Select Committee on Public Accounts Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses(Questions 120-139)



120.  So you are familiar with the climate there too and Turkey does have a border with Iraq.[4]

  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) Yes, it has a border with lots of countries.

121.  One would appreciate with just a bit of common sense that they are really quite different climates. Why would you categorise this exercise as the A3, intermediate, Canadian, when actually A1, extreme hot and dry, very high temperatures, parts of the Middle East, would seem more appropriate?

  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) Because the authorities planning the exercise looked at the weather data and on that basis expected it to be A3. They were wrong.

122.  When the NAO did its fieldwork, paragraph 2.41, they ". . . encountered temperatures at Camp South . . . of 46 degrees Celsius". If you had three years to plan this exercise, presumably in each of those three years, probably all the time, at least one member of MOD personnel was on site in Oman. Could you not just have asked them to take some note of what the climate was like while they were there?

  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) A3 does still take you up to 39C which is pretty warm.

123.  Boots were melting.

  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) No, no, they were not.

124.  They were not?

  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) No; not unless you stood on a hot tank engine in shoes or chukka boots. Then they might have melted, yes, they did.

125.  They were falling apart but not melting.

  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) They should not have been doing that. It is purely based on the data which was used to plan the exercise.

126.  It was not to save money. You hesitate. Could it possibly have been to save money?

  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) I am just trying to work out what you are suggesting.

127.  I am suggesting you were trying to save money.

  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) That we falsified the weather conditions to save money. No; except on clothing. Did you mean clothing?

128.  Indeed.

  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) It was not to save money on clothing, it was actually to keep more stocks for operations.

129.  One last question on the container handling rough terrain system, page 18, paragraph 2.24. Of your 13 container handling rough terrain pieces of equipment, eight were deployed to Oman. Unfortunately the five-year contract to maintain these vehicles only applied to the UK and Germany which means you cannot get cover when you are on an expedition. Given that was the case, and I understand that it might be prohibitively expensive to have a global support agreement, why did you not make other arrangements for having engineers on hand, perhaps member of the Royal Engineering Corps, who knew how to handle these machines and repair them.

  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) We are now looking at extending the contract for container handling rough terrain machines.
  (Mr Oughton) KALMAR do provide support outside the area for which they are contracted but it is done on a case by case basis. In any exercise of this nature or deployment, it would be open to us to go to the company and to negotiate a particular regime for support. It is not that the company would not support outside Germany and the UK.

130.  But it would be at too high a price, which brings us back to my question: why did you not do it in-house? You know it is going to be prohibitively expensive to do it externally, or you presume it is and the NAO seems to think it is and you told the NAO it is. Why did you not therefore come to some sort of alternative arrangement in-house?

  (Mr Oughton) Because it is a very small fleet of vehicles; 13 are in our inventory. They have a very specialist task for operation in—

131.  It is a fork lift truck.

  (Mr Oughton) It is more than a fork lift truck. It is designed for operation in a very confined space where a great deal of agility is required.

132.  It is a very strong, agile fork lift truck. A competent engineer would be able to cope with it, would they not?

  (Mr Oughton) It is an extremely strong and agile truck, but we have limited numbers of them. In those circumstances, we would look at the cost-effectiveness of conducting support ourselves or the cost-effectiveness of providing support from contractors and we would judge that on a range of factors.

133.  But you did not do either, did you?

  (Mr Oughton) The equipment did work in theatre; two equipments failed for different reasons, but the majority worked in theatre.

Mr Williams

134.  A point of clarification, general. Are you saying categorically to Mr Bacon that the there will be adequate supplies of the A2 weapon in the foreseeable future if there were an event in Iraq?[5]

  (Lieutenant General Reith) I did not actually say that. What I said was that the intent is that all those deployed would have the A2. We are in the middle of fielding at the moment and I cannot be accurate because I do not know whether we would go to Iraq,[6] because there are no decisions, and I do not know when. I cannot guarantee that they will all be fielded, because I do not know any timings.

135.  That is very, very different from the impression you gave the Committee. Could you give us a note on that, in confidence if you wish?

  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) It would not be right to speculate, because we cannot talk about Iraq. I have no authority to do so and neither does the general, so we cannot answer your question.

136.  What I will ask you is whether it will be possible to equip a force of 20,000 by January. Could you let us know that in confidence?

  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) That is a very different question and I am happy to give you the answer in confidence.[7]

Angela Eagle

137.  If we look at paragraph 6 of the report it says that a number of key elements of the Joint Rapid Reaction Forces concept were not chosen by the department for the demonstration. That included the "rapid" part of rapid reaction. It also included the "readiness" part of rapid reaction. Those seem to be two of the most key elements of the rapid reaction concept, so why were they not part of the aims of this exercise.

  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) Because with an exercise of this kind, planned with another country, one has to make trade-offs about artificialities and one of the artificialities was that this had to be planned over a period of time with the Government of Oman. May I just say, though I am probably going to fall into the same trap of criticising the report which I have agreed, that we did actually demonstrate readiness. We actually got the troops up to their readiness states in accordance with our Joint Rapid Reaction Force guidelines. What we did not do was demonstrate the deployment, because the deployment requires us to move these people concurrently and rapidly using a combination of sea and air, with the emphasis on air for the manpower. We did actually move most of the manpower by air, but we did not use as much air and we did not do it as rapidly as we would in a real operation. That was partly because of the exercise artificiality of doing this in conjunction with the Government of Oman and it was partly for cost reasons. If we had deployed them with the speed we would expect to in a real operation, it would have been prohibitively expensive. We can do that, we know we can do that because we do it if we go to Afghanistan or Kosovo or Sierra Leone or other places. I am back to my point at the beginning. We learned an awful lot of lessons here; lots of things were not perfect and we have learned good lessons. The main thing to remember in the context is that this was an exercise, it was not a real operation; we learn from operations as well, this is not the only way of demonstrating the Joint Rapid Reaction Force.

138.  I understand that absolutely. So you believe that both the "rapid" and the "readiness" elements of the rapid reaction concept are already well tested.

  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) Yes; the readiness was demonstrated by this.

139.  So you are not planning to test.

  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) We did demonstrate readiness by this exercise but not the rapid deployment.

4   Ref footnote to Q110. Back

5   Ref footnote to Q110. Back

6   Ref footnote to Q 110. Back

7   Note by witness: Yes. Over 41,000 weapons have already been issued and they are continuing to be issued at the rate of 4000 per month. Should the operational situation require it, this process can be accelerated as it was with Afghanistan. The forces that might form part of any future deployment are already likely to be in possession of the SA80 A2. Back

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