The appointment of the new Chief of the Defence Staff









Evidence heard in Public

Questions 1 - 62



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Oral Evidence

Taken before the Defence Committee

on Wednesday 17 November 2010

Members present:

Mr James Arbuthnot (Chair)

Mr Julian Brazier

Thomas Docherty

Mr Jeffrey M. Donaldson

John Glen

Mr Mike Hancock

Mr Dai Havard

Mrs Madeleine Moon

Penny Mordaunt

Bob Stewart

Ms Gisela Stuart

Examination of Witness

Witness: General Sir David Richards KCB CBE DSO, Chief of the Defence Staff, gave evidence.

Q1 Chair: CDS, good morning. Welcome to your first Committee sitting as Chief of the Defence Staff. Exactly which day did you come into office?

General Sir David Richards: It was 29 October, so all of just over two weeks ago-you are being nice to me.

Q2 Chair: And when you were appointed, you spoke about having been given your orders and having a clear understanding of the Commander’s intent. What was that clear understanding, and what is the Commander’s intent?

General Sir David Richards: I think you have to divide that in two. One is the national security strategy document and the other is the SDSR itself. My interpretation, as we would operate within the military, is that the Commander’s intent is the national security strategy, while our detailed orders are the SDSR document. As I have said a couple of times, I think the national security strategy-we could debate whether it is a strategy in the sense of a grand strategy, which is a different issue, but it has clear aiming points for all of us-is good and clear. We need to get there; how quickly is the issue. The SDSR is our immediate aiming point-i.e. Future Force 2020. While we veer and haul around what is deliverable within the 2020 time line, and I am sure you will want to probe into that, that is my interpretation of orders. But, as with everything else in military operations, the enemy has a vote and money is a factor-all the things we know will make aspects of the SDSR challenging to deliver.

Q3 Chair: I think you gave evidence to the Public Administration Committee about strategy and you will have seen its report. One thing it says is that "we have all but lost the capacity to think strategically." Would you agree or disagree with that?

General Sir David Richards: They are absolutely on the money with the broad thrust of it. During the cold war, we had a very clear grand strategy wrapped around the containment of the USSR. In the 20 years, roughly, since the end of the cold war, there have been lots of things going on in the world. We now need to develop, if possible-it will be very difficult because it is very complex; we live in a much more difficult world, as we have all probably talked about individually-our equivalent of that grand strategy.

I do not think that it is true, though, to say that we have lost our ability to think strategically. What we need to rediscover is how to turn that thinking into effect-to draw together the ends, ways and means. The national security strategy document is not a bad objective in terms of our ends, but I would say that the ways and means are an area of weakness. I think we can do it and, just to reassure the Committee, I have already talked to the Prime Minister about this. I have talked to Peter Ricketts about it, the PUS at the Foreign Office and the PUS at DFID. We have already agreed first to start constructing a mechanism to deliver a grand strategy. This will take two to three years, I suspect, and then we need to get on and do the actual planning.

At the risk of being slightly over-long, what the military do that no other Department of State does-this is not a criticism; it is just that they have never really had to do it and don’t do it-is analyse. They all do that and they are probably, in many respects, particularly in the Foreign Office, better at that than we are. But what we uniquely bring to the party is the ability then to plan, often under great pressure-in the military, it could be danger, time, tiredness and so on-and we have an almost unique ability to implement that plan in a coherent manner, bringing together lots of different bits. Whether it is different nations or different capabilities, we can employ exactly the same approach to the development of a grand strategy.

Finally, as a waypoint, we are going to produce an illustrative campaign plan for the next four years, for the Prime Minister and the NSC, to deliver to the NSC as a first example of how we can stitch all this together. We last did it in 1999 in the case of the Kosovo campaign and for a putative campaign that never took place in Montenegro, when everyone was very worried about how it might go. Charles Guthrie, who was doing my job then, said after that that never again should we enter a coalition or alliance operation without an illustrative campaign plan on which to base our own national planning and with which to influence the planning of other nations. I think that, for 10 years, we have been remiss in not trying to do that on probably three or four occasions, including Iraq and Afghanistan. We are now going to do it, and we will do the next four years up to 2015, in terms of our involvement in Afghanistan, as a first outing in that respect.

Q4 Chair: So it will take two to three years to produce a grand strategy.

The permanent secretary wrote a letter on 19 October to the MOD group secretary of Prospect to say: "In conducting the review, we have had two main priorities: firstly, to ensure that our mission in Afghanistan is protected, and secondly, to make sure that we have the prospect of emerging with a coherent defence capability for the 2020s." The implication is that for the next two to three years, while we are thinking up this grand strategy, we won’t have one, and that until 2020, we won’t have a coherent defence capability. Is that a fair implication to put to you? If so, what do we do about it?

General Sir David Richards: First, just to be absolutely clear, the grand strategy is much more than Afghanistan. The grand strategy, as we would define it, is looking at the world as it is going to be in 2030 or 2040 and deciding what Britain’s place in that world is. This is very much us giving a vehicle of analysis and planning-the military method-to the rest of Government. It is not going to be driven by me; I will play a part in it. That’s the grand strategy.

What you are more focused on in your question, I think, is, first of all, the illustrative campaign plan in respect of Afghanistan. That will feed into the grand strategy because, clearly, we are going to have an involvement in Afghanistan in one way or another for many, many years yet. Linked to that is Force 2020, so the grand strategy is the big, overarching work within which these different things sit.

As far as coherence in the short term-before 2020-is concerned, we live in the real world. As you all know, defence understood that we had to play our part in the overriding, strategic requirement, which was to ensure that this country remains solvent and has good prospects of economic growth. If you think of a country that failed to do that and is still ruing the day-I know it is not on the same scale-that was the Soviet Union. It got that balance wrong. We know, as strategists, that we had a part to play. As a soldier or a serviceman, I would have liked to have had a bit more come our way, but it was a hard-headed and good debate and we have come out with a solution with which we are all content.

Is it incoherent? I don’t think it is incoherent if you look at the threats that are most likely to come our way. I know you will want to talk about the carrier in that respect and the carrier strike capability, but if you look at what we are likely to do and what we haven’t done over the past 30 years, you will see that that was arguably an area of risk-this is all about managing risk-that we felt we could live with. So I don’t think it is incoherent if you put it in the context of what we are most likely to be doing. Obviously, over the next five years, that is essentially going to be Afghanistan and contingency planning, which is vital because if we get that wrong, we have all sorts of geostrategic implications coming our way. It is also things in the region to do with violent jihadism and all those sorts of things for which, I would argue, things like carrier strike are less important, but by 2020, in a more uncertain world, we would bring these capabilities back into play.

Chair: You are quite right. We will come back to it.

Q5 Mr Hancock: You quoted your predecessor’s words on his experience in the Balkans and the failure to have a clear strategy. Presumably he attempted to achieve that and his successors probably also tried to achieve that, so why didn’t it happen in that 10-year period? Who was the block?

General Sir David Richards: I think it was a collective over-focus on Afghanistan in 2001 and then Iraq. In a way, they became the equivalent of the Soviet threat, and we all-I am as guilty as the next person-were doing that and getting on with it but, as a result, we did not have either the capacity or the nous to place it in this wider context. I am the first to concede that we are but frail. We got that wrong. I don’t want to personalise this at all, but in the context of Afghanistan and the requirement for an illustrative campaign plan in respect of that operation, I was given the task in 2005 of planning for the NATO operation that I subsequently commanded. We talked about this when I came here to talk about Afghanistan. I asked the UK to come up with an illustrative campaign plan for Afghanistan but, for whatever reason, I didn’t win that debate.

Q6 Mr Hancock: So what makes you confident that you will be able to see it through this time?

General Sir David Richards: I think that there is a growing awareness across Whitehall-Bernard Jenkin and his Committee have been very useful in this respect to stimulate thinking; others like Admiral West have also talked about it-that this is an omission. That growing awareness has fed into an acceptance that the military have the necessary skills to put at the service of the rest of Whitehall and for the development of it. It is really owned by Peter Ricketts. I am the Prime Minister’s principal strategy adviser, but it has to be in the context of the national security strategy. Peter and I are working very closely on developing this, and in January we plan a meeting to develop this with him, the head of the Foreign Office, C, the head of DFID and other interested Government Departments to start creating this mechanism, which the more junior levels are already working on.

Q7 Mr Brazier: I had two questions and you have half answered the first one already. I was going to say that one of the most common complaints among people at serving level in the Armed Forces was about the lack of back-up from DFID. It is only more recently that people have started to observe that DFID was not terribly heavily consulted in the way you would clearly envisage happening next time something like this happened. My main question is this: CDS, you have outlined to us a very clear and rigorous idea of how we should move forward with overseas operations. Do you see a similar degree of rigour attending potential terrorist or other threats to this country?

General Sir David Richards: When I was here before, I remember that you asked me a question, Chair, about what kept me awake at night, and it was a headline the next day.

Chair: Perhaps it was the question that kept you awake.

General Sir David Richards: I said that nothing kept me awake at night, but if anything, I was a bit worried about the Olympics. I then said, "Wouldn’t you?", and you reminded me that you asked the questions, so I remember this. When I appeared in front of you and made that remark, I was worried about it, which is why, when the Chair gave me the chance, I took the opportunity to remind people that the Olympics, in particular, were coming our way. At that stage I was worried, as C-in-C, Land Forces, that I had no orders. That is definitely not the case today. Although it is not my major task, I am kept fully informed-obviously the Home Office and other agencies are in the lead on this-and it looks pretty good. We in the military are now getting the definition of our task in the case of 2012. More widely, I am sure, like everything else, we need to analyse that and continually update it, but there is some fantastic work being done by MI5, often stimulated by activity abroad, and by the police services. So I am pretty relaxed that we are en route. While I am never at all complacent about it, you are quite right to continue to focus on it. Right now, my judgment is that it is in a pretty good place-much better than it was two years ago.

Q8 Mr Havard: I would like to pursue that for a moment. You can speak from the military’s point of view in that broader discussion, and what you just said about the Home Office leading part of it is interesting. I was talking to one of my local police officers at the weekend. He is involved with the new arms training for the civil police force as part of the stuff that is going on for the Olympics.

This is an SD and SR, however, and I am interested in the "and S" bit, on which I am not confident. Although the Home Office might be doing what it is doing and you’re doing what you’re doing, I think it is the interrelationship between those two aspects that drives Julian’s question and concerns us. It is not all within your purview, but clearly that interrelationship is crucial to it being an overall strategy.

General Sir David Richards: I couldn’t agree more, which is why the grand strategy has to be a cross-Government activity. When I said that it would take two to three years to produce it, this is one of those areas that we need to get on with. There is absolute acceptance of that at the PUS level. How the individual bits act-what is our response to a major terrorist attack on this country, which is a key concern for us all-is pretty much swept up, but it is about how we do that sort of thing, without going into detail. We still have work to do on the way that that plays into, say, our approach to nations abroad that might be the source of some of that terrorism, and I think that’s the bit you’re probably getting at.

Q9 Mr Havard: I am also concerned about how it will reflect longer-term issues such as force generation and reserve structures.

General Sir David Richards: Those are the things that we have to work through. In terms of the reserves, there is someone here who has already been very intimately involved with that-

Q10 Mr Brazier: But won’t be asking any questions on it this morning. He has taken a vow of silence during the period of the review.

General Sir David Richards: Right, but I am confident that that is the sort of thing that will be examined. We have been there before, to a degree, with our use of the TA. We had, I think, 14 battalions earmarked for that sort of thing, which didn’t work and died a death, so we need to straddle that work. The work is being done, and all I would ask is that you are a little patient about that overarching structure. I am content that the individual bits, in terms of the wolves nearest the sledge, are okay, and we are regularly talking to each other about them.

Q11 Ms Stuart: I want to mention a more general subject before we move on. We talk about the military covenant-our relationship with the Armed Forces and individuals-and that is widely perceived these days, but we talk very little about the covenant on the application of force. If we talk about future operations abroad that don’t involve the application of force, do you think that there is a clear enough understanding of our national priorities on deciding when it is legitimate to apply such force? Do we need to do more? That is the essence of your job; it is what the Army brings to the table that the other services do not.

General Sir David Richards: That is a very interesting question, because the world is changing. What was right even 10 years ago may not be considered so in the future. That needs a lot of intellectual thought, for which I may be slightly deficient in some respects.

I think that right now, and obviously in the case of somewhere such as Afghanistan, we have sufficient guidance; we understand sufficiently well that important point. It would be an interesting dimension-and I think so more as I’m talking and thinking about your question-to weave it into a grand strategic analysis. I’d like to take that on, if I may, because in terms of legal constraints and obligations, we know that we didn’t get it right in every respect.

We understand that now, even on military operations that many of us would view as a war, we still have a litigious society impacting on how we deal with things. Whether one likes it or not, that is a fact in all but something approaching the equivalent of, presumably, a war of national survival-hopefully, that sort of thing wouldn’t happen-while we work very well within the rules of war. It is an area that I haven’t put enough thought into, but I would like to do so and wrap it into that wider work.

Q12 Mr Hancock: Can I turn to what is happening within the MOD-specifically, cuts in costs and running costs, and the estimated reduction of some 25%? When that is taken together with a number of changes that have already occurred in staff personnel at the top of the MOD and in the military, do you have any concerns about the pace at which those changes will be made and the effects that they will have on the Armed Forces as a direct result?

General Sir David Richards: Does your question address cuts to both the civil service and the military?

Q13 Mr Hancock: Yes, both.

General Sir David Richards: The military’s main effort will almost certainly remain Afghanistan, unless something very untoward happens, and in terms of our ability to prosecute that campaign, no. I’m very clear, and the Prime Minister regularly reaffirms, that we will continue to have what we need in the case of the Afghan campaign. Of course, that is why the relative reduction in the size of the Army was less than it was in the case of the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force.

On the civil service, while it is the permanent secretary’s primary responsibility to look after that, I genuinely view our combined leadership of defence as something very important. I always make it clear that I am as concerned about the civil service as I am about the military, although the PUS is actually the person to implement that. All I know at the moment is that some honest work is going on.

For me, the key for both the military over the long term-and our structures, administration and so on-and the civil service, is that we don’t just salami-slice, but properly re-structure the process. Talking to a lot of civil servants, as I do, that is their overriding concern-that all we’ll do is end up cutting, but giving people the same amount of work. They already work terribly hard, so we need to have a proper look at process.

I know that is a long-winded answer to your question, but that is the key dimension, because if that doesn’t happen, the answer is no-I will not be content. However, everyone knows it has to happen, so the work is happening.

Q14 Mr Hancock: Surely, the only way to avoid that is to do it over a longer period of time, so that you are absolutely sure that you don’t just salami-slice-it takes less time and thought to do that, but you need people in post to think through the consequences. So, how do you avoid that, and what will your role be in the Defence Reform Unit? What input will you have into that?

General Sir David Richards: Okay. First, we have until July next year to finish this work and in my judgment, that’s probably long enough. First of all, you have to change the culture. I have a mentor who was on the Army board who continues to give me sage advice. He is a business man-a chap called Bill Cockburn, a wonderful man. He is of a view, widely held in business, that you have 90 days to make a difference and after that you are like all the rest.

So I think that both Ursula and I have 90 days to change the culture of the MOD. We have strong backing in that respect from the Secretary of State and his political team. If we waited too long to set these cultural changes in place-not necessarily the detailed work, and I don’t think we are disagreeing too much-it would take for ever.

I had to make some changes, as CGS, to the top of the Army. These are people who are very operationally experienced, and they came back to me and said, "We will take a year to study this. We need to do this and that, and set in train consultants and all sorts of things." At the end of the day, I said that we were going to do it. We did it, and now everyone is getting on and wondering why we didn’t do it before.

Q15 Chair: How long did it take?

General Sir David Richards: Actually to do it? Within three months.

Q16 Chair: Ninety days. I see.

General Sir David Richards: Yes; and then it had its full operational capability within six months. That was within one part of the Army, so this is more complex, but we have already been able to get quite a lot of work done on this because it has been coming our way. Some of the intellectual underpinning has been done and the belief and conviction that it has to be a major change, not just a salami-slice, is well embedded in the process.

With Lord Levene stimulating rapid change with his team, who are clearly very experienced in their own areas, I think we can do it within the time frame we are talking about, which is July next year. Implementation may take longer in certain areas.

I am not trying to disguise from you the pain of this process, both for those involved at the individual level and for us potentially collectively. If you like, that is one of those orders that we have, and we now need to deliver on it. As to my role in the DRU, the Vice-Chief of Defence, who works for me, is on the DRU-the defence reform body that is actually doing it under Lord Levene. The military input to the DRU work will be through him. The Chiefs of Staff met only yesterday to refine that input. I am content that my need to get on and, for example, to sort out the strategic formulation and the things we talked about at the beginning, is properly reflected in the work, but we have the Vice-Chief there to make sure it continues to be so.

Q17 Mr Hancock: I want to move on to the consequences of 25,000 MOD civilian staff being taken out of the operation. What do you think that does to your military capability? Will it not undoubtedly be diminished as a result?

General Sir David Richards: Sorry, what was the last bit?

Mr Hancock: Will not taking 25,000 civilians out diminish the ability of the military to carry out their functions?

General Sir David Richards: Well, it is a very good question. Of course, we work very hard to put in place civilian guards to guard our barracks to avoid soldiers coming back from operations and going on guard, and all that sort of thing. A lot of fantastic work was put in on that, and the people now employed in that area are first rate.

Do we cut that sort of activity over those involved in the administrative and bureaucratic process? My belief is that they should be the second group that you seek to make savings against, but this goes back to the absolute overriding requirement to change process rather than output. There has probably been a bit too much focus historically on input and not enough on output, which is where people guard gates and all that sort of thing.

So it is an excellent question, and I cannot give you a clear answer. We do not want the Army in particular-but also the Royal Air Force and the Royal Navy, which have almost completely contracted out things such as guarding-to start doing that again. We are working all this through.

Q18 Mr Hancock: But how do you prevent that from happening, because it will undoubtedly fall on military personnel to fulfil some of those roles? Twenty-five thousand is a pretty hefty cut to take right across the operation of the MOD, in all parts of the country and abroad, and the only people around to replace them will be service personnel. What steps will you have to take to prevent that impinging on the services’ ability to perform?

General Sir David Richards: I will have to explain with the authority of the Chief of the Defence Staff that some of the things that might be being contemplated, which run that risk, are not acceptable. There is a good process in place now for me to take part in that debate and I will do it robustly, as you would expect.

Chair: Julian Brazier.

Q19 Mr Mike Hancock: I just want to ask one specific question.

Two of us here are from Portsmouth, which is the home base of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary Service. We are rather concerned about its future and the number of jobs involved there. I would be interested to know what your views are on the future role of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary Service.

General Sir David Richards: That "it is still being worked through" is my cop-out, but my own view is that it is an absolutely vital part of military capability, and we need to protect its role. Whether there is a more efficient way of delivering some of it, we have to do work on, but I can absolutely assure you that it is not seen as some sort of civil service supernumerary. It is vital to what the Royal Navy does. If you ever pick up on something that you think we don’t know is going on, please let me know.

To reassure you, I should say that all these things are understood, but we are at the very early stage. Of course, you asked not about the consequence on the military effort; in terms of the detail of how the civil service intends to go about this, you are, to a degree, asking the wrong chap.

Q20 Mr Hancock: But, general, the mistakes or the bad feeling that occurs in the people who are starting off their career as, say, a young cadet in the Royal Fleet Auxiliary Service, hoping to have a lifetime’s career serving in that capacity, is undermined by the continuous drip feed of the supposed threats to them.

I want to know what the MOD is doing to reassure those people who work in the civilian sector, in the Royal Fleet Auxiliary Service and the air fire crews and to give them some confidence that they do have a future there, and that they are not simply going to be hived off to some commercial outfit where they have to take their chances on whether they still have a job and career.

General Sir David Richards: I am sorry to hear that that is the case at the moment. I will take that back to the MOD and ensure that we give clarity on those key issues. I cannot tell you that some of what you just described isn’t a risk, but we absolutely need to focus on people, and I am repeatedly on record as saying that this is all about people at the end of the day-whether you’re a laundry man on an RFO, through to a general commanding operations.

Knitting all that together is a vital part of my role, and I know that the PUS feels the same, but I suspect that they haven’t got enough work done yet to answer those questions and they are hedging their bets. I think a reassurance to them that starts to address that-at least to demonstrate that we know those concerns-would be a very useful start, and I will take that back with me.

Q21 Mr Brazier: CDS, may I raise two things? First, I have huge respect for my colleague Mr Hancock, but he and I have diametrically opposite views on the RFA. Declaring my interest as chairman of the all-party maritime and ports group, I am conscious of the fact that at least two commercial organisations-there may be others, too-have put together proposals for alternative ways of handling this. The RFA is a very, very expensive set-up-much more expensive, for example, than its American counterparts. The point that my friends in commercial shipping continually remind me of is that, of course, they had much heavier proportionate casualties in the last war than even the Royal Navy itself. I do hope that we will be open-minded in looking at solutions when time is short.

Secondly, could I ask you to consider one item for your 90-day review? It is something that you could do tomorrow. Bernard Gray pointed to the breakdown in the relationship between the customer and the procurement function. Could we consider ending, for ever, the process whereby project managers are writing the first stage of the confidential reports of the capabilities managers around them? You’re never going to have an arm’s length relationship if the customers’ representatives are having the first stage of their confidential reports written by the people whom they are supposed to be scrutinising.

General Sir David Richards: I couldn’t agree more, and I will take that back. Thank you very much.

Q22 Bob Stewart: The Secretary of State has set up a defence reform unit, which is being kind of charged with returning services to the services and taking them away from the Ministry of Defence. What particular services might be delegated back to the services, and what impact might that have on senior rank structures?

General Sir David Richards: I have been very involved in this, as we have talked about. The key thing, though, is that principle is that you align three things: accountability, authority and responsibility. When I was C-in-C Land Forces and, indeed, as CGS, it seemed to me that I had a lot of responsibility but very little authority and could be held accountable almost on a whim. Those three words become key to whatever we do. Those three words are now in the document driving the DRU work. Lord Levene, coming from generally a private sector background, understands it. I tried to do this in the Army when I did that restructuring I mentioned earlier. The whole point was to give responsibility, accountability and authority back to commanders, whereas before, as you will remember, for inland forces it was a miasma. No one knew who was responsible for what.

Q23 Bob Stewart: And the generals did not seem to have much control over budgets, which was really wrong.

General Sir David Richards: I couldn’t agree more. If the DRU manages to hand back to the single service chiefs clear responsibility, authority and accountability-I don’t know when they last had that; it was probably back when we had Army, Navy and Air Departments under separate Ministers-I think we are well on the way to getting the structure right. Where are particular areas? Equipment: at the moment it is run by a central process. There is logic in that, but actually as CGS I had relatively little clout in determining any of the process. I was lucky if I was asked what it was that we most wanted. You would then find people outwith my command who would keep gold-plating things, so we never got them, and they got more and more expensive. Bernard Gray, of whom I am a great fan, highlights all this stuff. I am sure that is one area. Estates is another-quartering.

Q24 Bob Stewart: Particularly estates.

General Sir David Richards: That is hugely important to morale, which you know as well as I do is central to the exercising of command. Those are two areas, but there will be others as we free up our thinking, given that core requirement.

In terms of rank structure, I am keen-as you would have done in my position-to let the estimate happen and see where we end up. I do think that we can look at streamlining the way we do these things. Does it have to be a three star? Could it be a two star? Those are the most obvious things. There is the role of the single service chiefs versus their Commanders-in-Chief. Some people would want to coalesce that into a single officer, a single four star per service. I’m not persuaded at the moment that that is automatically right, but that is something that we need to debate. From that flow other changes. We need to be very collectively self-critical of the number of senior officers that we have, and make sure that we reflect the size of the Army and Armed Forces in that structure.

The only thing I would say-some of you will know this-is that we are slightly over-criticised, in my judgment, about the number of so-called senior officers. That is the result of fighting a war. You will remember when you were commanding your battalion, there was an old saying that if sending the liaison officer didn’t hurt your battalion or brigade, then you had probably sent the wrong bloke. We have countless equivalents of that-a person and people-in all sorts of parts of the ISAF structure in CentCom, in Washington, and they all require a minimum of colonels and above. Then we have all our defence attachés, which are growing in importance, rightly, again.

Q25 Bob Stewart: And the PJHQ seems to have a heck of a lot.

General Sir David Richards: J2?

Chair: PJHQ.

Q26 Bob Stewart: There are a heck of a lot of stars down there.

General Sir David Richards: There is a one star in charge of each major bit of it. I am not certain that we change that. The problem is that until other Armed Forces start working at a lower level, too-in particular, in some nations, if you aren’t a general, you don’t get into the debate. We need to factor in all those realities. I am not asking for a relief on this one, other than an understanding that it is not quite asymmetrical; "You’ve got that number of units, and therefore you are going to have that"-it is going to be a bit more like that. If you think about it, in the second world war, the top hamper grew a lot because of those sorts of requirements. In the information age, when you have to react quickly to changes, you need a sort of double bank, to a degree, in certain areas. All that stuff would explain to a degree-without excusing all of it-why it looks a bit top-heavy.

Q27 John Glen: What scope is there to be innovative and take the lead in changing some of this? Your argument seems to be, "This is how it’s done; there’s a need for comparability with other nations." Shouldn’t we be taking the lead in transforming that and setting the benchmark, rather than simply trying to tinker at the edges and not deal with the fundamental problem of over-manning and too many people?

General Sir David Richards: By the way, you’re my MP, so it is very nice to meet you.

John Glen: I’m sorry that our first encounter took place in this way.

General Sir David Richards: It’s all right. I had a very good relationship with your predecessor. My only cavil is that I’m not certain that that is the major problem. The manpower you need depends on what you are being asked to do. That was a bit of my answer to the last question. If you need manpower-as some of you will know, I have argued operationally that mass matters-then you need it. That is a fact of life. You can’t pretend to solve military problems with other things if you need manpower. I think you’re talking about matters that are more administrative than staff.

Q28 John Glen: It is about the structures, and the duplication and overlap. There is a general concern that there are overlaps within these structures, and that what is needed is a radical approach that will set it right for the task that you face, rather than not dealing with it because it is quite tricky with all the human issues involved, such as senior officers being displaced and so on. I am concerned about the overlap.

General Sir David Richards: I absolutely agree. I am up for radicalism, I promise you that. Indeed, the note I put out stated, "I would ask you all now selflessly to work out how you can best help deliver this vision. Much innovative and radical thinking, a preparedness to shed outmoded or now irrelevant attitudes and structures, will surely be needed." I am with you.

Historically, the military have a problem. Basil Liddell Hart said that there is only one thing more difficult than getting a new idea into the military’s mind, and that is getting an old one out. Self-critically, I have always realised that he’s got a point. But we are up for it. We absolutely know that we’ve got to do it, and I reassure you that the work we now set in train will be radical, but it’s not quite as straightforward as a simple, symmetrical cut. There are other aspects-I have hinted at one or two of them.

Q29 Penny Mordaunt: May we turn to the review that the service chiefs have been asked to produce by spring on how the Armed Forces undertake the tasks of force generation and stability? Could you give us a progress update?

General Sir David Richards: Right. It is key work-you have obviously realised that-and it has implications for other things that we do, such as our structures and that sort of thing. Some of its findings will not be implemented until after we have got out of a combat role in Afghanistan, but that is part of setting ourselves up for the long term.

The single service chiefs co-ordinate together with the Vice-Chief. The Vice-Chief has a vital role in all our lives. He is really the chief of staff for me. He is co-ordinating that activity. They have already met and they will meet the timeline. If you’re happy with that-I hope I have reassured you that it is in hand and that we are influencing it-we will produce a situation report at regular intervals, if that is what you would like.

Q30 Penny Mordaunt: So, in terms of what has happened so far, what activities have you undertaken?

General Sir David Richards: We know what the input to that is already, so it is not a hugely difficult piece of work. We know the constraints and parameters within which the work has to be done. They have now got people at a more junior level already doing it. That work will come back to them eventually; I wouldn’t get involved. We’ve already talked informally; we have regular meetings about the lefts and rights of ARC, and it’s on track. We have till a little into next year to deliver it.

Q31 Penny Mordaunt: You mentioned that Afghanistan might extend that timetable a bit further.

General Sir David Richards: It will not extend the timetable on the output, but its implementation will have to depend on Afghanistan and ensuring that we don’t inadvertently jeopardise our abilities to sustain and prosecute operations there.

Q32 Chair: I suspect that we’ll be moving into a further inquiry about the strategic defence and security review, and questions on that will come up in that inquiry, so I don’t think that we want to impose any additional reporting requirement because we recognise that these things take manpower.

Q33 John Glen: Obviously, the SDSR implies significant changes to absolute numbers and structures. In the past, you’ve referred to Iraq and Afghanistan as signposts for the future. Could you paint a picture for us of what the Armed Forces will look like in three to five years? What is your vision coming out of these changes?

General Sir David Richards: In three to five years, I don’t think that it will have radically changed from what we have today. Don’t forget that we are now turning our attention to Future Force 2020, which is the vision of the structure and capability of the Armed Forces in 2020, but a lot of the key elements of that are in place, and I don’t see them changing radically. If you look at what it might actually be like in 2020-not necessarily our structure, but what sort of things we will continue to do-I think that I and others have said that 21st century conflict out here, say by 2030 or 2040, could be radically different, and I am of that view. I don’t know if that’s a good analogy, but it’s good enough.

One reason why I was very pleased-I think that there was a broad cross-party consensus on this-with the idea that there should be an SDSR every five years is that you need to keep seeing, increasingly, how you can turn this supertanker of capability around to ensure that you hit that mark by 2030, or maybe 2040 or 2050. In terms of creating this grand strategy, I see this as an ongoing piece of work; you’re constantly addressing new threats, but you know roughly where you want to go in relation to other countries. What is most important to us in 2030 is very much driven by the Foreign Office, but with us inputting into it. I am not intending, by the way, to avoid your question, but I am setting it in context.

You mentioned three to five years; we will still be in Afghanistan at the start of that. Clearly, we will have a residual commitment still being decided, and the Lisbon conference will give us more granularity on that. Everyone is clear that come 2015, we’re out of the combat role, but we’ll still be there in support, so we have to factor that into what we need. We have Future Force 2020-how much of that we’ll be able to deliver is absolutely dependent on a real-terms uplift in defence spending post-2015. It’s very important that you all realise that, Mr Chairman, otherwise, I can tell you now that we will not deliver on Future Force 2020, which is why we were so glad that the Prime Minister mentioned this in his speech to Parliament when he presented on the SDSR.

Q34 John Glen: I’ll come to that in a minute. One of the issues is that people see a 7.51% cut in expenditure, and, obviously, the headlines are that there is no significant compromise to UK Armed Forces capabilities, although clearly there is a contradiction between those two headlines.

Which UK military capabilities will be degraded by the outcomes of the SDSR in your opinion, and which potential operations will be more difficult to conduct as a consequence? It seems illogical not to assume that you must have some vulnerabilities and concerns, given the strain that you are placed under by the outcome of this CSR.

General Sir David Richards: First of all, going back to the character of conflict and what it is going to look like, there are clearly reductions in capability in certain areas, but if we didn’t constantly adjust to emerging reality we would still be riding horses into battle. So I don’t think you necessarily need to be too worried in principle about diminishing existing capability if you have done it as a result of a coherent analysis, informed by intelligence and a growing understanding of how threats materialise in the future.

You might be able to do without something that historically has been very important. I am very happy to expand on that. Let’s put it this way: five years ago and probably today, if Mr Wacky wanted to bring down a country’s infrastructure, historically he would have done it through aerial bombardment. By 2025, he might do it through cyber attack. We need to address that threat and have our own ability potentially to utilise that capability; therefore, you don’t need so many bomber aircraft.

Q35 John Glen: Obviously, the SDSR looks at the issues that are changing in the world and the different capabilities we will require, but we are seeing a significant real-terms cut. We can’t have a situation where, overnight as a consequence of an SDSR with these significant cuts, there aren’t more risky areas and more capabilities that you are concerned about. I recognise the sensitivity of saying this, but we are trying to scrutinise the reality of what is happening. Otherwise, I would ask why you needed the uplift in three to four years’ time that you spoke about and that you were so pleased that the Prime Minister mentioned.

General Sir David Richards: First of all because, in that respect, if Future Force 2020 is our target, we need that uplift and delivery.

John Glen: I see that.

General Sir David Richards: I am not trying to dodge the question. It is all about risk management. Our business in defence is risk. If we tried to ensure against every risk, as keen as you are that we get everything that we need, we would be broke as a country. So we have to take informed risk-it mustn’t be a gamble on our future. There has to be risk and we have to manage it.

We are going to see a relative reduction in, for example, the fact that we will lose that carrier-delivered air capability. Some people consider that to be a big risk. In our collective judgment, it is certainly a risk, but it is less of a risk than doing away with certain other capabilities. That is the process, in very crude terms, that we have had to go through.

We have had the Prime Minister’s commitment in principle to a real-terms uplift. It is jolly nice to know that, by 2020-I will be the first to acknowledge that we will be less clear by then about where and how risk manifests itself-we will have carrier strike back. It is a hugely useful and big reassurance. But between now and 2020, particularly between now and 2015-16, looking at what our excellent intelligence services and our own analysis and defence intelligence tell us, and at our commitment to Afghanistan and the things from which that springs-namely extremist ideology-we can manage without the carrier. We need aircraft, but we know we can deliver aircraft from land-based options, such as airfields.

Q36 Chair: We need to pick up a bit on time, but I want to put one question to you. When we withdraw from Afghanistan, whether in 2015 or at any other time, do you think the public will say, "Yes, we now need to increase our spending on defence," or do you think they will say, "Whatever the Prime Minister’s commitment, we have reduced from Afghanistan and can now spend that money elsewhere"?

General Sir David Richards: That is a highly political question and you will have your own view, Mr Chairman. My view is that if we live in an increasingly uncertain world, which I think is likely to be the case, with very diverse and complex threats worrying people, there will be a good case for continuing to spend a good proportion-we are talking about only 2% of GDP-on defence.

Q37 Chair: Forgive me, CDS. That is your view; it is also, as it happens, my view. It is, from what you said, the Prime Minister’s view. Is it the public view, and will it be the public view as it sees a withdrawal from Afghanistan?

General Sir David Richards: It’s an excellent thought. I had not really thought about it.

Q38 Chair: Can I invite you, over the next four or five years, to give some really quite serious attention to that?

General Sir David Richards: I am not going to be in the job for four or five years.

Chair: Because it is exceedingly important.

General Sir David Richards: It is and thank you for drawing it to my attention. Setting the conditions for doing the right thing, educating and explaining our case for what you and I collectively believe is right, has been something that we have not been so good at. I will take that on board and perhaps it needs to be woven into the grand strategy.

Chair: It certainly does. Madeleine Moon.

Q39 Mrs Moon: Very quickly, on gamble and risk. I have just come back from the NATO Parliamentary Assembly. Two of the issues that we looked at were the opening up of the far north and the increased need for maritime protection and security-in particular, what has been happening in the horn of Africa.

What is your view of the decision to remove our Nimrod maritime patrol capability? Is that something that we should mothball, so that we have got it to bring back-in terms of your gamble and risk, should that become an increasing issue-or is it something we can safely do without, given that 97% of our international trade goes by sea?

General Sir David Richards: That particular decision was very difficult. We live within a financial envelope and the key requirement, if you are going to make big savings, is to take out a whole capability. It hasn’t been a happy acquisition story. Given that its primary role is to do with the deterrent, of which it is one of five layers that do that sort of thing-I am choosing my words clumsily but deliberately-the view was that it was a risk that was acceptable, and we have all signed up to that. I cannot go into the detail of those layers of activity, but people who know much more about it than me were of a view that, in this respect, it was a risk but it was not a gamble.

On its wider role in things like counter-piracy, what we will have to do-and it is one reason why we have enthusiastically entered the Anglo-French arrangement, the new treaty-is to look at how we can, in an alliance, start to compensate for areas that we might not have enough of, or have at all, but that other countries have. That is going to be a reality as we take all this forward, as equipment gets more expensive and all that sort of thing.

So, it is not, in my judgment, yet in the gamble category and it must not be. We must work very hard to ensure that that is the case, but it is another risk that we now have to manage. I think I am right in saying, but I will have to confirm it, that the decision has been taken to take those aircraft out of service and not even to mothball them. The professional military now need to work actively with allies to see how we mitigate that risk.

Q40 Mr Havard: I shall try to make a bit of progress. You have part-answered, in a sense, some of the questions I was going to ask. I wanted to ask you about all the changes going on-the Defence Reform Unit, the review of the reserve services, a new Defence Industrial Strategy and so on. I just wanted to ask you a question about how you see the sequencing of those different events. The science is knowing what and how to do, and the art is knowing when to do. What is your view of how this process should be sequenced?

General Sir David Richards: There is a sequence, but we need to look at the degree to which one activity might unwittingly undermine another. I am slightly concerned. I think the thrust of your question has some merit and we need to make sure that we have got that right.

At the moment, for me, the key is the illustrative campaign plan, the start on the grand strategy-because that should inform some of this-and the DRU work. Because until you’ve got the right people and structures in place to deliver on some of it, at a very turbulent time, then something will go wrong and something will fall between the floorboards. We need to do it in that order and then the rest flows from that.

Q41 Mr Havard: You have outlined that part of that is being done next July, but that relationship with the SDSR is exactly what I was after. Do you think that at some point, as we move into doing a review, we will be able to ask legitimately for some sort of catalogue of timelines and timetables to see how the inter-relationships come?

General Sir David Richards: Yes. The Secretary of State and I and his PUS will meet later this afternoon to address exactly that issue. The SDSR has only just been published. The work has been done. It is now being brought to our level for endorsement and it is a key activity for us.

Q42 Mr Havard: The SDSR will be held every five years and it might be quite interesting because it will concentrate minds, but will not the fact that every five years you will have an essentially political iteration, rather than a technical one, disturb the process of medium and longer-term planning?

General Sir David Richards: Well, it is a risk. I think it is on balance a good thing because each one will be seen as a way point, not an end point. That is why we need this grand strategy which, while there will be security considerations, I would like to be a bipartisan understanding of where this country is over the next 30 to 40 years. Who is it we need to beware of? Whose rise should we accept as inevitable? It is all those sort of things. At the moment, that is being done in various ways, and we need to knit it together. If, given the political dimensions, there could be a cross-party acceptance of that, without necessarily going into all the classified stuff that might flow from it, then that risk is mitigated.

Q43 Mr Havard: We have the various reviews, and change and performance management systems are being set up to monitor and measure. Those things will be working their way through, presumably in a five-year programme, and then you disturb them. So you are putting in place a process; you made the point earlier that you are as concerned as the PUS is or ought to be about not only what is done, but how it is done and that process. Is there not a fear that that then gets stopped and then we have a new set of consultants and we go off in another direction?

General Sir David Richards: I think we over-flog consultants.

Q44 Mr Havard: I flog them regularly, me, but that’s a different matter altogether.

General Sir David Richards: That’s why I like Mr Glen’s point. I think that if we go radical-deep radical-now, then that risk, which you rightly draw to our attention, is less worrying. If you think about it, when was the last major change to the Armed Forces? It was probably Haldane in the case of the Army. Going back to our discussion, the threat and how you prosecute war could be quite different and that is why we need the grand strategy to frame that work. From that, these sorts of things can be addressed.

Q45 Mr Havard: Can I ask you one specific question within this? You made the point that estates are particularly important to you as a military commander, never mind on a broader consideration within MOD expenditure and so on. Basing in Germany: now the declaration is that half of the component in Germany will be brought from there by 2015. How realistic is that part of the change, because it obviously has implications for basing decisions within the UK? Do you have any observations that you would like to share with us?

General Sir David Richards: It will be difficult.

Q46 Mr Havard: Do you think that realistically half of it can be brought back by 2015?

General Sir David Richards: In a perfect world, yes. But we need the money. We need the places to put them in and I am not prepared to see their quality of life deteriorate. All these things need to be factored together.

Q47 Mr Hancock: It is one thing to bring the troops home, but another to bring the families back. That is where the biggest problem is surely going to occur. Large numbers of children will have to move into schools in garrison towns, which is going to be a particularly difficult issue, and large numbers of families returning from Germany will need to be physically housed. Do you conceive of the possibility that soldiers might return to the UK with their families coming later?

General Sir David Richards: No. I’m really glad that you’ve mentioned families. We do the great things that you’ve all been very complimentary about in places such as Afghanistan, knowing that our families are well looked after. If that dynamic changed, it would have an immediate impact on our operational capability. So thank you for raising that point. I hope that I’ve made myself very clear, because I am very cautious about that dimension. We have our orders, as I said earlier, but delivering on some aspects will be difficult. Ensuring that we look after our families properly is central to the delivery of that ambition.

Q48 Mr Havard: I was going to ask you a speculative question on 2020 and what the Ministry of Defence is going to be, but forget that, because it is gazing into the future. Changes are taking place within the Ministry of Defence-that is, not the military part of the MOD-but is there not a danger that tasks won’t disappear in the process but just be transferred? They will transfer to the military from the 25,000 civil servants who have gone, rather than being a change in the sense that they are no longer done or are done in a better and more efficient fashion. Is it just a transfer to you?

General Sir David Richards: That is a big risk. We talked about that earlier. All I know is that we have a very open mind on where we end up with that radical approach, but I need to protect our servicemen to ensure that they continue to do the things that you want them to do. We are still looking at where that will end up, and I am very grateful that you’ve reminded me of the importance of it.

Q49 Mrs Moon: You have talked a lot about partnerships and alliances in terms of future capability. On the decision to bring the Army back from Germany, how much discussion actually took place with NATO allies, particularly the Germans and the eastern Europeans?

General Sir David Richards: I spoke to my German counterpart about that, and I know that there was similar activity from the Foreign Office. So the Germans weren’t blindsided by it. This is, of course, part of a process. I spent 15 years in Germany, and every one of the barracks that I spent time in no longer houses British people. They knew that this was on the cards, and we gave them sufficient notice of our intention.

Interestingly, as you probably know, they are very sorry about it, which is contrary to 1990, when they were quite keen to get us all out. Today that dynamic has completely changed and they want us in their midst. We have given them, and this is still picking up Mr Havard’s point, up to five years to address the consequences for employment, and that sort of thing, in local populations and local communities. It is okay, and it is certainly not an issue between us and Germany.

In terms of eastern European nations, I cannot give you an answer to that. I assume that the Foreign Office has done what it traditionally does, which is give them an early warning. I know that, in the week before the SDSR came out, three-star-level people within the MOD travelled to key allies to ensure that they knew what was happening in advance. So I think that it was probably all right.

Q50 Mrs Moon: I would say "worried" not "sorry".

General Sir David Richards: Me?

Mrs Moon: From conversations with eastern Europeans and Germans, the word that I would use is that they are "worried" about it, not sorry about it.

General Sir David Richards: Good. Thank you for that feedback.

Q51 Mr Brazier: Could I ask, CDS, whether, as people come home, we will reconsider the policy of trying to concentrate most of the Army in a few super-garrisons? There is an obvious advantage in terms of mobility, but there are penalties, in areas such as Catterick, in terms of jobs for spouses.

General Sir David Richards: I am no longer in charge of the Army, as people keep reminding me.

Q52 Chair: You’re in charge of the man in charge of the Army.

General Sir David Richards: That’s a moot point, actually.

Chair: Sorry, I didn’t mean to sidetrack you.

General Sir David Richards: It is one that you need to think about. I don’t have direct authority over the civil service chiefs, which is one of the things that the DRU will be looking at. I am the strategic commander, and, of course, I will have huge influence, but constitutionally the CGS is the man to answer that. That is one of the things that I think we need to look at, because that is not the case in France, Germany, Canada or Australia. The CDS actually commands the three forces.

Chair: I call Gisela Stuart-actually, sorry, we didn’t have an answer to that last question. I am just trying to move things along-short questions and short answers.

General Sir David Richards: The answer is that we will continue to put some units into other locations, but the huge efficiencies, given that we’re living in this very difficult envelope, of the super-garrison concept and the advantages in terms of ensuring that our soldiers and their families have got good facilities-swimming pools, cinemas and all that sort of thing-will mean that the emphasis will continue to be on the super garrison.

Q53 Ms Stuart: France-a change of subject. The historic treaty contains an interesting statement, which is: "bearing in mind that they do not see situations arising in which the vital interests of either Party could be threatened without the vital interests of the other also being threatened". So we are clearly making a statement that our mutual interests are specific and overlap.

In terms of how that is going to work in practice, let us look at one particular thing. Returning to Nimrod, for the sake of argument, clearly there is a French capability of Nimrod, which experts tell me is Atlantique 2, which the Germans also use. I should add that when we visited PJHQ, we were essentially told that one Nimrod equals 10 ships.

General Sir David Richards: Was it an Air Force officer who said that to you?

Mrs Moon: No, it wasn’t an Air Force officer.

General Sir David Richards: I am only joking, of course. I will wash my mouth out.

Q54 Ms Stuart: What precise discussions have you had with the French, as part of this wonderful new co-operation, so that, as we remove a particular capability, our closest ally has a capability where they could come in and support what we need?

General Sir David Richards: The weekend after that treaty was signed, I went to Paris, and we agreed on those areas that we now need to get into detailed collaboration over. That was one of them. Work has been set in train in that respect. I have to say that, obviously, it is not just France. America and other nations have this capability too, so that is a wider piece of work than just what we are doing with France, which reflects the reality of the position that we are in. I don’t have any more to tell you on that at the moment, because the work is being done, and we will have to see what comes out of it, but that is a very important dimension.

Q55 Ms Stuart: But if the work has been done and you find that they actually don’t have the capability, and we have decided to do away with ours, what are the practical consequences of that?

General Sir David Richards: To a degree, we will have to address that when we discover whether that is the case, but that isn’t our assumption at the moment. The French are very keen to find a way to help us through this, and other nations are doing the same. I think this is going to be a growing part of our lives. As all these capabilities become more and more expensive, the Anglo-French treaty made absolute and eminent sense to me.

We already intended, if we go to a major war or on major operations, to do it with France-within NATO or within the coalition of the willing. What we hadn’t done, for too long, was ensure that we did all the preparatory training, doctrinal underpinning and all that stuff that makes it actually work on the day. This is what the key output is for me and my French counterpart.

Where you look at particular capabilities, that is work that we have now set in train, but it will reflect a growing understanding that no nation-other than, probably, the Americans-will have every capability that they would like in an ideal world.

Q56 Ms Stuart: I absolutely agree. If part of the treaty is co-operation and interoperability, does it makes sense for an article in the treaty to say, "The English and French languages shall be used as the joint languages of the joint facilities and shall be of equal weight"?

General Sir David Richards: As someone whose French is not too good, I’m quite glad that the agreement has been that it will be in English. But there is logic in this, in that we mustn’t view the treaty as purely an arrangement between France and Britain; it’s within a wider NATO context in the main, and English is the working language of NATO.

The French have very generous-heartedly said that the working language will be English. I have to say that I have spent quite a lot of time with them recently, and their command of English is remarkable at much lower levels than I had realised. They are taking this very seriously. Interestingly, it is a sign of real intent on the part of France and the French military that they intend to make this work.

Q57 Ms Stuart: So that clause is a treaty nicety more than anything else. I have one final question. The last historic treaty with the French was St Malo in 1997. What has been learned from that co-operation that may improve the current treaty? If you were to look five years ahead, what things might we have achieved by then?

General Sir David Richards: I think the new one focuses much more on genuine practicalities-operational output. St Malo, from my recollection, was more about a desire to bring together NATO and the EU. This is much more hard-headed than that. Therefore, as a military man, I am focusing on the practicalities, and that’s everyone’s intention. If other nations, whatever might happen in time, want to join the club, so to speak, so be it. Last weekend but one, when I was in Paris with my French and Italian counterparts, I met the French CHOD, and we made that very clear. This is not an exclusive thing in the long term; it’s the start of an understanding that bigger nations that are like-minded need to get on and focus on the practicalities and realities of modern conflict. I think NATO and the Americans are very happy to see the two biggest spenders on defence come together and start generating that dynamism.

Chair: Thank you very much. We now move finally to Afghanistan. Thomas Docherty.

Q58 Thomas Docherty: What do you think of the remaining challenges facing us in Afghanistan between now and the end of 2014?

General Sir David Richards: First of all, directly from a military perspective, it’s ensuring that we continue to secure properly those areas we are in-mainly, in our case, in central Helmand. We should not believe that the threat does not exist still, and we have a continual drum beat of casualties that reminds us all of that. I think the overriding need felt by the average Afghan is that sense of security without which he cannot live his life. We take all this for granted. If you want to work in the morning, you don’t think about whether you’ll get there or whether you will be blown up. We are in a much better place now in those areas that we occupy, but we’ve got to keep our eye on that ball. Any idea that we breathe a sigh of relief and that we’ve cracked it, we need to dismiss, because this will continue to be demanding on our troops and our robustness, in terms of understanding, for some time yet.

That said, I am on record as saying-and I believe that David Petraeus is absolutely right when he says that we can be cautiously optimistic-that there’s a bit of an upturn. We have seen, mercifully, the casualty levels come down. We’ve seen the latest ICOS survey, which is as good as you can get, for Kandahar province and Helmand province, and that shows there’s a growing optimism; it is now 48%, and, the last time round, it was, I think, 36% among people living in the areas the survey teams went through. This is properly done; it is statistically, empirically validated that 48% of people now think things are on the up. Their sense of security is better, so that is a good sign. We won’t really know, as Major-General Nick Carter has said, until the summer of next year-no doubt we will come under pressure in the late spring-whether we have solidified that progress. That is key.

The second thing is the growth of the ANSF. I am probably confirming what you know here, but you’ll want to hear it from the horse’s mouth. It has made remarkable progress. When I was COMISAF, I tore my hair out trying to get people to understand the centrality of the ANSF in terms of our own solution. God bless America; it has really gripped this. There is a lieutenant-general out there called Bill Caldwell whom, if you haven’t met, you must talk to when you get there. He will reassure you that we are now definitely on track to grow the size of army and police that you need by 2014, and also increasing the capability. I will, however, be the first to tell you that post-2015 they will continue to need much help. That is why we feel we can get out of the combat role, but need to remain strongly in the supporting role, because you cannot grow the sort of leadership over even five years that will make sure that our legacy is an enduring one. So we will need to continue that. ANSF growth and capability is key.

Then you are getting into less obviously military areas, such as governance, as I discussed in front of the Committee when I finished being COMISAF. I think there is a more mature understanding now of the sort of governance we are talking about. It is not western government, but an Afghan-empathetic governance. We now have a much better understanding of what that means. We are on track to deliver it, but if I am frank with you-as I always will be-that is an area of concern for me. It is our enduring legacy; not the military’s, but in the case of where we are operating it will be the UK’s enduring legacy in central Helmand.

Those are three things. I think they are all on an upward curve, but I would not pretend to you that in all respects by the end of 2015, those latter aspects-particularly governance-will be rock solid and we can just leave, because we will not be in that position.

Q59 Thomas Docherty: Did you mean 2014?

General Sir David Richards: Well, the end of 2014, yes.

Q60 Thomas Docherty: You said on the "Andrew Marr Show" at the weekend-I am sure you like having your words spoken to journalists repeated back to you-"We are clear that we will have to remain a lot longer than that", so 2104, "in order to make sure that we consolidate on all that hard work. The plans are now in place to do that." For the Armed Forces and their families, whom you mentioned as well, how do you think that will affect their morale?

General Sir David Richards: The most important thing for our collective morale is the knowledge that we have done a good job. If we came out of Afghanistan having failed-I am certain that that will not be the case-morale would plummet. It would have an impact on the sort of people we must continue to attract and retain to make sure that your Armed Forces are what you expect of us. The most important ingredient is not ships, tanks or aircraft, but people, so you are asking a very good question. We must succeed, and that will be the most important thing. In terms of their resilience and whether they are up for it, I am absolutely clear they are, and to be frank, if we go down from the roughly 10,000 that we have there at the moment to around 1,000, that is very manageable.

As some of you here will know, what our people most like is going on operations. It will remain an operation; it will not become some sort of peacetime training. It will continue to be a military operation in support of the Afghan army and police. I do not view it as a major issue, but it is one that we must manage. We have to make sure that when people keep going back, particularly if they go for one-year tours, we manage that sensitively, but I think we can do it.

Q61 Thomas Docherty: This is my final question, because I know that we are running out of time. What are the specific conditions for the withdrawal of troops-both combat and support-and what do we do if they are not met; and specifically if, at the end of 2014, you do not feel that we have met the conditions for our combat troops coming out?

General Sir David Richards: That decision will be taken much more widely than by people like me. We are part of alliance: it is an ISAF operation. Therefore, we will conform to whatever our political leaders decide should be the case. To be quite clear, when the Prime Minister talked about 2015, for example, that was not plucked from thin air. A lot of thought has gone into why 2015 is an achievable objective and he has been fully involved in that. I was asked at the time whether it was helpful or unhelpful and I was the first to concede that actually it is do-able.

Five years is a long time and the great thing is that it has focused our effort and resources on achieving that end state. I believe it is do-able. The Americans have a great phrase: "The enemy has a vote." We will have to continue to make sure that we don’t kid ourselves in some way that we are doing what we’ve got to do but in fact it is not happening. I don’t think that is likely. I have huge faith in General Petraeus and people like General Caldwell. We have got an outstanding three star of our own: James Bucknall. Those people are top-drawer guys. We have a fantastic Brit, as it happens, in Mark Sedwill, who is the SCR. We’ve got a great ambassador there: William Patey. We’ve got a much more informed audience back here in this country. I think we are going to the right place and we can deliver on that time line.

Q62 Mr Hancock: The one thing that you haven’t got is the co-operation of the Taliban, have you? I listened to a Taliban commander on the radio yesterday, who was followed about two hours later by Mullah Omar, saying that there would be no dialogue with the Cameron Government or anyone else all the time there are foreign forces in Afghanistan. That is their creed. How do you keep soldiers there for 30 years when you are hearing from the head of the Taliban and local commanders on the ground that their view is, "You go and we stay, and we fight until you do go"?

General Sir David Richards: First of all, those are two members of the Taliban. Don’t forget that they are under pressure to come out with the party line, because they understand propaganda and the psychology of warfare. They will say that because they will provoke exactly your quite legitimate point. Is it worth it? Can we win? All that sort of stuff. My view is that we have to be cleverer at our own reverse messaging. One important dimension of that is absolute clarity, at which the Prime Minister has been at the forefront, that by 2015 we will have grown Afghan army and police who can take on that combat role. Thereafter, NATO and the 47 nations now in ISAF, will-and this will be confirmed at the Lisbon conference-have an enduring commitment to Afghanistan.

I did hear one of those Taliban leaders, who is now in Kabul, so it might be the same one. I would say he is a chap with a beard, but as two Committee members have them, that might get me into trouble. He did say, if you remember-if that was the same interview-that they are very tired, too. We need to have a bit more confidence. We are hammering them at the moment and they’re feeling it a bit. Our trick is now to go in hard, as we are militarily, and with all the reconstruction and other effort, but at the same time, as we’ve discussed, we also negotiate hard. It is not my job to get into the detail of that but I think that’s happening. We are at the early stages of a mutual understanding that we can’t go on doing this for ever, and there is an interest in seeking a solution that will be untidy but will have been worth it: the vast majority of Afghans will be able to live their lives in the secure way that we want them to, and Afghanistan will not again pose that awful threat that it did-going back to the reason we are there in the first place-to our security.

Chair: On that note, CDS, we as a Committee could go on for ever on these fascinating questions and topics, but I don’t think we should. We are grateful to you for a most helpful and interesting session.