Select Committee on Defence Sixth Report

7  Equipment and Force Structures

Equipment Implications of Network Enabled Capabilities

106.  The development of network-enabled capability and the New Chapter's concentration on the campaign against international terrorism have important implications for attempts to create a more rapid 'sensor-to-shooter' linkage. As the Secretary of State explained, "We need the sensor and the shooter to be better linked by a real-time network". [168] The New Chapter highlighted a range of equipment programmes that were already in the pipeline before the events of 11 September to provide network-enabled capabilities.[169] These included:

a)  Sensors:

  • Airborne Stand-off Radar (ASTOR): five aircraft with a long-range all-weather surveillance and target acquisition radar system, together with eight ground-stations. This £1,013 million programme was begun more than 10 years ago, and is expected to be in service (with two aircraft operational) in 2005.[170]
  • Nimrod MRA4: a programme to refurbish 18 maritime reconnaissance and attack aircraft. This £2,838 million programme was also began a decade ago, but after delays will now not be in service until 2009.[171]
  • RAPTOR: a reconnaissance pod for the Tornado GR4, which recently entered service.
  • Battlefield UAVs (Phoenix).
  • Soothsayer: an electronic warfare battlefield system.

b)   Networks:

  • Bowman: a tactical communication system for land and littoral operations, replacing the obsolete Clansman system. This £1,993 million programme began more than 15 years ago, and after a relaunched competition is expected to be in service from the end of next year (2004).[172]
  • Falcon: a £430 million tactical communications system to replace the Ptarmigan system, expected to be in service in 2006.

c)  Strike capabilities:

  • Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles (TLAM): a submarine-launched[173] long-range cruise missile, already in service at the time of the 1999 Kosovo conflict.
  • Storm Shadow missile: an aircraft-launched long-range cruise missile. This £980 million programme began in 1994.[174] The missile was first used in combat in the recent conflict in Iraq.
  • Other precision-guided missiles and bombs (e.g. Precision Guided Missile, Enhanced Paveway and Maverick missiles): initiated in response to lessons flowing from the 1999 Kosovo conflict.

107.  Many of these existing equipment capabilities either pre-dated or arose from the original SDR work. Indeed, in reporting progress with the implementation of the original SDR, the New Chapter highlighted other programmes which would provide "more flexible and rapidly deployable expeditionary forces", including the Future Aircraft Carriers and their Future Joint Combat Aircraft and the additional strategic lift capabilities provided by leased C-17 aircraft and roll-on roll-off (Ro-Ro) ships.[175]

108.  But the New Chapter also announced some changes to specific programmes, and highlighted the importance of:

  • An extra mission console for the E3-D Sentry AWACS aircraft—a £5 million programme to allow inter-operability with US Air Force AWACS aircraft in increasingly complex and high tempo operations.[176]
  • Enhancements of the UK's Air Surveillance & Control System radars, costing £20 million.[177] Infrastructure at three air bases would also be upgraded at a cost of £5 million to provide a Quick Reaction Alert capability to operate air defence aircraft from these additional bases.[178]
  • A new Maritime Afloat Reach & Sustainability project, to provide more responsive and flexible support, probably to be based on a new design of fast multi-purpose ships.[179]
  • Watchkeeper, a UAV programme to provide imagery intelligence for land commanders.[180] The programme is to be supplemented by a Joint Service UAV Operational Development Unit to investigate and experiment the use of UAVs, separate from the Watchkeeper programme itself.[181]
  • Other equipment for special forces and intelligence gathering.[182]
  • Future Rapid Effect System (FRES), a family of strategically and operationally transportable armoured fighting vehicles that will be designed to replicate the firepower and protection of the modern battle tank with the mobility of lighter vehicles and its associated systems. Initial approval of the programme is due in 2003 with a planned in-service date of 2009. FRES, the MoD told us, "will support the achievement of rapid effect and it is a capability therefore, that is fully coherent with the direction of the SDR New Chapter".[183]


109.  Of these systems, Watchkeeper has attracted the greatest attention in terms of its applicability to the new environment of counter-terrorism, in part because of the apparently successful use of UAVs by American forces in Afghanistan, and armed UAVs in Yemen, in tackling fleeting targets—exactly the "fleeting opportunities to strike at the enemy" that the New Chapter identified.[184] At the time of the New Chapter's publication in July 2002, the MoD announced its intention to invest an additional £50 million to bring forward Watchkeeper's in-service date by two years (to 2005).[185] As part of this acceleration, the MoD would down-select the four consortia bidding for the Watchkeeper programme to two "next month",[186] i.e. August 2002. In the event, however, this was delayed until February 2003.[187] Furthermore, at that stage, the Secretary of State put the anticipated in-service date at 2006—hardly a substantial acceleration from the original 2007 date.[188]

110.  The Secretary of State also did not explain why the project had been delayed other than to say "there were technical reasons why we judged it would be better delaying the process so that we had as much information as we needed in order to…make a proper decision".[189] Given the pace of development in the US on UAVs, including armed UAVs such as the Predator which used Hellfire missiles in Afghanistan and in Yemen, we questioned our MoD witnesses about why UK capabilities in this area could not be accelerated further by buying equipment off-the-shelf. Their response emphasised the networking attributes of the programme—

…what we are really trying to achieve here…is the ability to inflict military effects…to disrupt and destroy terrorist groups. So we are having to have a cultural adjustment to the idea that what you see, the bits that fly around or the bits that drop the bombs, is very important but it is the network between them which is the difficult bit to get right, and which we must take time to achieve. Otherwise you are just putting money into something which does not get you to the effect. So I think [we] got a right balance here between those two objectives, of obviously getting capability quickly but getting it so it is an effective capability to create a military effect.[190]

111.  The MoD's response to suggestions that they might consider placing weapons on Watchkeeper was to say that this was not possible as it might delay the in-service date for the system: "clearly what we…do not want to do is start changing our mind and redefining what we want from Watchkeeper".[191] American Predator UAVs (armed) are flying today in operations around the world while Britain's sole operational front-line (and unarmed) UAV, the Phoenix, is according to the MoD, "not one, but several generations behind".[192] Indeed, the Phoenix contract was signed 18 years ago in 1985 and was itself much delayed, as our Lessons of Kosovo report discussed.[193]

112.  The MoD's declared determination to "make sure we really do keep our forces equipped with the most up-to-date technology"[194] does not sit with the lack of urgency in acquiring an effective networked UAV capability. The Secretary of State told us that: "What we want to ensure is that the next generation[of UAVs] available to the United Kingdom provides us with useful capabilities at the best price for the British taxpayer".[195] It is surely not too much to hope that an effective capability will be available to the Armed Forces of this generation of taxpayers.

113.  As the Chief of Defence Staff put it, "We are very busy looking…at the moment to see what kit will be required, but that is not going to come in overnight".[196] Even given the restrictions of the normal procurement cycle, however, the changes to equipment programmes as a result of the New Chapter appear so far to be fairly limited. None of the new equipment announcements seem particularly dramatic in the context of the changes in the UK's security environment outlined by the Secretary of State, the stated need for UK forces to be more "agile" in response to them, and the consequent intention to apply 'network centricity' to key enablers to achieve such agility. The timescales for any changes in the equipment programme are inevitably lengthy and it may still be too soon to expect to see the effects of the "rebalancing", in the words of the Chief of the Defence Staff, of "what is no longer relevant or no longer necessary against the strategic context in which we are working".[197] However, the Committee has seen little evidence of the urgency that the MoD has claimed to be devoting to acquiring new capabilities and embracing new technologies—it appears so far at least that pragmatic decision-making is also slow decision-making.

114.  There is no doubt that the challenges and opportunities presented to UK Armed Forces by technological change, particularly in the United States, are considerable. To meet these challenges the UK will need robust sensor networks which will be capable of being shared with allies, particularly the US. Linking sensor networks in real time to appropriate weapons systems will be far more challenging, however, and raises the distinct prospect of national systems that are not compatible in all important respects with those of other partners.[198] In the view of Mr David Gompert, the United States in particular will value the UK's input if it can contribute meaningfully to "diverse strike operations from the outset" of a campaign, to the rapid insertion of "air deployable manoeuvre forces…in a fashion that is essentially integrated", and then to "transition operations, or demanding stability operations".[199] These are realistic, but demanding, scenarios that would make more "agile" UK forces and "effects-based capabilities" highly relevant to the military relationship with the United States. It remains to be seen whether present equipment programmes, and the pragmatic adjustments that the MoD is still considering, will be sufficient to fulfil them.

Implications for Force Structures

115.  One effect on defence policy that the New Chapter highlights would be the closer integration between military and civil agencies and the consideration given to the particular role of the Armed Forces in countering terrorist threats.[200] As the Secretary of State pointed out, "neither the Government nor the MoD believes that there is a specific military solution to the wide ranging problems of international terrorism". Many government agencies would be involved, particularly intelligence and law enforcement agencies, and while "countering international terrorism fitted well with the trends identified by the SDR", UK Armed Forces, "did not need fundamentally to restructure", though "we needed to do more of some things and to do some things better".[201] Military force, the Secretary of State told us, is only one of the different mechanisms available to Government to counter terrorism, "and indeed may well come a long way down the track having used diplomatic, political and perhaps economic means in order to try and deal with the threat".[202]

116.  An aspect of the original SDR which the Secretary of State re-emphasised was that in using the Armed Forces to counter terrorist threats—

    we are likely to be much better off going to deal with the threat at source rather than waiting for the threat to arrive in the United Kingdom and trying to fend it off at the last stage…in truth, our judgement would be that an expeditionary capability to the source of the threat would be much more likely to deal with it.

This general orientation "runs through the work we have done on the New Chapter",[203] but it may imply a larger commitment in the future than the Secretary of State indicated. At the Royal Institute of International Affairs, he asserted that "while the original assumptions [of the SDR] were correct in terms of prioritising regional threats, the global nature of terrorism means that we have to operate now outside them".[204] As he told the Committee—"the attempt to delineate in the future where threats might arise is going to be even more difficult than it ever was…a threat could come from any quarter of the world and we have to be in a position to deal with it".[205]

117.  Countering terrorism in a way more integrated with other government departments, as far forward as possible, and in a situation where the threat could arise from anywhere in the world, would certainly require the Armed Forces to operate with greater "agility".[206] This is because "targets are likely to be fleeting, once again setting a premium on rapid small, or medium-scale deployments supported by effective intelligence"[207] and this may imply "using the Armed Forces in a whole range of different ways, more flexible, more agile…not assuming that that necessarily always leads to a large-scale engagement by British forces [which] leads to the need for smaller, more discrete, more mobile, more agile forces".[208]

118.  The Chief of the Defence Staff also told us—

    We need to watch the balance of commitments against the resources…that is why we try very hard when we get involved in operations to complete them in an expeditious way and pull out as soon as we sensibly can…the brilliant operation…in Macedonia last August was a very good example of that and likewise in our operation in Kabul when we actually ran the first of the ISAF operations…[209]

Overall, therefore, the MoD's approach appears to be that the UK's Armed Forces should primarily be involved at the start and at the end of operations, offering agile expeditionary forces which can change their operational focus very quickly. So far, however, the Committee has little indication of what specific choices and trade-offs are likely to be involved in this process which, the MoD insists, is underway but still at a relatively early stage.[210]

119.  Furthermore, this requires forces which are even more adaptable than those which the UK possesses at present. The New Chapter gives few clues on how this change is to be achieved. What was constantly emphasised to us by the MoD was that it was not simply a matter of numbers but that the focus needed to be on key enablers—the specialist personnel vital for expeditionary operations. As the Secretary of State told us—

    We are not talking about numbers per se, we are talking about having people trained and organised to do particular jobs. It is the jobs which are crucial. It may well be the case in terms of the results and the activity that those people engage in that you could perfectly well contemplate carrying [them] out with a different number of people.[211]

In the New Chapter itself, this suggestion of not needing to focus on numbers alone is, however, followed by a discussion on people in which it is acknowledged that Britain's service men and women have been "working at or near, and in some cases beyond, the boundaries of what was planned in the SDR for some considerable time now".[212]

120.  But logically this implies a need either for fewer missions or for more people. Since the original SDR was produced in 1998, the MoD has found that concurrent small operations have been an unexpected strain on manpower and resources and this has undermined the SDR's assumptions on the number of operations that are sustainable.[213] Multiple small operations place a greater relative strain on resources, through the need to duplicate logistics chains, rotate forces more frequently in ways that interfere with normal training cycles, and put particular strains on specialist units and individuals.[214]

121.  Furthermore, many of the people who are essential to every operation are also essential to enable training to take place. And in many respects training, especially overseas exercises, can be more demanding than some operations because of the need for planners, an enemy, a control net, safety staff etc. Thus, many people are caught in a double bind of being essential for operations and then on return, essential for training. More smaller operations obviously make this situation worse for these key people. In the case of the Army, the need to bring units up to war establishment means raiding units that should be training for individuals to make up the numbers and skills. This erodes the quality of training in units that should be training because numbers are down and key personnel are missing. The Chief of Defence Staff, acknowledging the problem, told us that—

    We have had to draw down on our exercises because of the pressures in going to Afghanistan…We must try to make sure that we measure very carefully where our people our falling behind in their training schedules and try to make room in the programme without further wrecking their quality of life.[215]

122.  The New Chapter was careful not to suggest that personnel should now simply be asked to do even more.[216] Admitting that fully manned and sustainable structures are proving elusive, the New Chapter identified individuals in the most heavily used specialisms as critical for the success of its approach. It also noted the increasing use of reservists, civilians and contractors in operational deployments as a trend likely to continue. But, in a move which could exacerbate rather than alleviate the pressure, the Secretary of State showed interest in ideas for developing more agile forces from large numbers of existing formations (not just key enablers)—

    I think we need to develop more of those skills across more of our armed forces, in the light of the threat that we currently have to deal with. I think that is one of the things that we shall look at very hard in the course of the work we are currently undertaking, to have more of our forces available at short notice…I think one of the preliminary assumptions that I have is that we are going to have to have more people available at short periods of notice…[217]

He envisaged that perhaps more troops like the Parachute Regiment and the Royal Marines might be needed in the future—

    …one of the things we need to look at very carefully is whether we have enough of these kinds of people, whether we need to extend the training and readiness requirements to other sharp end members of the Armed Services.[218]

123.  The problem is that what the MoD hopes will be small operations do not always turn out that way and many do not remain of short-duration. Even if large numbers of troops are withdrawn from operations the key enablers may often be left deployed because their functions still need to be carried out even if there are fewer troops deployed. In sum, the MoD has not addressed the risk of over-commitment leading to overstretch. The Committee believes that these issues need to be urgently considered by the MoD in an open and inclusive manner.

124.  Unusually, Special Forces also merited a mention in the New Chapter. In November 2001 the Secretary of State had told us that "I am not commenting on special forces",[219] but in the New Chapter, Special Forces were identified as a key capability that would be receiving extra resources to maximise their utility and flexibility. The Secretary of State publicly added—

    There will also be an increasing role for the use of the Special Forces in the present environment…we are also involved in upgrading capabilities in this area.[220]

But no structural changes to how they operate with other high-readiness forces was proposed. On the prospect of a Special Forces Command, for example, the MoD merely noted that—

Following our analysis, it was decided there would be no operational benefit in changing present arrangements [for special forces command structures]. Improving arrangements for the integration of Special, and other Forces, into the JRRF [Joint Rapid Reaction Force] have been implemented as a result of the New Chapter work and lessons learned during recent operations.[221]

125.  The MoD has made it clear that it does not anticipate any major changes in UK force structures, over and above those already set in train by the original SDR, as a result of the circumstances identified in the New Chapter. The problems of overstretch, however, are still significant and may be exacerbated by developments foreshadowed in the New Chapter. The Secretary of State stressed that in modern conditions the "straight" numbers of personnel available were less important than the effect they would be able to exert—

    I do not think there is any particular magic in any given figure, it is what those people are trained to do…It is a very different sort of challenge and I think one that is quite fundamental.[222]

He went on, "The problem of overstretch in that sense is not a problem of numbers of infantry, it is a problem of enablers, a problem of all those who have to support deployed forces".[223] The Chief of the Defence Staff confirmed the importance that was attached to this particular exercise in "the rebalancing process"—

    We are very much in the process of seeing how we actually put more emphasis into something…enablers in particular, and where there are areas in the programmes which are not so important…but that is something that we are actually still undergoing at the moment.[224]

126.  On the basis of the evidence, we remain to be convinced that implementing the New Chapter will not put further strain on the UK's Armed Forces, particularly in those branches that serve as "key enablers" to greater combat effectiveness in an era of rapid technological transformation. The MoD's emphasis on the more sophisticated demands of "effects-based operations" and its adoption of "network-enabled capabilities" as primarily a skills and training requirement more than a technological system means that more will be expected of our Service personnel at a time when the private sector offers attractive rewards to those so trained and motivated.[225]

The New Chapter and the Spending Review

127.  The 2002 Spending Review, published around the same time as the New Chapter, announced a 3.8% increase in MoD's Departmental Expenditure Limit (DEL), which it presented as an average annual real terms increase of 1.2% over three years of the Review period. The table below summarises the Spending Review figures.

Resource DEL[226]
Capital DEL[227]
Total DEL[228]

These included a 2.7% real terms increase in 'Resource' DEL, but a 15% real terms increase in Capital DEL—from £5.5 billion in 2002-03 to £6.9 billion by 2005-06:

Year-on-year increases in real terms[229]
Resource DEL
Capital DEL
Total DEL

Cm 5570 Her Majesty's Treasury

128.  Specific equipment enhancements[230] and other works announced in the New Chapter (see below) have relatively modest price tags, when compared with the £1,600 million (in real terms) added to the capital budgets for the three years of the Spending Review. Indeed, the New Chapter stated that "the scale of operations to counter terrorism is unlikely to be large, so only relatively small quantities of the new specialised equipment are likely to be needed".[231] When we questioned our MoD witnesses on this last October, they were unable to provide details of the Equipment Programme, which was then being put together. Quoting from the Secretary of State, however, they noted that the New Chapter "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".[232]

Watchkeeper UAVs (to bring its in-service date forward 2 years)
Joint-service UAV Operational Development Unit
New mission console for E3-D AWACS
Linking 'Air Surveillance and Control System' to civil airfield radars
Upgrading RAF stations to take Quick Reaction Alert aircraft

Ev 4

129.  The results of the Spending Review were described as—

    [providing] for substantial new investment in the SDR New Chapter. This will provide our Armed Forces with the latest technology and network centric capabilities, enabling them to act together with our allies in the war against international terrorism and to achieve greater precision and control of military operations. It will enable our Armed Forces to continue to achieve success in the tasks they undertake now and will enable them to respond to the range of contingencies envisaged in the SDR.[233]

However, the link between the Spending Review and the New Chapter remains unclear. The MoD has yet to set out how the significant increase in the capital budget will be used to reshape the MoD's equipment and infrastructure to reflect the capabilities highlighted in the New Chapter, or indeed to what extent the Spending Review addresses such new requirements rather than rectifying existing and long-standing deficiencies. We will be examining equipment funding issues further as part of our inquiry of defence procurement. More generally, however, we expect the MoD to set out—in its response to this report, or at the latest in the forthcoming White Paper—how the Spending Review settlement will be utilised to secure New Chapter and other capabilities, to address existing strains on Armed Forces personnel and to enable the tempo of operations implied by the New Chapter.

Policy versus Practicality

130.  While the New Chapter has addressed some of the policy questions left unanswered by the original SDR, notably the role of the Reserves in home defence and the implications of network-centric capabilities for Britain's Armed Forces, it is not clear how those policy conclusions have been matched with practical effect such as changes in force structures or equipment programmes. Indeed, MoD has argued that the lack of such changes reflects the robustness of the original SDR framework. The Policy Director read out to the Committee a letter from the Secretary of State dated 11 October 2001—

131.   The Secretary of State has since gone even further in articulating a radical agenda for the future of Britain's Armed Forces, most notably in a speech in March 2003 when he spoke of radical changes being required in the areas of equipment and force structures.

    We must be prepared to take difficult decisions to rebalance our force structures…We should expect the Armed Forces of the future to be radically different to those we possess today, indeed we must demand that they are.[235]

132.  We are not persuaded that the robustness of the original SDR is the reason for the modest practical changes to date. We have the impression that too often the practical implications of the policy developments set out in the New Chapter have not been properly thought through. To date virtually all the equipment programmes which have been linked with the New Chapter have been existing programmes, which in a few cases the department has said are being accelerated. We are concerned that this suggests the policy making process and the ability to deliver the implementation of that process quickly enough are out of step with each other, or that the MoD has scaled back its practical ambition from the vision set out by the early stages of the New Chapter work.

168   HC Deb, 18 July 2002, col 462.  Back

169   SDR NC Vol 1, p 15. Back

170   National Audit Office, Ministry of Defence, Major Projects Report 2002, Session 2002-03, HC 91, pp 49-53. Back

171   HC (2002-03) 91, pp 117-122; MoD Press Notice 037/03, 19 February 2003. Back

172   HC (2002-03) 91, pp 157-158. Back

173   The UK currently only deploys TLAM on submarines. Back

174   HC (2002-03) 91, pp 79-84. Back

175   SDR NC Vol II, paras 49-51. Back

176   Ev 4 Back

177   Ev 4 Back

178   Ev 5 Back

179   SDR NC Vol I, para 52. Back

180   Ev 4 Back

181   Q 711 Back

182   Q 38, Q 208 Back

183   Ev 4; Q 17, Q 56 Back

184   HC Deb, 18 July 2002, col 462. Back

185   Ev 4; SDR NC Vol I, p17, Q 56 Back

186   SDR NC Vol I, para 48. Back

187   HC Deb ,7 February 2003, col 21WS. Back

188   Ibid Back

189   Q 700 Back

190   Q 64 Back

191   Q 58 Back

192   Q 58 Back

193   HC (1999-2000) 347-I, paras 162-164. Back

194   Q 58 Back

195   Q 701 Back

196   Q 143 Back

197   Q 151 Back

198   Q 533 Back

199   Q 533 Back

200   SDR NC Vol I, paras 5-8. Back

201   Q 624 Back

202   Q 683 Back

203   Q 674, SDR NC Vol I, para 26. Back

204   Speech by Secretary of State, Chatham House, 10 March 2003. Back

205   Q 634 Back

206   Q 8, Q 11, Q 685, Speech by Secretary of State, Chatham House, 10 March 2003. Back

207   Speech by Secretary of State, Chatham House, 10 March 2003. Back

208   Q 685  Back

209   Q 137 Back

210   Q 8 Back

211   Q 642 Back

212   SDR NC Vol I, para 61. Back

213   See Chapter 2 on the Original SDR above. Back

214   SDR NC Vol I, paras 31-32. Back

215   Q 138 Back

216   SDR NC Vol I, pp.19-20. Back

217   HC (2001-02) 348-II, Q 346. Back

218   HC (2001-02) 348-II, Q 364. Back

219   HC (2001-02) 348-I, Q 345. Back

220   Secretary of State, speech to RUSI, 30 July 2002. Back

221   Ev 3 Back

222   Q 642 Back

223   Q 651 Back

224   Q 169 Back

225   Qq 642, 644 Back

226   'Resource DEL' (i.e. operating costs), a control figure for departments. Back

227   'Capital DEL' (i.e. new capital investment), a control figure for departments. Back

228   'Total Spending' or 'Total DEL', comprises Resource DEL plus Capital DEL, less the capital depreciation element in Resource DEL (to avoid double-counting asset consumption costs). This is the main control figure.  Back

229   Assuming inflation over the period of 2.5% pa. Back

230   Ev 4 Back

231   SDR NC Vol I, para 93. Back

232   Q 40 Back

233   HM Treasury, 2002 Spending Review, Cm 5570, July 2002, para 12.1. Back

234   Q 40 Back

235   Speech by Secretary of State, Chatham House, 10 March 2003.  Back

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