Examination of Witnesses (Questions 40
WEDNESDAY 16 OCTOBER 2002
WEBB CBE, MR
40. Thirty-one with Nottingham now, yes.
Is it still 32 or 31? Would you put your reputation on 32, Mr
Webb? Mr Mann is dying to get in. Mr Mann, would you stake your
reputation on the fact that by the time you retire from the Ministry
of Defence that at least 32 will survive?
(Mr Webb) As ever, I cannot improve on what my Secretary
of State has said, so I read it out from a letter dated 11 October.
"The New Chapter made clear the Strategic Defence Review
provided a firm foundation on which to build in our response to
the challenges we now face after 11 September. At the same time
the additional resources made available in the Spending Review
provided a mandate for accelerating the modernisation and evolution
of the armed forces and for investing in new technologies. As
I said in my speech on the New Chapter, this also means being
prepared to take a hard look at other areas which no longer add
capability in the way they once did and to prioritise in favour
of critical capabilities".
41. What does that mean? Are we going to keep
32 frigates and destroyers? Mr Mann?
(Mr Mann) I am smiling, Mr George, because I recall
about ten years ago witnesses in front of the predecessor Committee
to this one argued about phrases like "about 35", "35"
and so on.
42. "About 50", I can recall.
(Mr Mann) Yes, I remember that too. If I can just
describe the process which may help put your mind at rest, the
process we undertake and we do it routinely inside the Department
and we did it in a rather more structured fashion in the Strategic
Defence Review, is to start with the strategic context to look
at the world we are moving into and the sorts of missions the
armed forces might be undertaking and then, if I can simplify
and slightly parody it, to get together a group of military commanders
and say, "That is the mission you are going on; there are
the planning parameters; now tell us the force packages you would
like to achieve the following military effects." Out of that,
when it is conducted 10, 20, 30 times, you will get a set of force
packages to undertake a very broad range of missions, and you
can put that into a scatter diagram. You can deduce those capabilities
which you are always going to draw on and those which are unique
to individual types of operation. From all of that you can then
say, "Well, to achieve that military effect I need the following
numbers of infantry battalions, or frigates, or aircraft carriers
or combat aircraft"or whatever. That is essentially
the process we went through in the Strategic Defence Review in
a very full fashion. It starts from a foreign policy context:
it has, I would like, to think an intellectual logic to it: there
is no particular horse trading, compromise or whatever at the
end of it: clearly we have to make sure
43. Did I hear that correctly? Will you repeat
(Mr Mann) I will repeat that. That process starts
from a foreign policy context
44. No. The bit about horse trading.
(Mr Mann) It has an intellectual trail and we have
adopted much the same intellectual trail in the context of the
New Chapter work. At the end of it there is an intellectual foundation
on which to build: it is not a simple game of saying, "I
will trade you two frigates for an aircraft carrier, or an aircraft
carrier for another set of combat aircraft", or whatever.
That is not the nature of the game.
Chairman: We have to move on. Mr Mann,
we will go through the report and, when we talked to our naval
chiefs and we asked what the horse trading was, they were pretty
honest with us and I could not see anything in what they said
that there would be any diminution in the size of the surface
fleet as the price to be paid for the two new aircraft carriers.
Now, we may well revisit our 1985 inquiry into the size and shape
of the surface fleet but before this session ends I will read
the letter from the Ministry of Defence showing the commitment
we have to NATO of 32 frigates and destroyers, and I am merely
seeking to elicit from you that that letter sent to me a couple
of weeks ago is still valid and, in this debate you had over the
New Chapter, whether the Treasury signed up to that policy to
which we are committed to date of 32 frigates and destroyers.
You know exactly what I mean. There are reports in the press,
and I do not believe all I read in the press but every now and
again they get it right, and if the price to be paid for two new
aircraft carriers is the selling off to whoever of one third of
our surface fleet then I do not think this Committee is going
to take that horse trading with any enthusiasm whatsoever. So
I will find the letter and I will read it out and you can tell
me and Mr Webb can telephone his masters if he wishes to see if
that letter is still government policy and will remain government
45. Quickly on that, when we had the Secretary
of State before us earlier this year when we were talking about
the New Chapter, and I cannot exactly remember word for word but
a question I asked was "What would be up for review?",
and his reply was quite sweepingthat everything would be
up for review in terms of this review and this New Chapter, including
commitments to different parts of deployments, etc. I note the
point you make, Mr Webb or Mr Mann, made about reducing commitments
against the former Soviet Union and Russia, but what else has
changed, or is it just a matter of you having been docked more
money from the Treasury so you are sucking that into the system,
or are there going to be some major changes as a result of this
Chapter which are going to bring about changes in force structure
and changes, for example, like the Chairman has already outlined?
The Secretary of State was quite clear that this was going to
be a new look at everything, and it appears to me that that has
(Mr Webb) I think we laid out in the New Chapter some
of the capabilities which were relevant to the specific challenges
of asymmetric warfare, particularly terrorism. I think what Mr
Hoon was saying was really exactly what I have just read out which
he has written more recently which is to say that, while looking
at the additional resources, and let us be clear we are talking
about an environment in which we are getting extra resources for
46. That does not mean you cannot spend the
ones you have more efficiently.
(Mr Webb) Exactly, and I think that is exactly the
point he was makingthat it provides a mandate for accelerating
the modernisation and the evolution of the armed forces, and it
does mean being prepared to take a hard look at other areas which
no longer add capability in the way they once did, and I gave
an illustration of that in relation to Russia. Things have moved
on a great deal in relations with Russia, culminating in the Russia
NATO Council which was established earlier this year.
47. Can I give an example of the Falkland Islands?
I said, "Would that be part of this general review?"
"Oh, yes; nothing is outside this review". So what is
happening in terms of looking at the Falkland Islands? Was that
considered to be reducing
(Mr Webb) We did look briefly at all the dependent
territories in relation to the international terrorism issue.
I do not recall that Falkland Islands were seen as being a major
increased risk from international terrorism.
48. That was not the point I was making but
in terms of resource equipment to things, for example, like the
Falkland Islands, to the Secretary of State
(Mr Webb) All I am saying is we did not look at that
as part of the New Chapter. There is further work to come and
I cannot speculate about that.
49. So basically you are trying to screw more
money out of the Treasury rather than look efficiently at what
you are actually spending?
(Mr Webb) Well, the immediate exercise we were doing
I would not characterise quite like that, but to make sure in
the government processes the Ministry of Defence's needs were
properly articulated. Is that the same sort of thing?
Chairman: Far more nicely said! Kevan,
we have a little section on equipment and infrastructure programmes
so what we have just been talking about shades easily into that.
50. Mr Webb, part of the New Chapter is obviously
about changes to the force structure but also equipment, and you
have already mentioned the concentration in terms of network centric
capacity. I have a couple of questions in terms of UAVs, which
is a key part of that strategy. What lessons have been learned
from the war in Afghanistan on the use of UAVs, not just in terms
of gathering intelligence but also I think the Americans are using
them in terms of fleeting targets and identifying possible targets.
Also we would be interested to know your views in terms of what
is the next step in UAVs in terms of arming them, or what has
been used in terms of Hellfire missiles, and how you see that
fitting into how capacity for this type of equipment would be
going in the future?
(Mr Webb) I will let General Fulton talk about this
in detail but my sense is that UAVs have come of age; they have
now moved on from being something which was not a completely integral
part of the force structure to being now able to offer that, and
certainly the intelligence that you can get from them and, as
you say, the ability to carry weapons are all things we need now
to look carefully at.
(Major General Fulton) I think we would certainly
agree with your assessment of UAVs. As to what we learned, I think
it has been encapsulated: the ability for a long endurance observation
platform to study an area, to detect changes in that area in a
way that manned systems cannot, to go into areas where we might
be reluctant to send manned aircraftthese are all well
documented and clearly we have picked up those lessons. We have
our own UAV programme which you may want to talk about in more
detail and what we have sought to do is bring that forward so
that we can make the Watchkeeper available to the front line forces
sooner than it looked as though we were going to be able to before.
51. On that, where are we at with the selection
of the two consortia?
(Major General Fulton) We are due to down-select from
four to two to carry out the assessment phase and that announcement
is due any day now. So we wish to get Watchkeeper into service
because I think even what we have learned from our own Phoenix
programme, originally procured as an artillery spotting device,
clearly has proved itself very useful in Bosnia in terms of gathering
information. Although countries have had UAVs in some form or
other for a long time, we want to develop our own programme and
bring those in. You also referred to the prospect of other roles
for UAVs, such as the armour, so what we also seek to do in addition
to the well-established programme is to look beyond that and we
are establishing, as has been announced by the Secretary of State,
a joint UAV experimental unit which will look at how we can take
that develop forward, because clearly that is important. So Watchkeeper
is very important for us; we want to get it in as quickly as possible;
but we also want to play our part in understanding where we can
go further from there.
52. It is such an important piece of the New
Chapter, has not consideration been given to off-the-shelf items
which are already there being tried and tested?
(Major General Fulton) Watchkeeper will, in fact,
in the sense that you describe it, be buying off-the-shelf in
that we will not be building a new air vehicle. Air vehicle technology
Mr Webb described as having come of ageI think it still
has further development to go but nevertheless the technology
is there today and the air platforms which are being offered by
the four consortia are there on the shelf. The issue is really
not so much the air vehicle. The importance of the air vehicle,
and in a sense I think picking up your earlier point, is that
what we learned about UAVs in Afghanistan was that the bit you
cannot see is important. The clever bit was not so much having
an unmanned air vehicle circling high over Afghanistan but it
was the ability to take the product of that and deliver it to
the right place at the right time in sufficient quality that a
decision-maker could take a decision to engage or not and then
that decision could be passed back either to the UAV itself or
to another circling aeroplane or other weapons system. So the
key we think to UAVs is not what you have but what you do with
it, and the clever bit of Watchkeeper will to be make sure that
the information it gathers will be delivered to the commander
in as close to real time as we can do it, and it can be compared
with other information gathered from other sources so we can build
up a picture of the battle field.
53. I am very interested in the last point actually
because it is a concern of mine. I can see the great advantage
of UAVs but certainly, post the publication of the Chapter in
terms of this use of the new technology, I am a little bit concerned,
and I think some others are as well. I saw, for example, a demonstration
by BAE Systems at the Labour Party conference where it seems that
somehow you are going to take the person out of this in some way
and that somehow you will be able to fight a war, for example,
from a comfortable armchair in Florida rather than in the battle
field. I am quite reassured about the point you make about the
human element of this. Do you think it is important to try and
emphasise that in the sense that this is not going to be seen
a little bit like, for example, in the media at the end of the
Gulf War, that this was something people had nothing to do with
and it was just sitting in front of a television screen?
(Mr Webb) In conceptual terms you are on to a terribly
important point. The question is how to ensure that you have within
this what we sometimes call "detect, decide, destroy"
sequence, the correct decision-making by an individual and at
the right level. There is a need for political control over military
operations to be reconciled with the practicalities of acting
sufficiently quickly and in particular, if you get as something
you yourself mentioned earlier on, the fleeting opportunity. We
need to get that right but the way, in my view, is to have delegation
to properly trained people who are able to make judgments with
sufficient breadth, to have direct political involvement in the
really big and difficult cases, and to have some understanding
that you are balancing off quality and speed while still maintaining
very high standards, because what we are not talking about here
is indiscriminate use of force so we have to get these things
balanced out. That is part of the further work we are doing. But
the good news is that these networks give the decision-makers
better information probably than they have ever had before, so
you do not just see the vehicle or whatever it is that comes up
as a potential target but you also have a chance to see the broader
scene, the context, to look and to check and so on. So there is
a plus point about the quality of decision-making as well as a
bit of an opportunity.
54. I accept that, Mr Webb, but the concern
I have, certainly in terms of the way the whole network centric
capacity has been spun out, is that somehow the human being has
been taken out of it and I think it would be a good exercise for
the MoD to keep emphasising that factthat it is not about
to take away the ability of the commander on the field to take
the decision, or politicians. Certainly some of the issues on
Afghanistan, for example, of the misguided firing on wedding parties
and other things, so I think in this entire debate that we are
going to have, clearly, and it is going to lead to a lot of good
intelligence in terms of fighting battles, we need to re-emphasise
and keep re-emphasising the role of the individuals.
(Mr Webb) Yes.
55. To add to that, the Americans are pouring
an enormous amount of resources into UAV technology and the sensor-to-shooter,
reducing the time between seeing and delivering a missile. Are
we assured that our choice of consortia for this weapons system
is going to be as good as the Americans or are they always going
to have an edge, because their communication process of identification
and killing is far quicker and less ethical than ours would appear
to be. The British way of doing things tends to be a little bit
slower and more accurate, and I am worried that we might have
a weapons system which might well be more proper but not as efficient
and as useful as a killing machine.
(Mr Webb) Rob can talk about the technical side but
I want to come back at you about the way we conduct operations
because I do not think you are quite right on that.
(Major General Fulton) The sequence as far as we are
concerned very clearly includes a decision-maker, a commander,
so the phrase which we adopted, "detect, decide, destroy",
has that in, sensor, decision-maker, shooter is a very important
part of it, rules of engagement or the ability of the commander
to decide, in circumstances which as far as the New Chapter is
concerned will provide not only more fleeting targets but also
targets in much more difficult circumstances as Mr Jones has alluded
to. So we are very clear that the Watchkeeper programme is a programme
about giving the best possible information and Watchkeeper is
all about the gathering of information. There is not an armed
UAV component in it. It is all about gathering information and
providing the best possible information to the commander, and
the complexity of the system is determining who that commander
is, and clearly that will need to be flexible because the circumstances
will be different, but making sure the right commander has the
right information and in such a form in which he can make a decision
and not just be swamped with a tidal wave of useless information.
56. Thank you. Whenever UAVs are mentioned I
start to get a little bit nervous having lived through the catastrophe
of Phoenix. I am sure some of my colleagues had not left school
when the MoD first thought of something like Phoenix and it is
only now working effectively. You said, General, that we had learned
some lessons from Phoenix. The lesson I learned is that, firstly,
we are not very good at making the UAVs and, secondly, not very
good at monitoring the programmes, which were failing miserably.
When can the military expect realistically a system that will
function effectively? Can you give us some idea, because really
we need something like this now. Are we going to have to wait
three, five, ten years? Whoever wins, when will they have to deliver?
(Major General Fulton) The current date is 2007 for
delivery of Watchkeeper. As was announced when the New Chapter
was announced, we are seeking to bring that forward and working
with the consortia to bring that forward to 2005. 2005 would be
the in-service date for the first elements of Watchkeepera
system, not just the air vehicles but a system. Clearly as part
of that we could expect to see trials versions and so on and so
forth in the hands of front line troops, say, a year before that.
We are aiming at 2005 with a reasonable expectation that we will
be able to achieve it.
57. And which consortia have systems working
at the moment?
(Major General Fulton) All four consortia have air
vehicles that are flying and working at the moment.
58. I want to pursue this because at the very
interesting conference we had on Monday, Sir Jock Stirrup was
making it clear that the MoD is now looking to accelerate the
process of smart acquisition to make it even smarter and more
flexible and quicker. I do not understand why on this programme
we are still talking about even 2005, given that all the contenders
have got platforms. I accept that it is not simply a question
of platform but systems, application, integration, the key being
as you said, General, what you do with the information. But then
I heard you say at the outset, "We want to develop our own
programme". Is this another case of the MoD having potential
off-the-shelf options, not just platforms but systems as well,
and saying, "We do not want any of those; we want to do our
own discrete operation". Result: our troops get something
that enters service after everybody else has got theirs and by
the time they get it the technology is out of date and, whatever
we procure, the French had the same thing five years ago, as a
former general told me last night.
(Major General Fulton) Can I just clear up any misunderstanding
about my saying that we were also starting our own programme?
That is experimental where we want to look at son of Watchkeeper,
if you likewhat comes after thatbecause we need
to start thinking about that now. Clearly we have all learned
a lot about UAVs from the operations in Afghanistan but clearly
what we also do not want to do is start changing our mind and
redefining what we want from Watchkeeper. What we do want is the
four consortia who do have good, modern, state of the art technology
which is what we are buying in effect off-the-shelf. It is the
system which will take us until 2004-05 to bring in; there is
also the issue of training our people to use them, developing
the concepts and the doctrine because, as the Chairman said, Phoenix
is not necessarily one but several generations behind and therefore
there is the whole issue of ground forces being able to make best
use of it when they have it. So what we need to do is to bring
together all the lines of development so that when Watchkeeper
does come into service it will be the very best system available
for its purpose which is the acquisition of land information.
Originally designed in support of the Land Component commander,
but clearly what we need to do is not just only give that information
to the Land Component commanderit needs to be made more
widely available to whoever the right commander is at the time
and it is that process that takes the time. The joint experimental
unit will then look at what we need to do for the next generation
so we can make sure we really do keep our forces equipped with
the most up-to-date technology.
59. And it will be interoperable with the United
States' system, will it? It will be able to talk to them?
(Major General Fulton) We will be able to exchange
information. There is a discussion going on between us and the
Department of Defense at the moment on whether we want information
to come from an American UAV to a UK ground station and from a
UK air vehicle to a US ground station, or whether we want the
information to come down to respective ground stations and then
for the ground stations to be able to exchange information, because
there is another dimension to this for us which is that we have
the ASTOR programme coming in which is also designed to, and will,
acquire huge amounts of information from the battle field. Clearly
what we seek to do is to be able to integrate our information
that we gather from the ASTOR programme and the Watchkeeper programme
rather than develop two stove pipes that just give stove pipe
information to our commander and he has to work out which is the
best one. The Americans are also working towards integration;
they have UAVs, joint STARS and a range of other equipment, so
I would not say that it is necessarily the case that UAV will
be able to talk to UAV but certainly they will be able to share