Select Committee on Public Accounts Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 40-59)



Mr Steinberg

  40. What you are saying is that weapon is not an offensive weapon.
  (Commodore Nance) Correct.

  41. Sir Kevin is disagreeing with you.
  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) I am agreeing; I spent time in the Middle East in Turkey and when you shake your head you are nodding really. The thought which was coming into my mind was to try to help you; I am not trying to be facetious about this. The difference is, had there been the risk of air battles, had there been lots of Yugoslav aircraft still in the air, there would have been a temptation on our part to use them at longer ranges before we could positively identify the aircraft. As it was, there were no Yugoslav aircraft in the air—

  42. So we are never going to know whether you would have used them or not.
  (Sir Kevin Tebbit)—so it was possible to say "Don't fire until you positively know you are under attack".

  43. As a matter of interest—I do not suppose you can answer this question—do our enemies, whoever our enemies are, adopt the same tactics?
  (Major General Fulton) I do not know the answer to that.
  (Commodore Nance) I am by profession an air defence officer in the Navy so it may be possible for me to answer the question to your satisfaction. The answer to that question is that inasmuch as we understand it the majority of them do.

  44. We have heard the argument about the Javelin but I also read in the report that the same conditions applied to the Rapier. The Rapier system could only operate in the same conditions. Is this the same one we are talking about, making it again only 25 per cent effective? Is this again a defensive weapon rather than an offensive weapon?
  (Commodore Nance) Without straying into classified information, I will do my best to answer the question in the best way possible, which is to say that there is a very limited area defence capability associated with the Rapier weapon. It is used by us for defending airfields which obviously have some lateral extent.
  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) I should very much like to help you. You are right to be identifying one of the weapon systems where we have so far not had as good an Identification, Friend or Foe system on it as we should like. This is one of the weaker areas of our inventory. In one sense it is perhaps less important than some of the other ones, for reasons which the Commodore has explained but there are plans in place to give these systems a better capability to operate with fewer constraints in these sorts of circumstances in future and that will happen.

  45. I was very interested in the paragraph which dealt with HMS Invincible and the problems it seems to have had with the US Pacific Fleet . Could you tell us what those problems were? Could you tell us why there appeared to be a conflict between the commanders on the Invincible and the US Pacific Fleet? What were the problems?
  (Commodore Nance) Tactics, techniques and procedures are adapted to the circumstances in which you use them, as is situational awareness and one hopes that we do not end up having to do the same with our target ID mechanisms. The procedures therefore for the geographic environment of the Pacific are chosen by the US Navy to be slightly different from the procedures for the geographic conditions of the Atlantic and the Mediterranean. That is the point the report is trying to make. The issue therefore comes when our own naval forces, which train predominantly in the North Atlantic and in the Mediterranean environment, alongside the Americans come across different procedures which the American Navy chooses to use in different environments.

  46. In the Gulf the report tells us, and we all knew anyway because we saw it at the time, that the British soldiers who were killed were killed by the American Air Force. Do the Americans have one set of rules when their troops are on the ground and a different set of rules when our troops are on the ground?
  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) I am not aware of that. We need to try to give you an answer to that question. I do not believe that to be the case, but it is not a question I came briefed for. A factual correction: 15 of our people were killed in the Gulf and nine of them were as a result of friendly fire incidents. I think you are talking about those nine. Perhaps we could give you an answer to that, but I am afraid I do not have that particular answer with me. I very much doubt if they had different procedures applying but I would need to give you a fuller answer.


  47. There is still confusion about this Javelin and Rapier point. Let us get this clear. You would expect that these systems should be able to defend the local environment at the airfield but because of the risk of fratricide they can only defend themselves. Is that a correct way of summing it up?
  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) Yes. You would expect them to be able to defend the airfield and they could do so. An order was given to "wait until you see the whites of their eyes", if I may put it in crude terms, because, since there were no enemy aircraft in the area and we had cleared the skies of them, the aircraft which would be operating were 100 per cent likely to be allied aircraft and therefore the risk that one of those could be shot down was a risk which was not worth taking and a double hold was placed on the use of the system.

  48. If we are to make progress on this, because you are the experts and we are the laymen, could you try to avoid making the fog of war even worse with a fog of jargon. Please keep the answers simple.
  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) That is what I am trying to do.

Mr Williams

  49. No-one should misunderstand the difficulty there is when you are in close combat with different services, possibly in bad visibility, working at close range with high speed aircraft with highly devastating weaponry. I think it would be foolish to pretend, or for anyone to run away with the idea, that you could have bodyless wars; we would all wish we could, but it is not the reality. How far in this respect are the Americans at an advantage in that in any of the joint operations like Kosovo and the Gulf and so on the bulk of the hardware is theirs and they have systems rather than rules for identification. Are they more advanced in the identification process as far as their own troops are concerned, their own assets are concerned than we are?
  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) That calls for a very careful judgement which is very difficult to make. In some areas we seem to have made rather more progress than the Americans, for example in trying to define a battlefield identification system, in others they are further advanced, particularly in their aircraft and naval systems. It is certainly true that the Americans have gone further faster down the digitisation of battlefield systems, the use of high technology to provide a picture of everything that is moving on the battlefield and that means of course that it is less important to have what we call Target ID systems of a classic Identification, Friend or Foe type because you can see everything which is there. They have not gone as far as they want to do and it is still an evolving picture, but it is true that the Americans are leading in this area and we, along with others, are having to follow. That is inevitable when you see the size of the American forces and the sort of money they are spending on their equipment. When it comes down to it, at the moment on the battlefield we are all in the same boat. I think that is a fair judgement. I was wondering whether either of my colleagues has a comment because military judgement matters in this area.

  50. Unless there is anything vital to expand on that I shall move on because of the problems we have with time. In 1992 this Committee recommended that top priority be given to procuring a combat identification system. That was ten years ago. In this report, on page 18, one of the headings is "The Department now has a Policy Paper for Combat Identification" and in a way that sums it up, does it not? Ten years on and in July last year, in 2001, you produced a policy paper, but not much else has been produced. I was staggered when I looked at this organisational diagram showing the framework within which you are trying to devise the appropriate identification policy. Staggeringly confusing as that is, what is even more worrying is that for example in one block it says that for simplification this group is treated as one, although there are six lines of development for each of its six high level goals and so on. It is an unbelievably complex structure. I am not going to challenge whether that is the appropriate one or not, because we could spend all afternoon on it. What worries me is why it is that the NAO is able to tell us that whereas we have produced a policy paper and in terms of the installation of Mode 4 of the Successor Identification, Friend or Foe programme that will not be completed until 2010 in this country, several other NATO nations have had this capability for some years. Why have they had it and we have not?
  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) A lot of issues there. I must say when I prepared for this I wrote down 13 areas where we have had developments since then, so the position is by no means as bleak as you stated. By the way, the organisational diagram looks very complicated to me too. The actual situation is much simpler and it just goes to show what it is like when you start drawing diagrams. We can deal with that point as well. I do have to make some of the basic points I made at the beginning. Firstly, this needs to be seen in the context of improving overall operational effectiveness. By doing that we reduce the risk of casualties in the battlefield, including the risk from friendly fire. An awful lot has gone on in that context. It is fair to say that when we and other nations, the Americans, the Germans, the French, started on this work in attempting to find common solutions to identifying friend and foe, to combat ID solutions in the early 1990s, people thought it was perhaps a matter of getting a piece of technology which would do this, which could then be fielded, the idea of a silver bullet, a particular gizmo which would give us the answer. That proved to be untrue. It proved to be untrue because it was found to be much more complicated than that by everybody and also because the whole evolution of technology moved on and this idea of whole pictures of battlefields emerged, rather than just having IFF systems.

  51. One can understand that there are no quick solutions; I am not challenging that. In NAO terms some of the phraseology in the report is somewhat devastating as far as its value judgement on what you have done or failed to do is concerned. If we look at paragraph 1.8 on page 8 it says "The Department has not assessed the risk of fratricide in joint and coalition operations". In the next paragraph it says, "Since the Gulf War", since our report 10 years ago, "there has been a cultural shift within the Department in that there is more willingness to discuss the subject . . . the . . . doctrine has become more explicit". Then what I think is the devastating final sentence, "Given this, it is surprising that the Department has not conducted more wide-ranging analysis to assess the challenges of Combat Identification in joint and coalition operations". This is an agreed report and there we have this comment that it is surprising that the Department failed to carry out this analysis. Do agree that it is surprising?
  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) If you are asking me personally, I can see that it might seem surprising. It is less surprising than that because the effort which has been put into our operations has been to reduce the number of casualties as a whole and therefore focus has been brought onto this issue of friendly fire which in many ways is a positive thing because it shows that we are moving in the right direction to avoid high casualty rates on the battlefield. The truth of the matter is that we have not found the issue to be as evident in our exercises as one might have expected. We did not find the risk of our own friendly fire casualties in the big exercise we have just done, Saif Sareea II, the huge one we did in Oman. This did not emerge as a significant factor in the exercise, which was interesting but I would not say it was necessarily surprising. We need to do a lot more work on this and we are now going to capture this question of combat ID more effectively in future exercises. The surprising thing is that it has not really emerged as the factor one might have expected in our exercises to date since the mid-1990s when we have been trying to look at this more carefully.

  52. It says in our background briefing that the first step is to identify any lessons from Oman. As far as I can gather, these lessons have not yet been drawn, have they?
  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) We do not have much information from Oman, you are quite right. The main source of information has been from these specific joint exercises with the United States which have been looking very particularly at combat ID. We have been doing that with the Americans since 1995 in the US and these exercises occur every two years and we are evaluating that exercise. This year's is only about to happen so the evaluation will occur after April and we will build up more information that way.

  53. The troops involved in the Oman exercise are the troops who are now out in Afghanistan, or a large proportion of them are.
  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) We do not have that many in Afghanistan. We have an awful lot in Oman.

  54. Or they are about to go there, they are earmarked to go there.
  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) 45 Commando, yes.

  55. The point is made in the Report in paragraph 3.15 that the absence of the Mode 4 capability, what is known as the Identification, Friend or Foe system, has to date had both cost and operational implications for the Department. What have been the cost implications of that?
  (Major General Fulton) The cost implications are reflected in the fact that the Mark 12, Mode 4 IFF was fitted to a number of aircraft and ships in the Gulf War. Under UOR procedures those are fitted quickly and they are fitted from a number of suppliers. We have maintained that equipment in service, but because it comes from a number of different sources, it is inherently more costly to maintain than if we had the economies of scale by fitting a complete programme, which is what we are doing at the moment and referred to in the report as the successor IFF programme which will bring a common standard and a common source of supply for all of the IFF.

  56. In paragraph 1.28 there is an interesting new sign of the times which is the question of litigation. We noted it in relation to the National Health Service. Paragraph 1.28 refers to the effect of fratricide on morale and on combat effectiveness. It says, "Morale could also be affected by the growing influence of litigation whereby the Department could be held legally responsible for any injuries or deaths resulting from incidents of fratricide". Can you give us a bit of background to that?
  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) Yes, I can make some points. Firstly, it is quite right that we have a duty of care, the Department believe that too. We also believe we have taken all reasonable steps to minimise the risk of friendly fire incidents, partly by providing adequate combat ID capabilities, albeit not in the most cost effective way, as the General has said, but also by improving operational effectiveness all round, which itself reduces the risk of fratricide. It is fair to say the Department will stand by its staff for any action which is taken related to their job including incidents of friendly fire. The case I know of so far that is relevant is the case of Mulcahy v MOD in 1996. If it would be helpful I will quote the key bits of the ruling. The key elements of the ruling are that one soldier did not owe to another a duty of care in tort when engaging the enemy in the course of hostilities. Furthermore, no duty on the MOD existed to maintain a safe system of work in battlefield conditions. I take no comfort from those statements because we take our duty of care very seriously and we take all reasonable steps, but as far as I understand it, that is the way the law stands at present.

  57. I am grateful for that because I was going to ask whether any specific cases had been found against you because nothing came to mind.
  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) That is the case I know of.

  58. What still puzzles me in an agreed report is the term ". . . affected by the growing influence of litigation". In what way is the influence growing as far as you, the Ministry of Defence, are concerned? Is it conceivable perhaps that the fear of litigation will produce action where up to now all the Department have produced are policy papers?
  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) That is a great wife-beating question. Firstly, I believe we have been taking a lot of action across a wide front since 1991. Secondly, it is not the risk of litigation that is leading us to go further and do more, it is because we believe this is a way of maintaining and increasing combat effectiveness as well as reducing friendly fire. Thirdly, you are quite right, we are facing an increasingly litigious society in all areas and our claims bills are going up across the public sector as a whole.

  59. Is it a fact that is in your consideration, when you are looking at this area of policy?
  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) No, it is not; not explicitly. I think the report is reflecting the general trend in society as a whole.

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