Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1-19)|
TEBBIT KCB, CMG, MAJOR
WEDNESDAY 10 APRIL 2002
1. Order, order. Good afternoon and welcome
to the Committee of Public Accounts. Today we are very happy to
welcome you once again; thank you for coming to our Committee
this afternoon to talk to us on the very important subject of
combat identification which has been a problem throughout the
history of warfare. Would you like to introduce your colleagues,
(Sir Kevin Tebbit) Since it is a very
military focused subject, I have on my right Major General Rob
Fulton, who is the Capability Manager in our organisation for
the equipment programme relating to these issues. On my left is
Commodore Nance, who is the Director of Joint Warfare and responsible
for the overall policy work in relation to these subjects.
2. May I refer you to page 18 of the Comptroller
and Auditor General's report and particularly to paragraph 2.28
which says that in July 2001 you produced a policy paper on this
subject? Given the importance of what we are talking about this
afternoon, and the increased risks involved in working with coalitions
and other armed forces, why has it taken you so long to produce
a report? Why only a report in July 2001?
(Sir Kevin Tebbit) May I make one or two general remarks
in that context? The first thing I would want to say is that this
issue of combat identification is not an end in itself, it needs
to be seen in the wider context of operational effectiveness,
of combat effectiveness. The way in which we believe as a Department
that we will reduce the number of casualties, including casualties
from friendly fire, is by ensuring that we move to a broader strategy
involving greater speed and agility on the battlefield or battle
space with longer range systems, with more precise targeting capability,
with better information overall of what is going on in the battlefield,
what the Americans call situational awarenessa picture.
In that way the military objective will be secured, preferably
not even needing military action: deterrence will be strengthened
because of the capability of the forces which are presented which
reduces the number of casualties for all reasons, whether it is
killed by the enemy, or indeed by friendly fire accidents or indeed
casualties on the other side. The idea that nothing has been going
on throughout the 1990s until this particular policy on combat
ID was developed, would be completely wrong. What went on were
two big trends. The first was a move away from fixed NATO military
concepts to much more flexible coalitions' joint military operations
involving expeditionary forces operating with completely different
countries than ones presumed before in a much more fluid environment.
This major strategic change which went on throughout the 1990s
clearly complicated the task of trying to encapsulate something
like combat ID simply. The other thing which is going on is what
the Americans call the revolution in military affairs, the effect
of rapidly changing IT, digitisation, the ability to communicate
huge amounts of information very quickly in real time. Those also
were changing very quickly, so that instead of simply looking
to identify a particular target the issue moved more towards getting
a complete picture of the battle space. This also complicated
the task of simply drawing up a combat ID policy. Key signposts
along the way for us were: the creation of a permanent Joint Headquarters
in the UK in 1996, since when something like 170 different British
operations have been mounted of varying size and intensity of
military risk; the Strategic Defence Review of 1997-98, which
set the way for this broader concept of manoeuvrist warfare rather
than attrition warfare; all the work which has gone on since then
in implementing the Strategic Defence Review in various areas,
one of which is the combat ID issue.
3. That is a useful general introduction. Let
us turn back to page 8 of the report and look at paragraph 1.8.
I would just ask you a more general question. Is one of the things
which is holding you back that once you come out with a clear
policy it is going to become apparent to the general public that
of any casualties that you have, 10 to 15 per cent will come from
your own side? Is this something which is worrying you, that if
we have to go to war we are going to have to admit this to our
(Sir Kevin Tebbit) This is clearly a very delicate
issue and the first thing one has to say is that we take this
whole issue very seriously indeed. There is a duty of care. There
is also a morale issue and a legal issue here. Any of these statistics
about the risk of fratricide have to be taken very seriously indeed
and we do. Having said that, I would not want to give the impression
that this is the only statistic that matters. Ten to 15 per cent
is the result of modelling and the best information available
that was drawn together during the 1990s. The actual casualty
level from fratricide which would be implicit by these figures
would be about 2 or 3 per cent of the actual forces involved.
We are immediately having to put these into context. What is most
important is how many people get killed, whether it is from fratricide
or from anything else. The only figures we actually have of what
happens on the battlefield as opposed to these modelling scenarios
are from the Falklands War and the Gulf War. We have not had a
British incident involving fratricide since the Gulf War, since
1991. In the Falklands, we lost 255 people, every single one of
them was just as seriously a loss as any other. Eight of those
were from fratricide. That meant 3 per cent of our total casualties
were from fratricide. In the Gulf conflict we lost 15 people killed
in action, nine of those were from fratricide, an awful percentage
to lose from fratricide but only 15 people died altogether. That
is 0.1 per cent of the total size of the force were killed. The
important point I am trying to make is that the really positive
message behind this is that by moving away from attrition warfareand
the Falklands was, when it came to it, attrition, just taking
a position head onto a manoeuvrist approach to warfare,
which was true of the Gulf and is becoming even more true now,
one reduces the risks, minimises the number of casualties. War
is a dangerous business.
4. I appreciate that. I am just trying to get
(Sir Kevin Tebbit) The reason why we had not written
about this statistic earlier was not because we were trying to
cover anything up.
5. I am just trying to get a feel for this before
we get into more detail in a way that the general public could
understand. You can see it is a point which might well concern
them. If we are talking about surviving in the fog of war, what
this report tends to show is that in campaign after campaign,
admittedly you are much more successfully reducing your overall
level of casualties, still 10 to 15 per cent of the casualties
you sustain come from your own side. You will appreciate that
the public might perhaps be forgiven for feeling that the Ministry
of Defence had not conducted itself with the commitment on this
subject that they might have expected or is that an unfair comment?
(Sir Kevin Tebbit) I think it is an unfair comment.
You are commenting on modelling statistics and I am arguing that
the important thing is reducing the number of casualties overall
rather than focusing on this. My main point was that it is deeply
regrettable that any of these risks exist. Warfare is dangerous.
The Government's proposition, in fact defence policy, is based
on developing a concept of operations to do with operational effectiveness
that not only reduces the overall number of people likely to be
killed but in doing so also reduces the number of people likely
to be killed through fratricidal incidents.
6. Do you accept, again reading this paragraph
1.8, that there is a lack of operational analysis of the risk
(Sir Kevin Tebbit) There is not an awful lot of material
to go on. That is the main problem that the Department found.
The Americans have been collecting statistics from their exercises
and they have most information. We are now building in as a routine
more information from our own exercises. The information we have
so far is very thin in this area, which is the problem rather
than the quality of the analysis. I am conscious that I am talking
about subjects which my colleagues here know an awful lot more
about than I do. I wonder whether it would be helpful to have
a military view on this.
7. Yes, if you want to intervene, by all means.
(Commodore Nance) It may be helpful just to identify
the fact that this 15 per cent figure derives from one exercise
and a total of four fratricidal incidents inside that exercise.
8. I have been advised that this figure has
been pretty constant throughout the last century.
(Major General Fulton) I think one of the difficulties
here is that there are three sets of figures which coincidentally
fall between 10 and 15 per cent. The first of those figures is
the figure which the Department uses in order to make its preparations
for a campaign in terms of planning for medical facilities and
so on and so forth. The second figure, the one to which you refer,
is the historical one which shows that from nation to nation and
through history as far as we can tell, approximately 10 to 15
per cent of casualties in any campaign have been caused by friendly
9. Not just in the last century but going back
(Major General Fulton) Beyond that statistics become
somewhat unreliable. The third statistic is the 15 per cent which
is referred to in the third from last line of paragraph 1.8, which
related to an exercise and some data which was gathered from that
exercise. Your figure of 10 to 15 per cent is right and is reflected
in the report; there is just a risk that we trip over the fact
that there are three sets of figures here.
10. Let us get down to more detail now. If you
turn to page 11 and paragraph 1.27 you will see the sorry saga
which is related there. "The High Velocity Missile and the
Javelin ground-based air defence systems were deployed to Kosovo
in 1999. Shortcomings in identification capability meant that
these assets had to be placed on a `weapons hold' procedure to
avoid fratricide, meaning they could only be used in self-defence".
Here we are talking about a Rapier missile system costing £2
billion to acquire but which, because of the risk of fratricide,
does not seem to be very effective. What is your comment on that?
(Sir Kevin Tebbit) It does depend on the scenario.
In this particular case we had air superiority; this was the Kosovo
campaign and I remember it extremely well. We had already established
air superiority, therefore there was no need for open release
of authority for ground based air defence to operate. The skies
were already clear.
11. I am sorry to interrupt you. It is quite
a complicated subject, particularly for people listening as this
meeting is being broadcast. If the Serb planes had been approaching
you, how effective would these missile systems have been?
(Sir Kevin Tebbit) My point was that the Serb planes
12. They were not. I know your point was that
the Serb planes were not. But what is the point of having a missile
system which cannot be used?
(Sir Kevin Tebbit) Had we not established air superiority
by that time they may have been more important in the campaign
than was the case. Since our own air power had chased the Serb
aircraft from the skies, the need for ground based air defence
was less clearly important. It was prudent therefore to put more
constraints on the use of that in order to avoid the risk of friendly
fire incidents and show that in order to minimise the risk of
friendly fire. It is not just a question of the system you have,
it is also the procedures you employ, the tactics, the training
you use. It has to be built into an overall concept. There can
be different situations obviously, when the judgement would mean
that it was still necessary to use such systems. However, we shall
be introducing the Identification Friend or Foe system mode 4
to ground based air defence as part of our improvement programme
so this will improve the usability of the assets in future.
13. Would you now please turn to pages 23 and
24 and look at paragraphs 3.13 and 3.18? I want to ask you now
about the land environment and what steps you are taking to ensure
that you will improve combat effectiveness and reduce the risk
of fratricide in the land environment. Am I right in thinking
that in the past perhaps you have not given the commitment to
the land environment and the dangers of fratricide within that
environment that perhaps you should have done?
(Sir Kevin Tebbit) No, I do not think that is fair,
it is more the inherent complexity of the ground environment rather
than any lack of willingness on the UK's part. In fact it would
be my contention if I needed to make itand I would rather
not do itthat we have probably gone further than any of
our allies in the ground environment area.
14. Would you accept that by far the biggest
problem is on land?
(Sir Kevin Tebbit) I would agree with that, yes, and
I am sure my military colleagues would too. That is not surprising,
because it is much more complex, smaller groups of people operating
more flexibly, fewer big platforms than you have at sea or in
the air, more dispersed forces and therefore naturally the problem
is more likely to be greater in the ground environment. We have
been working throughout the 1990s to develop collective solutions
to this because clearly it is on the ground in particular where
one is operating in a coalition. We would not be operating just
as the UK, we would be operating probably with the United States,
possibly with the French, with the Germans, the Italians as well.
In those situations it is very important to have compatible solutions
and we have been working at this towards a thing called a Coalition
Combat ID solution. We have now reached the stage of what is called
an advanced concept technology demonstrator for that. We have
also produced a NATO standard for NATO battlefield target ID and
that was done in June 2000; it is called a STANAG
and there are lots of these. That was essentially written and
produced as a result of the UK's effort on behalf of all our other
15. All this is very interesting, but are we
going to be killing fewer of our own people on land than before?
(Sir Kevin Tebbit) First we have to get a system which
can be operated commonly among allies likely to operate in coalitions,
which can interrogate and reply, do an electronic exchange. This
demonstrator work is continuing. It draws on studies produced
during the 1990s and we are hoping for a solution soon. If I may
come back to the original point I made, this issue should not
be seen purely in the context of individual Identification, Friend
or Foe systems, it should also be seen in the wider context which
includes situational awareness and tactics, training and procedures.
The situational awareness is being improved for the UK forces
by the personal role radio, for example, which was introduced
last year and is already proving valuable in Afghanistan and will
be improved much more rapidly with Bowman, a programme which I
hesitate to mention to this Committee and which I know has been
a rod for my colleague Rob Walmsley's back when he is talking
about the 20 major projects each year. Nevertheless we are confident
that Bowman will come into service in 2004. It will be on 20,000
different platforms. It is a very big programme, £2.2 billion,
and as part of its function it will provide a situational awareness
element to it, so people will know where they are and that will
also help this general problem of combat ID.
16. Can we deal quickly with our role within
NATO? Could you turn to page 17, paragraphs 2.24, 3.8 on page
22, paragraph 3.10 on page 22? What we are talking about here
is the key role of NATO. Can you say a bit about the key role
of NATO in taking forward combat identification? What part will
your Department be playing in ensuring that this subject is dealt
with properly in NATO circles?
(Sir Kevin Tebbit) We are fully represented in all
the NATO activity. The reason I mentioned the standardisation
agreement in this ground based area is because we were the ones
who initiated it and put most of the effort into it. There is
a comment in the report about staffing from the UK. I have to
say that we staff according to the priority of the area. I did
look into this in the light of the report and I am broadly satisfied
that we do have that staffing right. There are several groups
operating in NATO and we have to make sure we put our efforts
in the ones who are really delivering the results rather than
the ones who are simply co-ordinating, because there is no point
having a co-ordination group if it does not have material to co-ordinate.
That lies at the root of one of the comments in the report about
whether we were covering the committees properly. It was staff
from the UK who sorted out this ground battle standardisation
agreement and we will continue to put our weight where it counts.
17. Please turn now to page 21, paragraph 3.2,
which refers to the six lines of development. Why do you believe
that the six lines of development are an effective way of taking
forward a policy such as that for combat identification?
(Sir Kevin Tebbit) This is a standard way in which
the Armed Forces particularly the Army, carry forward most of
their work. It just happens to be a technical tool that the Army
find helpful in pursuing almost any issue. As it happens, this
one is a rather relevant tool for pursuing this issue because
combat ID is a combination of specific equipment, specific training,
specific rules and procedures and you need to wrap all of these
together and that is what this particular technique does. It is
more a discipline that military officers use to ensure that they
go through subjects thoroughly rather than something which is
particularly combat ID specific. I look to General Fulton to tell
me whether I am right or wrong.
(Major General Fulton) I would agree.
18. I have listened to some of the answers you
have been giving the Chairman and frankly I think some of it is
a load of waffle to be quite honest. I do not think you have answered
the questions at all.
(Sir Kevin Tebbit) We always enjoy our exchanges.
19. We do, do we not? I am not complacent, by
any stretch of the imagination, but the fact is that the report
clearly says that 10 to 15 per cent of fatalities in conflict
are fratricide, yet the three of you sit there and cannot give
a straight answer as to whether that is accurate or not. We are
told by the Major General and the Commodore that this was one
exercise in Kosovo. I
should have thought you would be able to give us exact figures
on the exact number of people who have been killed, how they were
killed, who killed them, when they were killed and by what means.
I should have thought every single death from friendly fire would
be monitored quite clearly. What you are saying to us is that
you are not sure.
(Sir Kevin Tebbit) I am not saying that.
1 Note by witness: This stands for Standardisation
Note by witness: The reference in the question to Kosovo
should have been to BATUS-British Army Training Unit Suffield. Back