Select Committee on Public Accounts Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses(Questions 60-79)



60.  You carried out an exercise to see whether you could use these tanks in the desert. We may be facing an operation where we are using tanks in the desert and you are saying that we do not need to learn the results of this because actually the real tanks we deploy would have all this applique« armour so it is not a lesson worth learning and because we ran it around near Toronto it is fine.

  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) You are misrepresenting entirely what I have said. Let me try again. We now have very high stocks of tank filters, very, very high indeed. We now have lessons which tell us in what conditions the filters have difficulty. We have operational armour which would mean this was different anyway in a real operation and we have tested that arrangement again to prove that is the case. We also have a number of options available to us and this is very important. We have a number of options available to us which we will adopt if necessary, which will ensure that our tanks have full protection against dust should they be required for operations.

61.  Thank you; that is good to know. May I turn to communications where another problem was thrown up by the exercise? It says in paragraph 2.35, "Tank squadrons . . . were unable to communicate effectively with each other, and were frequently forced to interrupt manoeuvres in order to consult on orders for ongoing training". They could not use the mobile phones which they were able to use in Kosovo because there was no mobile phone coverage. Am I right in saying that if we deployed forces in the next year we would still have major communications problems?

  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) You are right that we would still be using only the first bit of the upgraded communication system, that is to say the personal role radio, which is not encrypted and therefore is not secure. We would still be using Clansman because we will not have finished the complete upgrade to Bowman until 2005.

62.  It says in this report that there is a capability gap.

  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) Yes; indeed.

63.  I have been told stories that people had to communicate by hand signals between tanks in the operation.

  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) That may again be a slight failure to understand the context, but may I ask the general?

64.  Did they use hand signals?

  (Lieutenant General Reith) They do anyway. It is normal, when you are on the move with a tank formation, to use hand signals to move. It is sometimes much easier than cluttering a radio net.

65.  If you are advancing under fire, would you undo the hatch and signal to the others?

  (Lieutenant General Reith) Everything that is done with a tank formation is done by pre-arranged drills. Normally, until you come into direct fire contact, you will actually have your hatch open because that gives you better all-round awareness. Once you close down you are obviously looking through sights and so forth which are more limited. You need that spatial awareness when you are travelling. The commander will signal and when his tank moves the others will then move automatically into the right formation.

66.  Presumably if they cannot communicate with each other, if they cannot see what the lead tank is doing, maybe because of the dust and explosions going on, then they cannot actually communicate at the moment from one tank to another.

  (Lieutenant General Reith) That is not correct. Clansman has its problems, there is no doubt about that. It is very ageing equipment and Bowman is much looked forward to. With the distances between tanks in a tank formation they definitely can communicate, but we are not communicating secure, which is what we will be getting with large elements of the Bowman package beyond the personal role radio.

67.  What about the clothing? Do you now have the 30,000 uniforms which this report suggests you have for desert combat?

  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) No, not at this point. We do not have those and we are about to make a judgement as to whether we should do that or not.

68.  Some lightweight footwear, so soldiers do not have to go to buy their own?

  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) That is not quite the case.

69.  "We encountered a number of personnel who had purchased suitable footwear at their own expense."

  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) There is always that option and people do tend to do that.

70.  A sort of eighteenth century army where you come along with your own clothes.

  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) No, not at all. Do you really want to know about footwear?

71.  Yes.

  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) We issued desert footwear only for the 2,000 advance troops who went in the heat of the summer on the judgement that it was going to be cooler during the exercise and normal boots would be appropriate for the rest. That does seem to have been correct. Other footwear was issued which was for people in the headquarters, like chukka boots. Those were the ones which were about ten years' old and not very good if you are taking them into the desert. They should not have been taken into the desert.

72.  Can you assure me that if we were to mount an operation in the next year, the combat troops we would send in, the front-line troops, would have proper desert clothing and desert footwear?

  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) Yes, we do hold stocks of desert clothing and did during the exercise. We held it back, we did not use it, because we may have needed it for a real operation. Therefore we only issued a small proportion of it for the exercise in the belief, possibly mistaken, that the temperatures would not be so extreme as to require full desert equipment. We are now looking at whether the so-called Combat Soldier 95 clothing is adequate for temperatures of this kind or not. If it is not, then we have the option of buying more desert equipment. In any case, we can generate enough capacity to get it very quickly from industry if we need it. There is another aspect of our relations with the Committee, which you may know about, where we are urged not to hold more than we need. Therefore we have to strike a balance between what we need to have in our stores holdings and what we can procure urgently from industry. That said, if we find that Combat 95 uniform is not good enough for extreme conditions, then we shall procure more desert clothing.

73.  Would you give me an assurance, as this is the sixtieth anniversary of our most famous desert battle and we may be engaged in another desert battle at some point, without speculating too much, that when we ask our soldiers to go in they will have the tools to do the job?

  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) Indeed I can assure you of that and I am sure the General can as well. It is of course nearly the two hundredth anniversary of Trafalgar as well.

74.  We did not get onto the maritime aspect of the exercise.

  (Lieutenant General Reith) We made a conscious decision over the desert combats. I said that those who were going in early and were going to be working out in the desert during the very hottest part of the Omani weather period should take it, because it is pure cotton and is much more comfortable in those temperatures and that those who need it during the exercise for camouflage purposes as part of the exercise should also be issued with it, which they were. We did not issue any more because we do require stocks to be held and that was what we did. I should also say that Combat 95 is actually a very versatile set of clothing. In fact I suggested to the PUS that I should be wearing it today, but he told me I had to be much smarter for the Committee. It was designed to cover from the arctic, right through into desert conditions and it works on a layer principle. The balance is whether we have the mix between polyester and cotton right for the extreme temperature end of the scale. That is all.

Mr Williams

75.  You told Mr Osborne that Bowman would be introduced in 2005. In paragraph 2.36 it says ". . . Bowman is introduced from 2004". I took "from" as meaning during 2004. Are you now saying that it has slipped another year to 2005?

  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) No, it is not slipping. It is slightly misleading. Bits of Bowman are being introduced now and already exist, that is to say the personal role radio, which is a bit of Bowman. This is a reference to the encryption and data links which come with Bowman and will be fielded out for 45,000 people. That will happen during 2004 and be completed in 2005. I do not believe there is any difference between what is written here and the plan. It is not slipping.

76.  The encryption links are very crucial, are they not?

  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) The encryption is very important indeed. Even so, one might still want to retain radio silence and use hand signals. Nevertheless, it will be a great improvement.

Mr Steinberg

77.  I would really hope that you are not going to get very tetchy with me.

  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) I am never tetchy, Mr Steinberg. I am just anxious to get the truth across.

78.  You signed up to this report. We receive this report and read the report and make our judgements from the report which we read. Therefore if you disagree with what is in this report, you should say so at the time so that we are not under any misunderstanding about what the National Audit Office are trying to say to us. It is clear from the questions which both Mr Osborne and Mr Williams put to you that they were questions based on the report. My questions are based on exactly the same sort of line but you seem to object to those questions. At the end of the day, you signed up to the report. If you did not agree with this report, you should not have signed up to it.

  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) Let me be clear. What is often happening in what I am saying is that the factual statements about what actually happened on the exercise are accurate. The inferences which are being drawn from them, in terms of what this would mean for real-life operations, are in some cases erroneous; not in all cases. Some very valuable lessons came out of the exercise, many of which are in this report; we got 2,000 lessons from it.

79.  We can only draw the conclusions we draw from the report we read.

  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) I agree.

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