Select Committee on Public Accounts Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses(Questions 100-119)



100.  Who was the design authority?

  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) For air filters it is a British company called PALL Aerospace.

101.  If you are going to lay all the blame on them, it might be helpful to know who they are.

  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) PALL Aerospace.

102.  I am right, am I not, that this exercise was three years in the planning?

  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) Yes, it was.

103.  Why did you not do what Mr Osborne suggested, which was to take one tank out there? I am just amazed that you did not say to yourself, perhaps these design authority people are right, perhaps they are wrong, why do we not find out? Just take one Challenger tank out there in the unamended, `undesertised' condition, find the most extreme conditions you can and thrash it and see what happened. Why did you not do that? Would that not have been obvious and pretty cheap?

  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) With the benefit of hindsight, yes. By the way, if we had taken it to the main exercise area we would not have found anything different from the specification. I have to keep coming back to the problem of doing it in the southern Omani desert. You are quite right, we could have done that, but we did not do it. I say "we", but the armed forces judged that was not a necessary measure.

104.  The real question about the Challenger which I want to come on to is: what now? We may be having an operation, a real deployment, within not so many months. What are you doing or what have you done to the Challenger 2 tank fleet now so that if we have an operation they will be ready?

  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) We have a very high level of filter availability now. I should not like to go into details but our holdings are adequate, many times more than before. Secondly, in an operation we would up-armour, we would add applique« armour to the sides of the tanks for other reasons, but which also happens, because they are like skirts, to change the way in which the dust folds over and goes down into the tank engine. That reduces ingestion automatically without any of the `desertisation' measures. Thirdly, if we choose, it would not be a technically difficult or time-consuming issue to add various measures, whether it be changing the angle of intakes, whether it be improving or upgrading the filters themselves, whether it be doing other things to the engine area which would again improve the issue. It is not a technically challenging, time sensitive issue.

105.  May I ask you about the SA80 rifle? I know that it went wrong. Defence Review magazine described it as a resounding failure with stoppages after every round, but added that that was no great shock when you realised that it was the old A1 model. This is a journalist called Winfield writing in winter 2001. He says that the number of times squaddies ask when they are going to get the new models goes to show how much morale has been affected by its lack of performance. Will soldiers deployed in any future operations in the Middle East in the near future have the SA80A2?

  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) It depends how soon you are talking about. I have to be very honest about that. If you were to hypothesise, certainly the SA80 Mark 2 is now being fielded and is coming on stream rapidly.

106.  It says here that it works very well in all conditions, including very reliably in the desert. Is that right?

  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) Yes.

107.  So if you were a squaddie, that is the gun you would want to take with you, if you were taking the Queen's shilling.

  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) Let me ask the General, because he fires these things all the time. I have only fired them from time to time. By the way, I have never had a misfire with the SA80. I actually thought it was a good gun already, but we had a confidence problem with our forces and we have rebuilt that confidence. We introduced some modifications as well.

108.  I bet you have not tried the SA80 in such extreme conditions.

  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) Yes, yes, we have trialed it. Both the marines and the army participated in the latest trials and are absolutely satisfied about the SA80 Mark 2.

109.  When will our soldiers have the SA80?

  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) They are getting them already. We used them in Afghanistan.

110.  Will any soldiers who go to Iraq have the A2?[2]

  (Lieutenant General Reith) I doubt it. I cannot say for certain, but I doubt it.

111.  Do you mean they will probably have the A1?

  (Lieutenant General Reith) No, sorry. I doubt any will have the A1.

112.  Do you mean they will all have the A2?

  (Lieutenant General Reith) We are in the process of fielding it now. When we deployed the marines into Afghanistan, we deployed them with the A2 to ensure that on operations they had the best available weapons.

113.  Is your plan to do the same for Iraq?[3]

  (Lieutenant General Reith) Indeed.

114.  If you had to.

  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) That is a hypothetical question.
  (Lieutenant General Reith) It is a hypothetical question.

115.  I know it is a hypothetical question.

  (Lieutenant General Reith) I have fired the SA80 many times. When I commanded a battalion we converted from a self-loading rifle to the SA80 during my command and I saw an increase in quality of shooting by about 50%. It is a completely different weapon to anything we had experienced before, little tolerance, high performance, very light weapon, very easy to shoot, less weight in ammunition to carry, a very good weapon. We had problems with the A1; there were design faults within the A1 which we encountered and because of that we spent a lot of money developing the A2. The A2 is a much, much better weapon. I said to you that in Afghanistan the A2 was used by the marines and we appeared to have the same problem again. The difficulty was when we introduced the A2, because we did it in a hurry, we had not yet put the maintenance booklets for them forward with it. They had problems because there had been a decision, as we had with previous weapons in dusty conditions, not to oil the weapon regularly and therefore they got lots of stoppages. We have since trialed that against other weapons as well and we have proved that providing you oil them regularly and there is not somebody who makes a decision not to oil them, actually it is an extremely reliable weapon. We are now issuing the right maintenance advice to everybody, the trials occurred and we are building the confidence back into the armed forces.

116.  The climate categorisation for this exercise was A3, is that right?

  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) Yes.

117.  According to page 22 this refers basically to the conditions we have here in western Europe and Canada. Have you been to Canada?

  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) Yes, I have.

118.  Are you familiar with the climate in Canada?

  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) Yes; reasonably.

119.  Have you been to the Middle East?

  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) I lived in Turkey for three and a half years.

2   Note by witness: All references to Iraq are hypothetical as no decision has been taken by the Government. Back

3   Ref footnote to Q 110. Back

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Prepared 9 December 2002