether it is done through a non-financial retention incentive, we balance those things and we try to do something about it and indeed we are in close consultation of course with the Armed Force Pay Review Body who look at these matters very closely indeed and will no doubt give us the wisdom of their advice in their report next February.
(Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) I think it comes back to the rebalancing process, that we see it as being a necessary activity which we are going through at the moment and which will be revealed later on. We are very much in the process of seeing how we actually put more emphasis into something, and I think you mentioned enablers in particular, and where there are errors in the programme which are not so important nowadays, but that is something that we are actually still undergoing at the moment. It is about the thinking process that is under way at the moment.
(Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) If I may just pick up one point first of all. You say that recruiting and retention are bad news at the moment, but actually we are having quite a good year in recruiting terms at the moment and we are very close to our targets across all three services. So recruitment at the moment is reasonably healthy. On the subject of fitness, we certainly find that fitness can provide us with a problem in what we call 'gains to training strength', in other words getting people through the initial training establishments. A lot of effort now is being put into making sure that we do not challenge people too rigorously on the first day they arrive, that there is a paced increase in activity levels throughout the training course and that people are tested when they are fit rather than when they are actually unfit. A huge effort goes into making sure that people are brought along as far as possible. I do not think that the sort of problems we had, say, three or four years ago where people were being failed for fitness reasons is quite as big now as it was then because of this new regime that has been put in place which actually brings people along rather than banging them within two days of arrival, finding that they are unfit and then firing them. They are actually now encouraged to come along at a sensible pace, so that they are fit when they actually leave their training establishments and pass the necessary fitness tests.
(Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) In any conflict that we might be called upon to become engaged in the future in the context of the International Criminal Court, I have been reassured that there is no likelihood of any British soldier, sailor or airman being dealt with other than through the British system. They will not go in front of the Criminal Court; the British Courts will be dealing with them.
(Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) Yes.
(Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) I am sorry, perhaps I did misunderstand. All members of the Armed Forces are required to conduct a fitness test, which is a physical fitness test, and I am not aware of there being any particular problem about that. However, on any one day of the week, you are absolutely right in saying that there are large numbers of people who are unfit for medical reasons of one sort or another and that is something which is undesirable and which we need to better in driving down, but it is not a function of people being unfit in the context of not having made themselves fit, it is a case of medically unfit for whatever reason.
(Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) Firstly, I think that, as a percentage, the number of people who are unfit is probably not vastly different to the days when we had dedicated service hospitals. In those days, however, we had more fat in the system in people terms and people being absent or downgraded for medical reasons were not felt as keenly as they are today where we are very, very tautly manned and one person missing is a serious deficit, whereas in the past he might have been absorbed because we were more generous in the way we actually manned our ships, air squadrons or army regiments. A lot of the people who are unfit do not necessarily require operations, they require such things as remedial care, physiotherapy and that sort of thing, and we are putting money or putting effort into coalface remedial capability which would reduce the manpower build of people who are unfit quite significantly. We are also looking at fast tracking some of the people who require to have some sort of medical treatment. We are spending money on it and looking at how to improve it but it is not a situation which I find satisfactory because there are lots of people there who are not being employed in the way they should be.
Chairman: If we had had satisfactory answers from the MoD witnesses who came a few weeks ago, maybe we would not have to ask almost the same questions to you, Admiral, but we visited Saif Sareea and we observed what was going on. We have read the National Audit Office report; we have read the documents that the Ministry of Defence sent to us, but we have a few additional questions.
(Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) You will have to remind me what report you are talking about. The exercise tested our people extremely rigorously. We need to remember why we do these exercises. This was an exercise conducted to give our people the opportunity to take part in something which was at a reasonably enlarged scale level. I do not mean that in the context of the totality of numbers but large scale in the sense of what they had been exposed to in the past. The purpose of this exercise was to give our soldiers, sailors and airmen a chance to see what a battlefield is like or what a brigade is like or a squadron and so on, and also to do it on an away from home basis to see how we manage. Indeed, we achieved that and I think the NAO report made it perfectly clear that this was a highly successful exercise, which I subscribe to. The 25,000 or so people who took part in it gained immeasurably. We do not do these exercises very often because they are very large and also we do not have the capacity to do them on a regular basis. It was an exercise which probably no other country could do, possibly with the exception of the United States, on that scale and I am very pleased about the way it went. I recognise that a lot of lessons were learned but that is why we do exercises, to find out how well we are fitted out in terms of our training, in terms of our kit, to be able to deal with an operation. There are certain components that we will not put into an exercise because we want to make sure we do not use up all our kit allotment pending a real operation but I think the exercise was a success.
(Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) If you spoke to the people working in the desert at temperatures of 50 degrees, they would probably consider they were being tested pretty much to their limits. You cannot make it tougher than that.
(Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) If I can refer to that particular document and other documents of that genre which we produce, we are probably light years ahead of any other armed force that I know of at being self-searching in the way we are, actually going out and doing these exercises in order to examine exactly where we have any difficulties, faults or whatever. I have been involved in my 42 years in the armed forces continuously in a process of reassessment, exposing where we find we have difficulties and getting on and trying to improve on that basis; rather than not to expose them and hide behind some shimmer or some imagination that we are better than we really are. No one else puts themselves through this self-flagellation in the way that we do and we are very proud of it. I would not do exercises if I did not think we were going to get honest lessons learned. I certainly would not want to be in the position where every time we do something in order to find out where our weaknesses are we get beaten up by everybody for having exposed those weaknesses in a way which no other country does, and probably no other government department, as far as I am aware.
(Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) The whole of that money was not spent just on the tanks. As far as the people were concerned, they all gained immeasurable experience from the exercise, of operating first of all in large formations which they would not normally do for many years. The young people who did that will carry that forward throughout their careers up to becoming NCOs or senior officers and they will look back on that as a most rewarding experience, to understand what large formation operations are like, whether they may be Army or Air Force. You have had technical advice from other people who have sat before the Committee about ----
(Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) The problem about the workability of the Challenger 2 tank is not something which gives me particular concern at all. We found out that we had made a mistake in assessing the number of filters that we required to run in the particular type of dust levels that were encountered out there. We did not place on the tanks the type of armour that we would normally have for an operation because we only had a limited number of sets and we did not want to use them on an exercise. Had we put that armour on, it would have significantly mitigated the amount of dust congestion that happened. I am absolutely certain that we under-estimated the requirement for filter use but such activity as we got out of our tanks, when we started to preserve our filters in order to get training benefit as opposed to just a logistic exercise, was significant. All tank crews got some training benefit out of working in very unpleasant, very hot, sandy conditions. All those people who were in those tank regiments will have learned a huge amount about what they should do in the future in any desert type campaign. The logistics organisation has learned an awful lot about what it should require in terms of recognising what type of sand it is and how many filters you will need. I believe that this was a hugely rewarding process. Yes, we made mistakes but that process makes us all the more confident, if we are engaged in an operation in those circumstances in the future, that we will be able to deal with the situation very well.
Chairman: We are not criticising the tank, which is a fabulous tank. We wish more countries wished to buy it. Our criticism was not even of the armed forces. Our criticism was against the people who were telling us what did or did not happen on the exercise that we were able to observe and draw our own, not professional, but common sense judgments.
(Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) We have increased our stocks of filters, for a start. We have the armour which we can desertise the tanks with and we are looking at a programme of desertisation at the moment.
(Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) I think it is a very fair point. If we are going to spend a large amount of money on any exercise, relative to whatever size it is - Saif Sareea was a very expensive exercise but there are many smaller exercises - and if you are going to get the best benefit from the exercise to identify where you are going to be looking for lessons to learn and so on, you want to make sure that you get maximum value out of the exercise and out of the money you are about to spend. Your planning process is going to be artificially long because you are trying to make sure you think of all the angles. If we are going to do that, what can I get out of that particular activity? Where can I look for lessons to be learned? Is our doctrine going to be right? Are the soldiers going to put up with it? Are they properly fit to do it? Is the kit going to work? You think up all the angles you possibly can. Additionally, if you are going to involve a third party in the exercise - in this case, for example, the Omanis - they must be brought along as well. Their pace may not be the same as ours in terms of getting ready for it. Yes, any exercise is probably going to show what your speed of response can be in a real situation. I would therefore ask you to look at what happened in December last year when the Bonn conference, I think on the 12th, decided that there would be something called an International Security Assistance Force based in Kabul, completely alien territory as far as we were concerned. No one had even heard of Afghanistan other than back in the 1800s. On 12 December, we were told to take charge of this International Security Assistance Force. In the space of three or four weeks, we had assembled a force of 5,000 from 19 countries. We had people on the streets of Kabul by the beginning of January bringing calm, comfort and security to that city. It was a brilliant operation done in absolutely unprecedented speed and when the chips were down we delivered because we had practised that sort of thing in exercise in the past and we had learned our lessons.
(Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) We certainly thought very hard about it because we could see that potentially it could present difficulties, particularly if you are trying to do a peace keeping operation in one part of the country and you are doing some direct, aggressive action in another part of the country. The countrymen might take a dim view of the peace keepers who might be perceived as being rather aggressive in that area. We put quite a lot of effort into deconflicting the activity that was going on in Kabul with what was going on with the activities outside the International Security Assistance Force. We made it very clear to the Afghanistan people themselves that we were there operating under a United Nations mandate, that we were very much a security assistance force. We made it clear to Mr Karzai, who was the person in charge of the administration there, that we were there to help him very much with security in the town of Kabul. All I can say is it seems to have worked. No one has levelled charges at us for having double standards. The effort we put into getting that right is a lesson we learned. The effort was worth it and the fact that there has not been a negative response shows we probably got it right.
(Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) You have a lot of talking to do with all the various players, particularly with the incumbents of the country, in this case, Mr Karzai, and indeed talking as far as possible to local warlords as well.
(Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) The New Chapter made clear and we recognise that in the future strategic context the role of the special forces and the activities the special forces are engaged in are going to be even more important than ever. That is why there has been emphasis on that. So far as commenting on what, if any, special force activity is going on, that would not be appropriate.
(Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) That was not a thing which particularly concerned me from this end of the telescope. One of the reasons it did take a long time was to get the infrastructure right in Bagram which is where was where they flew out to. It was important also that we dove tailed in with the American commander, under whom they were operating, to get his times right so that we appeared on the scene when his troops were ready for us and not before that. Although it did take about four weeks or so to get the whole Commando troop out there, I was not particularly dismayed that they could not get out there earlier. It was a function of what was going on in the theatre rather than a function of our ability to get them out there earlier.
(Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) What criticism was that?
(Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) Perhaps the Americans should have spoken to the American commander who was the guy who was driving the ----
(Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) I did not say the Americans were ahead of us on the rules of engagement. I said they were ahead of us in terms of their technical network centric capability. We do not normally comment in detail about what our rules of engagement are but in broad terms the answer is that there are differing levels of authority given as one cascades down the command chain. At the very bottom level, literally the private, he has a particular set of rules which he applies, his intrinsic right to self-defence being the most fundamental. There are different levels of authority given to different ranks as to what they might or might not be allowed to engage with, given certain criteria. The reason I cannot go into too much detail about it is that it depends on the different rules drawn up for different circumstances. They are very carefully articulated and passed down the command chain. They are briefed on a twice, if not three times, daily basis to all the relevant commanders all the way down the command chain. If a local commander feels that he has been constrained in what he is able to do by his rules of engagement, he is absolutely entitled to send in what is called a rule of engagement request saying can he have more authority to do such and such. That will then go up the command chain and that authority will be given to him, if appropriate.
(Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) An unmanned vehicle is in a sense no different from a manned one, in so far as pictures are passing back and one has to make decisions. The driver will be operating under some rule of engagement which may be similar to that of a person in a manned aircraft, as to whether he is allowed to press his button to release his bomb. I do not think there is much difference between unmanned vehicles and manned vehicles in terms of the application of our rules.
(Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) I was replying to Mr Knight's question in the context of where we know UAVs have been known to drop weapons. Were we to have such UAVs that dropped weapons that currently exist, the RoE would not be given.
(Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) I am afraid I have not had the benefit of reading the evidence.
(Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) As far as my mind is concerned, on the subject of UAVs, it is entirely right to exploit the use of UAVs to the utmost extent and if that includes carrying weapons I would not close up that opportunity at all. I would see that as being very attractive to explore.
(Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) Yes, absolutely. We do have that capability. We have the special skirts which are put on and special extra armour to put on. That is available. The extra filters are being bought and I would be confident that, if we had to operate in a desert environment for whatever reasons, our tanks would give us the type of performance we would wish.
(Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) I have not spoken to the Jordanians.
(Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) We have the processes and certainly I have the will. It is a factor of human nature that, for example, if you were to look at the lessons learned from the Falklands War and bounce those off the lessons learned from 1945, there is a depressing amount of similarity between the two. I would not guarantee that, were we to engage in some future conflict, we would not find that we were relearning whole lessons each time because that is the way it happens, largely because of the nature of turnover of people within the armed forces, memories are short and so forth. In pursuing the things which we think are very important in following up lessons and where we have asked the Director of Operational Capability, DOC, who wrote that report, you will see in that report that there will be a list of recommendations. The chiefs of staff are under my chairmanship. I demand that DOC returns to my committee every six months and takes us through the recommendations of any report he has written to show us what progress he is making.
(Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) You have to give sensible time. I am just talking generically at the moment about how things operate. Were something to crop up which would want us to move ahead faster or to ensure that progress was fast enough on certain things which were relevant, clearly there would be more pressure to bear but, to answer your question about process, yes, we do follow up these lessons learned. I send for the DOC to explain what is going on and if we are not happy then we chase it up.
(Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) You would be fully justified in being angrily cross if we went into an operation and found we were living with some deficit or something which diminished our operational capability as a result of lessons learned as recently as 2001.
(Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) I would need to take advice on that.
(Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) As soon as we are kicking into a new operation, one of the first things I will send for is the lessons learned from the last type of operation of that nature that we have done. As part of our planning process, I will be asking my team, "What have you learned about X, Y and Z from the last time?" We have to make certain that, should we be engaged in any future desert campaign, we will be turning back to those lessons to make sure we have dealt with all the criticisms that have been levelled at us.
(Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) I could not possibly comment.
(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.
(Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) I cannot answer that question.
(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.
(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.
(Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) I agree.
(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.
(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.
(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.
(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, ten 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.
(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.
(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.
(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.
(Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) Not yet, no.
(Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) No.
(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?
(Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) At the moment we have 32 but we are going to have 31 when HMS Sheffield goes.
(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.
(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.
(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.