Readiness and recuperation of the Armed Forces: looking towards the Strategic Defence Review - Defence Committee Contents

Examination of Witness (Questions 274-405)


28 APRIL 2009

  Q274  Chairman: Secretary of State, welcome back to the Defence Committee. This is our first and only evidence session in the public domain about readiness and recuperation, but before we begin, I would like to say that we have some very distinguished visitors in the public gallery, to which I probably should refer, from Pakistan and they are most welcome. Secretary of State, this may seem a rather cheeky question to start off with, because the title of our inquiry is our title. It is an inquiry into —Readiness and recuperation for the contingent tasks of today." Since this is the only public session that we are having on it, I wonder whether you could tell us what you understand, first, by —readiness"; second, by —recuperation"; and, third, by —the contingent tasks of today".

  Mr Hutton: How long do we have? Recuperation is essentially a process. Readiness is a condition. Recuperation is an essential element, obviously, in recovering from deployed operations and taking on responsibility and an ability to prepare for other tasks over and beyond current operations. Contingent tasks, the tasks that we plan and prepare for, we have set out in Defence Planning Assumptions and they are widely analysed in a series of papers that we published—we started from a Strategic Defence Review in the 2003 White Paper, and some of the other strategic analysis work that has been done inside the Ministry of Defence since then. I think all I can probably sensibly say about contingent tasks is that they are likely to change. The one thing we have found in a variety of current operations, going all the way back during the lifetime of this Government—let us say, looking at operations in Sierra Leone, for example—is that what we thought we needed to conduct a small-scale operation like that turned out to be more than we needed to do it. I would argue there is a common misunderstanding about the nature of Defence Planning Assumptions that underpin some of the language about this debate about readiness and recuperation, but the Defence Planning Assumptions are not a straitjacket into which the Armed Forces then have to be squeezed. They are not designed to constrain the sorts of contingency that we have to prepare for, the sorts of operations that we end up conducting. They are guidance to those in the Ministry and in the Armed Forces, all of the three commands, land, sea and air, to base their planning/their force generation/their preparation work against, but they are not a straitjacket. I think it was Eisenhower who said, when asked about how we won the war, —Well, we had a plan." It is good to have a plan, but the plan had to change. I think any good plan has to be capable of adaptation and flexibility. That is basically my rather long-winded answer to your question.

  Q275  Chairman: It is not a long-winded answer at all, but we will come on to the Defence Planning Assumptions —shortly"—to use a government word. You did not say that much in that answer about readiness. Since 2005, the readiness of the Armed Forces has been falling. Is that a comment you would agree with—and I will come on to why?

  Mr Hutton: Yes.

  Q276  Chairman: Now, fewer than half—according to Ministry of Defence statistics—of the force elements are reporting no critical or serious weaknesses. Is that something that you accept?

  Mr Hutton: It is a figure I accept, certainly, but I would just enter one very important caveat, a caveat also in relation to your first question to me about readiness. When I came to the Select Committee a few months ago, I tried to make the point in relation to our annual report that we have prioritised success in current operations. We have done that, rightly, I think, because that it is in the United Kingdom's national security interests to do so. When we deploy, we have to win the fights that we are in. Everything we do is geared to success on the ground. Because military resources are finite, by definition it means that we have not been able to train—and it is essentially in the area of training—the units, the force elements, for the full spectrum of contingent tasks that we would like to prepare for. It has not meant—and I think this is my caveat—that we have been less successful. I think we have achieved enormous success, for example, in Iraq.

  Q277  Chairman: I would not for a moment suggest that it had. I was just trying in those first two questions to establish the facts on which we are working. If readiness is down, serious or critical weaknesses apply to more than half of the—

  Mr Hutton: I agree with those facts, because I think they are my facts. This is the data we have provided—

  Q278  Chairman: That is what I was going to come on to.

  Mr Hutton: — so I do not want to dispute them, but I think it is important, nonetheless, Chairman, to make this point on the critical weakness, in particular. It does not mean, for example, that those units are weak operationally, that they are not able to conduct their operations successfully. Critical weakness is defined in the context of their contingent capabilities, and they are not able to perform or to undertake the full spectrum of contingent operations because of the extent of the training and deployment involved in active, current operations. That would be the point I would make about that statistic. In terms of readiness, again the great danger here is to generalise from one set of statistics into an overarching conclusion about the overall position of the UK Armed Forces. For example, we have taken no risks with UK homeland security, so the forces that are available, land, sea and air, to secure our borders have remained fully operational, fully capable, throughout the entire period of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Readiness is measured against the full spectrum of contingent capabilities, and, as I have said, we have simply not been able to train the men and women who are preparing to deploy to Iraq and Afghanistan or who are on deployment, for the other contingent tasks their units have some residual responsibility for. It is simply not possible, despite how marvellous our guys are, to get them to do two things simultaneously. They cannot in the same sense of being on active deployment in Afghanistan, undertake small-scale, peacekeeping operations somewhere else. It is simply not possible to do that. Although, clearly, we may have taken risks—and we have—against the full spectrum of contingent capabilities, I believe the risks that we have run are proportionate and they are fundamental to our national security, that we succeed in Iraq and Afghanistan. We would be less secure, in my view, if we had not been prepared to take these risks against some contingent capabilities, than if we had sat on our hands and said, —Because there are risks, we cannot deploy to Afghanistan, we cannot deploy sufficient forces to Iraq." That, in my view, would have been a totally false economy, which would have compromised UK security and not enhanced it.

  Q279  Chairman: Personally I would agree with that. The vision we see, though, of the increasing proportion of serious weaknesses, critical weaknesses, seems to have begun. That steady decline seems to have begun around about the same time as deployment to the south of Afghanistan.

  Mr Hutton: True.

  Q280  Chairman: Is that why you would suggest those weaknesses have arisen?

  Mr Hutton: Yes.

  Q281  Chairman: Is that a proper conclusion from what you have said?

  Mr Hutton: Yes. To be honest, I think it is the only conclusion to reach. There was not suddenly deterioration. The deterioration is to do with the fact that we then took on another medium-scale deployment obligation in the south of Afghanistan. I think it is inevitable, again coming back to what I said a few minutes ago, that with finite resources, if you take on two medium-scale enduring operations, there will be an impact on the force elements readiness to undertake contingent operations. That is what we mean by a critical weakness in this context, Chairman. It is not that the units themselves have become fundamentally weak in the sense of being militarily capable. That is not what we are talking about. We are talking about their ability to undertake the full spectrum of contingent operations. As I have said, I think it is inevitable, now that we are operating outside of the Defence Planning Assumptions, with two medium-scale operations concurrently and of an enduring nature—although the drawdown in Iraq, I think, will significantly help things—it is inevitable that we have seen this pressure come to bear on our ability to undertake, as I say, this full range of other operations that we planned for.

  Q282  Chairman: We will come on to the drawdown in Iraq. In June of last year, 39% of our force elements had no serious or critical weaknesses. That went up in September to 42%, which was an improvement, but nevertheless it is well under half. What would you suggest was a level that was unacceptably low?

  Mr Hutton: I do not want to start throwing figures around in this context. The Vice Chief of the Defence Staff is planning his new recuperation directive, which will be out, I think, quite soon—which I think will help. The drawdown in TELIC is going to improve things. I think it is worth just reminding ourselves, in the context of readiness, that we are seeing an improvement in readiness. I think the Committee has been shown the figures on readiness levels. Although there is more to do, I think we are seeing signs of progress in relation to readiness now. That is, I think, related to the drawdown that has already taken place in Iraq and which will be further accelerated later this summer when the vast bulk of the combat units in Iraq come home. Maybe this is something on which we can talk to the Committee again in May, when the recuperation directive has been finalised. We can help you then.

  Q283  Chairman: When do you think you will be able to meet your Public Service Agreement targets on readiness?

  Mr Hutton: They have been changed now, of course. We had a numeric figure in the 2004-07 CSR period, which I think was measured at 73% of their contingent capabilities. But now it is in the MoD's Strategic and Operational something or other, where it is about satisfactory levels of readiness which the Ministry of Defence will decide itself. We have to do some more work on readiness methodology. Again I think we are very happy to talk to you about the work we are doing on that but we do not have a numeric target in the sense that we did in previous years.

  Q284  Chairman: Is there a bit of a worry in your mind: 73% was a figure which we did hit, somewhere round about March 2006, but now that we are down to 42% or whatever, that the figure has been abandoned? Do you go for a subjective judgment?

  Mr Hutton: No, we will try to be as objective as we can. This is not some sort of sleight of hand. That is not what it is about at all. We have agreed with the Treasury a different basis on which levels will be calibrated. I think the Committee has the full text of the 2007 document in front of it.

  Q285  Mr Crausby: The MoD has been operating above Defence Planning Assumptions for seven years now; that is, that our Armed Forces can be expected to do one enduring medium-scale operation (around 5,000 people) plus one enduring small-scale operation (a battle group of around 600 to 700 people). Is it not time that you significantly revise the Defence Planning Assumptions.

  Mr Hutton: We do keep these under very careful review all the time. As I tried to say earlier on, the current reality is that we have been operating well beyond DPAs. I think that is going to come back into a broader balance soon, but the fact that we have been able to do so confirms the agility and flexibility of UK Armed Forces. We have taken on a great deal of extra work; there has been a lot of pressure. It has had implications, for example, on harmony rules, and the impact on Service families has been very intense as well, but we are capable of doing these things. We are not capable of doing these things indefinitely. I think there is a very strong case for looking critically at all of these Defence Planning Assumptions and everything else that goes with it, and, as I have said, the Services have a tradition—I think it is a very noble one and a very good one—of being able to do their best whatever the circumstances, whatever defence planners have tried to do in the past and whatever policymakers have done, and I think that will continue to be the case. It does not matter how much work you do, you would not be able successfully to identify a plan for every type of contingent operation that is going to hit you. It is just impossible to do that. You just have to be able to do the best you can. You have to make a reasonable set of assumptions. I think Defence Planning Assumptions are reasonable assumptions, were reasonable assumptions, but we have to be prepared, and we are, to look at all of these things in the context of the future.

  Q286  Mr Crausby: Afghanistan, quite properly in my opinion, looks like a very long-term commitment. Is it not time we took consideration of that fact and just accepted that Afghanistan is a very long-term enduring operation?

  Mr Hutton: I do not think the problem, with respect, is about our ability to deploy forces into Afghanistan. The problem is the implications that that has for the other contingent tasks that we have agreed we should plan and prepare for. It does not matter how you would characterise the Afghanistan operations—as a standing military task, for example, or anything else—the simple reality is that on an operation of that scale it is going to affect the other contingent operating capabilities that you might want to have for your Armed Forces. Changing the designation of the operation in Afghanistan is not going to make the slightest difference to that.

  Q287  Mr Crausby: Can you say something about recuperation and to what extent readiness levels and our standards are affecting recuperation?

  Mr Hutton: I think you have had a pretty full briefing in the private session about where we are on recuperation. For obvious reasons, I am sure the Committee will understand that I do not want to bring into the public domain some of those discussions that you have been privy to. I would say about recuperation that it is fundamentally dependent on two issues: time and resources. On time: it is a luxury, a commodity that I do not control. Something else could happen; there could be another conflict. I am afraid that the period of grace from active operations that we are hoping for, with the drawdown in TELIC, might not materialise, because that is the nature of the beast. But time is a precious commodity. If we have time we can improve retention and we can improve, I hope, recruitment into the Services, because fundamentally we need that type of period in which to replenish, to renew our people. There is some evidence—it is anecdotal at this stage, because I think we are too early into this—of seeing signs of improvement on both retention and recruitment. This will help us. On resources: we have a broad agreement with the Treasury about the sort of resources that we need for recuperation. We now have to agree all of the small print that goes with these general agreements and we are involved in that at the moment. I am sure the Committee is aware that the cost of recuperation is recognised across government as a genuine net additional cost of operations, and so we will get additional resources to help the Army, the Navy and the Air Force look at their equipment, because, essentially, in the context of resources it is about equipment: replenishing fleets and maintaining fleets of vehicles, for example. I think we will do that. It is fundamental to readiness. We have to have the time and the resources to renew ourselves after the very, very heavy burden of two major operations running concurrently.

  Q288  Mr Crausby: Finally, what are the most important lessons learned, in what has been a very different military experience in Iraq and Afghanistan, on the use of the UOR process?

  Mr Hutton: I think every country involved in Iraq and Afghanistan has had a version of its UOR programme itself. I do not want to bet my shirt on this, but I suspect it is probably true historically, no matter how far back you go, that very, very few military campaigns have been started with all of the right kit and all of the right people and all of the right training for the campaign. I think that is probably true. It is certainly true of the last two major conflicts, World War I and World War II. There is an evolution in campaign tactics, campaign equipment and so on, and that has been visible in both Iraq and Afghanistan. We have spent something like £14 billion since 2001, overall, on the net additional cost of operations, including UORs. I think, as a result, we have some pretty capable kit and equipment now. How much of that is going to be, as it were, capable of being incorporated into the core equipment programme, we do not know yet, until we are basically out of Iraq, and we can make a judgment about that in the first instance, but I think the UOR process has been a vital part of achieving campaign success. I do not think it reflects, as it were, a failure in the core equipment programme of the MoD. I do not believe that. By its very definition and nature, you cannot necessarily plan for all of the detail of the campaign reality, to the atmospherics and everything else, of fighting a major, full-on counter insurgency operation in a country like Afghanistan as part of your core equipment programme. I just think it is unimaginable that you would get into that granularity with your core programme. I think it has been a huge bonus for the Armed Forces that we have had the additional capital going in to help our people in our campaigns there, but that is probably all I can say about UORs.

  Q289  Mr Jenkin: We know what operations are currently absorbing so much effort of the Armed Forces at the moment, but could you describe what sort of operations you aim to recuperate the Armed Forces for?

  Mr Hutton: Broadly, they would be the pre TELIC capabilities, based on our assumptions in SDR.

  Q290  Mr Jenkin: Can you say a bit more about that?

  Mr Hutton: I think is all set out in SDR at the moment, and it has not changed.

  Q291  Mr Jenkin: SDR was pre 9/11, pre Iraq, pre Afghanistan.

  Mr Hutton: That is true, but we are talking about the new chapter capabilities as well.

  Q292  Mr Jenkin: So expeditionary warfare, full spectrum capability.

  Mr Hutton: Yes.

  Q293  Mr Jenkin: Wherever it may be.

  Mr Hutton: Yes.

  Q294  Mr Jenkin: The Chicago doctrine.

  Mr Hutton: Yes. We are recuperating to that level of capability that we identified initially in the SDR, which has been subsequently refined in, for example, the new chapter. I think it is important, however, for the Committee to know that there has been a lot of strategic work done in the department in the intervening period. I think the impression—and there is an impression—that all strategic work stopped, let us say, after the new chapter was published in 2002, is simply not true. I hope to be in a position later this year to publish a little bit more detail about the Defence Strategic Guidance that was done for 2008, which I think will provide a little bit more context and flavour for the question that you are rightly asking, which is about: —This is what we have done, what do we possibly need to think are necessary obligations for us going forward?" They are broadly the pre TELIC strategic parameters.

  Q295  Mr Jenkin: On the PSA targets, I do not accuse you of minimising the seriousness of the situation but there is a tendency to regard these as just statistics: —Yes, we know about that and we know about that, and we are not too worried about it." Perhaps you cannot be specific about the additional risks we are taking at such a low level of readiness, but would you confirm that there are additional risks of being less ready to such a degree?

  Mr Hutton: Yes, there are. I think it would be foolish to pretend otherwise. As I said earlier, you have to take two fundamental considerations into account as you balance the risk here. Not since the end of the Cold War has the Ministry of Defence planned to conduct simultaneous major conflict operations and the ability to conduct the full spectrum of contingent operations. We have not planned for that for the last 20-odd years—and I think quite reasonably so, because the costs of doing that would be pretty high. But there are two fundamental points here. First, if you are going to take a risk—and we have—you have to answer two fundamental questions. Is UK homeland security at greater or less risk? If the answer is that it is at greater risk, then that should be a red warning light. It is not a greater risk. We have made that absolutely clear in all the work that we have done. The second fundamental point is: is it worth taking that risk to secure UK national security interests? I say, unequivocally, it has been worth taking that risk.

  Q296  Mr Jenkin: Looking at Defence Planning Assumptions, which you say are subject to constant revision but not the sort of step change of revision that would result in much greater demand for funding from the defence budget—Kosovo, Iraq, Afghanistan, you say you are planning for similar contingencies in the future which are vital to our national interests—is there not a danger that military commanders and politicians become prey to wishful thinking that we can achieve as much as we have to achieve with rather less than we need? Is not the real lesson of Iraq and Afghanistan, particularly Op HERRICK, that we went there with far too much wishful thinking, without a real understanding or a real internalisation into the military planning of what the challenges could be likely to be, so we finished up doubling the size of Op HERRICK as a result of the experience of going there with far too little?

  Mr Hutton: I think there will be a time to opine about the circumstances of the HERRICK deployment. Personally I am not going to take up that very generous invitation.

  Q297  Mr Jenkin: Take Iraq then. Do not waste time on it, what about Iraq? We started drawing down from Iraq to try to restore the readiness and recuperation of our Armed Forces on a wishful basis, when in fact we needed far more troops on the ground in order to maintain peace and stability in Southern Iraq.

  Mr Hutton: I think all of those decisions about the precise levels of troop deployments, both in Iraq and Afghanistan, are matters where, as you would expect, the Services themselves have the primary voice, and I think that is right.

  Q298  Mr Jenkin: They are very clear. You go and meet the guys on the ground and they say, —What are we meant to do now? We only have this and this and this. What are we meant to do now?" That was the experience of this Committee and of individuals.

  Mr Hutton: I would say that there is, as always, a range of views on these matters. I have experienced that myself. I have taken back some of the comments that I have heard on the frontline which I have considered to be important and relevant, to relate those back to the Service chiefs as well, and sometimes things do change as a result of that. But at the end of the day, politicians—Labour, Tory, whatever—the fundamental way that the system works is that military advice is requested and received and then acted on. That is basically how the operation works and that has to be, by definition, because there is a chain of command, on the advice of the most senior commanders in the Army, the Navy and the Air Force. I do not want to repeat myself, because time is precious, but have we learned lessons as we have gone along in both theatres? Yes, of course, we have. It has changed, for example, the force elements we deploy. It has changed some of the equipment that we have decided we need as the campaign itself changes. In Afghanistan, for example, it was a much more conventional conflict in 2006 than it is today, with much more substantial force-on-force engagement, almost quasi-classic infantry style operations. That has been replaced now by completely asymmetric attacks in the main, using sometimes quite complicated IED devices and that has necessitated a change in our force elements there, in the way that we defend ourselves and can prosecute our campaign. I do not think a change like that can be regarded as evidence of mistakes, which is often the assumption that people make. It is, I am afraid, evidence that campaigns change. When you come into contact with the enemy, most of the planning in any campaign usually goes straight out the window, and then you have to rethink. We have rethought and we have been funded appropriately to re-equip and re-provide and I think that is the key point.

  Q299  Mr Jenkin: Is not the real lesson of Afghanistan and Iraq that we either have to significantly enlarge the Defence Planning Assumptions to be able to absorb the kind of activity we have been undertaking, or we should realistically plan to do much less—much less—than we have been undertaking in recent years?

  Mr Hutton: The lessons I draw from having done this job for a short period of time is that you can operate outwith Defence Planning Assumptions for a period of time.

  Q300  Mr Jenkin: For a limited period.

  Mr Hutton: For a limited period. That has to be a necessary agility and flexibility you have to work with. If you do this job and say, —I'm sorry, we can't do that task," irrespective of what it means for the security of the UK —because it's outside our Defence Planning Assumptions," we should all pack up and go home, because that is not a proper defence policy, that is as sort of rigid straitjacket bureaucracy which can never substitute itself for a coherent defence policy. You can tweak your Defence Planning Assumptions until the cows come home, you could have an army of people reworking and re-engineering them, but at the end of the day, people sometimes have to face a choice: —Do we have to go outside them or not?" That, I am afraid, is always going to be with us. It does not matter how well-drafted the plans and preparations and the strategic analysis has been.

  Q301  Linda Gilroy: Secretary of State, you mentioned a moment ago the possibility of some new strategic guidance. Is that, and the Defence Planning Assumptions associated with it, affected at all by the MoD input to the National Security Strategy?

  Mr Hutton: The NSS-2, as it is called, will be a very important document, and, yes, we are inputting into that. Both in 2005 and 2008 a lot of defence strategic work was done in the MoD. These are essentially internal pieces of work to help the forces themselves understand the nature of the job that they have been asked to do and how they plan and prepare for it. I think the time is right to try to get as much of that out into the public domain as we can. I think it will be important that people see the thinking that is going on in the department and how we are trying, in response to Bernard's question, to prepare the Armed Forces for the future challenges. Afghanistan is not an apparition. That is very largely the nature of future conflict that we have to prepare for, so we had better be absolutely sure now, because we cannot waste time on this. You can ignore risks but they do not go away in the meantime, you have to always think ahead. I think the more we can share with the public about the thinking that has gone on, the better. I hope to be in a position to do some of that later this year, and this will have an implication, I think, for the future.

  Q302  Linda Gilroy: A number of people when NSS-1 was published thought that the MoD military input was a bit on the light side. I take it from what you are saying that that is not happening in terms of the follow-up and the ongoing process and that the MoD is fully engaged with what is happening on that.

  Mr Hutton: The MoD is very fully engaged. I know people have said that about the National Security Strategy, the first iteration of it. I do not think it is true or accurate. The MoD, the Armed Forces of the UK, have a very, very important role in counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism and I think that was acknowledged. We have certainly tried to develop and improve our capabilities in all of those areas since 1997, but I think NSS-2 is an opportunity to take the thinking and the strategy forward. I do not want to pre-empt the publication of it, because I think work is still in hand.

  Linda Gilroy: Thank you.

  Q303  Mr Jenkins: You said earlier on that we cannot continue indefinitely to operate at this level over our Defence Planning Assumptions. But that is not to say that we should operate within or to our Defence Planning Assumptions, and obviously we always can go overboard. I do not expect an answer this morning, because I understand you will be working on this scenario, but when would it be possible to provide the Committee with some plan or idea of the planning required to get our present conditions back closer to our Defence Planning Assumptions by a level which we could live with indefinitely? Because at the present time it looks like conditions have to be altered, otherwise the machine gets broken.

  Mr Hutton: I thought we had shared with the Committee some of the detailed work we are doing on recuperation and readiness. We shared with you some of the timelines that we are working to, as well, when we can restore some of those contingent capabilities. We did that in a private session with you. I obviously do not want to refer to any of that material today, but if the Committee feels there is still information you need that you do not have to answer that question, I think the best way to do it would probably be either in another private session or with a confidential note to the Committee.

  Mr Jenkins: Thank you.

  Q304  Chairman: Secretary of State, we will be very interested in the new strategic guidance that you have been talking about. Does it, in essence, amount to a new Defence Review?

  Mr Hutton: I think the term Strategic Defence Review has a connotation about a process involving internal as well as external opinion. The DSG was an internal exercise, but it is a significant piece of work.

  Q305  Chairman: We all remember Options for Change. Options for Change was a process that was described as being something that was not a Defence Review. It was called Options for Change because people did not like the connotations of a Defence Review, but it seems to me as though you are describing a Defence Review.

  Mr Hutton: No, I think I would be clear in my own mind what a Strategic Defence Review would look like. I think it would involve a process of debate and consultation with the public, with external stakeholders.

  Q306  Chairman: But you have just said you are going to share it with us.

  Mr Hutton: Yes, but after we have done it ourselves. I think that is a slightly different process. I do not want to leave the impression that the strategic guidance work that was done in 2008 could be called Strategic Defence Review. I think that would be an exaggeration.

  Q307  Mr Jenkin: Can I just ask a rather cheeky question. The Chairman is asking about a Defence Review and you keep talking about a Strategic Defence Review. Is there a difference between the two?

  Mr Hutton: I do not know. There is a constant process of work underway in the department—it does not happen only at periodic intervals—where we do look at our commitments, we do look at our capacities and capabilities.

  Mr Jenkin: But it is not strategic.

  Q308  Chairman: Yes, you are producing strategic guidance.

  Mr Hutton: Maybe everything we do has a strategic flavour to it. As I have said, we constantly look at defence assumptions—all of the time.

  Chairman: Excellent. Moving rapidly on.

  Q309  Richard Younger-Ross: Coming back to recuperation, the basis of recuperation is that we have withdrawn troops from Iraq. What happens to that recuperation process if there is another demand; for instance, an increase in our forces in Afghanistan?

  Mr Hutton: If that were to happen it would clearly impact on the timescales that we are currently working to on recuperation. But our recuperation assumptions are on the basis that our commitments in Afghanistan have been broadly constant.

  Q310  Richard Younger-Ross: What level of additional forces deployed to Afghanistan would have an impact on the recuperation?

  Mr Hutton: I think it would need to be a significant deployment. Again, I would not want to talk numbers, because I do not think that would be very sensible, but it would need to be a significant deployment to Afghanistan to interrupt the recuperation timelines.

  Q311  Richard Younger-Ross: Do you think it is likely there will be an additional request for forces in Afghanistan?

  Mr Hutton: I am not going to speculate about UK force levels in Afghanistan today.

  Q312  Mr Jenkin: Are you able to quantify the costs of recuperation?

  Mr Hutton: I understand the Committee has had a figure shared with it. Is that not the case?

  Q313  Chairman: Yes. We are in public session, so you can tell us what you like in public.

  Mr Hutton: This has been shared with you in private. It will be several hundred millions. It is a significant figure.

  Q314  Mr Jenkin: Have you secured the necessary funding?

  Mr Hutton: We have done two things. We have agreed with the Treasury this is a net additional cost, so it will be met from the reserve and not from the MoD's budgets. The precise quantum, the precise details, are still being worked through.

  Q315  Mr Jenkin: But there are some aspects of recuperation that are not funded from the reserve; for example, casualties. The retraining and replacement of manpower is not funded from the reserve.

  Mr Hutton: I am not sure I know the answer to that. I might need to write to you about that. I do not know.[1]

  Mr Jenkin: I am pretty confident that that is the case.

  Q316  Chairman: Perhaps I can come in on that answer. Often we tear people off a strip for not knowing the answers to things, but when they just say they do not know the answer to things, I think that is wholly commendable, to be encouraged.

  Mr Hutton: Well, I am probably in trouble back at the MoD, but thank you for that.

  Mr Jenkin: That rather spoils my next question, because it is about what you might have to forego from your core budget in order to fund recuperation!

  Q317  Chairman: We hope you do know the answer to this.

  Mr Hutton: Certainly the training load for contingent tasks is funded under normal CSR arrangements. That is certainly true, because that is within our normal operating parameters. But I would have to go back and check the specific costs point that you raise. When the guys come back from Iraq and we begin to train for the other tasks that we have neglected, that will be a cost to the MoD.

  Q318  Mr Jenkin: But when 1 Royal Anglian came back from Afghanistan, a significant proportion of their manpower that they went out with was now unfit for service. They are expensive to train up to that combat level. They will have to recruit new people and retrain them. That comes out of the core budget, is my understanding.

  Mr Hutton: That might be possible, but, as I have said, I will need to go back and check.

  Q319  Mr Jenkin: Hit the Treasury with it. Who will pay for the extra costs of the drawdown from Iraq?

  Mr Hutton: That is a net additional cost to operations, so that will be met from the reserve.

  Q320  Mr Jenkin: And a certain amount of equipment that is being left behind and gifted to the Iraqis, who pays for that?

  Mr Hutton: It will not be the Ministry of Defence. I think that will be scored against the net operating costs budget, I think.

  Q321  Mr Jenkin: Scored against?

  Mr Hutton: That will be part of the net additional cost of operations.

  Q322  Mr Jenkin: So from the reserve?

  Mr Hutton: Yes. I do not think, by the way, there will be a lot of equipment gifted, but if the Committee would like a note on that, I am sure I can arrange for that.[2]

  Chairman: We certainly would. We would be very interested.

  Q323  Mr Jenkin: Where does the burden of recuperation costs lie? Is it mainly equipment and logistical support?

  Mr Hutton: I think it has been four areas. It is manpower, training, equipment and support services. As I have said, we have a broad agreement with the Treasury about the likely costs of that recuperation package and that will be met from the reserve.

  Q324  Chairman: Did you get any extra money in the Budget?

  Mr Hutton: We got a small amount of money for accommodation in fast-tracking some capital schemes to improve Service accommodation.

  Q325  Chairman: Was it new money?

  Mr Hutton: That I will have to check as well. I do not think so. I think this was a drawdown from future budgets.

  Q326  Mr Jenkin: Supposing we wanted to speed up recuperation, is that expensive or can it physically be achieved?

  Mr Hutton: It would be expensive, yes, if we were to accelerate our plans.

  Q327  Mr Jenkin: It is not at the margin. The timing of recuperation is financially sensitive.

  Mr Hutton: It would depend what you mean by accelerate. How quickly you could do that. There are some physical constraints on the speed at which you could recuperate, if it is about recruiting and training people, for example, if it is about equipment and industry and everything else.

  Chairman: We will come on to that in just a few moments.

  Q328  Mr Havard: In terms of the costs, can I just be clear. My understanding was that the recuperation plan was to recuperate to a force structure as it was in 2003. A financial assessment profile was to be agreed with the Treasury at the end of last month, the end of March—the financial year, presumably—and then from there, after negotiations with the Treasury, whatever that might look like, you would do a directive detailing the types of equipment and so on, and what the costs would be would then be sent out—which is presumably the thing you were talking about earlier.

  Mr Hutton: Yes.

  Q329  Mr Havard: Is that still the plan? Was that on track? Is it on track? Did you do that in March? Are we seeing that process unfolding or has there been any change to that?

  Mr Hutton: No, I think the plan is on target. We hope by the end of May to have produced the recuperation directive and that will of course require agreement to have been reached on all of the resources.

  Q330  Mr Havard: So, by that time, we would have a better understanding of what the financial implications are.

  Mr Hutton: Yes.

  Q331  Mr Havard: And perhaps what it might look like for different sets of activity.

  Mr Hutton: As I have said, I think the overall size of the package has been agreed but, of course, one of the variables is the point that was raised earlier about how much equipment is coming back and how much is not. That still has to be resolved.

  Q332  Robert Key: Secretary of State, you are clearly optimistic about achieving your planned timescales for recuperation, and we are all rooting for you in that as well. What are the things that make it difficult? What are the impediments or the challenges to you succeeding with that timescale for recuperation?

  Mr Hutton: I think recuperation, as I have said, rests fundamentally on two foundations. One is that you have the time—in other words the freedom from having to undertake current operations to replenish stocks of equipment and trained people—and the second is that there is the right level of resources being made available to help you do that according to the time that you set out. I am confident on the resources point. On the time point, I think it is impossible for any minister to say, —Look, we can now look forward to several years where we do not have the risk of other operations, other obligations falling upon us." We cannot. But if we have that time, we can recuperate to the levels that we can inform the Committee about.

  Q333  Robert Key: I think you made a speech last night in which you touched upon some of these timescales. I wonder if you would just confirm whether I have understood it: that it is really some years ahead before you anticipate any threat to the British homeland and that is something, therefore, that allows you the timescale to put stabilisation first. Is that what you said?

  Mr Hutton: The risk of state on state warfare threatening the borders of the United Kingdom I think is a very low one, and we should all celebrate that and I am sure we do. The risks are very low—they are lower than at any time in my lifetime.

  Q334  Chairman: Why do you say that?

  Mr Hutton: Because I do not think there is a risk of nuclear war. I do not think there is a risk at the moment of any state invading the United Kingdom. I do not see that as a top priority risk. I think we have to prepare a capability to deal with it, and we do. I have been at pains to emphasise all the way through that we have not taken any risk against UK homeland security as we have deployed on two very large scale operations abroad, but my remarks that you are referring to came up very much in the context of: —Does that mean we can afford not to have a nuclear deterrent?" and my answer was: —No, it does not mean that." It is a very brave person who would predict state on state warfare against the UK but it would be a reckless one who said it could not happen. That is why we have to have a capability to protect the UK homeland. The deterrent does that and some of our land, sea and air forces do that as well, and we are not going to take any risks with that. We are not going to cut any corners with that. The comments that I made yesterday were about stabilisation and counter-insurgency. I think that is a very important issue for us. We have to look, I think increasingly, and answer the questions: —Do we have the capabilities and the equipment and the people we need to conduct these sorts of operations in the future?" and —Are there lessons, in other words, for us to learn from Iraq and Afghanistan?" I think the answer is, —Yes" to the latter and probably —No, not entirely" in relation to the former. We are doing some work in the department about this. We want to make sure that we have the right level of capability. I think that is a proper responsibility for ministers and for officials and for the Services to embark upon at this moment in time, but we are not going to trade, as it were, or put all our eggs into one basket. The only type of conflict that we should prepare for is not just counter-insurgency operations. That would be a catastrophic mistake if we were to assume that is the only sort of contingency we should prepare for. We have to prepare for the large scale operations as well, and we have to secure the safety of the UK homeland. Those are primary military tasks that are not going to go away. That is what I meant in the context of state on state risks to the UK.

  Q335  Robert Key: In terms of prioritising the use of resources, the use of money, the use of your budget, it is tempting always to concentrate on equipment, but is it not the case too that a lot of resources need to be applied to training and perhaps getting back to some of the levels of training that we saw a decade ago. The use of BATUS in Canada, for example,

  Mr Hutton: Yes, I agree with that. I think training is one of the most important elements of readiness and recuperation and we have not been able to train a lot of our people because of their obligations to serve in Iraq and Afghanistan. That is the missing piece of the jigsaw that has to be put right.

  Q336  Mrs Moon: Minister, you have talked a lot about the current operation, which is one in coalition, and that is the warfare that we see ourselves engaged in in the future. I wonder if you could say a little bit about the stresses that come from perhaps being asked to overstretch ourselves, sometimes, by our partners, and also by some of our partners perhaps not reaching their own obligations and us picking up some of that slack. How much is that impacting on our need to address recuperation to appropriate timescales?

  Mr Hutton: The extent to which we can recuperate and re-acquire a better level of readiness has been and will be determined by the level of our operational commitments. If they reduce, because, for example, there is greater burden-sharing in NATO, that would speed up recuperation and readiness levels. We are making a big effort to try to make sure the burden of the campaign in Afghanistan is more widely and more fairly shared across the NATO Alliance. I do not believe it currently is, and we are, as I say, making a big effort on every front to try to encourage others to do more. But I think we have to be realistic. We are there, in Afghanistan in particular now, because we judge it to be vital for UK's national security. We are in at a very high level with very capable forces. They need to be resourced, and they are at a very considerable cost to the UK, but it is a judgment fundamentally that rests on the argument that if we were not there our security would be less sure. People can argue with that, and they do frequently—you hear the argument, —Why are we there? We should not be there. Let others do the fighting." That is, I think, a big mistake. The fighting has to be done. I do not think there is any way around that particular problem. I wish it was not so, but I am afraid the needs in Afghanistan right now—as President Obama has made very clear, rightly—are for improved security as the first order of priority and, then, alongside that, we hope to see improvements in the political landscape and the economic development agenda. That is a comprehensive approach. When people say, —We can't win, we can never win—you can't win by military means alone," they are right about not winning purely by military means, but they are wrong to say we can win without them. We made a judgment, and it is fundamentally affecting readiness and recuperation, the decisions we have made. Of course that is true. Again, at the risk of repeating myself, this is the judgment we have made on the basis of UK's national security. I think you are right to say that the people who have borne the real price, the real costs of this, have been the Servicemen and women themselves, and their families, who have seen us now not able in some cases to meet the harmony rules that we have previously subscribed to and aspired to. We want to get back to a position where we are back in harmony. As I have said, we are not there yet, we will not be there for a bit of time yet, but the thing that strikes me more than anything else about the Services is, yes, there are a lot of complaints about this and I think we have to act on them, but I think people understand the importance of this operation and they do it with an extraordinary degree of professionalism, bravery and courage, and get on with the job. That is a culture which if we ever lose in the military we will be in real trouble.

  Q337  Mrs Moon: I do not think there is any suggestion that our personnel do not have that level of commitment, and I do not think there is any suggestion that we do not recognise that the fighting needs to be done. But I do think there is an increasing level of frustration that our partners are not pulling their weight and are leaving us to pick up an unrealistic burden. I appreciate that our troops and our military personnel are meeting that challenge, but there is a political task to be undertaken as well.

  Mr Hutton: I agree with you.

  Chairman: I think that is a comment which takes us a little outside our current inquiry.

  Mrs Moon: I just felt it needed saying.

  Q338  Chairman: But it needed saying.

  Mr Hutton: The only point I would make, Chairman, is in relation to the latter point. Clearly when the operation in Iraq begins to draw down, then the overall burden across the military will be significantly less, and so I do not think our current level of operations in Afghanistan pose an unmanageable burden for the Services going forward. That will change, of course, if we were to find ourselves involved in another similar type of operation at the same time. I cannot say that will not happen.

  Chairman: You were talking about harmony guidelines and manpower issues. Brian Jenkins.

  Q339  Mr Jenkins: If I were to have a wry smile and think, —This country is going into recession," you must realise that the recruiting sergeant major has just turned up. We always say that in a time of recession our ranks get filled and the shortage we have now can be filled more rapidly. On the question of Army guidelines: as you know and recognise, the Army guidelines have been breached on several occasions and it has caused this Committee particular concern, but our recuperation will not better but even worsen the consideration of Army guidelines. Do you see the same conflict?

  Mr Hutton: I do not. I think there is evidence that more people are coming forward to join the Armed Forces and that will help us with the issues that are of concern to the Committee today. We do not at the moment recruit up to our establishment in any of the three Services. We make a very big effort to try to do that. There are some figures—I hope the Committee has seen them—about trends on voluntary outflows as well. In the short-term, retention is probably more of a key issue to help us with recuperation than recruitment, because if you recruit a raw recruit they need some considerable training before they can go on to the deployed strength of their unit. I think the effort at the moment really has to be around the retention of certainly the experienced soldiers, sailors and airmen, because if we lose them at this moment in time, if there is an accelerating path out, then I think we would struggle with some of the recuperation targets that we have set for ourselves. I do not see any evidence that that is happening at the moment. All of the anecdotal evidence I have had confirms that is so. When I was in Colchester recently, I had a very interesting discussion with some of the lads from the Parachute Regiment about this, and they were changing their perception about when it would be the right time for them to come out of the Army at the moment. But I think it is a problem for the Navy and the Air Force as well, not just a problem for the Army.

  Q340  Mr Jenkins: I think it is across all three Services. The retention figures will help us tremendously.[3]

  Mr Hutton: There is one point: if this is the tension or conflict that you are referring to, I think our recuperation and readiness plans are based on the assumption that, when we get there, we are within our harmony guidelines. We are planning to operate at that point from within a much stronger foundation of respect for the rule of five.

  Q341  Mr Jenkins: You say when you get there, but we are faced with a situation at the present time where the Army and other Services have quite a high level of individuals who are not fit for service. It surprised me, when I visited people, to find a lot who were training up with injuries, having received their injuries on their fitness programme or playing football or playing rugby. I remember well as a younger man that I was never so injury free until I became unfit, because I stopped doing all these daft things. It is remarkable that to keep people fit you do incur a lot of injuries. The argument would be that, if we have that constant level of people not fit for service, the only way we can field the number of people we need is to have a larger Army. How would you argue with people who say that we do not have the numbers to start with?

  Mr Hutton: The first thing for us is to recruit to our authorised strength. I think that is where we have to put the effort in, and that would make a difference. It would mean, for example, in the Army, about 3,500 more soldiers, which is not an insignificant group of people. However, we also have to recognise that there are certain trades and certain points where the recruitment difficulties are even more intense, where even if we were to recruit up to the overall level of strength, if we do not also make progress in some of these pinch-point areas we are still going to be in trouble with our harmony rules. The first thing is pinch points, recruit up to the strengths, but then there can be a debate about whether the Army is the right size or not. But let us cross these first two hurdles first.

  Q342  Mr Jenkins: We have seen some of the pinch points in the past. One of the things I find strange is that we have pinch points with RAF gunners, which we understand, but do we suffer from the same sort of trouble that general industry and general society find, that we lack IT specialists, we lack logistics specialists, we lack the same sort of skills in the Armed Forces as we lack in the British economy in general?

  Mr Hutton: I can set out a fuller note to the Committee about the various pinch points, if that would be helpful. I do not think those are the key pinch point areas; they tend to be much more specialised.[4]

  Q343  Mr Jenkins: Weapons, intelligence.

  Mr Hutton: Yes. I think I might actually have some examples of some of the pinch points.

  Q344  Mr Jenkins: You have things like weapons intelligence officers, but the raw material to make a weapons intelligence officer is the same sort of raw material we need in British industry in general. Do we produce enough of the right calibre individuals in order to fill all our gaps?

  Mr Hutton: I think not in every area, no. I do not think the fundamental problem about readiness and recuperation is a lack of capacity in the industry. I do not think that is the fundamental problem. Industry have worked very well with us and very closely with us and we do try and share with them as much as we can of our plan so they themselves can tune up to meet the expectations. So I do not think the problem is a generic problem in industry, it is somehow the drag anchor on our plans to get the Army and the Air Force back to where we want them to be, but just coming back to your point about pinch points rates, I think in the Army probably two areas where we would like to see more people are in REME, we need more recovery mechanics, for example, and we do have some shortages, some quite important shortages, for example, on the nursing side of Army medical services, and there are different pinch points in the Royal Air Force. They tend to be on the weapons systems, general technician mechanical levels, and so forth, and we are making a big effort to try and close down those gaps.

  Q345  Mr Jenkins: Do you have plans to reconfigure the Army's fighting brigades? If so, how will such a reconfiguration impact on recuperation?

  Mr Hutton: The Chief of the General Staff is developing his plans to refine the Army's force structure. That work is underway. It draws very heavily on the experience of Iraq and Afghanistan and the changing nature of the campaign particularly in Afghanistan. Final decisions have not been made on that, but CGS is rightly concerned, as we all are in government and outside of government, about trying to get back to the harmony guidelines as quickly as possible, and so that is another motivational factor in CGS's work on Army structures, but when that has been finalised and resolved, I am sure we can keep the Committee informed of where we are.

  Q346  Chairman: Along with the strategic guidance.

  Mr Hutton: I do not know whether it is directly in the strategic guidance, but it would be good if at some point we can be clear about the future force structure in the Army.

  Q347  Mr Jenkins: These fighting brigades might solve one of the big problems we have got: because to send our forces to Afghanistan, or Iraq in the past, the Army was constantly looking round and they needed to back-fill units with augmentees. These days they have actually come off a previous tour only a few months earlier. Will recuperation enable this practice to stop?

  Mr Hutton: I think it will not. It probably will not stop entirely. I think it would be foolish to promise that, but I think there could well be less of it. There is always, I think, a need (and we are doing some of this work at the moment) to re-role certain things so they are able to address some of the pressure points in the system at the moment created by two very substantial operations. I think the Committee has been briefed about what we are doing with the Engineers, for example, and the Artillery and some elements of the Infantry to re-role for the nature of the campaign in Afghanistan, particularly how we deal with, currently, the threat of improvised explosive devices.

  Q348  Mr Jenkins: Sometimes the Committee may have information but it also likes to give you the opportunity of expressing it in public.

  Mr Hutton: I am always very concerned about making sure that I do not say something that I am not supposed say, but I think in all of the force generation work that is done at HQ, for example, we try and look at these issues very systematically. We look at the issue about harmony and making sure we minimise the disruption to Service families as far as we possibly can, and that has involved us, and will continue to involve us, in looking at the TA, it will involve us looking at how we can re-task certain units in the Army in particular but possibly as well to spread as much of the load of responsibility for deployment across the whole strength of the trained establishment of the Armed Forces, and I think that is a reasonable effort and I think it will always be a feature of deployed operations. I think this will always be an issue. The question is: how can we minimise it effectively?

  Q349  Mr Jenkins: I think Army families would welcome the comment that you recognise the problem to start with. That is a big step forward.

  Mr Hutton: It is a big problem.

  Q350  Chairman: Secretary of State, talking about increasing the size of the Army, am I right in saying that last night you were suggesting that the size of our Special Forces should increase? Is it not right to say that because they are Special Forces, the only way you could increase the size of the Special Forces is either to make them less special or to increase the pool from which they are drawn, namely the size of the Armed Forces?

  Mr Hutton: I do not think we should compromise on quality as we look to do this, and I think there is a way forward on that. We have not made decisions on this. What yesterday I was doing was saying that these are the sorts of issues we will have to make decisions on in the near future, and it springs not out of my speech yesterday, this issue about the size of the Special Forces, but out of the work that my former colleague, Adam Ingram, did when he left government, for the Prime Minister in conducting a review of MoD's contribution to the counter-insurgency effort. Adam has made some recommendations to us. I made a statement in December accepting those. We are doing work, and we have been doing work since then, on looking at whether it is possible to improve the capabilities and effectiveness of our Special Forces and, yes, size is one of those issues, but I do not personally believe that it would be a good thing simply to expand the quantity at the expense of the quality. I do not think there would be any takers for that inside the MoD either.

  Q351  Chairman: It sounds to me as though you are talking about increasing the size of the Armed Forces.

  Mr Hutton: I think we have got to look at it.

  Q352  Chairman: I entirely approve of that, by the way.

  Mr Hutton: We are trying to recruit more into the Armed Forces, we are trying to improve the size of the Army at the moment with the extra recruitment effort that is going on, but, I think, looking at the detail of how this could be done in the context of Special Forces, there will have to be some very careful detailed work done on that to avoid the elephant trap that you describe, which is that you increase the quantity but only at the expense of the quality, and given the very high quality of the Special Forces, that is certainly not what I want to see happen. I think we need to recognise the very unique contribution they can make, and not just in strike operations but in a quite wide variety of different roles. The Special Forces are incredibly well placed and have made an absolutely extraordinary contribution to our operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, and particularly in Iraq, as our mission draws down, I think it is right and proper, and I tried to do this yesterday, to pay public tribute to the role of special forces in Iraq. They have really changed the contours of their campaign.

  Q353  Mr Jenkin: One of the reasons why the Armed Forces are so outside the harmony guidelines, particularly the Infantry, which we now call a pinch point trade, is because, of course, we are operating so far outside the Defence Planning Assumptions. You keep referring to the drawdown from Iraq as going to alleviate this problem, but can I point out that on Table 2 of the Report and Accounts it demonstrates that you will still be operating outside the Defence Planning Assumptions even if we draw down everything from Iraq. Does that not really bring us back to the fundamental problem that the Defence Planning Assumptions are too optimistic a view of the scale of the demands likely to be made on the Armed Forces in the foreseeable future?

  Mr Hutton: There is a danger than we can re-run the argument that we had a minute ago about the nature of the Defence Planning Assumptions. They are not some biblical text. They are not some sort of law that cannot be contravened. I am afraid they are not like that.

  Q354  Mr Jenkin: Yes, but it is right, is it not, we are still going to be operating beyond the Defence Planning Assumptions after we have drawn down from Iraq?

  Mr Hutton: That is true, but the question is can we do that, and we can. Once we have signed all the final agreements, which I am hoping we will do very soon, we will be talking about three or 400 training roles continuing in Iraq. I believe we can do that and prosecute the mission, in the way we are in Afghanistan, with a much better balance across the military and the Armed Forces, with much less strain on the harmony guidelines and without diluting the quality and effectiveness of our operation in Afghanistan.

  Q355  Mr Jenkin: Do they have a recuperation timetable?

  Mr Hutton: No, I do not think so. I think the recuperation timetable that you have been given does rest on those broad numbers that I have given you about our continuing presence in Iraq.

  Chairman: I think we have covered this issue to the extent that we are going to. Madeleine Moon?

  Q356  Mrs Moon: A very quick question, Secretary of State. You have talked about recruitment into the Armed Forces and the key trades and skills where we have got particular pinch points. It was very interesting. In a visit that I made to the RAF recently they were telling me that, because there are different retirement ages between the forces, often they are getting some of the key trades and skills that they are looking for from people who are retiring because of the compulsory retirement age from the Army, and they are re-enlisting into the RAF. Should we not actually be looking at what we are doing in terms of retirement ages where we have got some of those key skills in place that we are looking for and have an opportunity for people to stay actually where they are rather than transferring across the Service?

  Mr Hutton: I would like to look at that in a bit more detail. If there are cases that you are aware of, Madeleine, I would be very happy to look at that. I have an open mind about it.

  Q357  Mr Havard: This question of numbers: there is open debate about whether we should have a larger Army and all of sorts of stuff, and certain generals voice their opinions now and again about wanting more troops, and so on. Is the truth of it not that the directive on recuperation which you talked about, which we ought to see from the early summer—May, June—however elastic that becomes, you then have the strategic guidance discussion which you are going to promote and publish? I am not quite sure exactly when that is likely to come. You have then got the CGS doing the reconfiguration of fighting brigades, and so on, your debate about Special Forces based on Adam Ingram's work, and so on. All of these things are clearly going to inform that final set of discussions about what size and shape they should be, are they not? So could you give me a bit of a better idea? If I have got the directive on recuperation in May, I have got strategic guidance some time, I have got CGS's report some time, when is that likely to be unfolded to us throughout the calendar year, or is it going to move into the next calendar year?

  Mr Hutton: I think you are right about the timescale for the recuperation work, which I hope will be towards the end of May, early part of the summer. The other elements that you referred to, the Defence Strategic Guidance, Adam Ingram's work on countering insurgency capabilities, the work that CGS is doing on future arms structures: these are all essential elements of the work that is going on. They are not in conflict with each other; it is all part of a similar process of work. The other piece of work, I think, that is important as well, which I agreed with Secretary Gates when I was in Washington in March, is that we would do a piece of work with the Americans looking at counter-insurgency capabilities, drawing on the lessons from Iraq and Afghanistan, and that work will kick off quite soon. I hope that will be done in the autumn. I think the autumn is when I have got in my mind the idea of bringing together some of these strands of work, but I think the important thing now is to actually get the work done and to get all of the ducks in a row and then to have something to publish. I am not looking to publish individual little bits of the jigsaw as free-standing pieces of work, because I do not think that would make sense.

  Q358  Mr Havard: So we are looking at the autumn?

  Mr Hutton: I think so.

  Q359  Mr Havard: Towards the end of the calendar year.

  Mr Hutton: Correct.

  Q360  Chairman: At a recent conference, Secretary of State, you proposed the idea of a standing force for NATO to give reassurance to countries like Estonia, Lithuania and others on the edges of NATO. Were you expecting the United Kingdom to contribute to that standing force?

  Mr Hutton: We are, but it will be quite a small force.

  Q361  Chairman: 1,500?

  Mr Hutton: About 1,500. So I do not see this as imposing any insuperable, additional unsustainable burden on the UK Armed Forces.

  Q362  Chairman: Would it be an additional task, though, that would impact on the timescale for recuperation and readiness?

  Mr Hutton: No, I do not think this would count as an additional task.

  Q363  Chairman: Would it be double-hatting?

  Mr Hutton: It probably would be done that way, yes.

  Q364  Chairman: But at the moment we are up to treble and quadruple-hatting. Would it be worse than that?

  Mr Hutton: No, I do not think it will be worse than that, but there is work to be done on this. I cannot say to you that this is a done deal. There are still arguments going on about the nature of it and whether it is a meaningful concept as a deployed body of people: because the idea is that everyone would contribute, all of the NATO members would contribute to this allied solidarity force.

  Q365  Chairman: History suggests that that is rather a forlorn hope.

  Mr Hutton: If you were going on precedence, possibly, but I think history is a restless commodity, is it not? I do not think we should be bound by precedence. If we are, again, we would never get out of bed in the morning.

  Chairman: History is a restless commodity; indeed. Moving on to training, Richard Younger-Ross?

  Q366  Richard Younger-Ross: Of late much of the training for the Armed Forces has been theatre-specific. The last large joint exercise was Saif Sareea in 2001. As part of your recuperation are you going to be able to have another large joint exercise?

  Mr Hutton: Again, I do not know the precise details of that, whether or when such an exercise is being planned, but, yes, there would have to be that type of training re-established as part of the recuperation process, particularly if you are drawing the analogy of large-scale operations, yes.

  Q367  Richard Younger-Ross: Would that be in the next two years, three years, five years?

  Mr Hutton: Again, it will correspond very closely to the recuperation schedule that you have been shared with in the private session. As you know, the first-scale priority for us is to restore the contingent capability around small-scale operations. That is where we are going to prioritise the training.

  Q368  Richard Younger-Ross: On the smaller scale, if you look at BATUS and the training that is done there, will the training there be able to run to the top level of Medicine Hat?

  Mr Hutton: Would it, I am sorry, what?

  Q369  Richard Younger-Ross: Run to Medicine Hat, which is the point they are meant to come to for their joint exercises?

  Mr Hutton: I think the answer is, yes, but I will have to come back and confirm that to the Committee.[5]

  Q370  Richard Younger-Ross: The UOR programme has been successful in getting the right kit into the operational theatre, but back in the UK personnel cannot get access to that equipment for training. Will your recuperation plans solve that problem?

  Mr Hutton: The protected mobility package that the Prime Minister announced in, I think, October will certainly begin to address this problem about the training fleet. A very significant proportion of the additional investment that went into the armoured fleet will be to deal with the problem that you have rightly identified that there have not been, historically, enough of the new vehicles to allow brigades going out to Iraq and Afghanistan to train properly before deployment. We have got to address this problem. It has been well documented and we are now beginning to do that. There are more of these vehicles available for the guys who are in pre-deployment training, so this is being addressed as part of the UOR programme itself.

  Q371  Chairman: Would you not say urgent operations requirements are a rather expensive way of acquiring kit?

  Mr Hutton: I think we have got good value for money from the UOR programme. I think it is hard to imagine that the core equipment programme is going to be capable of providing all of the theatre-specific equipment that you need for these sorts of operations.

  Q372  Chairman: Of course it is not.

  Mr Hutton: So I do not think there is an alternative.

  Q373  Chairman: But UORs are the new black, as it were, and many people would love to get their programme into the heading of UOR because it makes it more likely that it will be acceptable both to the Ministry of Defence and the Treasury, and does it not just add extra cost, as well as a vast variety, for example, of different vehicles that then you find difficulty being maintained in theatre?

  Mr Hutton: There have been additional costs involved in the operations themselves. I referred to the size and scale of that earlier. We have got a number of new vehicles entering particularly the land fleet, but they are all theatre-specific. The extent to which that equipment will form part of what we take away and what we continue to operate and deploy is not clear yet. So quite what the implications will be for the long-term fleet maintenance, the fleet support systems for the Army, it is not clear yet, Chairman, and quite what that will mean. My own view (maybe it is too simple) about these things is we have got to win this fight we are in, whatever it takes. Whatever kit our people need, they are going to get, and then later we can sit back and we can do the numbers and we can do the analysis about what that means for our equipment fleet going forward, but right now there is only, I suggest, one priority for us: how we can make it safer, how we can deploy our force more effectively in the theatres we are in and we will deal with the consequences of that.

  Q374  Mr Borrow: Following on from that, given that the UOR process has led to a situation where we have got very capable equipment in theatre, we have also ended up with fleets within fleets and groups of very capable equipment within larger pools of less capable equipment; so the question does arise as to whether or not we are going to raise the standard of the whole fleet or all the equipment up to that of the best that has come as a result of the UOR process or whether the Ministry is going to make a decision not to bring it all to the same standard and have part of the fleet or part of the pool of equipment at a higher standard and part at a lower standard. Is that process underway, and what sorts of decisions are being made?

  Mr Hutton: I think in relation to the equipment that we have procured under the UOR hat, it has all been theatre-specific. They operate and they are designed to deliver theatre entry standards that are specific to Afghanistan. There is not, in the sense that you have suggested, one overall specification for equipment. There are different types of equipment in Challenger tanks, Warriors and Mastiffs, for example, they are all specified and designed and engineered to meet different requirements and different specifications, and, of course, when we have had to deploy some of those vehicles to different theatres, we have found, again, a need to change the specification and modify the equipment as well. I think this is just an inevitable feature of contemporary operations. In the wider point you are making about what does all this mean for the Army and the protected mobility fleet, I think it is probably too early to say.

  Q375  Mr Borrow: But whilst the UOR process may have been about developing theatre-specific equipment, there must be an analysis being made that some of the equipment that has been produced specifically for theatre has ended up being equipment which in an ideal world would be spread across the whole of the fleet of equipment and, therefore, at some point in time the Ministry must be looking and saying, —We invented or got developed this bit of kit which did this super job in Iraq or Afghanistan, and really we are looking to equip our forces with the best equipment for any theatre. This is a bit of kit we should have available everywhere." Whilst there will be other bits of kit which are so specific to Helmand that you are obviously not going to keep a complete stock of that in case of operational requirements somewhere else in the world.

  Mr Hutton: We do look very carefully at what is coming out of the UOR programme and what needs to be to be incorporated into the core equipment front. I think this year about £50 million worth of kit equipment has been absorbed into the core programme, and we can give you a fuller note about what that kit equipment is, but, no, anything that has a more enduring, generic capability improvement for any of the three Services that comes out of the UOR programme, yes, we are keen to learn the lessons from that and build that into our core programme.[6]

  Q376  Mr Borrow: Also, on operations, one of the things that the Committee has become aware of is the tradition of cannibalisation or robbing in order to keep equipment on the road. Would you anticipate with recuperation that that system will no longer be required?

  Mr Hutton: No, I think that will continue. Again, my hope would be that there will less need for it, but there is not an army anywhere in the world that does not cannibalise equipment sometimes for spares, sometimes for other reasons. That is always going to be part and parcel of the trade, I think, but the question is to what extent.

  Q377  Mr Borrow: So your hope would be the pressure to do that would be less than it is?

  Mr Hutton: I hope so.

  Q378  Mr Borrow: Can we move on to the staff of the DE&S. They are obviously going to have a key role in the recuperation process as well as having an on-going role in terms of procurement of equipment in the future. Have you any concerns about their capability to deal with their existing work and their new work that would come from recuperation?

  Mr Hutton: No, I have got not general concerns about that. I have asked Bernard Gray to review the whole acquisition programme. He will be making recommendations to me later in the summer, and I intend to publish those and we can all take stock of where we have got to. If you are asking me am I happy overall with the acquisition programme, the answer is, no, I am not. We will have to see what Bernard Gray recommends as part of the change that is needed in the MoD on procurement, but there is no generic weakness of personnel in DE&S, and the proof of that is look what they have done for the military on the UORs. I think it has been a tremendously successful programme and DE&S deserve a very big pat on the back for doing the excellent job they have done.

  Q379  Mr Borrow: So your general view would be that they would be capable of coping with additional responsibilities—

  Mr Hutton: Yes.

  Q380  Mr Borrow: —given that you have already got some criticism about the procurement process in general?

  Mr Hutton: The only way I can answer that is by telling you what I think about the people there. They are highly motivated and determined to succeed because they know the responsibility that they carry. They want to see the best for the men and women in uniform. That is their primary concern day in day out. So I have no concerns about their motivation, I have no concerns because there is no evidence to suggest an inability to change or adapt and to do things differently when they need to. They have done that. Will they need to do that in the future? Yes, I think so, because this process of defence procurement is not right at the moment. We are not getting, I think, as much value out of the process as we should. Things take far too long to get nailed down, they take far too long to get entered into service and we cannot go on in that vein in the future.

  Q381  Mr Borrow: Following on from that, given that there is going to be recruitment of equipment, have you any views on the industrial capacity to actually carry out that process alongside the existing procurement programme that the MoD has got?

  Mr Hutton: I have not seen any evidence to make me think that we cannot get what we need when we need it. The truth is that it will not all be manufactured in the UK. Some of the equipment that we have procured under the UOR umbrella has come from other countries, rightly so, because we want the kit when we can get it as quickly as possible, and if we cannot get it done in the UK, we will go elsewhere to get it, and that is simply how it is. I would like as much of this capacity to be here in the UK, that is a strategic consideration for us, but we will go where we need to to get the kit that we want and we have not really suffered any fundamental problem, either in the UK or elsewhere, in getting the kit when we need it, certainly for UORs.

  Q382  Mr Borrow: Do you see any role for the Defence Support Group in this process, in terms of making sure that they manufacture to capacity?

  Mr Hutton: Yes, we work very closely with industry to make sure they understand what our needs are and we need to know what their capabilities are, and this is fundamental.

  Q383  Mr Borrow: Looking specifically at weapons stocks where there has been quite a run down as a result of operations, have you any particular concerns about shortfalls in specific areas and would you like to comment generally on where we look to with that process and bringing things back up?

  Mr Hutton: I am not going to comment on working stocks either generally or specifically because to do so, I think, would probably not be very wise, but we do have a plan—as I say, it is always good to have a plan—and we are busy implementing that plan to replenish the stocks of munitions and all things.

  Q384  Mr Havard: This question about the Defence Support Group, dealing with equipment, for example, in Afghanistan, my understanding is there is a facility being built in Afghanistan to actually deal with vehicles.

  Mr Hutton: Yes.

  Q385  Mr Havard: My understanding is it is to do sensible repair, whatever sensible repair might be, overhaul and some integration of the UORs, so things are being upgraded. I understand the outline plan, I understand the sensibility of that, but I just want to ask a question. This is actually being based in theatre. This is quite a big maintenance activity. It will have to be staffed in different ways by different components, whether it is people from the defence and others, to actually do that, and presumably you will learn lessons from that approach. In the sense that Afghanistan is an on-going commitment, maybe not a standing commitment, maybe still a contingency, whatever—the title of it, as you said earlier is neither here nor there—the practice of doing it is evolving and you must be learning something from the process. Are you going to be able to share some of that with us?

  Mr Hutton: I am very happy to, and I think you got a sense of it when you were there yourselves. The emphasis here is on the success of current operations. I think the implication is what we are planning to do around the fleet maintenance in theatre is probably less directly relevant to recuperation and readiness, but the basic idea is a very simple one, which is to make sure that when the vehicles need to be maintained and fixed, put back together again sometimes, we can do as much of that as possible in Afghanistan, lessening the pressure on the air bridge, making sure that equipment becomes available once again to front-line troops as quickly as possible. So that is why we are focusing on trying to do as much of this work in theatre as possible. The vehicles take a lot of pounding: the wear and tear on them is very substantial. Again, I would be happy to share some of that information with you.[7]

  Q386  Mr Havard: I was interested in the process in the longer term of how various people will be able to contribute to doing things, because that will have implications organisationally for DE&S, and various others, as well as the actual practice of doing the job in the immediate term.

  Mr Hutton: I agree. I think these are very important issues. You referred earlier to whether some industry employees themselves would be out in theatre. Yes, they will be, they are already, and some very important bits of kit are actually operated for us out there by civilians sent out there by their companies. We should look at all these options. If that particularly takes some of the pressure off REME and some of the uniformed Services, I say bring it on.

  Q387  Linda Gilroy: Secretary of State, I think this question may come as rather odd from somebody representing a naval constituency, but I need to ask it first, and there are then a number of other questions. The running of older ships, submarines, helicopters and aircraft is resulting in more frequent break-downs and greater usage of spares. Would it not be better to speed up the introduction of replacement equipment to reduce the risk of such failure and to reduce the long-term running costs?

  Mr Hutton: Sure. Wherever we can do that we do that.

  Q388  Linda Gilroy: As far as the maintenance is concerned, though, what assessment have you made of the maintenance of the skills base in the various places that deal with that, including Devonport, to cope with both the recuperation and the work on these older vessels as well as doing the sort of routine work and the future work that needs to be done?

  Mr Hutton: The Maritime Change Programme was designed not only to ensure value for money, which is important, but also that we retain the essential industrial skills that we need in the various bases across the UK to do this work properly and effectively and in the best way possible; and so my answer to you is that we are very aware of the skills issue, we are very aware of the demographics of the workforce. I am delighted to see more apprentices being taken on in many of these places, and that is a good sign for us to be optimistic about the future, but maintaining the skills of these work forces is absolutely fundamental, and they are precious skills and we cannot play around with them.

  Q389  Linda Gilroy: We had a good chance to press Vice Admiral Soar on that when we saw him on 10 February. He was talking about sustainability and we had a good discussion about the Maritime Change Programme, the terms of business agreement for the new entities that are coming together to deliver the surface ships and submarines. How close do you think we are to getting the key decisions on the Maritime Change Programme and the terms of business agreements?

  Mr Hutton: I think we are very close, and I hope we can make an announcement very soon on that.

  Q390  Linda Gilroy: We have been hearing that for some time. Are you absolutely confident that you can maintain the skills bases that are necessary across the three ports that deal with this?

  Mr Hutton: I am absolutely confident that we can do that, and that has been one of the most important issues for the Maritime Change Programme itself, to ensure that that is done.

  Q391  Linda Gilroy: The deferral of the MARS programme was reported to us as being a real concern. Is it of concern to you?

  Mr Hutton: I do not like to see any delay in procurement. I think there is a way of getting better value for money out of the MARS programme; that is why we have terminated the current procurement. We have obviously got to prosecute this new way forward as diligently as we can, and, again, I am confident that we will be able to do that. We terminated the competition, I think, for very good and sound reasons, but we will have to find a better value for money way forward than the MARS programme itself offered.

  Q392  Linda Gilroy: How are you going to deal with the fact that the Navy's tanker fleet will fail to meet the international standards next year because of their single-skin hulls?

  Mr Hutton: Those MARPOL regulations do not apply to government-owned vehicles that are not performing commercial functions; so I do not think there is a direct threat to the fleet from the MARPOL regulations.

  Q393  Chairman: The fact remains that there are now a large number of double-hulled tankers on the market presumably at a significant lower cost.

  Mr Hutton: Indeed; we are looking very carefully at this.

  Q394  Chairman: Can I follow up one question that Linda Gilroy has just asked about the running of older ships and submarines and helicopters. The same applies, of course, to vehicles in Afghanistan. We have some new vehicles, but we also have some pretty old vehicles which are breaking down on a very regular basis. Can you assure us that there is an examination of the trade-off between spending new money up front and getting new vehicles that are less likely to break down compared with the benefits of keeping vehicles that are too old in the Infantry?

  Mr Hutton: Yes, we do look very carefully at that, Chairman, I can assure you of that, and we look very carefully too at the particular capabilities of the vehicles themselves and how important they are to have in theatre, notwithstanding the mechanical issues that you have referred to, but we look very carefully at all these things all the time.

  Q395  Chairman: When you say you look very carefully at them, do you think you looked carefully enough at the acquisition of the Vector vehicle?

  Mr Hutton: I think you are probably right to refer to that in that way, because that has probably been the least successful of all the vehicles we have procured through the UOR process.

  Q396  Chairman: What went wrong?

  Mr Hutton: I think there are a variety of mechanical and technical issues to do with Vector that proved to be less than what we had hoped for.

  Q397  Chairman: What about the assessment?

  Mr Hutton: I am not sure I am in a position to share with you the detail of the procurement decision around Vector. I am happy to provide more information to the Committee about that if you find that interesting.

  Q398  Chairman: I think we would. Could you please do that?

  Mr Hutton: I will do that for you. I think mistakes were probably made there. I do not really feel qualified to talk about the specifics of Vector today, but I will make sure that the Committee gets the information it needs.[8]

  Q399  Mr Jenkin: If the Secretary of State is going to provide us with more information on that, could you look into, not the mechanical and technical issues, but the concept of the vehicle appears to have been wrong for those particular operations. Is that now the view of the Armed Forces and how did that happen? I do not expect you to make an answer now.

  Mr Hutton: Again, I do not know how it happened.

  Q400  Chairman: You can come back to us.

  Mr Hutton: I will. Look, it is being withdrawn.

  Q401  Chairman: Well, yes.

  Mr Hutton: Quite.

  Q402  Chairman: On various occasions this morning you have said to us that that you do not want to make further comments in public, and we fully understand that, because it is never the purpose of this Committee or of Parliament as a whole to give comfort to our enemies. However, you have probably gleaned the general direction that this Committee's thinking has gone in during the course of the morning. Is there anything you would like to say to us in private that you would not be able to say to us in public? Would you like to consider that for a moment and see whether we should move into private session?

  Mr Hutton: Based on what I know you have explained in a private session, I really do not think there is very much more I can add to the briefings that the Committee has heard in private session from my colleagues. So I do not today feel there is a need for a session in private.

  Chairman: Okay. Thank you. Are there any other questions that anybody would like to ask?

  Mr Jenkin: Not in public!

  Q403  Chairman: Secretary of State, thank you very much indeed. As so often, it has been a very helpful session, but I have one final question. We agree that the Ministry of Defence has been operating beyond the Defence Planning Assumptions for, what, seven years now. We agree that readiness has fallen steadily over that time, we agree that we cannot operate at this sort of tempo indefinitely and we agree that new threats could be, though unidentified, just around the corner, because I think that is what you yourself have said. I wonder if now is the time to look at the discretionary activity which the Ministry of Defence carries on and cut out all discretionary activity in order to begin to recoil the spring of readiness.

  Mr Hutton: Could I ask you what you mean by —discretionary activity"?

  Q404  Chairman: You will be able to work out what is discretionary. I am just wondering whether you have a view yourself as to what is discretionary within the Ministry of Defence.

  Mr Hutton: When it comes to deployed operations, I do not regard any of that as discretionary.

  Q405  Chairman: So not deployed operations.

  Mr Hutton: I think we have always got to look very carefully at where we spend our money. I think that is a responsibility that is never going to end however large the defence budget might be at some point in the future, and we have made decisions in the planning round, for example, the last two that I have been involved in, which will see the end of certain activities in the Ministry of Defence, and some of them are very difficult decisions to make, but I do not think you can make sense of all the difficulties that we face by saying, as I thought you might be suggesting, that everything that is discretionary should be scrapped, because I think one man's definition of what is a discretionary task would be very different to someone else's.

  Mr Jenkins: Are you referring to Trooping the Colour, Chairman? You want to scrap Trooping the Colour. I think it is disgraceful!

  Chairman: Certainly not.

  Mr Havard: One thing that is not discretionary is the Army Navy game at the weekend. That will survive!

  Chairman: Okay.

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