Examination of Witnesses(Questions 1-19)|
TEBBIT KCB, CMG, LIEUTENANT
REITH CB, CBE AND
MONDAY 21 OCTOBER 2002
1. I must first apologise for the absence of
our Chairman: he has had a sporting accident and suffered from
a rather severe ankle break so I am having to sit in the Chair
today. May I welcome Sir Kevin Tebbit, Permanent Secretary, to
this hearing on the Ministry of Defence and the Exercise Saif
Sareea II. Would you like to introduce your colleagues?
(Sir Kevin Tebbit) On my right is Lieutenant
General John Reith who is the Chief of Joint Operations and as
such is responsible for this level of exercising and indeed for
all our deployments as well as exercises. On my left is John Oughton,
who is the Deputy Chief of Defence Logistics responsible for supporting
these sorts of exercises.
2. Is Mr Webb here from the support group? He
gave some evidence to the Defence Committee the other day in relation
to his activities.
(Sir Kevin Tebbit) I would not expect
so. I did not invite him.
3. What a pity.
(Sir Kevin Tebbit) He is our Policy Director
who is responsible to me for policy.
4. That would have been rather interesting. It
seems that the people the Defence Committee wanted were not there
because you thought they would be coming to this Committee and
some of the people we want are not here because you thought they
were only wanted by the Defence Committee. Before we go to questions,
may I welcome back to the Committee Angela Eagle and say how glad
we are to have you with us again. It has probably been explained
to you that we have altered our format. We normally give everyone
15 minutes for questions. The task of lengthening answers has
been made even easier for you by the fact that we are only having
ten-minute sessions initially per member but there will be the
opportunity to come back for the balance of the time towards the
end of the session. This exercise has been something of a debacle,
has it not? I am surprised you look surprised. You obviously have
not read the newspapers.
(Sir Kevin Tebbit) If you read the report
. . . I think you must not have read the report. I am sure you
have read it; I know you have read it.
5. When the Chairman of the Defence Committee,
who is noted for his understatements refers to a decision as being
bonkers, I am inclined to think there might be something wrong
and something for us to follow up on. Can you explain to us precisely
what the objective of this exercise was?
(Sir Kevin Tebbit) The objective of the
exercise was to exercise key elements of our Joint Rapid Reaction
Force (JRRF), that is to say by deploying key elements of the
forcearound 50 per cent of our Joint Rapid Reaction Forces
for the sea and land elements, about 33 per cent for the air elementacross
a distance of 5,000 miles, to be sure, once there, that it could
engage in joined-up war fighting and sustain itself for a period
of time at that job and then to recover those assets subsequently
from the theatre. All of those elements, as you will see from
the NAO report, paragraph 1.22, were achieved successfully.
6. That is very much a matter of opinion. It
is very appropriate that you use the term "recover those
assets . . . from the theatre". That seems to be the precise
term most of us would apply. You said that it was to exercise
the key elements, which I assume means therefore to show that
they actually worked in the environment into which they were being
(Sir Kevin Tebbit) That is correct: to
demonstrate the Joint Rapid Reaction Force concept.
7. In your opinion it was successfully carried
out, despite the fact that having travelled 5,000 miles the tanks
seized up in four hours, your long-range guns melted, soldiers'
boots disintegrated, the communications were no more secure than
they were in Kosovo. Other than that everything is going well
now, is it?
(Sir Kevin Tebbit) I would dispute virtually
everything you said.
8. Please do. Mind you, you have signed up to
this and remember all these are virtual quotes of circumstances
described in the report which you accepted.
(Sir Kevin Tebbit) There are facts and
there are contexts and there are interpretations placed upon them.
Perhaps I could begin by doing so. I should say that this was
the most arduous exercise that we could have possibly attempted
and we did so deliberately. We do not try to do things easily,
we try to put our forces through the most testing trials we possibly
can in order to demonstrate where the points of tolerance are
and where the changes are which need to be made and that is what
9. If that was the purpose, why did you originally
plan it for the United States of America?
(Sir Kevin Tebbit) This should not be
confused with an operation, which is a very different matter.
That is the first point. The second point is that you mentioned
the tanks. It is true that the tanks, in part of the exercise,
that is to say exercising in the southern Omani desert, experienced
very high usage of air filters.
10. You used up the global supply of air filters
and had to fly them all in.
(Sir Kevin Tebbit) We did not.
11. It is in the report.
(Sir Kevin Tebbit) May I please answer
your questions? We did not use up the global supply. I am afraid
that there is a word in the report which qualifies that. We never
used up the global supply of air filters; at no stage did we run
out of air filters globally. That is the first point. The second
point is that the manufacturer reckoned that in virtual blackout
conditions the filters would last for 14 hours. We found that
in the southern Omani desert, not in the northern exercise zone,
they were used up after four hours. We have now learned the lesson
that if you exercise in the southern Omani desert you need an
awful lot of air filters. That is the lesson which was learned;
it is a very important point.
12. So it is like the leaves on the track: it
was the wrong sort of sand.
(Sir Kevin Tebbit) Nothing at all like
that. If you do that, you use up the air filters more rapidly.
The answer is of course either to increase supplies of air filters,
which we now have, or not to exercise in the southern Omani desert,
which interestingly we have now found even the Omanis do not try
to do. We took the hardest test we could possibly find. Third,
we chose not to put additional protection on our tanks when we
did the exercise. That was a judgement made by the exercise planners
for cost-effectiveness reasons. You always have to balance operational
needs, finance and exercise arrangements when you are going forward
in these sorts of things. They took the judgement based on their
understanding of the conditions they would find that it was not
cost-effective to have the necessary protection to reduce dust
on the tanks. In the light of the experience of how quickly these
were used up, they probably made a wrong call, but the rectification
is very simple. Had these tanks been going into operations, they
would not have been deployed in the way that they were. For one
thing they would have had up-armour on the sides, we would have
increased the level of armour. That in itself would have reduced
the dust ingestion and would have eased the problems. There are
several other things that we can do to the tanks to solve this
problem, very simple things, but they do cost money. If we wished
to spend between £5 million and £90 million, we could
deal with these problems very quickly. It is a straightforward
cost-effectiveness issue; it is not an issue of capability of
the tanks. That is just on the tanks.
13. Just as a matter of interest, on the recommendation
which was originally made it was going to cost you about £20
million to carry out desertification. How much has it cost you
to undo the damage which has been done to the vehicles?
(Sir Kevin Tebbit) They have not been
damaged at all; they have not been damaged.
14. They have not?
(Sir Kevin Tebbit) No.
15. So it has cost you nothing.
(Sir Kevin Tebbit) What happens is that
the air filters get clogged and in the south Omani desert they
got clogged after four hours; in the north it was not as bad as
that. You then change the air filter. Nothing mechanical was damaged
in the tanks at all; there was no damage at all.
16. If you are going to carry out an exercise
(Sir Kevin Tebbit) You do not want me
to answer your other questions. I am happy to come back to them.
17. Do not worry. According to the report there
is a tank I have not heard of, the Omani Challenger 2. I assume
this is a Challenger 2 designed to work in Oman, or is the title
(Sir Kevin Tebbit) No, you are quite
right, the Omanis procured the tank.
18. So they have a tank which works out there.
(Sir Kevin Tebbit) Ours work.
19. Hold on. Did it not occur to you to ask them
anything about the problems of operating in their country? It
seems fairly basic to know a little bit about different types
of sand. I seem to remember that President Carter used helicopters
to fetch hostages way back in history in Iran.
(Sir Kevin Tebbit) This was not a lack
of knowledge, this was a judgement made on the basis of cost-effectiveness,
using what proved to be an inaccurate judgement about the speed
at which air filters were used up based on what the design authority
told us would happen. That was incorrect, we now know what the
facts are and we shall act accordingly. You are quite right, when
the Omanis bought their Challengers, they did put extra modifications
on them, or had them put on, which eased this problem. I might
say that they do not exercise in the southern desert, which we
did, which was the real problem, but that is beside the point.
I do not want to get into the wrong kind of dust or leaves on
the line issues which you raised.