Examination of Witnesses (Questions 80
WEDNESDAY 16 OCTOBER 2002
WEBB CBE, MR
80. Thank you, Chairman, I am not sure I can
be as eloquent with my questions as you were. Gentlemen, I had
a depressing conversation with my father last night about the
Sherman tank at Alamein which was not desertised, and let them
down badly. My own experience, I recall there was no desert clothing
available the first time, it had to be produced at very short
notice despite previous experience in a hot and dusty climate.
I can recall that in Bosnia we did not get the correct dust kit
to keep our warrior guns operating and similarly the only people
to get warm weather clothing were the staff. One of the Chiefs
of Staff in exercise Saif Sareea made it very clear to us the
point you have just made that choices have to be made in terms
of where you spend your money and what you do with it.
(Mr Webb) Yes.
81. It is an aphorism of war, as we all know,
that what we prepare for clearly will not happen, something else
will happen instead. We have got to have a balance of equipment,
a balance of doctrine, a balance of force to deal with different
things. One of the more cynical things which came out of exercise
Saif Sareea was that some of these things had not been spent because
there was a very clear expectation the exercise might be cancelled
almost up to the last moment. What I would really like to get
is some reassurance that now it looks as if we are going to be
fighting in hot, dusty and arid climates in the near future that
these various different projects are being taken seriously and
the nettle is being grasped. I think that has been demonstrated,
if I may say so, but there are a number of other factors which
I would value your opinion on.
(Mr Webb) Thank you for putting it that way, Sir.
We do learn lessons from all these deployments. There is a systematic
process. You have seen the top end of it so yes of course we do
learn. I cannot speculate about future engagements but you can
be sure that the lessons of this have been absorbed. The question
about these exercises, they are expensive and you do end up having
to ask yourself what increment do you add to what you know already
by spending £100 million-ish on these kinds of exercises.
Sometimes it is tempting to say "Well, we have got the force
structure, we have got all the elements trained, what exactly
do you add by going out and practising it all for live a long
way away?" There is more time away from home for people so
it is a mixed issue. But the armed forces really like to do it
and it adds enormously to the armed forces' ethos to be able to
actually go out and do as close as the job that they are expecting
to do. When you are juggling with figures in the £80-100
million and then somebody says "Well actually as well as
getting the tanks there to go and drive them around it is going
to cost . . ." I cannot remember what the figure was I think
it was £15-20 million ". . . maybe £20 million
more just for that exercise", you say "Wow, this is
the right thing". We decided to spend the money on Saif Sareea
82. Forgive me, Mr Webb, this is very clear.
We were surprised when we arrived at Saif Sareea that certain
elements of the exercise wereforgive me using the technical
termnon tactical. Then it was explained that actually it
was not there to be a tactical exercise. I understand the rationale
which was explained, got it.
(Mr Webb) Okay.
83. What is being done to make sure that the
kit with which our soldiers are deployed for the next round of
hot, dusty combat operations is up to standard?
(Mr Webb) I will ask Rob to talk about the details.
We have absorbed these lessons and if we have to go to that environment
of course, an environment of that kind, then we would be able
to learn the lessons from the Saif Sareea deployment. Rob, do
you want to say some more.
(Major General Fulton) As far as Challenger 2 is concerned
there is a measure in the current planning round to do the limited
desertification and in particular the dust mitigation which I
described. That will be considered alongside other elements in
the equipment programme in the current planning round.
84. Will that be a whole fleet management approach?
Will Warrior and other vehicles be included in this?
(Major General Fulton) I do not know the answer to
that. I know the answer to the Challenger question which is two
brigades and the ARRVs that support them. I do not know the Warrior
85. It is not the whole tank fleet?
(Major General Fulton) It is 234 Challenger.
86. Remind me of the totals please?
(Major General Fulton) I cannot. I would have to let
you have them later. Clearly we have learnt lessons from other
equipment elements as well which I can go on to talk about if
you want or you may want to move on to another subject.
Chairman: Can you tell us privately what
the mean distance between failure is likely to be on an exercise
in Southport which has a lot of sand? If you cannot afford to
exercise there maybe you should ask the Mayor of Southport or
Sefton or wherever it is. We would like assurances that it is
not going to be like Challenger 1 in the Gulf last time where
people were running behind in case they broke down. It would be
very helpful if you can let us know that.
87. I find Mr Webb's performance very good,
I always do, because he is an archetypal civil servant, he avoids
answering questions and supports decisions that have been taken.
If you ever leaves the MoD I am sure the Strategic Rail Authority
would love to have you. I am sure this is an example of the leaves
on the line excuse is it not really?
(Mr Webb) I will put that in the compliments box I
Mr Howarth: From him you can take it
as a compliment.
Mr Jones: I do not give many. Is it not true
that post the Gulf War a lot of these things were flagged up then.
Certainly when we were in Oman some of the persons on the ground
were very embarrassed about certain Challenger issues including
I think one excuse which was wonderful, it was the wrong type
of sand, a different type of sand from what you had experienced
in the Gulf. I just tended to find that there were excuses being
made that were being put forward that should really have been
foreseen in advance, not just because of the lessons from the
Gulf but Oman is not a country which we have never had to exercise
in before. Clearly the Omanis knew that they had to desertise
their Challengers and in terms of things like tracks, the other
excuse we got was that the desert is different there from somewhere
else. What was the point in actually taking out Challenger tanks
at great expense if they were basically just going to sit there?
You might as well have left them on the dockside and put them
back on the ship and taken them back home again if we were not
going to learn lessons from them. I have got to say I agree with
the Chairman I think there are some serious questions which have
to be asked because if we are going to have any conflicts in Iraq
or anywhere else in the Middle East the equipment we have got
clearly from this exercise will not last very long. I am sure
that will be a great concern to the armed forces and also to the
people on this Committee. Can I just say, Mr Webb, you said you
wanted this new culture in the MoD it would be nice if the MoD
said "I am sorry, we got it wrong" because clearly on
this occasion you did.
Mr Crausby: A bit like the Conservative
88. Yes, a bit like the Conservative Party.
(Mr Webb) After the Gulf War, which I had quite a
lot of visibility on, we did indeed learn lessons about desertification
of tanks. It is worth saying, of course, that we had decided,
as a matter of defence policy, to reduce our preparedness to go
and fight in that era during the 1970s and 1980s, indeed we had
sold off our desert uniforms. You probably remember that though
actually, if I may say so, Marks & Spencers helped us get
a new set which is even nicer very quickly. There is this point
to be borne in mind. I remember soft Moroccan cottons, they were
very good. It is not all bad news.
89. Remind me, which year was the decision made
to flog off all the uniforms?
(Mr Webb) I think it was about 1970 something.
Chairman: Careful. Your career is on the line
here. We want an exact date said to us. Okay?
90. It is reassuring that we can see if we go
to Iraq our armed forces will be kitted out in the autumn or winter
collection from Marks & Spencers.
(Mr Webb) No, Marks & Spencers helped us with
technical advice, we did not buy them from Marks & Spencers.
We knew and had developed the processes for desertification of
tanks after the Gulf War because the SDR said that we might need
to go back into the Middle East area. That was a 1998 decision.
The question about the exercise was not whether you knew how to
do it but whether you made the modifications that were developed
and available before you went. The question was not whether you
knew how to make tanks safer and effective in a variety of different
environments but whether you spent the money for this exercise.
Now we can all make calls in arrears about what choices we have
made but I keep coming back to the fact that we achieved the aim
of the exercise. The fact that people might have liked to have
gone and driven their tanks around a bit more was something to
be thought about but the fact was we were not trying to do that.
We were indeed predominately trying to get this force to the dockside,
unloaded and assembled as a fighting force. The moving forward
of it was a second priority and we decided not to spend money
on it. I am quite happy to say this was a bad call if that is
the judgment you want to make but I am defending it as the sort
of call we need to make.
91. Slowly getting there.
(Mr Webb) If you optimise everything and you optimise
against objectives you do not actually have then you are going
to waste money. So I defend those including myself who took decisions
in this area.
92. It is very honest that you admit responsibility.
(Mr Webb) I did.
93. I shall go along to the PAC on Monday and
hope the A team on equipment will expand on what you have said.
(Mr Webb) I think actually we do have some of the
A team on equipment sitting here. Am I getting this wrong, Rob?
(Major General Fulton) No, choices had to be made
and that was the decision.
Chairman: Wrong choice.
94. Away from various types of sand but just
on that I hope someone nips out to Iraq and makes sure it is the
right sand before we commit anybody. On the SDR new chapter the
focus is on Network Centric Capability which is defined in the
chapter with three elements. First of all sensors, networks and
(Mr Webb) Yes.
95. It is described in different ways as sensors
and shooters but clearly at a very high level and we all need
to work very closely together. So if sand is a problem then I
am a bit concerned about the 32 separate communication and IT
systems that we used in Oman. In those circumstances, especially
with some of the reports that came back that they did not all
work very well, particularly as far as the army in Oman was concerned,
I just wonder whether Network Centric Capability is feasible in
the short term?
(Mr Webb) If I may say so that is a very important
issue about joint rapid reaction because making things work together
from the moment you arrive is terribly important. I think this
is a very serious area and obviously the reason for taking out
all that kit and trying it out was to see whether it did work
and indeed a number of lessons were learnt from that. I will ask
General Fulton to speak to that. In particular, of course, it
underpinned the case for something which has now happened which
is to deploy the new personal communications system for the army
which replaced Clansman which I think you saw there. Absolutely.
That is a very important area which certainly I remember we spent
money on to try and find that out because it was important we
knew not whether individual bits worked but whether they worked
(Major General Fulton) Mr Crausby if I can just pick
up your point about the network. Going back to an earlier conversation
and Mr Jones's question there is a key fourth element which is
the decision maker which we should not forget. If I could pick
up two points on Saif Sareea. Firstly on Clansman, the shortcomings
on Clansman are well known. It is old and it will be replaced
by Bowman in due course. I say in due course because actually
as Mr Webb has identified the Personal Role Radio has already
been issued. It is well liked by the troops. It is the first foot
on the ground of the Bowman family and we will see more of that
in 2004. The second point I would make about Saif Sareea, you
referred to a number of different communication systems. An exercise,
paradoxically, is far more demanding on command and control than
an operation because we not only have to deploy the blue force
net but we have to deploy the opposition force net, we have to
deploy also the neutral net, an umpire net so we have to create
the infrastructure that we need in order to make the exercise
work. Actually it is much more demanding than simply the number
of troops on the ground would make it appear. I think if I had
one lesson that we really did learn from Saif Sareea on communications,
which we will take forward, it is that the commercial off the
shelf technologythe COTS technologythat we are constantly
encouraged to go out and buy and use does not cope well with any
sort of sand, any sort of dust and it is not manufactured to standards,
for example in terms of temperature, that are within the range
that we are likely to meet. Therefore if we do go down the road
of commercial off the shelf technology we need to be very, very
careful. I do not know whether you saw it but certainly I have
had reported to me that a lot of the air conditioning which was
taken to the Gulf could not be used for the people it had to be
used to keep the equipment down to its operating parameters. Now
that is a lesson which I think we really do need to hoist in and
96. I am particularly concerned about Clansman
because Clansman is not used is it? If you talk to the guys on
the ground who carry it they will tell youit is, what,
1978they did not need Saif Sareea to tell them that Clansman
is pretty well past its sell buy date. The National Audit Office
goes further than that, does it not? They say that it proved completely
inadequate for field units in the heat and dust of the desert.
Now that concerns me not just with regard to Network Centric Capability
but with any future operation as to what sort of risk our people
would put out in the event of a poor system of that level. Okay
Bowman sounds fine but you say "in due course," I am
not quite sure what "in due course" means, I understand
between 2004 and 2007. Now 2004 and 2007 seems quite a long way
away if we get ourselves involved in difficult operations in between.
I just wonder if you could comment on Clansman and the risks that
(Major General Fulton) You have articulated very clearly
the risks of Clansman. I would not describe itand I cannot
remember the phrase you read outas poor as that but that
is the gap that Bowman is designed to fill and Bowman will be
introduced at the earliest possible opportunity and 2004 is as
early as we can introduce it. I think I would like to also in
a moment, once we have finished with the Clansman issue, go on
and talk a bit more about "network centric capability"
because I do not think you should necessarily draw conclusions
on whether we can or cannot improve our capability through the
development of the network on the basis of a single radio system
that was introduced in 1978 with its known shortcomings. I would
be happy to talk about that but perhaps you might want to come
back on Clansman.
Chairman: Perhaps you can drop us a note
97. Before I move on to the financial questions
I want to ask, can I ask you to write to us to give us a firm
assurance in the public domain for the record of this Committee
that we have the capability of completely enabling our tanks to
fight in the desert climate, and that we have a desertification
programme which is tried and tested which is capable of being
implemented in our tanks and capable of being engaged in an operation
in Iraq within the next three to six months. That is the full
desertification of the troops and tanks to protect them from all
of the elements they will face there. If you cannot give that
assurance verbally now I would hope you can give it to us in writing
very quickly because the public of this country, and this Committee,
are entitled to know the answers to that. It appears to me you
have not learnt any of the lessons from the Gulf War. If you had
you would not be looking at how you can improve desertification
now after Saif Sareea. Ten years have gone by. I would seek from
you, Mr Webb, an assurance that you can deliver that.
(Mr Webb) Sir, I am unable to speculate on operations
98. On the capability of being able to fully
desertify 250 battle tanks in three months.
(Mr Webb) We will happily give you an update if it
has not been dealt with in the other Committee on the position
of the desertification of tanks. I am just saying I will not be
able to put that into a timescale context.
99. Do we have a fully tested programme for
doing it? Yes or no? Do we have a fully tested capability o the
desertification of our main battle tanks today? Yes or no?
6 Ev 31. Back
Note from Witness: My comments relating to the sale of
desert uniforms in the 1970's were based on my recollection that
the Defence Review in 1975 made the assumption the UK forces would
no longer be required to fight in a desert environment, and as
a result of this assumption most stocks of desert clothing (primarily
left over from World War II) were sold off. The MoD however, has
been unable to find any records relating to what desert clothing
stocks were disposed of and when. Given the timescale, it is likely
that records may have been destroyed. Back