Select Committee on Public Accounts Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60-79)



Mr Rendel

  60. I very much appreciated your line just now—I am not sure whether it was intentional—that on the battlefield we are all in the same boat. It struck me as a nice way of mixing your metaphors. I hope it was intentional, but it may not have been.
  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) It was not intentional; it was completely disingenuous.

  61. It was a good line anyway. I am not quite clear and just want to make it absolutely clear whether what you are saying to us is that however a casualty is created, whether by fraternal forces or by the enemy, it is just as much of a problem to you and that therefore you would want to put precisely equal weight on doing whatever you could to avoid any form of casualty whatever the source of the original weapon.
  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) I did not say it was exactly equal weight. I did say that the policy is to achieve military objectives with the minimum casualties from whatever reason and that the policies we are pursuing are ones designed to do that by increased operational effectiveness with longer range systems, with greater precision at longer range and greater agility as a result of better communications and things like that, and that all of these policies together helped to reduce the risk of casualties and thereby own goals, to come back to these dangerous metaphors. I did not say they were equal value. There is a very high importance attached to minimising casualties from friendly fire.

  62. Are you saying that you would put more effort then into reducing casualties from friendly fire than you would put into reducing casualties from the enemy?
  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) No, I do not think that would be right. The objective is to secure the military objective, preferably with minimum casualties, but it has to be a military objective. There is no point going into battle if we are not prepared to have some casualties but minimising casualties is an objective. I am not quite sure where your question is leading. I am finding it difficult to help you.

  63. We are talking here about trying to reduce casualties from friendly fire and the ways of doing that. Obviously to do that you have to spend some money, you have procedures, you have a policy paper, you are trying to expend resources in order to minimise casualties from friendly fire. You are also spending other bits of money to try to minimise casualties from the enemy. What I am trying to ask you, and I am not clear from your answer, is whether these two are of exactly equal value to you or you feel that there is some sense in trying to put more money per casualty saved into trying to save friendly fire casualties as opposed to enemy casualties?
  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) The reason I am having difficulty in answering your question is because you seem to pose a tension, a trade-off, between minimising casualties through friendly fire and minimising casualties as a whole. There is no trade-off; they are part of the same process. That is what operational effectiveness, military effectiveness, is. It is achieving objectives with the lowest level of casualties all round. I see it as part of the same process.

  64. If that is your only objective, what you are actually saying is that you want to put equal effort into both.
  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) I am saying they are the same.

  65. It is the absolute overall level which is important and therefore, as I understand you now, what you are saying is that you are just as keen to spend one pound on reducing one casualty caused by friendly fire as you are to do that with a casualty caused by enemy fire and vice-versa. It is exactly equal: you are just trying to reduce the casualties overall as one picture.
  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) It is still not quite right because in our balance of investment we do not see them as separate blocks. They are both contributing towards the same objective.

  66. But they are separate blocks. Here you are spending money which is specifically to reduce casualties from friendly fire.
  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) No, we are spending money in order to improve combat identification, which is hitting the enemy. Situational awareness is about knowing where everything is on the battlefield so you strike the enemy and do not strike yourselves.

  67. You are saying that none of this is aimed at reducing the number of casualties we incur as a result of our own friendly fire.
  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) No, I am not saying that at all. I am saying that a pound spent is achieving both things.

  68. I do not think I am going to get any further with this line of questioning unfortunately. I feel very unsatisfied with the answer but I would rather move on to other things. What thought has been given to the need to identify not just which are our own troops and which are enemy troops, but also amongst those who are not our own troops which are civilians and which are enemy troops?
  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) To go back to the very simple point, combat identification has three elements: the identifying friend and foe, make sure we know it is not one of our own, however there is an ambiguity as to whether it could be a tractor as opposed to a tank and clearly it would be deeply preferable to engage a tank rather than a tractor. That is why situational awareness is also important because it gives you a picture of what is going on which can help you do that as well. Also some of the new modifications which we are bringing in under this Successor Identification, Friend or Foe programme, which is beginning this year and will go on to 2007, will also include an element which enables one to establish in the air environment whether it is a civilian aircraft, which obviously is a very important aspect of this. The programmes we have in place will increasingly help us not just to identify whether it is a friendly platform or false element but also whether it is a civilian target or enemy forces. [3]

  69. That sounds like a slightly nebulous way of saying you are putting some effort into working out whether it is civilian or forces.
  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) Yes; indeed.

  70. But you have no further detail for me as to the level.
  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) Yes, there are more details. There is an element of the Successor Identification, Friend or Foe plan which will automatically do that.
  (Major General Fulton) May I give you two examples? The Bowman programme, of which I am proud because it will deliver, will be very important in this area. What Bowman will give us is situational awareness in that we shall be able to track all of the blue forces on the battlefield and therefore we shall be able to tell where any of the 20,000 vehicles equipped with Bowman or the 45,000 radios are on the battlefield. There will be a picture of our blue force. But you are right, what that will not do is tell us whether something we detect on the battlefield which is not one of those is either opposition or neutral. Another programme is a programme called the airborne stand-off radar programme which is coming into service in 2005 which will give us a radar picture of the battlefield but through two sorts of radar, a moving target indicator and a synthetic aperture radar. The combination of those two will give us a picture of what is going on on the battlefield and in particular will, for example, give tracks of what a vehicle is doing on the battlefield. This is where tactics, techniques and procedures come in because this is why you have to combine the two. From the pattern of behaviour of that track you would determine whether it was likely to be hostile or neutral but once again you still have to make a judgement. It is a combination of the ability to identify positively, work out those other tracks and then use other sources in order to determine the likelihood of it being hostile or neutral. The real trick and where the Americans are going and we are intending to go as well, is to bring this together because the more you can synthesise tracks or data from multiple sources the better the picture you can build and thereby the better judgement you can make on what it actually is and under certain circumstances it will give you enough detail to positively identify the difference between the tractor and the tank.

  71. What you seem to be saying to us is that you are going to try to identify the difference between a civilian and a military target on the basis of what it is doing and how it is moving around. Are you not looking at any potential systems which could enable you to identify whether the target is carrying any form of weapon, which I would have thought is the obvious way in which you might identify somebody who was taking part in the combat.
  (Major General Fulton) It depends whether we are talking about a target which is close enough to identify a person with a weapon or whether we are talking about a fast-moving target such as an aircraft or a vehicle. They all present unique problems. Clearly for some time now we have been engaged in peace support or low intensity operations where from day to day soldiers have to make exactly that sort of decision. If, however, you come onto the battlefield it becomes much more difficult because this target we are trying to engage at range, and on occasions in the case of the airborne stand-off radar we are talking about 150 miles, this therefore becomes very much more difficult, but it is at that range that we are increasingly having to make those sorts of decisions against technically capable enemies. Where do we go from there? We cannot do it at the moment at that range and we cannot necessarily identify whether it is carrying a weapon. What we are trying to do through the research programme—and we have a number of programmes which are looking at non-cooperative target identification—is to look at the sort of signatures that either the radar on that aeroplane might have, its engine characteristics, those sorts of things which, set against a databank, would then enable us to assess whether that was a hostile target or not, but we are not at that stage yet.

  72. What efforts are being made to make our troops more easily identifiable? You talked about Bowman and I quite understand that is part of it, but obviously not everybody is going to have a Bowman system. I am thinking particularly perhaps of where we have special forces involved who may be some way away from the rest of our troops and may have to be fairly careful about use of things like the radio systems and so on. How can we make those more easily identifiable so that if we have special forces operating to some extent behind enemy lines or amongst the enemy we can identify how not to bomb them or fire whatever weapons we have against them?
  (Major General Fulton) There you have a special set of circumstances and that is when you would have to use tactics, techniques and procedures to identify. The chances are that the bombing which was likely to be done would have been called in as part of that operation and therefore might well have been called in by those special forces themselves and therefore the mission would be under their control. Once again we think there is probably more technically in the future that you can do. There are programmes which we conduct with our allies to see what more we can do.
  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) There is obviously a real issue here as of today. We have taken great care in the deployment that the Government announced in Afghanistan which is just about to happen which will involve 45 Commando to minimise the risk of those sorts of issues you have raised by a very careful dialogue with the United States on tactics, procedures, training, involving liaison at all sorts of levels throughout the two nations' command chains, involving definitions of areas of operational activity, involving how things like the GPS system will be employed. There is a whole range of very detailed and very specific procedures which come into play in those sorts of circumstances. I will not go further than that for obvious reasons but I wanted to assure the Committee that there was a very thorough process underway in relation to the deployment in Afghanistan.

  73. The one worry I have with a number of the responses you have given so far today is that there does not seem at present to be a very clear identification of the concerns I have and a number of civilians in this country have of the difficulty in fighting a modern war in terms of the morale of the people back home and indeed of the troops on the ground. This was in a sense what I was getting at in my original questions about whether there is a greater degree of urgency to try to avoid deaths by or indeed injury by one's own forces and whether there are things you could do to identify our own forces more carefully and indeed whether there are things you can do to identify civilians in the enemy from forces in the enemy, all of which are things which can have a very major effect on the morale both of the forces and of the people back home and which could make very considerable difference. Therefore there is a sense in which it seems to me you have not, from your answers so far, properly identified the need to give that extra concentration on some of these more psychological aspects of warfare than the actual straightforward—and I can understand military people thinking this way to some extent—question of minimising casualties as a whole, particularly in our own forces. I can understand the need for that, but that seems to me to reduce below its real importance the psychological part of it.
  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) I must say I am very concerned by what you say because nothing could be further from the truth in terms of what we are doing and I am sure the Committee is not implying that we are not concerned for the morale of our troops that we are about to send into an operational situation. I come back to the point I made. What we are doing to minimise casualties in general is also minimising casualties from the risk of friendly fire, it is the same objective. In terms of the very detailed operational methods which are involved, yes, indeed, there are very many things which are done and will be done to minimise those risks of mistaken identity involving a whole host of very small practical measures which I do not want to get into but I have talked about command liaison, I have talked about officers in each other's command chains knowing exactly where people are. I talked about communications, using GPS systems and the way in which people have areas of operation. There is a huge amount of work which goes on and is going on which is not necessarily related to very high tech capability other than GPS but which makes a huge difference in terms of operational confidence.
  (Commodore Nance) The issue of situational awareness needs to be understood. There is a limited amount of time for any individual operator inside the battle space—and it goes back to your question also, to spend time looking at and trying to identify targets in a very high tempo battle space which is the picture that the Permanent Under-Secretary painted at the beginning. If we can focus that time by knowing where our own forces are through better situational awareness, everybody benefits. Our own forces benefit because we can trust to a very high degree of confidence the identity that is being represented through the Bowman system, the civilians benefit because more time can be dedicated to telling the difference between them and the enemy and our own forces benefit because more time can be spent involving themselves in the tactics which ensure their own survival, not only from enemy fire but also they know where their friends are and can therefore see whether they are likely to be misunderstood as being potential enemy targets reducing the risk of fratricide at the same time. In trying to present to the Committee with all honesty the situational awareness benefits all those three things apply and that allows our troops to concentrate more on their own survival, reducing the risk of fratricide, the survival of civilians in the battle space, which gets back to one of your questions, and also on making sure that they achieve the objective in the fastest way possible, thereby unhinging the enemy. It is one of the reasons why I agree firmly with what the Permanent Under-Secretary has said about wanting to maximise tempo so we can use our time much more effectively in the battle space and also support fully time much more effectively in the battle space and also support fully General Fulton's comment that we are proud of the Bowman system because it will help us do all of those things.

Mr Gardiner

  74. May I just say I have admired your straight bat today? Let me see if I can hurl a few balls which may get round it. How much did the Rapier system cost?
  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) I do not think I have the figure here.

  75. More than £10 million?
  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) Much more than £10 million.

  76. Is £2 billion more the sort of ballpark?
  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) That is the sort of ballpark because there are a many Rapier systems.

  77. I have been fascinated to listen today to the military details and the scenarios on the battlefield but I take a very old fashioned view about these things. I think that is a matter for the Defence Select Committee. Our job here as the Committee of Public Accounts, as you will appreciate, is to look at cost effectiveness, value for money. What I want to know is how it can be that you create a £2 billion system, that you reduce by 75 per cent its effectiveness and all you spend to sort that out is £7 million in 10 years? That strikes me in terms of cost effectiveness as absolutely staggeringly incompetent.
  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) The answer is that the Rapier system obviously is deployed in all sorts of different scenarios and different situations. You are talking about one particular incident in Kosovo when a judgement was made that it was not necessary to put the system on free fire because the air was clear.

  78. I do not want to go back over that.
  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) But it is important, because you are making a generalisation about the utility of a complete weapons system based on one tiny specific operational situation in Kosovo. The Rapier system is used in many more situations. [4]

  79. The reason that systems was put on "weapons hold", was it not, was because to have used it in that context—and you could have used it, as you explained to the Committee earlier; you could have used it even had there been enemy planes up there, you could have used that but the risk had become too great . . . The point is yes, you could have used it, but because you did not have the systems of identification in place in that whole Rapier system, if you had used it in that scenario there would have been a far greater risk of killing some of our own service personnel. What that means is that to operate that system in precisely the scenarios you are talking about, the battlefield scenarios you are talking about, not the ones in Kosovo, would have been to increase the risk of killing our own personnel. It seems to me that if you seriously think that it is only worth spending £7 million in 10 years to make a system that cost £2 billion more effective, in stopping it killing our own men, I think that is a very, very bad way to spend the Department's money, do you not?
  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) If that were the case it would be, but it is not the case and so it is not an accurate equation, if I may say so. We are indeed equipping our ground based air defence systems with the capability to identify friend and foe.

3   Note by witness: The Successor Identification, Friend or Foe (SIFF) programme is expected to continue until 2008. Back

4   Note by witness: For the avoidance of any misunderstanding, Rapier was not deployed in Kosovo. The C&AG's Report makes clear in paragraph 1.27 that: "The High Velocity Missile and the Javelin ground-based air defence systems were deployed in Kosovo in 1999."  Back

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