Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 460 - 479)



  Q460  Chairman: Those arguments were not very strong in 2001. The Ministry of Defence was saying DARA could do this job; they have the surge capability; they are reliable. I would like to know what has happened in the meantime.

  Air Chief Marshal Sir Malcolm Pledger: Because we did not have the same principle that we have been talking about applied. We had four lines of maintenance which required larger numbers of people than we currently expect to use in the two separations.

  Q461  Chairman: You are losing 7,000 people from the Air Force. Have you worked out how, with substantially reduced numbers, a number of these are going to be engaged in the work that is currently being done outside the air force? That is all worked out?

  Air Chief Marshal Sir Malcolm Pledger: Many of the numbers, not only in the Air Force but in the Army, as we create a new Army liability, come from the efficiencies associated with logistics transformation.

  Q462  Mr Roy: Will the investment appraisal and the affordability analysis relating to this decision be published?

  Air Chief Marshal Sir Malcolm Pledger: I do not know.

  Q463  Mr Havard: I asked you whether the other one was going to be published. The reason I asked you that question is very simple. These two are different. They almost seem inimical to one another. What we need to understand is what has gone into each of those appraisals and why it may be different or the same and how they inter-relate. If we do not have that information, it is very difficult for you to be able to convince me that individually they were correct to do and they are complementary to one another as opposed to contradictory to one another. That may be something you cannot commit to do today but I think it is ridiculous for anyone's understanding of what is going on here if we do not have that sort of information to get that level of understanding.

  Air Chief Marshal Sir Malcolm Pledger: I hear the question and I will write to you.[5]

  Q464  Rachel Squire: Future Capabilities sets out a number of changes to army equipment including a   reduction in Challenger 2 squadrons, AS90 batteries, Rapier anti-aircraft launchers and high velocity missile fire units. What assessment has been made of the impact of these equipment reductions on ABRO, specifically in terms of future workload?

  Major General Raper: Some of that has been done specifically in relation to the full structure changes which you have mentioned. I would suggest that the bigger change to ABRO comes from putting in place exactly the same principles as we are doing on the air side and in particular putting in place lean operations within ABRO. This is the work that we are doing with the Chief Executive at the moment. Indeed, if we look at the work that we have done at Donnington to improve the processes and its output that has released some 45 Warrior back to the field army; simply by improving the processes between the in park and the out park. The level of the workforce clearly will be governed by the volume of work and how that work is carried out.

  Q465  Rachel Squire: Can I ask you to say whether there is sufficient funding to repair all the armoured vehicles such as Warrior which have suffered damage in Iraq? You are looking puzzled.

  Major General Raper: I am just intrigued by the question. The answer to that is yes, for those that can clearly be repaired. It depends entirely on the state of the vehicle.

  Q466  Rachel Squire: That is a very vague and general statement.

  Major General Raper: The specific is yes. The amount of work that is required, if it can be done, is dictated by the state of the vehicle and in particular the state of the armoured hull.

  Q467  Rachel Squire: I remember myself and other Members of the Committee visiting one of the ABRO sites and hearing about its operations and the real effort and progress that had been made. A crucial role is repairing damaged equipment and getting it back to the men and women on the ground as soon as possible.

  Major General Raper: Irrespective of how that damage has been caused—, if you have had the privilege of seeing the in park of some ABRO facilities, you will know the state of some of that equipment that has been involved in accidents, accidents on exercises—it does require a substantial amount of work. You do need some integrity of the armoured hull to be able to repair everything else around it.

  Air Chief Marshal Sir Malcolm Pledger: There seems to be an implication here that the ground forces will be short of these major equipments because of damage. We are using the whole fleet to support these endeavours and we have to create an efficient repair and overhaul arrangement to deal with the damage, but it is not the same vehicles that will replace the ones after their repair until they have gone through that cycle. I do not think there is any danger that we will not have enough Warrior in the operation because they come from the whole fleet.

  Major General Wood: And an ongoing up-marketing programme to improve their protection and survivability in theatre, issuing more items to improve their protection for that particular vehicle.

  Q468  Rachel Squire: It is the connection if you like because apparently there are reductions planned in equipment. Will that still mean that you can get out to our Armed Forces the equipment they need? There is also the issue that ABRO has ten sites and there appears to be discussion about some of those sites might be closed and some of the current manpower might be reduced which immediately, given that we were just talking obviously about RAF St Athan, the heart of it for many of us is ensuring that the equipment gets out to our Forces when they need it and in the best possible condition; but that those who have undergone major changes and efforts on the ground, particularly back in this country, are also recognised in terms of what they have delivered and will continue to deliver to our Armed Forces. Yet there are all these constant reviews being done about how further cuts can be made in equipment, sites and staff. I get totally flummoxed by how much we can spend so much time and money at senior level employing endless consultants on doing constant reviews to deliver value for money, where for me and many others the real priority is what is happening on the ground at ABRO, RAF St Athan and elsewhere.

  Air Chief Marshal Sir Malcolm Pledger: There is absolutely nothing but praise and recognition for what these people have achieved. At the same time, we must note, for example, that through process improvement we have put another 45 Warriors back into the front line. That has implications for the number of people that we need to employ then to maintain them. That is a reality and I am afraid it is my task to make this thing as efficient and effective as it can be and manage the consequences that creates. You talk about reductions of equipment. Those reductions are a rebalancing as well. In future Army structures, we are looking for a much more balanced force against what General Raper described are the most likely. Those will be a lighter, more balanced, more agile force into the future. This, I am afraid, is a different requirement for tomorrow and maintaining the arrangements of yesterday cannot be the right answer to creating an effective supply chain.

  Q469  Rachel Squire: Can you say whether the recommendations of the end to end review will affect ABRO in the long term?

  Air Chief Marshal Sir Malcolm Pledger: I do not think it is in doubt at all. They must as we apply those principles.

  Major General Raper: They will certainly impact on ABRO as ABRO puts in place lean processes. That is exactly what has happened at ABRO Donnington. The same will happen at ABRO at Bovington. As those facilities become leaner, and if the amount of work that needs to be completed through there is also reducing and they are doing it more efficiently, by definition the overall volume reduces.

  Air Chief Marshal Sir Malcolm Pledger: In the same way as you were asking about how we become better buyers of services in the future, we are becoming better buyers of the product from ABRO as well as from commercial sources.

  Q470  Chairman: I can see that you think these guys on the Defence Committee are opposed to any radical change. I am going about creating a better system and they are being quite difficult. I hope you appreciate that, as I have been in my job longer than you have, it gets frustrating when you find such radical changes three years after the MoD come down and plead with us to accept why we have to go down the direction or support the direction that they are supporting. Then the guy running it disappears. You come along with a new approach and yet we can sit back and see it in the long term—ie, over a three or four year period. Frankly, it looks ridiculous. Maybe you are right now. I have sufficient confidence in you that you are right but who thought about that plan three years ago that resulted in you, because there was a war and lessons to be learned, very largely going in a different direction. That is what frustrates us. It is not that we are opposed to change. We just like to see change proceeded with in a more rational process than we are exposed to at the present time. That is why we are a little irritated as well as yourself. In our Lessons of Iraq report, we concluded, "We are in no doubt that one of the key lessons to emerge from Operation Telic concerns operational, logistic support and specifically the requirement for a robust system to track equipment and stocks both into and within theatre, a requirement which was identified in the 1991 Gulf War. The lack of such a system on Operation Telic resulted in numerous problems . . . " etc. We had Sir Kevin Tebbit talking to us on 15 September on logistics and asset tracking. We said that one of the key lessons was the need for better asset tracking. You have told us, "Yes, we had a system but in the situation the military found itself it was not quite up to it." The government told us, "A package of improvements for logistics materiel management has been identified which includes tracking. This package would require funding and options will need to be considered as part of the Department's planning round against other priorities. If funded, the enhancements will provide a robust tracking capability." I know we have touched upon it and Mr Ottaway mentioned the point. What is the outcome of this consideration and has the required funding been made available? If so, how much?

  Air Chief Marshal Sir Malcolm Pledger: Can I ask General Wood to deal with the outcome and the funding arrangements? You also said to me at that last meeting that you would not wish me, on my next appearance, to say that we had not been able to improve that regime. I would claim categorically at the moment that already we have improved that regime in what I called earlier the sustainment phase of that particular operation. I gave you examples of what we have been able to do. I would like to reinforce that the answer to this question is not just asset tracking. It is very definitely about asset management because it is no good seeing what is happening out there if you cannot intervene and make it right. Just a plea from me: even if we have the best asset tracking regime in the world, you may not still gain that confidence in the end user because you cannot manage the information in the appropriate way. General Wood will describe the various components of what we are doing in future, recognising that we are patching current systems that have already given us visibility and greater confidence from the end user in the way we have described.

  Major General Wood: The lesson was recognised. Funding was approved, not huge sums of money because the CDL was saying we were building on the existing capability to make it better. A total of £20 million, just under, was approved for this family of projects. I am sure when General Jackson appeared before this Committee he would have apologised for using what he described as "alphabet soup" and I shall probably apply the same apology. This is a combination of the management of materiel in transit, the management of the joint deployed inventory and consignment visibility. Then you have the base inventory systems. It is all of that together in which we are trying to make improvements. All that family of projects have been drawn together into a programme and they are going to an assessment phase now. We will go before the Approvals Board in the autumn of next year to see those enhancements in a coordinated way delivered in the following year; but, as the CDL said, we are making progress now to improve capability building on what we already have, which is the reference I made earlier in the area, for example, of consignment visibility to a further version release of that system which is known as Vital. Another system release is planned in the new year and a third one after that in order to improve the database on which it is founded. I made reference to its user unfriendliness in the past. The management of materiel in transit is a bridging capability on top of that existing consignment visibility capability, not to just wait for the September 2005 approval process but for this demand tracking system which was already available being incorporated now. The roll out for that is early next year. Then, for the joint deployed inventory, MJDI, again it is part of that submission for autumn next year but I made reference to the trial in the land environment which has demonstrated that the existing capability will serve land process requirements and therefore we will incorporate that. That is not the same as me saying that is the solution; nor am I saying that is the solution for ever, but there is a real capability there which we are taking, enhancing and using now. There is also the management of fleets and whole fleet management. The CDL made reference to the distinction between just tracking an item and the configuration of an item. What is known as JAMES, Joint Asset Management and Engineering Solution, the first stage of that, will roll out next year which gives us fleet management capability. It is the sum of all those parts in this programme that I would say is a demonstration of the improvements which are being made now and into the near term.

  Air Chief Marshal Sir Malcolm Pledger: The visibility of all that is within the total programme overseen by General Raper. The development of this and the milestones and the deliverables are there for everybody to see in the right timescales on the defence net. This is not hidden. We are showing exactly what we are doing, when the benefits will be   delivered and apportioned to which of the programmes. I can guarantee you more transparency into the future as you see the progress against each of these and I think there are other aspects of this in process terms. For example, we are introducing PEPs, Priming Equipment Packs, that again will enable this system to work more efficiently and allow us to manage it.

  Major General Raper: I could mention something about PEPs which is directly related to this and one of the lessons from Telic. If you recall, there were a number of challenges at the beginning in getting units to the right level of readiness and making sure the equipment was at the same level. One of the things therefore we have already trialled with one of the battalions is PEPs and will look to trial at brigade level next year with a view to operational deployment from 2006 onwards within the Army being done on a PEP basis. A PEP is a Priming Equipment Pack which includes all the scales, support and spares that that unit would require and which would be delivered to it when it is warned for operations. That will ensure that that unit maximises the time it has available in getting ready, not as it has done in the past in terms of getting together all the equipment it needs because that will be delivered to it. That should therefore improve the availability of the equipment that it deploys with. It will also prevent quite a lot of the demands that there have been on the supply chain in the early stages as units try to make sure they have all the things that they require. That is one thing that we are putting in, in direct response to those lessons. It will improve readiness.

  Q471  Chairman: Will the quartermasters be trained not to plunder like Gengis Khan's hordes because we visited Umm Qasr and it appeared to be semi-anarchic. When the materiel was coming in, the quartermasters were grabbing all they could. It was not signed for. They were taking twice as much as they required and it was rather embarrassing. You think in a crisis like they went through, a new system if it was properly operational would bring rationality in?

  Air Chief Marshal Sir Malcolm Pledger: We honestly believe it will create the confidence in those quartermasters that changes their behaviour as a consequence.

  Q472  Chairman: I hope that is how they behave.

  Major General Wood: Quartermasters are trained at the Defence College of Logistics and there is a training piece to this in terms of making people more familiar with the systems that I have just described so that they are comfortable with their use.

  Q473  Chairman: They are professional scavengers but they do not have much concern for anybody else. If much of this is going to be computerised, will it be properly secure, because we do not want a potential adversary making things more confusing than otherwise they would be? Within your £20 million upgrading, you can give us some guarantee that it will be a secure system?

  Air Chief Marshal Sir Malcolm Pledger: I am not sure I want to be constrained to that £20 million upgrade because one of the keys to this is the bearer systems on which these will sit.

  I think you are already aware of the MoD's emphasis on DII as a single infrastructure and the introduction of Bowman will also help as a potential carrier. It is not just the systems; it is the electric string between those systems that we need to make sure is appropriate to the task of security.

  Q474  Chairman: I hope we can be reassured. When you spoke, you used the word "patching" and this looks like a good old British compromise. We cannot afford it; we do not have the money to have a proper system so the best way, the way in which the British do best in a situation, is to get the best of what we have to try to make it work. Try and reassure us, if not now then in writing if you do not mind, that this patching approach will deliver a proper system and that you have considered other options, including getting the best available. I presume this will not be the best available if you are merely restructuring and improving upon what you have already. Perhaps you can drop us a note on that.[6]

  Air Chief Marshal Sir Malcolm Pledger: We will do that.

  Major General Wood: We are building on existing capability. As we go through each stage in the approval process, we ask very demanding questions about what alternative capabilities were available and in existence within the defence community and outside. That is part of the examination process we would expect to go through.

  Q475  Mr Havard: Obviously, the stuff gets in; then it is the breakout and then the management of the assets and the recovery. None of these is an easy thing to do with quantities and all the rest of it. You talked about Vital. Echoing the chairman's question, am I correct in understanding that you are not going to try and invent a new computer system to deal with this? It is going to be consistent across everything—otherwise, we will go to hell in a handcart. As I understand it, the existing systems in the front end can be modified and made better but the back systems that each of the services previously had which were not consistent, some sort of middle way process is being applied to help to do that. Is that correct?

  Air Chief Marshal Sir Malcolm Pledger: That is correct.

  Q476  Mr Havard: We are not going to have another monster computer debacle?

  Air Chief Marshal Sir Malcolm Pledger: No.

  Major General Wood: The context is set within the supply chain blueprint so there is a doctrinal context for this. It is not just a series of little projects. There is a programme and it is in the broader context of the end to end supply chain.

  Air Chief Marshal Sir Malcolm Pledger: We have had to do this at best pace as well. There has to be some manipulation of current systems as the right way of doing that in the intervening period.

  Q477  Mr Havard: The trials, you said, were on land. The problem comes to some degree at the littoral end so there is a particular set of issues there from Op Telic, is there not, where the marines were giving the Army boys petrol or diesel?

  Air Chief Marshal Sir Malcolm Pledger: There are different issues in the different environments but by far the most complex issues to solve are in the land environment because of its mobility and reasonable habit of moving the goalposts in terms of where it needs delivery.

  Q478  Chairman: The system will be perfectly compatible with the Americans, French, Germans and any other allies that come along with us?

  Major General Wood: You will have been briefed before about TAV Minus which we use. I received some funding to retain that as a UOR. We have extended the footprint for that and we have been involved in some NATO trials using TAV Minus.

  Q479  Chairman: You realise I said that with very high irony?

  Air Chief Marshal Sir Malcolm Pledger: We have explained all this to the NATO Military Committee who were very interested therefore in how they could engage with what we are embarked upon in order to try to get that interoperability within those nations as well.

  Chairman: I am sure there are many French companies masquerading as British companies who will be more than capable of supplying any system you require. They might even supply it to their own armed forces, which I very much doubt.

5   Ev 168 Back

6   Ev 169-170 Back

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