Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 40 - 59)


Rt Hon Adam Ingram MP, Lieutenant General Nick Houghton CBE and Dr Roger Hutton

  Q40  Chairman: I think the Minister said it was a means of—

  Mr Ingram: I said it was a means; I did not say it was the means.

  Q41  Linda Gilroy: That is why I am trying to get a handle on where should we be looking. We did make strong representations, when we met the senior politicians in Baghdad, that they needed to pay more attention to the economic powerhouse of their country. I am just trying to get a picture. You say these are publicly available sources that we should be able to look at. Perhaps you could let us have a note on precisely what those are.[1]

  Mr Ingram: From DfID it is publicly available what we are doing. Whether we have access to information, public or otherwise, in terms of the overall commitment of the Iraqi Government, we will see if you can give you more information of that. If you raised the question with politicians, what did they say to you? It is their country, not ours.

  Linda Gilroy: I was reassured but then people have to "walk the walk", and there is a difference between people saying: "Yes, we recognise that Basra is very important to our economic future" and then actually having a strategy which recognises it. I am trying to get a grasp on where that strategy lies, because we all ought to be able to understand whether there is enough focus on Basra. Goodness knows, they have got enough challenges in other parts of Iraq as well.

  Q42  Chairman: Minister, you will let us have a note?

  Mr Ingram: We will let you have what we have, certainly from DfID.[2] Whether we have anything beyond that, I am not conscious of it, again, off the top of my head.

  Q43  Chairman: You said the money for the PRT was coming partly from the US and mostly from DfID. Is the Ministry of Defence putting any money into the PRTs?

  Mr Ingram: Again, it is all about how we bring together the overall funding. We will give you details on how that is put together.[3]

  Chairman: Moving on to John Smith, we have a question about the Hercules replacement.

  Q44  John Smith: This might appear to jump a little bit, and the reason for that is that we are going to take other questions in private session a little later. What is the MoD's current estimate of the Hercules replacement coming into service, the A400M, and will it be fitted at the beginning of its service life with Explosive Suppressant Foam?

  Mr Ingram: I do not have an answer off the top of my head on the A400M. I have not got stuff on all the different procurement streams. I can see a year coming in my head but I do not want to give it, but, again, we will give you details of how that is developing, when it will come into play and what the fit on that will be, because some of that may not yet have been determined, as to what is required on the aircraft, because it depends on what it is going to be used for. So the whole fleet may not be kitted out; only some may be kitted out, and I do not know whether that has been finally determined yet. Again, we will give that to you in writing.[4]

  Chairman: We will write you a letter expressing exactly the question.

  Q45  John Smith: And with that letter, if a reply cannot be given now, whether the extended life of the C-130K is capable of filling any capability gap that might result in a delay of the in-service date for the A400M.[5]

  Mr Ingram: I know it is part of that because the in-service date for the A400M clearly sets one deadline down and, therefore, what is to fill that gap in between and how we are dealing with all of that, and of course with the C17, we are in the process, as you know, where we have leased four C17s and we are now going to purchase them and we are looking at the funding for an additional C17. As you will understand, it is not my area of procurement, so I do not want to start talking as if I have a detailed knowledge.

  Q46  John Smith: But it is related.

  Mr Ingram: The C17 has a very significant capacity and that is part of the decision thinking to fill that gap while we await the A-400M.

  Chairman: We are now moving on to another area which may be more within your area, airbridge reliability.

  Q47  Linda Gilroy: The mid-tour leave is always important and particularly so when you are working in 50 degrees, as our troops are out there at the moment. We experienced the unreliability of the airbridge ourselves and it took us nearly 30 hours to get home, and that causes great irritation to troops because it erodes their leave. Are you satisfied with the reliability of the service provided by Excel Airways? We heard that it may be replaced soon by RAF flights direct from Basra to the UK, but is that right and, if so, when will it happen?

  Mr Ingram: I am sorry that you had, I think, a burst tyre and engine failure, but that happens with aircraft, but it was not deliberate, let us put it that way. It was not to give you a lesson in the frustrations or even to frustrate you because you had been asking tough questions in the past. This happens in terms of aircraft and aircraft can become unreliable. We have in terms of the airbridge an ageing fleet and that is why we are trying to replace that ageing fleet. We are putting in place a lot of mitigating measures to make sure that we have that capacity to satisfy the needs of troops transferring in and out of theatre because I recognise that, certainly for those coming home, they should not be unduly held up and clearly, if they are going into theatre to replace people, they should not be unduly held up either. What I am saying is that we recognise there is fragility in that process. We went through quite a bad period when it was not functioning very well because of unreliability of the aircraft. We have put those mitigating processes in place in terms of putting aircraft to our need and commercial to our need and then military thereafter. We are looking at ways in which we can deliver a more effective process than this. This all comes down to the number of aircraft we have and the number of aircraft with the appropriate DAS fit on them, so all of those issues have been looked at. We have put in place a major procurement process to upgrade the Hercules maintenance process—

  Q48  Chairman: We will come on to that in the private session.

  Mr Ingram:—which will give us greater availability of those aircraft. Have we had problems? Yes. Have the problems been mitigated? I think so significantly. You had a bad experience. Can I give a guarantee that it will not happen again? No, I cannot. Are we putting our best into finding solutions to it? Yes, we are.

  Chairman: Moving on to another equipment issue, Bowman.

  Q49  Mr Havard: I took the time to go and have a look at the Bowman radio system which has been operated out of Shaiba and so on. It is obviously made in Wales and it is good stuff, but I would like your assessment of what is actually happening with it. We had reports about it. It is the `Light' system, as they call it, the Bowman Light, not of data, but speech transmission. Can I ask how you are evaluating all of that and whether or not there will be plans, as the deployments continue and new ones go in, to extend the use of it to its full facilities?

  Mr Ingram: Bowman, I think, is proving very successful, but with any major procurement there are issues associated with it and certainly communication kit is something which, because of the very nature of it, has to be effectively tested and then, once you hit fatal relationships or environments, you find out more about the capability of the equipment. The current deployment of 20th Armoured Brigade of course do not have the full fit and that is maybe who you meant there over there—

  Q50  Mr Havard: That is right.

  Mr Ingram:—but that was because of their readiness cycle and they had not been through the training process. If they had been through the full training process on Bowman, then they would have had full Bowman capability in theatre, but they had not been trained and then when it came to the point when they were due to be deployed, from memory, 7th Brigade were fully `Bowmanised'. I met 7th Brigade recently when they came back to their base in Germany and I did not pick up any criticism of Bowman at all and I can give you an assurance that, if people want to make a complaint, they complain to me, so, from the practical experience of our personnel, it is not coming back as a major issue. That is not to say that there are not still some technical issues which have to be resolved somewhere within the overall full capability of that procurement programme, but I do not have the details of that.

  Q51  Mr Havard: What they say is that, because they were not fully trained, they were using two and three pieces of communication kit at the same time which did cause some sort of problem.

  Mr Ingram: If I meet 20th Brigade, and I will either meet them out there or when they come back, I will get that in stereo, I know that, but this is about getting our troops trained up in the use of that equipment and the next time they are deployed, wherever that is, they will be fully Bowmanised. I do not know where they are in their training cycle, but they were partially Bowmanised, I think, when they went there.

  Q52  Mr Havard: Do you know anything about the next people going and whether they will have this equipment?

  Lt General Houghton: My information is that 20th Brigade[6] were the last Brigade which were not to be deployed fully Bowmanised. You will appreciate the difficulties, that, if you are force generating formations in order to go on operations and at the same time you are fielding new equipment and going through a complicated retraining programme, you will not always be able to achieve, because of the dynamic nature of these things, an absolute perfect match. No genuine operational risk was taken on the deployment of 20th Brigade given its level of training on both the new Bowman and the legacy Clansman system. Ideally of course we would like to just have them on the single system and from here on in that should be the case.

  Q53  Chairman: The Osprey body armour we saw when we were there. Is it planned to provide all British Forces in Iraq with that new armour and, if so, when do you expect that to happen?

  Mr Ingram: The answer is yes and the figures, if I can find them on this, there are some very precise figures on the numbers that we have or the number that we have available and the numbers which will become available by the turn of the year, and I think it is 5,000 more. No, I do not have the figures. The figures and the way in which that is progressively being delivered through theatre I do not have in front of me, but the answer to your original question as to whether they would have them, yes, but of course what we need is a greater sufficiency of supply and we are now looking at the ways in which it will become a personal piece of kit. At the moment it is not that, but, when troops are being deployed who require it, they will have that piece of body armour, that piece of equipment.

  Q54  Chairman: Medical facilities—we visited Shaibah Hospital which we thought was quite outstanding, but clearly there is a lot of pressure on the medical personnel in Iraq and perhaps generally. What are you doing to address the shortfall of medical personnel and are you concerned about the reliance on medical reservists?

  Mr Ingram: No, I am not because that is part of our availability of resource. People are in the reserves for utilisation. They are not just in the reserves to sit around and not be deployed. In fact we find a very high level of keenness amongst the reserves to be deployed. Now, in terms of what can be seen as the pressure on our medical personnel overall, reserves and regulars, we recognise that as a pinch area. It is one of those areas where there are shortfalls and there is pressure on the personnel. What we are seeking to do of course is to increase the numbers of medical personnel and regulars. We have also, through TA rebalancing, dedicated an increased amount of resource to medical support in terms of the reserves, so we are aware of the problem, but there is no easy and quick solution overnight in this. Part of the rebalancing in terms of the future Army structure, again it is not just in medicals, it is in other key enablers, engineers and other specialisms, 3,000 posts are being reinvested back in to the Army specifically to meet those shortfalls. That does take time. We have got to train people up. We have got to find the people, we have got to recruit them and we have got to train them up and make them deployable.

  Q55  Chairman: One doctor told me that, if he were to work in the UK in the NHS instead of working in Iraq, he could immediately double the amount of money that he was earning. Do you recognise that?

  Mr Ingram: It would not surprise me.

  Q56  Chairman: Well, it would not surprise you then that there are pressures on medical personnel?

  Mr Ingram: It would not surprise me, but again you will know, Chairman, and your Committee will know that I do not negotiate in that sense for the individual terms and conditions. We have the Armed Forces Pay Review Body which is an independent body to which we give evidence to say, "Here are areas that are of concern", and it is then up to them to determine what would be the best solution to that. Again you will be aware that we have in the past given golden handshakes and golden handcuffs as part of the inducements to retain personnel or to encourage personnel in. This is done through a wholly independent process and, although I say I am not surprised that that comment has been made, I pay tribute to our people who are continuing to deliver a very high-grade, high-quality and a highly professional service because they have a dedication to duty and they do not just chase money, and that is the point I think they would make. I think we could find that across a whole range of the Armed Forces where people could say, "I could earn a lot more money outside in the private sector", and they could become a Member of Parliament and earn more money, I suppose, as some of them do, but our people have got purposes in life other than the pursuit of income.

  Chairman: Moving on to the issue of detainees and the detention facilities in Shaibah.

  Q57  Mr Havard: The divisional temporary detention facility—we had some discussions with the Prime Minister and his five-man team he had sent to Basra. One of the things that they were particularly excited about was the question of a number of people in that facility who, they were pleading, should be let out and this was becoming politically contentious as to whether or not it would help with the situation in Basra. I do not want to comment on the detail of any of that, I am not qualified to do it, but what we do know, however, is that, in order for people to be released from the facility, there is a review process and what I would like to do is to ask you a question about that really. We understand that, the way the review works at the moment, it does not involve any Iraqis in that process and I wonder whether you could make a comment about whether the processes involved with the continuation of the facility are in future going to involve them in some fashion. Also what is its future going to be in the discussions about the renewal of the UN mandate under which it operates as we move towards the end of the calendar year?

  Mr Ingram: Just as a point on detention, clearly everything we do is fully consistent, and in full compliance, with the relevant UNSCR1637. All the detention facilities are inspected by the ICRC and we receive no, although these are matters between the State and the ICRC and the ICRC never publish the reports, as we know, because that is the way they operate, but we do not receive adverse comments. If there are things which need to be attended to, then we immediately attend to them. Any person who is detained, usually within 24 hours both their family and the ICRC will be duly notified of all of that, so in terms of the governance of the facility, it is to a very high and professional level. In terms of the review of those who are held and the engagement of Iraqis in that, I am conscious of the fact that the Secretary of State is currently in Iraq and I know that is likely to be part of his discussions, and our intention is to achieve that end result, and it may already have happened in terms of a set of relationships where I have not yet had feedback from any of those discussions, but that is our objective so that the Iraqis are part of that review process.

  Q58  Mr Havard: One specific thing, however, about its governance or, rather more importantly, its operation, I have visited it twice in the past, not because I was caught and put in there, but I was actually allowed in and out. The point I would like to make though is that at that time when I visited it, it was being run by the provost marshals and there were professional prison officers conducting the exercise. We learned from the Grenadier Guards that they were now providing prison officers and they were being trained in order to undertake the task on a rotation basis, but it now seems as though there has been a change in terms of who is actually operating or working with the people who operate the facility. Is that also going to be part of the review process?

  Mr Ingram: Again I do not have the detail of the change you are talking about. Remember, the nature of those prisoners that are being held is that they are pretty dangerous people and we are holding them on the basis of good intelligence and perhaps even actions they have taken and the threats they pose to us and, therefore, to the overall security within our area of operation. We do not do this lightly, we do this on best judgment and we also have to be conscious of the need to ensure a secure environment in which they are held as well as being an appropriate and proper environment which has to be secure so that, if anything happens in that facility, we have the capabilities to be able to attend to it immediately. This is not an open prison in the UK and you have got to remember who is being held there. In terms of the overall management of it, usually there are changes taking place, but I have no immediate knowledge of that, so again we will write to you and let you know the precise arrangements which are currently applied and, if there is going to be a change, whether there is going to be a change to that as well.[7]

  Q59  Chairman: Minister, I find that a rather odd answer, I am afraid.

  Mr Ingram: There may be some more information on that.

1   See Ev 22-29 Back

2   See Ev 22-29 Back

3   See Ev 22-29 Back

4   See Ev 20 Back

5   See Ev 20 Back

6   Note by Witness: 20th Brigade are not the last Brigade to deploy fully Bowmanised. 20th Brigade will handover to 19th Light Brigade, who will be the last Brigade to deploy as a non fully Bowmanised Brigade on Op Telic. Back

7   See Ev 20 Back

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