Select Committee on Public Accounts Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 80-99)



  80. Yes, you are now.
  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) Therefore this issue we are discussing will apply less and less in the future, so it is in the programme. The Rapier system is used in all sorts of different scenarios other than the one we were talking about.

  81. Indeed. I think I have made my point there, that in those scenarios, because it to date does not have that identification system, the updated one, as part of it, it would have increased the risk of killing one's own men. Let me just move on. If we look at page 6 of the report, as part of the action recommended it says "Business Cases for future acquisition programmes", that is programmes like Rapier, like Javelin, like the high velocity missile, "should address Combat Identification implications, where appropriate". What strikes me from what has come out in this report is that they did not. When you were actually putting forward the business case for an acquisition programme for a particular weapon you needed in your arsenal, far from the answer you gave to Mr Rendel, that you have always regarded it as equally important whether this was offensive or whether it was going to protect our own men from friendly fire, you actually did not take that into account and that is why this recommendation is in place, is it not, and you have agreed to it now?
  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) We regularly conduct balance of investment judgements to improve combat effectiveness. We do so across the four main equipment capability areas, whether it is manoeuvre, whether it is strategic deployment, whether it is strike or whether it is information superiority systems. They are the four areas. The cost of specific items for combat ID is built into our considerations and have been at various stages over the years. What we have agreed here is a recommendation which says it should be systematic and we should make a point of saying so every single time we look at a relevant system. I accept that it may not have been and it was not systematic every time. That does not mean to say it was not done in the past, it means we have now accepted a recommendation to do so systematically. That is the change, not that they were not considered before.

  82. Not that this never happened but that it did not always happen and you agree that it now should always happen.
  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) Where it is relevant to the system obviously. Not all systems are involved here. Combat identification is of course spread throughout the budget. It is not something which can just be isolated and how much is spent on this specific issue given separately, because it is also related to systems which provide, as my colleagues have said, situational awareness. We are spending £2 billion on the Bowman system. We have the Astor system which has been mentioned. It is a wide area of cost.

  83. I understand what you are saying but you know as well as I do that I shall run out of time if you keep talking.
  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) I cannot identify a simple strand of funding to encapsulate the total—

  84. Nonetheless the figure which was agreed by you in the report was a figure of £7 million. However, we shall pass onto the next one.
  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) That is just one element.

  85. Commodore, I was extremely impressed by your curriculum vitae: on the Flagship of the NATO Standing Naval Force Atlantic; Naval Attaché in Washington.
  (Commodore Nance) Staff of.

  86. Policy desk officer though; CDS joint policy liaison staff officer for NATO HQ of SACLANT; Director of Joint Warfare. I would have thought that if anybody in the British Armed Forces could have answered Mr Steinberg's question it would have had to have been you. When he asked it you did not answer it. You looked to the Seventh Cavalry to come in, to Sir Kevin, and he came in and he obfuscated. He said he was not sure he could give an answer to that. Let me put it to you and let me see whether you can give me an absolutely straight answer. Are you aware whether the US has a different set of rules when their forces are on the ground and when our forces are on the ground? I think that was the question Mr Steinberg asked. Are you aware whether there is a different set of rules which is brought into play.
  (Commodore Nance) May I answer the two questions you raise? I looked to the Permanent Under-Secretary because I am here supporting him and I understand the questions from the Committee are directed to him. That is why I did so. The second point is no, I am not aware of any difference in the way that the US behaves towards engaging targets on the ground, in the way that they identify. They seek to identify their targets before they engage. I am no expert on American procedures and if I seem to be prevaricating to the Committee I apologise, but I am not an expert in American air-to-ground engagement procedures which was the cause of the question. I am as certain as I can be from my own operational experience that when each of the environments inside joint warfare sets up an identification procedure, then it uses it all the time, regardless of the nationality of the target it is attempting to identify. There is not enough time to do anything else.

  87. Thank you. You have given me a very candid answer. Let me press it a little bit more closely. You said once they had set up the procedure they are going to operate, they then do not vary from that. Of course that does admit of a possibility that they would set up a different procedure if they knew at the beginning that only troops of a particular nationality were going to be on the ground. I just want to be absolutely clear. You have given me a very straight answer, but I do want to be clear that I am not allowing something to slip through the crack in the door there.
  (Commodore Nance) May I help with two examples from the Gulf War in which I served? The first is a ground example. I was not in the ground combat but there were T72 tanks on both sides because the Iraqis had T72 tanks and the Syrians had T72 tanks on the coalition side. This creates a need for very careful identification procedures in tiny periods of time. The second example is a maritime one on which I am arguably on firmer ground, if I can be not accused of mixing metaphors. The issue there was that during the occupation of Kuwait the Iraqis captured a number of Kuwaiti fast attack craft of a certain class, but not all of them. The Kuwaiti Navy wished to be engaged in a war of liberation by using their own fast attack craft, despite the fact that they were identical in almost every way to the ones which had been captured and were being used. Therefore, to answer your question, under those circumstances at the beginning of a campaign a commander and all the commanders in the battle space will do their best to set up the tactics, techniques and procedures which are necessary to be used in the specific circumstances in which they are, to be able to tell the difference between a Syrian T72 tank and an Iraqi T72 tank, to be able to tell the difference between a Kuwaiti operated fast attack craft and an Iraqi operated fast attack craft of exactly the same class. I hope that answers the question.

  88. I think what you are indicating to me is that different rules of engagement can be decided upon depending on the nature of the forces on the ground. Can I just be absolutely clear because I do appreciate your directness in answering the question so I do want to be clear on this? You referred to "weapons hold" and the definition of "weapons hold". As a rule of engagement that only allows personnel handling weapons to fire if they feel they are under direct threat. It would be possible therefore, and you have given us instances, for a system to be put on "weapons hold" because of the different nature of the friendly forces which were on the ground. So, for example, if American forces were on the ground it could be that rules of engagement said "weapons hold" but that where Kuwaiti forces were on the ground or UK forces were on the ground, no instructions for "weapons hold" were given. Is that correct?
  (Commodore Nance) I am going to have to divert slightly from answering your question directly and I apologise. It reinforces the point the Permanent Under-Secretary made. These are dynamic. There are other weapon orders other than the one that occurs here. In my own experience in the Gulf War, where we also had air superiority, I had a medium-range surface-to-air missile system, SeaDart which was put under even tighter weapon restrictions than these for periods of time when the overall appreciation of the battle space was that there was no threat and that when threats materialised—and this is the point the Permanent Under-Secretary has made—then different instructions can be given because the circumstance is dynamic. I hope that helps answer and understand the situation.

  89. I think we have probably gone as far down this road as we can. Could I ask you to prepare a note for the Committee to clarify the questions that Mr Steinberg and I have asked with specific relation to whether separate procedures are set up, separate engagement rules are set up depending on the type of force that is going to be on the ground?
  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) I do not want to be accused of obfuscation again but I have to say you are dealing with dynamic military situations and there will be many more variables than just that. That is the problem and I fear the answer will be that it depends on the circumstances and we could only give you illustrative scenarios, possibly taken from real events.

  90. I am asking about a possibility though. I am not asking you to set out all the different scenarios. What I am asking you to give us an assurance on is that British troops in combat in conjunction with other allied forces are not incurring a greater risk of being fired upon by allied forces than those allies would have risked firing on their own troops. That is the essential point and this Committee would ask you for a categoric assurance that that would not be the case.
  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) I am sure that is the case. When allies are on the ground, you are more constrained than would be the case otherwise and one of the added complications in answering your question will be that much will also depend on whether in these circumstances, depending on the order that is given, you are exposed to greater danger from enemy forces. I have to come back to this thing. The idea is not to get killed by the enemy. You are supposed to be winning the battle against them and you have to feed that into these judgements at every stage. [5]

Geraint Davies

  91. Do you have combat identification systems which identify which members of the Committee are friends or foes?
  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) My task has always been to try to help the Committee, which I greatly respect. If I have not done so, I apologise.

  92. That was only a joke to ease the tension.
  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) If I am going to be accused of a straight bat I will carry on.

  93. Mr Gardiner mentioned that the Department spent some £7 million over the last 10 years on research into land-based combat identification solutions. I understand that in addition to that the Department currently spend £398 million on combat identification specific equipment. In other words, you spent £7 million on research over 10 years and I am not sure over what time period the £398 million is. Does the C&AG know that?
  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) There are lots of different elements of expenditure here which are in danger of being conflated.

  94. All I was going to ask was whether you felt that £7 million over 10 years, which does not seem very great, was enough investment in research to then invest £400 million on the actual kit.
  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) The issues are not linked like that.

  95. Is the £400 million over 10 years as well?
  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) Let me first just say that there is a £396 million programme to equip 38 platform types with the SIFF programme which is going on from 2003 to 2008 with a main contract to Raytheon. That is a very large programme but one element of all of this. The £7 million is a different £7 million which is to do with research into the ground-to-ground battlefield issue.

  96. The point I am trying to make is that if you are simply spending £7 million on the research when you are spending £400 million or more on the actual kit as against systems such a Rapier costing £2 billion in the case of the more global budget's multi-billion pounds it seems to me that your ratios in terms of investment on research are very low and you might end up spending enormous amounts of money on kit which would be much better if you simply, for instance, doubled the amount of money on research which would be just nothing to your budget. Are you confident you are spending enough on research as opposed to just spending it on kit as the MOD tend to do anyway?
  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) I am never confident we are spending enough on research, though I must say I am more concerned to make sure we use our research budget in a targeted way. Let me be very precise on this. The £7 million is about research into this ground battlefield problem which has got many different dimensions. The £396 million for SIFF programme is largely about aircraft and ships and is not directly related to—

  97. No, I understand that. I linked the wrong numbers. The basic point is that you spend a very small amount of money on research and then spend very significant amounts of money on the kit and much much more money overall. Would it not be sensible to suggest that you multiply the amount of money on research without any real impact on your overall budget to get better efficiency on your ID to save lives?
  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) You are just looking at one aspect. Let me refer to another aspect called ASTRID, Airborne System for Target Recognition, Identification and Designation. This is another new programme coming up for automatic search, detection and ID of targets. It will be over a greater distance than the existing system we have. We do have a system at the moment. It is in a concept phase right now. We are spending £91 million on that concept phase. [6]

  98. On the research.
  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) The concept work. When it comes into production, which will be later in the decade, it will not only give us target identification, but it will help with laser weapons and GPS weapons.

  99. Excellent news.
  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) In other words, there are several elements here, not just the £7 million.

5   Note by witness: We have always worked very closely with the US, but since 11th September we have been working even closer and have and have had almost unprecedented access to US procedures. The US does not discriminate between US and other Coalition forces in its Combat identification procedures. Our troops are therefore at no greater risk than US troops. Even if the US wished to discriminate between US and other Coalition forces, which it does not, it could not introduce two or more sets of procedures without increasing the chance overall of an error and increasing the risk to all Coalition forces. Back

6   Note by witness: When the programme began in 2001, £91 million was allocated to cover the Concept Phase through to integration into service of up to 40 systems from 2010. The current forecast is £97 million. Back

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