Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 385 - 399)



  Q385  Chairman: Gentlemen, sorry we are a little late. Sir Malcolm, in December 2002 you gave evidence to us for our inquiry, A New Chapter to the Strategic Defence Review. You had been in post just a couple of months. The MoD's Annual Report and Accounts 2003-04 states that a new Chief of Defence Logistics will be in post at the start of next year. To what extent do you think that you have achieved the objectives that you set yourself? I must warn you that somebody else who talked about objectives and said he failed to reach six out of the seven of them had a really difficult time giving such an honest reply. I hope you have achieved all of your objectives.

  Air Chief Marshal Sir Malcolm Pledger: I think to begin to answer that, Chairman, we have got to look back at the time of appointment and understand what the objectives were then and understand how the process has moved on. At that stage, of course, the main objective, as you reminded me, was to achieve a strategic goal on the formation of the DLO. Since then, as I say, we have moved definitely into the arena of trying to better align logistic endeavour with the new challenges that we have in this uncertain world and, whilst delivering that strategic goal on efficiency, manage the dependencies that we have within the strategic base with industry. Those I would outline as currently my three objectives. I would say that already we have banked in programme terms the strategic goal by the end of 2006. We still have to deliver but in programme terms we have achieved that. I think we have made significant progress in recognising the new challenges that we face of expeditionary employment at strategic distances and we can explore some of the things we have done since we discussed lessons from Operation Telic to show you how we have improved. Also, we have what I would call strategy now to better engage with those industrial dependencies by which we fulfil our remit: acquisition. On the one hand I would say good progress and, on the other, I would have to say that of course there is still a long way to go to resolve all of those issues.

  Q386  Chairman: But two years is too short a time to have somebody in post taking such a lot of very difficult decisions because of so many problems to be resolved. Right, you agree. Since you took up post two years ago, what do you think the main difficulties have been because there are always countervailing pressures to any reform and the reform agenda was obviously a very long one?

  Air Chief Marshal Sir Malcolm Pledger: Again, I think there are several facets to that, Chairman. The first is that change in any organisation is usually impeded most by the behaviour of that organisation and it's, what I would call, dependencies on traditional methods. Clearly I think much of that was overcome because of our employment in such areas as Iraq and Afghanistan recently which proved categorically to everybody involved that we needed to change the processes to make this a successful supporting endeavour to those operational challenges. On the one hand there will always be behavioural issues but, on the other, I think most of those have now been overcome because of the nature of our employment.

  Q387  Chairman: You mean the—failure may be too strong a word—problems that emerged from logistics in those very far distant shores really compelled even those who wished to retain more traditional approaches that change really had to come and it was self-evident that change had to be made?

  Air Chief Marshal Sir Malcolm Pledger: I think I would use a slightly different interpretation. The difficulties that we experienced of those, I could not call them failures because—

  Q388  Chairman: I must look at the text. Did I say failure?

  Air Chief Marshal Sir Malcolm Pledger: We were successful in those operations. It did highlight areas where we can improve and, such was the importance of those areas from a collective perspective, not just a logistic one, we are now making significant progress across what we call the end-to-end regime that is truly holistic.

  Q389  Chairman: How long will it take before you or your successor will be able to say "we have got things right now, all the necessary changes have been made?" Is that ever achievable in the Ministry of Defence?

  Air Chief Marshal Sir Malcolm Pledger: I think that the nature of operations will mean that in some areas we will have to manage difficulties for the foreseeable future. You cannot plan for everything and resource everything but in terms of the processes that we are going to employ and the efficient application of those processes, and the supporting means to deliver them, I think for much of it, if I can use the supply chain as illustrative here, we will have solutions in place within three years.

  Chairman: The MoD said it could not go to war before 2007/08 so we are in good shape then, Air Chief Marshal. No more provocative questions for a while. James Cran. James can hardly speak, so if you cannot hear what he says please ask him to shout.

  Q390  Mr Cran: Can I apologise for my voice. Still on the End-to-End Logistics Review. The MoD's Annual Report and Accounts for 2003-04 said this: "in July 2003 a review of end-to-end Air and Land logistic support reported on how logistic support to Air and Land forces, including Naval Aviation and the Royal Marines, can be streamlined . . ." and so on. That rather begs the question as to why the maritime environment seems to have been excluded. I hope we do not need an Admiral here to answer that. If that is correct, why is it so?

  Air Chief Marshal Sir Malcolm Pledger: Again, I think we have to look at the context in which we conducted that study. Already what I will call the surface ships and the submarine elements of the maritime logistic community had gone through significant end-to-end rationalisation and change which was continued with the formation of the DLO. For example, we, in the DLO, already own much of that end-to-end right up to the jetty, indeed starting with the contractorisation of the dockyards in 1987 and the then formation of the two agencies, the Naval Base Support Agency and the Ship Support Agency, which in turn have been merged into the WSA, and then was put into the DLO. We already had what I will call the mechanisms of the   organisation for end-to-end management of maritime logistics and that was why we concentrated on the other two areas which were substantially different on transfer into the DLO. Certainly since then we have not said that it is not included in the further Transformation Programme as we apply all the lessons of that end-to-end study across the three environments, not just the two. General Raper can talk a little bit more about which elements of the maritime logistic endeavour we are concentrating on currently. It was deliberate, if you like, recognising where they already were, but they are now incorporated in the full Transformation Programme.

  Major General Raper: If I could just pick up on your remarks. You mentioned that clearly we have taken the aviation elements into forward with the Navy, so everything in terms of their rotary platforms is  considered as part of the overall rotary Transformation Programme, no exemptions, same lessons being applied. Where we are now beginning to have a look is in a number of areas having done warship support modernisation and we are now looking at the submarine acquisition area in terms of the overall support as well as acquisition of all the submarine platforms as more of an holistic whole. Also, we are revisiting the ship support arrangements, again having moved, and also the base porting and much of that is as a result of the Future Capabilities work. Now is the time to look at that and look at that through the same eyes as we   were looking at everything else in the Transformation Programme.

  Q391  Mr Cran: Just so that I get it clear in my mind, any recommendations arising out of the End-to-End Review would apply to the maritime environment too, would they?

  Air Chief Marshal Sir Malcolm Pledger: Where appropriate, absolutely right.

  Q392  Mr Cran: Just let us know what the words "where appropriate" mean?

  Air Chief Marshal Sir Malcolm Pledger: Clearly, some of the recommendations were specific to the environment we are talking about. They were also specific to the industry that supports that environment and, therefore, not all of them were   absolutely translatable into the maritime environment. Where there are principles here, for example in depth and forward, those kinds of concepts are being applied equally in the maritime environment.

  Mr Cran: I am grateful. That is all my voice will allow. Chairman, over to you.

  Q393  Rachel Squire: In his statement to Parliament on 10 September 2003, the Minister said that a key change proposed by the End-to-End Review was a "permanent, joint organisation . . . to establish and prioritise a joint supply chain that will be driven by the needs of the joint commander of operations". Can you say what progress has been made in establishing such an organisation and developing a joint supply chain?

  Air Chief Marshal Sir Malcolm Pledger: Yes. The announcement was entirely consistent, again, with what we are trying to do in Transformation. It records what I would call the different components of the supply chain. Again, when we last gave evidence here we showed that in essence there were three elements to this. There is what I would call the strategic base, the factory arrangements, the acquisition means to support these endeavours, there is the forward element, which is done in the operational theatre, and then there is the so-called coupling bridge between the two. The whole new concept is in order to create agility and flexibility and improve our timelines and response rather than pushing, which we have done in the past, from what I will call factory into foxhole, which in turn creates huge stresses on component parts of those three elements, we are now trying to create a demand system, a pull system, which serves the needs of those fighting in theatre. Part and parcel of that is because that demand has to be articulated by the Chief of Joint Operations in whatever guise he is fighting in theatre, to construct the means of demand, priorities and volumes before we start to push. It is in creating that focus and then managing it more effectively in theatre that this relates to. There are two elements of this. We have already identified the solution to what I would call management in theatre with one of the brigades we are going to use to do that, and we are already setting up the core elements of that decision-making in theatre which we can reinforce in future so that we can manage this rather than push it. The brigade is already identified, nominated, it has undergone some of the training to make good some of the deficiencies we saw in Telic and, as I say, the core element of what we call the Joint Force Logistic Component Commander within the deployed headquarters is now in place.

  Major General Wood: We have done joint force logistic components doctrinally for some time but the new development is a permanent establishment of that. That brigade headquarters will be in place and the newly appointed brigade commander will be in place before the end of this year and he will be working in Northwood in a permanent joint headquarters. That is the organisational element, the creation of a permanent joint forces logistic component which is readily deployable as opposed to double-hatting it with an existing capability, which is how we created that doctrinal piece before. In terms of the joint supply process, that is not completely new, it is ongoing. What we are doing is improving it. If you take last week's operation, Op Phyllis, to the Ivory Coast, that was the supply chain in operation. You can see it in terms of a relative Land component, strategic airlift being used and a ship being diverted to be available, but in order for that deployment to take place stores were issued from the depots, medical prophylactics were issued, munitions were issued, clothing was issued, including body armour, rations were issued, fuel was issued. That was the joint supply working to get that force available to move in the demanding time frames that were expected of them and with the success that we saw. That is the process day in and day out, it is happening every day to support people in deployed operations elsewhere as well.

  Q394  Rachel Squire: That is the really crucial thing. It is all very well to say that it has been issued from various depots and so on and it is all very well to say it arrives somewhere on the Ivory Coast or, most importantly, in Iraq, but the crucial thing, and I still hear it whether I am in this country or I am away elsewhere, in Iraq or elsewhere, is once it arrives into the country does it actually get to those literally in direct line? Even yesterday I was hearing a bit of criticism, shall we say, that it is still not happening as it should be. How can you ensure that the arrival of materiel in the theatre of operations is in the right order, in the right place at the right time and ensure that it is effectively used 100%?

  Air Chief Marshal Sir Malcolm Pledger: Clearly that is crucial. I am surprised you are still hearing that there is what I will call issues in those areas. Again, I will ask General Wood to describe what is going on in one of those theatres currently. We have now created the opportunity for the demander to see where his piece of equipment or requirement is in that supply chain, which in turn has created much more confidence in that user. We are delivering, for example, in Iraq within 24 hours of arrival in theatre. That is clear and apparent and visible to them. I say I am surprised because I have no evidence whatsoever that in the sustainment phase of operations, because that is where we are at the moment, we are not able to see, manage and satisfy the demands of those people in the timescales that they have asked for them.

  Major General Wood: On my specific reference to Op Phyllis, there the challenge was to get it to the airhead because that was where they were being deployed from. It is a different challenge into Iraq in terms of sustainment of an established operation there but, as CDL said, we have done a lot of work, and that is a corporate "we", in conjunction with the permanent joint headquarters and the people deployed in theatre. I do not wish to command them, and nor would I wish to command them, but in conjunction with the people in theatre we have made the in-theatre delivery in Telic, in the Iraq theatre, a 24 hour operation and we have speeded up the delivery at this end to seven days for UK and North West Europe. At both ends of this end-to-end process we have quite considerably reduced the time that we were giving ourselves to get demand into people's hands. It is those people, those men and women, who are our most demanding customers. They are the people who we are doing this to satisfy.

  Q395  Rachel Squire: Can I just be clear that you are saying that the logistic lessons identified from Operation Telic have really played a crucial part in delivery to ensure that whether it is a private or a commander, when they are in an operational theatre they get the equipment that they need when they need it.

  Air Chief Marshal Sir Malcolm Pledger: I think I am describing improvements to that end which currently we are doing in theatre that we have mentioned, to their satisfaction against their demand requirements. I state that categorically. We have done that by modification to some of the systems and by modification to some of the processes. It has been enormously helpful, as the General says, that I do not command those who do much of this activity in theatre, but I do now own the process and, therefore, we have been able to modify those processes that they use at their own behest to satisfy their demand. That has been enthusiastically received by all contributors and, as I say, the end user is now able to see much of what he needs because of our modifications to the current information systems. That is not the end of the process. This is in a sustainment regime where, I have to say, the predictability and the management is easier than in the priming function of any large operation. We still have to develop the right management information systems to make this work even more effectively. We are embarked upon those, there is a series of them: management of materiel in transit; management of the deployed inventory; and so on and so forth. Currently we have modified our existing arrangements but we will take the next step to make this process even more effective and efficient with those new information systems.

  Rachel Squire: Thank you. When you move on from your current job maybe we will have a chance to travel to parts of the world and check out that things have been delivered that are needed.

  Chairman: The problem is not just one for the military, Sainsbury's have been having difficulties getting things on to their shelves and their strategic environment is maybe less demanding but much larger than that of the Ministry of Defence.

  Q396  Richard Ottaway: Can I go into the tracking aspects in greater depth. The review said that it was "fragmented and poorly connected". What investment have you put into it? Does that investment include the maritime environment?

  Air Chief Marshal Sir Malcolm Pledger: Perhaps I could just kick off and then ask the Director General of the supply chain to take you through some other elements of this. You were saying "poorly connected", but one of the major successes, of course, of Telic and the mounting of Telic was the introduction of the TAV minus which did allow us to have constant and complete visibility to what I would call the point of entry. That was done as an urgent operational requirement but has now been formalised and is in active day-to-day use in order to overcome one of those elements of this end-to-end arrangement to get the asset visibility as well as the consignment visibility.

  Q397  Chairman: We will be coming on to asset tracking in more detail later on.

  Major General Wood: You do not want me to answer that now, Chairman?

  Q398  Chairman: Just briefly.

  Major General Wood: We do visit theatre, we get a constant flow of information from theatre and, as CDL said, we are trying to meet the priorities as set from theatre. The comparison with supermarkets is interesting because where is the checkout in the military supply chain? What we have done is taken a family of projects and drawn them together into a co-ordinated programme so there is consignment visibility, and you have heard about the system called Vital. We are improving Vital, Vital Version 4 is just being released, Version 5 is being prepared which will deal with the acquittal. There is a demand tracking system which we did pick up from the maritime environment because of my joint responsibilities, which is applicable to the other environments, which allows you to know where a demand is at any one particular time. That is in the field of the management of materiel in transit. In terms of the joint deployed inventory area, we have had a study going on in Land Command with the system that the Air environment currently uses which does appear to be applicable and only yesterday signatures were put on a piece of paper declaring Land's commitment to this particular functionality and, therefore, we will roll that out to support all three Services, Land and Air first and then we will see if we can make it fit into the maritime environment. Those are all steady progress steps but they add together to improve our capability quite substantially.

  Air Chief Marshal Sir Malcolm Pledger: It comes back to this recognition that logistics is an end-to-end function, not a series of separate endeavours. As I say, my process ownership designation now allows us to range across the whole of the execution chain and make sure that it is integrated and the fragmentation that you describe to be a thing of the past.

  Q399  Richard Ottaway: Is everything tracked?

  Major General Wood: Everything always was tracked at the point of issue. Every single thing that leaves the depot in the UK is swiped and coded and tracked. The challenge gets greater further forward and it is that last mile which is the most demanding piece. The network that we have of automatic tracking capability has been further extended into Afghanistan, further forward in Iraq, to give that automated reading capability because one of the challenges with Vital, hence my specific reference to the need to improve it, is that it was a relatively old-fashioned system and it was quite time and labour intensive to complete the screens and very busy people dealing with very large volumes were not always able to complete all the screens and you lost that piece of the picture which was giving you your complete end-to-end visibility trail.

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