Select Committee on Public Accounts Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses(Questions 80-99)



80.  If you believe that those conclusions are going to be made by us, then you should ensure that is what is said in the report so we do not go down the wrong lines. I feel that I spent virtually the whole of Sunday afternoon wasting my time reading this report, putting quite a lot of work into it when you then come along and say it is a load of crap anyway.

  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) No, I did not say that.

81.  You inferred that.

  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) No, I did say that if you read paragraph 1.22 of the report, for example, it says that the exercise was a success and that is indeed the conclusion of the report at a later stage. I have to say Mr Williams opened with a suggestion to me that it was a complete failure and that is what I challenged.

82.  I have to say that after I read the report, my line of questioning was basically exactly the same, that it had not been a very good exercise because of what had actually happened. Let us just look at page 2, paragraph 6, for example, the whole of the paragraph. It makes us wonder whether the exercise was really worthwhile in the first place. Basically what it says is that it took three years to arrange, yet it is the Joint Rapid Reaction Force which has to react within 30 days and this took three years to arrange. It says that the medical facilities were not scaled for a real war, only half the armoured brigade was taken and full war stocks of munitions were not taken. So how do you know from this, if we have a conflict situation, that there is not going to be a catastrophe, because these were never tested?

  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) You are making my point when I was trying to explain the context. The context is that exercises, even a big one like this, are not the only way that we demonstrate and exercise our Joint Rapid Reaction capability. In parallel with this we were doing real world operations and we have just done one in Afghanistan. During this period we were keeping 2,000 forces in the Balkans, 3,000 in Kosovo, 2,000 in Bosnia. We were keeping quite a large force at that stage in Sierra Leone. So in addition to the exercise, we were learning real lessons about JRRF generation from operations. It is a form of force that we use for flexible purposes. Sometimes we use small elements, sometimes we use large elements. This was a medium scale; pretty big actually for a medium scale, 22,500 people. It is not the only way of demonstrating the JRRF concept, but it is a very good way of testing where the lessons really need to be learned. In operations we tend to go heavy. We tend to go with what we need to win. This exercising is a good way of trying to see where the limits are, where we need to make actual adjustments.

83.  Basically what you are saying there is that there would not be a complete catastrophe if there is an action in the Middle East in that particular area, that this exercise has proved that we are quite capable of—

  (Sir Kevin Tebbit)—lifting large amounts of people and equipment into a battle zone.

84.  And that the equipment will work.

  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) Yes; indeed. The availability levels of the equipment are really quite high, although there were some artificialities like holding back some of the tanks, because of the problems of dust ingestion, for the last phase.

85.  Paragraph 9 says that the exercise actually did fully extend the dedicated strategic lift assets, but even with the new C17s you were unable to lift everything you wanted to and you will have to depend upon civilian aircraft to do that. Is that wise that in a conflict situation you have to depend upon civilians?

  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) We do rely on a balance and a mix; that is quite true. We have four C17s and our C130s which are far more than any other European country has. We have ro-ro ferries coming along very soon, but we do rely on civil charter as well. To have our own dedicated forces to move everything would be quite prohibitive in cost. We have the A400M project coming forward, so we are doing a lot to improve our lift capability. This does work.

86.  In the recent conflicts we have had over the last 60 years, have we depended upon civilian resources in those conflicts?

  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) Yes, we have always relied on civilian resources to some extent. There is a very wide range of companies and providers out there and we did not have problems in Kosovo, for example, when we were going in for real in 1999. We used that civilian mix and it worked. Similarly in Afghanistan, we could have done although largely we used our own. Basically it does work.

87.  There is no undue risk.

  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) No, we believe the risk is managed properly.

88.  What would happen if it were not?

  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) That is a hypothetical.

89.  It is all hypothetical, is it not?

  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) You would require then the whole of the global transport effort to be denied to us and I think that is unlikely.

90.  Two previous members have gone into the situation with the Challenger 2 tank, troops, equipment, clothing, so I do not want to go down that line any further. What I wrote down was that you had 23,000 men there, but once they got there they did not have the right clothes and the weapons did not work. Logistically it was successful to an extent but it is a bit worrying, is it not?

  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) The weapons did work.

91.  I can remember Kosovo. You got them to Kosovo, but you did not have any beds for them to sleep on. Do you remember that?

  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) Yes, I can remember that.

92.  This is a similar scenario, is it not?

  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) Even with Challenger 2 we had 83 per cent availability which is very high for a military force.

93.  Did you know about these things before you went?

  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) No, not all of them. I knew that we were making judgements as between cost and other operations and this exercise and that we were going to find some interesting outcomes. We could have spent another £20 million and upgraded the tanks. Actually I do not think we would have done because of the operational requirements at the same time. We could certainly have played safe.

94.  What was very worrying in the report as well was that it seemed to indicate that some of these problems which occurred, occurred during the Gulf War and the general was there. Yet the same problems were still happening ten years later. Had nothing been done to put those problems right?

  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) They were not quite the same as the problems from the Gulf War. These were different tanks for one thing. As I said, we had 83% availability. We learned a great many lessons.

95.  You argued that the desert in Oman was much hotter than it would be in Iraq. Presumably you knew that. On the other hand you argued that you did not realise it was going to be so hot when you went to Oman.

  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) I did not argue that. The report sets out the difference between expected climate and the climate we actually faced. It was hotter than was expected. That is a fact.

96.  Figure 11, page 19. We talked about equipment and the failing of equipment and you explained the problems with the tanks and the AS90s. Figure 11 tells us that you took with you on the exercise 44 helicopters, but it says that the average availability was only 55%, which is to me that only 24 of those helicopters were actually available. Over 50% of those helicopters were not available for the full length of the exercise. That is going to be very worrying. Presumably helicopter warfare nowadays is vitally important and if half your helicopters do not work, that has to be quite serious, does it not?

  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) You mentioned not learning the lessons from the Gulf War. If you read the report, paragraph 2.28, it acknowledges that we did indeed draw on the lessons from the Gulf War and did anticipate certain problems. The problems we had about helicopter availability were not actually about desert conditions or dust, they were actually general problems affecting helicopters worldwide, which are being dealt with as part of an unrelated worldwide programme.

97.  So the enemy will have similar problems with their equipment, will they?

  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) Basically, there are various kinds of problems affecting helicopters. Some had to be withdrawn for general maintenance and safety checks, which is true of aircraft fleets and helicopter fleets worldwide. That happened to coincide with the exercise. The Gazelle helicopters were affected by what is called main rotor heating and an in-theatre solution was found, but not before there had been a loss of availability. Unfortunately we did have a crash of one of the two Lynx helicopters, the Mark 9s, which is why that one goes down sharply, but I have to say that we actually got above average usage from our helicopters, compared with the real world, which just goes to show that there are problems about helicopter serviceability and availability generally which are being dealt with by means of a worldwide programme rather than anything Saif Sareea specific. The exercise was quite good in demonstrating that we can maintain helicopters to pretty good availability. I am afraid 55% is not bad for helicopters at the moment.

Mr Bacon

98.  May I pursue this question of the tank a little bit further? It does say in paragraph 2.20, "Difficulties encountered by the Challenger 2 fleet . . . and their consequential impacts on other exercise participants became, for a time, the single largest problem faced by exercise planners". You did say that there had been a judgement call about not doing the extra work and that that was probably in retrospect the wrong judgement. I have here a copy of Soldier magazine from December 2001 reviewing the exercise a couple of months afterwards. It says that the warning signs of the problems to be faced in Oman were signposted in Canada by a dramatic rise in the use of air filters. That our Challengers were not designed for these temperatures and for the dusty environment. That experts had been saying for at least a year that air filter use out here was going to be significantly greater than in north-west Europe and that there was a requirement to front load a lot of air filters, in other words to have them in theatre before they were needed. I assume that experts were saying that. Why did you not take any notice of them?

  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) The design authority were still saying that at very worst they would last 14 hours.

99.  This is the 14 hours.

  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) Yes.

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