Examination of Witnesses (Question Numbers
Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham KCB, Wing Commander
(rtd) Andrew Brookes and Professor Julian Lindley-French
8 June 2011
Chair: May I welcome you all to the Defence
Committee. As you know, we are doing an inquiry into the Strategic
Defence and Security Review and the National Security Strategy.
Perhaps we could begin, please, by asking you to introduce yourselves.
Shall we start with you, Sir Jeremy?
Vice Admiral Blackham: Thank you,
Chairman. I am Sir Jeremy Blackham, an ex-naval Vice Admiral.
I was 41 years in the Navy, and the latter part of my time was
mostly spent on budgeting and planning. My last job at MoD was
as the first equipment capability customer, responsible for setting
up the first single equipment programmebut I am not, I
am happy to say, still there to explain why it is not delivering.
After leaving the Navy, I worked for a while
in industry, predominantly with EADS, for about three years. I
then became an independent consultant. I am editor of The Naval
Review, an independent professional naval journal. I teach
defence management on a master's course at King's College, London
and do a fair amount of writing and speaking, and a bit of defence
and other consultancy.
Professor Lindley-French: I am
Julian Lindley-French, a professor at the Netherlands Defence
Academy at the University of Leiden. I am a member of the Strategic
Advisory Group in Washington, and am on the board of the NATO
Defence College in Rome.
Wing Commander Brookes: I am Andrew
Brookes, a former RAF pilot. I was director of Air Power Studies
at the RAF Staff College and an aerospace specialist at the International
Institute for Strategic Studies for 10 years. I am now director
of the Air League, which was formed in 1909 to encourage the nation
to appreciate the vital necessity of air superiority. The Air
League thanks you for letting me come along to put its views,
because it has been very instrumental in pushing aviation, not
least in helping found the Air Training Corps back in the late
Q452 Chair: Thank you.
We have heard that you are from the Navy, the Army and the Air
Forcewell, Professor Lindley-French, you might not look
very military, but you have concentrated mainly on the Army. We
ask for a reasonably equitable range of views; we don't want to
concentrate on any one service during this evidence session although,
inevitably, there will be some skew one way or another, because
of the events of the SDSR.
May I begin by asking what you think of the
National Security Council, please? We will get on to other issues,
such as what you think of the SDSR, in due course, but let us
begin by saying what you think of the NSC and whether it is working.
Would you like to begin, Sir Jeremy?
Vice Admiral Blackham: What I
think is that, in principle, the NSC is an extremely sound idea.
I have always felt that defence is much too important to be left
to the Ministry of Defence and, quite clearly, security is a much
more wide-ranging business than purely a military one. In principle,
it seems to me an extremely good idea. It is quite difficult to
make a judgment at the moment on whether it is turning out to
be a good idea, because it hasn't been running for more than a
year or so. Since one of the NSC's first deliveries was, indeed,
the NSS and the SDSR, we might find that we have more to say about
it. I think its formulation is correct; the Prime Minister chairs
it fairly regularly and, in his absence, the Foreign Secretary
does, which is at the right level.
I have some doubt as to whether the National
Security Adviser is chosen from the right group of peopleI
do not mean this in any way personally, but I am not sure that
an official is the right person to act as National Security Adviser.
I doubt he has the political clout and he will, inevitably, be
very much formed by his own experience. That is something that
needs to be reviewed. In principle, however, the NSC seems to
be the right way to approach questions of national security.
Professor Lindley-French: I would
echo those views. I would contrast our National Security Council
with that of the United States, and the National Security Adviser
with his colleague in the US. With due respect to the current
incumbent, for whom I have huge respect, it strikes me as inappropriate
to have a civil servant as the National Security Adviser, in the
sense that you need a very heavy political heavyweight, as it
were, which tends to be the case in the USnot now, but
it has been in the past. So, someone of very high stature indeed.
I would see the Civil Service playing a strong
deputy role, which is very important to link across Government.
Ultimately, strategy in this country has to be the whole of Governmentif
you are talking of influence in the world, with all our national
means, given the nature of the world, then the NSC must have both
the stature and the weight to carry across Government and to ensure
that there are synergies and efficiencies in achieving our national
objectives. I am not sure, as yet, that the NSC has that weight.
Until it does, I find it hard to believe that it can perform the
integrating, co-ordinating role that, surely, it must play in
support of national strategy.
Q453 Chair: So, someone
like the Deputy Prime Minister or a senior Cabinet Minister?
Professor Lindley-French: Indeed,
of that weightto have that voice consistently at Cabinet
level. Even though it is chaired once a week by the Prime Minister,
that is insufficient in terms of maintaining momentum on whole-of-Government
approaches and structures.
Wing Commander Brookes: I have
nothing to add to Julian's comments, other than to say that if
we cannot find somebody of sufficient calibre in the Lords or
some figure of sufficient clout to do thatI cannot think
of such a figureit will not get much further, because it
will just be another layer of bureaucracy that will not get very
Chair: Moving on to a different areaVice-Chairman,
Q454 Mr Havard: I would
like you to address the question of where the reductions currently
leave us and what the strategy suggests about our position in
the world. The strategy says that there will be no shrinkage of
our influence. However, the Chiefs of Staff gave evidence to us
and told us that they will not have full spectrum capability until
2015. Lord Stirrup gave evidence to us and he said that, given
the drastic action that is being taken with the deficiton
which we can have differencesthere will a period of shrinkage
as a consequence. What is your view? Should we be making greater
efforts to maintain our influence? Is there really a shrinkage
of influence and are we trying to pretend that there isn't?
Professor Lindley-French: I live
in the Netherlands; I have lived abroad now for 25 years. I am
in Washington an awful lot, and believe me our influence is shrinking
rapidly. I am seeing that and hearing that. I am working closely
with the French, who are very frustrated by this almost pretence
that is going on in London.
What strikes me, ladies and gentleman, about
the National Security Strategy is that it paints a very big picture
of a big world and then promptly cuts all the tools available
to influence it. That strikes me as the essential paradox of the
two documents. There is a certain brand, internationally, that
is the United Kingdom, and that brand is primarily diplomatic
and military. Both are tired, and both are being overstretched,
because they are being asked to do too much on too little. I strongly
suggest that that has to be gripped here.
On the issue of recapitalisation of the Armed
Forces post-2015, one of the things that I find bizarre about
the relationship between the two documents is that building a
new military, which is what we will effectively have to do, takes
15 to 20 years, and yet the suggestion is that there will be a
review every five years. I cannot see the planning traction of
the National Security Strategy and I cannot see the planning delivery
logic of the SDSR. Until these kind of inconsistencies are resolved,
believe me Britain's influence will continue rapidly to diminish
at a time when we need to be influential to keep vibrant the institutions
essential to our security. It is a very serious point indeed.
Vice Admiral Blackham: I do not
disagree with what the Professor has said, although it is quite
difficult to answer the question fully without going into some
of the detail of the two documents, which I dare say you may wish
to do later. It seems to me that the National Security Strategy
makes a fair attempt at painting a picture of the world. It is
pretty selective about the bits that it sees as generally threatening
to us or directly threatening to us, which somewhat distorts its
view. But it is pretty poor at offering guidance to the Chiefs
of Staff about what kinds of capabilities they should maintain
or retain. I am not accustomed to feeling sorry for the Chiefs
of Staff, but in this case I certainly do, because without clear
directions about what things they are to do and what things they
are not to do, it is almost impossible to plan a markedly shrunk
Q455 Mr Havard: Is that
because the selection of things was wrong in the first place?
You seem to imply that that selection was wrong.
Vice Admiral Blackham: I would
go further; I would say that what neither document recognises
is that, at the level of finance which is currently available,
we cannot do the range of things about what the National Security
Strategy demonstrates as potential threats and which the SDSR
says we should do. Consequently, choices have to be made, if you
are not prepared to afford certain things.
I might at this point just divert a moment and
say that it isn't clear to me that it is sensible to start a defence
review by limiting the budget. You clearly have to limit it at
some point, but the right thing to do is to describe the range
of threats. It is important to understand that the range of threats
is in no way dependent on the amount of money that we choose to
use to confront them. It is dependent on a whole range of other
things, almost none of which are under our own control.
What we can control is which of those threats
we decide to face. We must then understand what the consequences
of that are, and what the consequences are of the things that
we decide not to face. That piece of work is not done. Consequently,
the Chiefs of Staff have an almost impossible job in trying to
decide which capabilities they are going to maintain and which
they are not, a problem made much worseI expect that we
will go into thisby the fact that the SDSR only, in the
event, saved half the amount of money that was required to be
saved anyway, so now they are having to go further.
Q456 Mr Havard: Are you
saying that the question is not that it does not really protect
against the shrinkage of influence, but that it does not meet
the needs, as we identify them, of our national interest?
Vice Admiral Blackham: Yes. Exactly.
Mr Havard: Is that what you are saying?
Vice Admiral Blackham: Yes. It
Mr Havard: That is a dramatic thing to
Professor Lindley-French: It is
recognising only as much threat as we can afford.
Wing Commander Brookes: I just
think that Brits don't do strategy. This is our fundamental problem.
We have never done strategy. The Germans do strategy. Strategy
is almost a dirty word. This is not strategy; this is almost a
budget-driven laundry list, at the end of the day. We can put
"strategy" all over it, and we can stamp it, but I do
not detect a long-term strategy for, dare I say, solving the economic
crisisit underpins the way we do itor a role in
the world that fits our requirements, aspirations and where we
should be. I was looking for all that in there. Sometimes people
say, "If you do this, you will end up like a new Netherlands."
Well, I don't see anything wrong with being a new Netherlands.
I look in vain for a strategy. All I see here is a long list of
budget-driven devices, followed by a period of haggling, and at
the end of the day, we call this a strategy.
Q457 Mr Havard: What
about national influence then, our influence in the world? Do
you think that it is just axiomatic that it is severely, significantly
or temporarily damaged? Which is it?
Wing Commander Brookes: Go anywhere
now, and you see the sign. As the Americans say, when the rubber
hits the road, you see that we do not have the influence that
we used to have. We either pitch up with dodgy kit or with a lack
of something, saying, "Please, can the Americans provide
that? Please, can somebody do something else? Please, can we wait
a bit longer?" If our strategy is to go out there to impress
people with what we are delivering, I do not think we are doing
Q458 Mr Havard: Within
that, is the NSS itself, the delivery of which all these other
reforms are meant to support, coherent?
Wing Commander Brookes: I do not
see any coherence in the NSS and the Strategic Defence and Security
Review, which we will come on to later. There is a long list of
Tier 1, Tier 2, Tier 3 and so on. But where you go after that
in the Strategic Defence and Security Review, I see a mismatch.
In my humble opinion, the one should lead to the other, and I
do not see that happening in this case.
Professor Lindley-French: If I
may add to that, Vice-Chair, as I have said, the message that
one receives is that it is a way of managing decline more systematically.
The inference in the document is an acceptance of British decline
and the suggestion that we will recognise only as much threat
as we can afford. The real issue with the strategy is the haggle
over which is to be afforded. It is not even clear in the document
which are the threats to be afforded.
Mr Havard: Sir Jeremy, did you want to
Vice Admiral Blackham: Thank you,
Vice-Chair. I was only going to add that it seems to me that the
National Security Strategy, as I think I have said just now, has
been slightly selective in those things that it regards as threats.
This leads me back a little bit to the National Security Council.
We have, this spring, been confronted with the Arab Spring. The
National Security Strategy talks about a world of change and uncertainty
as if this is some magical new world that we have entered. Of
course it isn't; it is a world to which we have returned following
the end of the Cold War. Much of what goes on today would have
been recognised in the back end of the 19th century or even earlier.
That becomes a kind of cover for not having to address the questions.
I have done some comparison between our NSS
and that of the United States. Interestingly, the United States
NSS does not have a single use of the words "uncertain",
"unexpected" or "unprepared", but it is informed
by what I think was a key statement in 2005 by Condi Rice, who
said, "For 60 years, my country, the United States, pursued
stability at the expense of democracy
in the Middle East...Now,
we are taking a different course. We are supporting the democratic
aspirations of all people." That is a major strategic shift,
which has considerable implications for what might have been going
to happen in the Middle East, for the collapse of regimes and
for the sorts of things that are going on. None the less, this
appeared to take the NSC completely by surprise. Well, there is
something wrong if that is what we are getting out of this apparatus
and out of our review of national security.
Q459 John Glen: Julian,
you made some very bold statements about your impressions of the
diminished influence that Britain has, certainly in Washington.
Could you try to give the Committee some clarity over what that
actually means in terms of the practical view taken and what the
implications of it are? It is one thing to say that Britain is
not as big a player in general terms, but what does it mean? Can
you give some more definition to that, please?
Professor Lindley-French: Absolutely.
The new enduring relationshipI will avoid the "special
relationship" phraseis ultimately, in Washington's
mind, with both Republicans and Democrats, built on our ability
to leverage other partners, primarily Europeans but also Commonwealth
members. If we lose that ability because of a profound perception
of our decision not to be a major second-rank power, our influence
in Washington will decline further. There will be very clear strategic,
The specific impact will be on NATO, because
what is generating and becoming very clear in Washington is that
the Americans are increasingly becoming an Asia-Pacific power.
What they will look forin a sense, Libya is increasingly
the test caseis Europeans under Anglo-French leadership
to look after our bit of the world, which is a pretty rough neighbourhood,
while an overstretched America deals with the epicentre of change
in south and east Asia. If we cannot step up to that leadership
role, and we are choosing not to adopt it, the fundamental assumption
in the NSS that the Americans will always ultimately be there
for our security and our defence is being undermined.
The question then becomes: what level of capability
does Britain require to ensure that the Americans feel that they
can invest in our future security and defence because it is part
of the overall whole? I was at a meeting in Tallinn a couple of
weeks ago, and a senior German seriously said that Germany would
not modernise its deployable Armed Forces, and that it would not
even conceive of modernising nuclear forces, but that it might
allow the Americans to pay for and put in place a missile defence
system that protects Germany in Europe. The inference is that
if we are moving inadvertently into that campthe Dutch
are certainly going into that campour loss of influence
in Washington and, I would suggest, elsewhere, will be profound.
The French, frankly, have a lot more traction than we do these
days because they talk a better show than we do.
The tragedy, for me, for London is that after
all the sacrifices of the past 10 years of our Armed Forces in
Iraq and Afghanistan, we are almost snatching contempt from the
jaws of respect, on the Hill in particular. I am not overstating
this; that is the consequence of these two documents on the American
political mind that considers these issues.
Q460 Mr Hancock: I would
say, "So what?" I think you are a bit degrading to our
services. The difference about when we turn up is that we do so
with men and women who put their lives on the line without question,
unlike many other countries. I thought that you were very degrading
of the military commitment that we have shown over the past 10
years, and I thought that your comments about the way we are envisaged
were rather insulting to those who have put their lives on the
line and those who have died. Read the record, and you will see
what you said, and you may not be so proud of what you said when
you have read it. What I find questionable is that if we are not
at the top of the second rank, who the hell is? I do not see anybody
else rushing to take up that role, and we are all in the same
boat, aren't we?
Professor Lindley-French: My immediate
right of reply to your comments, which I reject utterly, is that
I have worked closely for many years with the UK Armed Forces
and have seen the sacrifices that they have made. I suggest to
you that these documents are in danger of showing a lack of respect
to our Armed Forces. At the end of the day, they transfer risk
away from this place on to our people in the field. That is the
real lack of respect. The danger is that they suggest a role which
is unfunded, and therefore they transfer the risk implied in that
role down the command chain. That is a very serious matter indeed.
Q461 Chair: The second
question that Mike Hancock asked was building on what you said
about our rejecting of the notion of being an important second-tier
power. Who would you describe as such an important second-tier
Professor Lindley-French: The
French certainly have the ambition to maintain that position,
and they would hope that we would be alongside them. There are
emerging powers that could well occupy that position in future.
China is the obvious choice; India is emerging. My central point
is that if we are not occupying that position, the entire system
of institutionalised security, which we constructed as major architects,
will be damaged. There are profound international implications
if we choose to retreat from the position that we have traditionally
Q462 Mrs Moon: Professor,
I did not hear what you had to say in the same way as Mike Hancock
did. I heard it perhaps from what I see in the NATO Parliamentary
Assembly, of which I am member, where there is a diminished role
for Britain and a diminished voice, at a time when the message
clearly is that America expects the NATO alliance to be largely
managed from this side of the Atlantic, and not from their side.
They are currently funding 80% of it and there is a requirement
for us to stand up to our own defence. Is this stepping back something
that is happening across Europe? Is it something that our defence
review has allowed others also to step back from? That is what
worries methat we have almost given permission for others
to step back, whereas in the past we were always pushing people
forward to step up to do more.
Professor Lindley-French: That
is a fair point; the Dutch are a case in point. They were the
one small to medium-sized continental European country willing
to give a balanced force a go. However, they have been in retreat
for some time now. Last month the Minister, in announcing a further
swingeing cut, used our SDSR as basically the permission to do
so. There clearly are implications there.
I fully recognise that there are a lot of European
countriesmainly because of the German position, I have
to saythat have been in retreat for a long time, aided
and abetted by poor American leadership. I have made that point
in the US several timesthat the Americans have a responsibility
to lead well, not just lead. Our interest is to renovate a strategic
concept in Europe that ensures that there is a genuine European
pillar of the alliance stabilising this turbulent world. That
is our mission; and we are not stepping up to that plate. Any
chance of bringing Europe back on strategic line, if you like,
is, I fear, in danger of being lost.
Q463 Chair: Sir Jeremy,
did you want to add something to that?
Vice Admiral Blackham: If I might,
Chairman. One of the consequences of what we have just been discussing
is that, where we have decided to remove a capability or to take
a capability gap, there is no one else in Europe about to fill
it. They were not filling it before we removed it, and they are
certainly not going to fill it after we have removed it.
I say, en passant, with respect to our retention
or otherwise of influence, that the Chief of the French Naval
Staff made a speech last weekend in which he described himself
as astonished at what had happened in the United Kingdom. He announcedrather
to my surprise, I must admitthat the French had always
regarded the British Navy as a model. He followed that comment
with a Gallic shrug. There is no question but that what we have
done has been noticed in a major way by important allies.
Q464 Mrs Moon: I think
he described himself as being shocked when he saw the depth of
Vice Admiral Blackham: Indeed.
I think "étonné" was one of the words
used. I have seen several translations of it, some of which I
could not possibly use here.
Q465 Sandra Osborne:
I take your point. You are making very serious points; you use
the word "retreat". Surely every country has to review
its needs in terms of national security and defence. You seem
to be saying more of the same: we should just occupy the same
position that we always have. Surely in the 21st century you have
to look at today's needs rather than yesterday's. If you don't
like what is being done, what is your suggestion?
Professor Lindley-French: This
is the critical question. It always comes back to what role Britain
seeks to play in the world and what level of ambition we have.
Again I have a point of departure here with the National Security
Strategy. Its focus on counter-terrorism has an element of fighting
a war that is increasingly passé. It misses a fundamental
reality of what I call hyper-competition in the world. There are
many states out there, including China; I am not vilifying China,
but these states are legitimised by growth, not by democracy.
As that growth becomes more central to the survivability of regimes,
they will compete, as we are seeing, in a way that is very classical.
I almost read a 10-year rule into the SDSR and
the NSS à la 1920s and I see change happening much more
quickly. Is the world likely to be safer during this very profound
period of change if Britain seeks to exploit its brand reputation
as a stabilising power that can influence stability? I am absolutely
convinced that that is the case. But if we choose to walk away
from that for whatever reasons, we are contributing to change
that is more risky than should otherwise be the case. Ultimately,
it is a political judgment, but it is a judgment that I do not
see being made in these two documents and nor do I hear it at
the heart of Government.
Q466 Mr Havard: You painted
a view of how the USA sees the world and how it perceives its
interests in the world and its influence and what it might desire
that the UK should or should not do and what it might not be achieving.
That could be one discussion about whether we have influence in
the world, dependent on whether the Americans decide we have or
The strategy and the establishment of the NSS,
as I understood it, was both Foreign Office-led and meant to be
the comprehensive approach. It had DFID in it. Our influence in
the world, they tell us now, is much to be looked at in terms
of trade. You just made the point about that. So how much of this
is defence only? We are looking at the start that the SDSR is
only part of a picture that the NSC should do. Do we really have
shrinkage in influence or change of form in the way in which we
achieve that influence, and to what extent is the structure that
has been put in place aiding and assisting that, if that is the
aspiration? Is defence effectively the thing that will either
make it work, kill it or whatever?
Wing Commander Brookes: Forgive
me if I just step back. I think that the whole underpinning of
this is economic. This is where the strategic document does not
really give enough credibility to economics. Last night, and in
Singapore at the weekend, the Secretary of State's number one
point was that we have to get the economy right to do everything
else, yet I do not see the economic debate coming out through
this in any way to underpin everything that flows thereafter.
I always tend to quote Adam Smith on this. As he said in Edinburgh
200 years ago, "Little else is required to carry a state
to the highest degree of opulence
but peace, easy taxes
and a reasonably tolerable administration of justice."
It's the peace we don't get any more. It should
be saying here that our number one requirement is peace. When
Smith said that in that century, we had been at war one year in
two throughout the whole century. In this century, we have been
at war one year in one. For 11 years this century, we have been
at war. I look in vain for something that says, "Is that
a fundamental requirement for the underpinning of everything we
do?" Because at the end of the day, peace is what we need
to build on and unless somebody says that emphatically, we are
going to continue to go to war and spend money and not have enough
of this, that and the other. That is my problem with this document
and the whole strategy: unless we get the economics right, we
are not going to do any of this and we are not going to get the
economics right while we seem to go into conflicts almost at the
drop of a hat.
Professor Lindley-French: I would
reinforce that. It is the ends and means argument, which, if as
you describe this document and its methodology had been the case,
I would say was absolutely fair. But my concern about the way
it has worked is that a profound structural change is implied
in the NSS, which is that it is a way from engagement to a very
defensive defence posture. In a sense, security is not working
with defence, but security is consuming defence. Security now
is defined in terms of security resiliency, prevent, contest,
counter-cyber and that kind of stuff, and that cannot be measured.
The question then becomes, to what extent is the balance to be
struck between protection and projection of influence? Again,
that is not systematically addressed in the document as it should
Q467 Chair: Sir Jeremy,
you are nodding.
Vice Admiral Blackham: I am nodding,
Chairman, because I agree. It seems that the NSS does not, in
fact, specify the ways and means. It specifies ends, but there
is very little about ways and means. Indeed, as I said in my opening
remarks, there is a range of instruments that are necessary to
preserve a nation's security, but I find missing from the NSS
any assessment of what these ways and means actually are and what
the potential penalties of not doing certain things are. Of course,
I accept the right of any Governmentand, more particularly,
any Parliamentto decide what the national stance should
be and what we are prepared to do and what we are not, but I am
concerned that the NSS makes a claim that we will do something,
which it then fails to support with the ways and means that it
proposes, and, of course, with the finance that it has available
Chair: I am going to call Mike Hancock,
but before I do, I give the Committee due warning that we shall
be stopping at 4.15 because there will be a vote. We shall not
be resuming, so we will try to fit everything in before 4.15.
Brief answers and brief questions would be helpful.
Q468 Mr Hancock: Can
I pursue one thing, if I may? The strategy was a three-way split:
the Foreign Office, DFID and Defence. The one thing that the Government
have done is support DFID. They had given guarantees on that.
If the three of you had to choose, would you say that that was
a mistake and that we should not have given more money to DFID,
but should have actually spent more money on the Armed Forces
of this country? We cannot have both, so a choice had to be made.
That is the problem the Government facednot only this Government,
but the previous Government.
Vice Admiral Blackham: I do not
entirely accept that premise; perhaps you would not expect me
to. There is a limit to the amount of money that the Government
will spend. What they choose to spend it on, and in what proportion,
is entirely a matter of choice. There is no economic law that
says defence or anything else should have a particular proportion
of national income. In fact, following the SDSR, defence has the
lowest proportion of national income devoted to it that it has
had in modern times, so there has been a deliberate choice to
Q469 Chair: What do you
mean by modern times? Can you put a date on that?
Vice Admiral Blackham: I am going
back to the 19th century.
Chair: The 19th century?
Q470 Mr Hancock: So for
the past 150 years?
Vice Admiral Blackham: Yes. There
has been a deliberate choice to do this. As I said at the outset,
one of the difficulties with defence is that it does not really
matter what we decide to do; that has no impact whatever on the
threat. Indeed, it is perfectly possible to argue historically
that the less you do, the greater the threat gets. We have to
understand that if we decide to spend less to do less, there will
be consequences. That is what I see no sign of. If we make judgments
about things, which any Government are entitled to do as to what
we will and will not do, there will be potential consequences
to those judgments. No one has explained to mea taxpayer
and member of the publicwhat the consequences might be.
Q471 Mr Hancock: Surely
you cannot have it both ways. The problem we have is that we do
not have peace. We have no peace. Going back to quoting from Adam
Smith, the situation is that the DFID money was, in fact, part
of the process of building peace, was it not?
Vice Admiral Blackham: Yes. There
does not seem to be much evidence, if I may say so, that it succeeded
in that case.
Q472 Mr Hancock: So we
should cut it, in your opinion?
Vice Admiral Blackham: We should
certainly not regard it as a fixed item, which is what we are
Professor Lindley-French: There
needs to be a much better strategic communications effort to explain
why the development budget is increasing by 34% and diplomacy
and defence are being cut significantly. If all three are part
of an influence campaign, we want to see a balance in investment
between the three. But, on the other hand, if aid and development,
which increasingly seem separate from diplomacy and defence, are
largesse, I would ask why we are giving the famous India all this
money when it is going to launch 12 guided missile destroyers
this year and it has a nuclear programme and a space programme.
If Indian poverty is so important to India, given the levels of
corruption in the Indian Government, frankly, and where their
money is going, it seems to me to be a very poor influence campaign.
If, on the other hand, they are truly largesse, there are other
countries and societies in much greater need than rapidly growing
India. Even on the assumptions of strategy and influence, the
imbalance between the three pillars is very much open to question.
Q473 Mr Hancock: I think
that that is important for the report we are writing.
Wing Commander Brookes: Another
thing missing in this is the voice of the British people. Nobody
seems to canvass their views as to whether they want to be part
of an interventionist strategy. If I go and canvass them, they
are very happy to have the forces ready to go to tsunami relief,
famine relief and all the things that you are talking about with
DFID aid. In my day, we had a quick reaction alert to take on
the Soviet Union. Why don't we have a quick reaction alert for
famine relief or disaster reliefto go to areas with helicopters,
doctors and air transportas part of a joint DFID-Foreign
Office-Defence response, rather than just the old-fashioned stovepipe
against whoever is the mythical great beast who is coming out?
If we ask the general public, they are happy
to pay their taxes for that sort of modern approach. Are they
wanting us to punchthat is the termabove our weight?
We always say that, but to me if you punch too much above your
weight you end up brain damaged. Therefore, we really need to
revisit our terminology and our thinking. Get the people on side,
and they will pay the taxes for everything that you and I agree
with. I don't think that just paying for more and more fast weapons
is necessarily the answer.
Q474 Mr Hancock: Okay.
Can I develop that? To what extent is the National Security Strategy
just thata strategyor is it a method of getting
Professor Lindley-French: Strategy
implies that choices are, indeed, being madethat there
are capabilities that come out of it and changes that are really
driven by analysis. That is where this document is more of a shopping
list or a wish list than a document for changing our position,
our structures and our approachesI recognise that the NSC
comes out of itwhich might in time change. I welcome this
new culture. Frankly, these things take time to develop momentum
wherelet's face itthere is a lot of resistance to
them within the stovepipes of bureaucracy. One really wonders
how far a vision can trickle down and across Government given
the nature of Government in governance. Certainly, my strong view
is that this document does not go far enough as an agent of change
to make Britain credibly efficient in the level of influence that
we should aspire to, given the world that we are in.
Q475 Mr Hancock: If all
three of you agree with thatto shorten this bitthat
leads to the point that choices now have to be made by the NSC,
and some of those choices are not going to be very easy to make.
What would you suggest it has to start to do? Taking what you
have just said, that ultimately leads to difficult choices, doesn't
Vice Admiral Blackham: Obviously,
I have an opinion, but it is only my opinion and, happily, I am
not accountable for it. There are, however, some clear tasks.
Do we see our prime function as being to defend our homeland against
whatever it is that has been identified? Do we see our primary
role as getting out and influencing the world? Do we see ourselves
as doing that militarily? Clearly, we do, because we are doing
it all the time, and we are doing it voluntarily all the time,
most recently in Libya. So it seems to me that choices are being
made. I, personally, might make a different choice from the Professor,
and I am not sure that my choice is particularly relevant.
Q476 Mr Hancock: Tell
us what your first choice would be for it to have to make a decision
Vice Admiral Blackham: My first
choice, personally, would be to secure the United Kingdom, but
I would be perfectly ready to accept that other people might have
perfectly valid different choices. Indeed, on the face of it,
the Government have done so.
Q477 Mr Hancock: Would
you not think, Admiral, that that is what the strategy starts
off by sayingthat this strategy will secure the United
Kingdom? You are just asking the same question that it has already
answered by saying that it has produced the strategy to secure
the United Kingdom.
Vice Admiral Blackham: Indeed,
but then the first thing it has done is remove from it the prime
defence of our deterrentnamely, the Nimrod aircraft. That
does not make sense to me.
Q478 Mr Hancock: But
that follows on. That is one of the things I was looking for.
What do you feel was the consequence? What were the mistakes?
What can they do?
Vice Admiral Blackham: My argument
is that if they indeed have made that choice, what they have not
done is support it with the appropriate resources and force structures
and then see what is left for the next thing. That's my problem.
Professor Lindley-French: I would
reinforce that. The first thing I would do is resolve the essential
paradox at the heart of the process between a strategic analysis,
which suggests quite radical solutions, and an incremental set
of solutions that thereafter comes out of it. We would have to
put everything back in the potaid, diplomacy and defenceand
make a much more reasoned and methodical judgment about what balance
of effort we would need across the piece. At the moment, it is
a Treasury-driven cuts agenda, where cuts pretend to be reform.
Q479 Mr Hancock: But
do we have the time to do that?
Professor Lindley-French: If we
started now and did it properly, I think we would, with the proviso
that the 2015 review of the military would be a proper 2015 security
reviewproperly analysed, structured and considered. If
we wait longer, my analysis of the nature of change is that the
level of risk grows exponentially, and possibly becomes unacceptable.
Q480 Mr Hancock: So what
leads you to believe that that will not be the case in 2015?
Professor Lindley-French: Because
the assumptions about growth and recapitalisation, and the inability
of both the FCO and the MoD to know how much they really are in
hock, make it hard for me to believe that there is a stable platform
upon which to establish sound strategic and financial planning
for the next defence planning cycle.
Chair: We will come on to that in just
Q481 Mrs Moon: I want
to put a stop to the nonsense where we are told about choice and
that the choice is between funding DFID and funding defence and
diplomacy. I think that that is such a red herring, and it is
an old game that I used to see played in local government. If
you took the entire DFID budget and put it into defence, it would
not even make a splash, so let's not talk about that nonsense.
Can we look at whether our concern is about
the choice between providing defence and security and providing
the cuts that Government are seeking? What we have in fact ended
up with is less equipment, less capacity, less flexibility and
less personnel, and greater risk, when it is the risk that should
have been at the heart of our security policy. What concerns me
is that we are pretending that we can have the cuts and not the
risks. Would you agree that that is the game that we have been
Wing Commander Brookes: Yes, indeed.
I am sure, Chair, that we will come on to some examples where
we have hollowed out and all these things.
Chair: We are just about to.
Wing Commander Brookes: So I won't
steal sandwiches. On the question of security, I am just simple
ex-air crew; I look in vain for guidance as to why we went into
Libya and not into Syria. I pick up the national priority risk,
looking for guidance as to why we helped out an ex-Italian colony
but not an ex-French colony. I can't find it in here, and that
is within less than a year of it coming out. Whatever the problems,
it is a flawed document.
Professor Lindley-French: Briefly
to build on that, Libya is a case in point. We are saying that
we are deciding to be something different from what we have been
in the past; then Libya comes along and we behave exactly as we
have always had. My sense is that that will happen in future:
we will go ahead cutting the Armed Forces and then find that we
will deploy them anyway; and the military being the military,
with its can-do attitude, will try to close a gap that frankly
becomes uncloseable. That is what I mean by transferring risk
down the command chain on to the squaddie, and that is unfair.
Q482 John Glen: Can we
look at what will happen, looking ahead to 2015-2020? In terms
of the implications for security policy if there is no real-terms
increase in the defence budget after 2015, what do you see are
the risks, if that does not happen as the Prime Minister says
he expects and wants it to happen?
Vice Admiral Blackham: In brief,
the risk seems to me, in a word, to be incoherence. Where we are
now is that we are trying to deliver a range of cuts that the
SDSR produced. Many of these cuts are not, you will not be surprised
to hear this, or perhaps you already know, producing the levels
of savings that were claimed for them, partly because of the MoD's
inability to understand the cost of what it does, and partly because
people's eyes are always bigger than their stomachs. There is
We also know that the MoD is having to conduct
what may not be called a second phase of SDSR, but certainly is,
possibly without the first "S", in that it is having
to find sums of money that are about the same as were found in
the SDSR in the first place. In addition to that, the new Chief
of Defence Matériel, perhaps sensibly, has decided to reassess
the risk premium of all his programmes based on past performance.
We are going to discover that the cost of the equipment programme
has risen further. So there is no question that the MoD still
has a massive financial mountain to climb, and it will have to
take the cuts where they can be found.
Q483 Chair: Can you expand
on what you have just said about reassessment of risk?
Vice Admiral Blackham: My understanding
is that the Chief of Defence Matériel has concluded that,
as well as the well known conspiracy of optimism that informs
the MoD's launch of projects, the MoD has been over-optimistic
with the levels of technical and other performance risk in those
Q484 Chair: Can you give
us an example of that?
Vice Admiral Blackham: The aircraft
carrier is a fine example. We initially put it in a programme
at a cost of £2.9 billiona figure that no industry
and no student of the cost trends of aircraft carriers over the
years would recogniseand we then discovered that it could
not be done for that. I suspect that we did not put in the right
levels of technical risk, because they made the programme even
more expensive and anyway the Ministry was under financial pressure
at the time. The programme now turns out to cost substantially
more, partly of course because it was deferred as well.
There are other programmes in which the same
sort of thing has happened, deferral perhaps being the most common.
Mr Gray has decided, probably very sensibly, that the levels of
risk in the assumed costings are insufficient and should therefore
Q485 John Glen: Are you
saying that the SDSR and the financial package associated with
it, as projected over the period of the CSR, is already highly
questionable and that if we do not achieve the real-terms increases
subsequent to the end of that period, it will be considerably
Vice Admiral Blackham: It is already
unsustainable. The Secretary of State himself has said publicly
that without an increase in the defence budget he cannot deliver
Force 2020. I am saying that the mistake would be to assume that
the gap is only that between the SDSR and Force 2020. It will
be much greater.
Professor Lindley-French: What
we have, in effect, is a hire purchase military that for 10 years
has tried to follow American strategy on British resources. It
has taken 10 years to break it; my estimation, on the current
recapitalisation, is that it will take 10 years to fix it. Remember
that high-end equipment has defence inflation of between 5% and
7% per annum. Many of our solutions will have to be high-end because
we will always have a small, high-tech force. None of the figures
actually add up in terms of achieving Force 2020 as outlined in
Wing Commander Brookes: I thought
that the whole aim of the exercise was not only to close the financial
gap but to make headroom for the sunlit uplands when we get across
the bridge of austerity, but we all now find that we have to save
another £4.4 billion over four years. We are now looking
at further things to cut such as the Rivet Joint that we are currently
flying. That means there is no coherence, if we want our own eyes
and ears. Cutting our own eyes and ears means that we will get
less and less global efficiency and will be of less and less use
to our American friends who might say, "You are bringing
nothing to the party. Get thee hence." It is worrying that
not only are we not solving the current problem, but we are making
no headway on producing money for the things that are supposed
to comethe carriers, the aeroplanes that go on them and
the Trident replacement, whatever we think of it. They have not
been funded, and that has to come from somewhere.
Q486 Chair: May I break
in for just a moment? Professor Lindley-French, you said just
now that there is 5% to 7% defence inflation on the top-end equipment,
which is a controversial statement. Rather than hijack this evidence
inquiry to ask you to go into that further, could you provide
us with a papera couple of sides of A4to justify
what you said? Several people say that defence inflation does
not exist, and if it does, it shouldn't. If you could, we would
be most grateful.
Professor Lindley-French: Of course.
Q487 Mr Havard: Our research
in the past has shown and we have been told that it is 1.6% as
a generality and an average across defence expenditure, but if
you could grade
Professor Lindley-French: Put
the higher end.
Mr Havard: That would be helpful.
Chair: We would be most grateful, since
you may be in a better position than many people to give us that
sort of paper.
Q488 John Glen: Last
summer and in early autumn we examined the process of the SDSR
and we were repeatedly told in our sessions that there were 48,
I think, groups looking in detail into all the different capabilities
that would be required, yet four, five, six months later we discover
this apparent shortfall. Given the amount of resources that were
intensively applied within the MoD to come up with a funded outcome
to the SDSR, how do you account for the fact that, in such a short
space of time, new information has come into our understanding
showing that those assumptions were flawed? It goes to the heart
of probably flaws within the MoD, but given that they were looking
into themselves so intensely over the summer it is still quite
confusing why we have got this outcome.
Vice Admiral Blackham: It is a
very complicated problem, which I would be happy to harangue you
about for a long time, but I will try to be brief. The first
thing to sayI am not giving these in order of priority
or importanceis that not all the decisions with which those
groups came forward were, in the event, taken. That is, if you
like, a responsibility that lies beyond those groupspossibly
even beyond the Ministry of Defence. There was a proposal, for
example, to cut the Army substantially. That proposal was not
taken up. That is costing £1 billion or £2 billion
a year, I understand, so there is one example.
Secondly, as I said a little while ago, the
Ministry of Defence has an imperfect understanding of the cost
of things that it does and most particularly of the cost of avoiding
them. There are regularly cancellation charges. If you are the
only customer to a shipyard or some other kind of factory, as
we frequently are, when you cancel a project the overhead has
to go somewhere else, but it still finishes up on your bill, so
the savings are less than we think they might be. Where you defer
things, extra costs are incurred both in the Ministry of Defence
and in the industry that has to keep things together and so forth.
A number of things make it difficult to realise savings that
you think you might makein other words, the savings from
something are not the same as what it costs to buy it, and I think
that is something the Ministry of Defence has a great deal of
difficulty with, because it does things by subtraction. It has
a programme; it takes things out, and says, "This is what
they cost, so it'll cost this much less," but it is not true.
Then there is what happens when you start with
a programme that is excessiveand now I think I must be
kinder to my colleagues in the Ministry of Defence. If you are
running a long-term programmeprogrammes are very long;
even if equipment procurement was done much more efficiently than
it is today, programmes would be very longand you order
items against a budget that you have at the time, and that budget
changes, you immediately have a set of problems, which you tend
to deal with by deferrals, descoping and so forth, all of which
tend to add cost.
Finally, there are costs of disposal. It is
well known that the disposal of the Nimrods has cost sums in the
hundreds of millionsjust to get rid of them. There is
a whole range of things that mean that the savings are not as
clear as they should be.
Wing Commander Brookes: It is
also a question of the methodology. I have done a bit of research
into this and asked people who are involved in little groups how
they came up with the figures. In one particular case there is
a headquarters; it has a dedicated group. On a Friday, they get
a figure from the MoD or whomsoeverthe Treasury, say"You
have to find this saving by Monday." This small cadre of
people are not allowed to talk to anyone else in the headquarters;
they are not allowed to talk to industry; they are not allowed
to talk to the forces they are affecting, and they come up on
Monday with a figure, having consulted really with nobody with
knowledge. I said once, "Well, how did you get that figure?"
The answer came, "Wet finger in the air." The answer
is, if you haven't already started smoking you might as well take
it up; at least you will have a fag packet to write it on the
back of. That seemed to come across as the way a lot of this was.
With another major projecta real major
project we have touched on several times todaythe lead
officer in charge of it was told on the Friday it was safe; he
came in on Monday and was told it had gone, because of the £X
billion that had to be found. The figures in themselves must be
suspect, and no wonder. If they are produced with that degree
of haggling and guesswork, they are not likely to be correct.
Professor Lindley-French: I agree
with both my colleagues. There is also what I call the pocket
superpower problem. We try to hang so many systems on platforms
that we make the platforms so complicated, and the number of platforms
is so few, that the unit costs grow exponentially. There are no
economies of scale and we simply become over-ambitious in what
we try to hang off any one platform. Although I lament the cutting
of MRA4, you end up with that kind of situation, whether with
FRES or a whole range of other programmes, which are only too
Q489 John Glen: Collectively,
you paint a depressing picture of an inadequate process that is
not rigorous enough, that is contrary to the Secretary of State's
aspirations to avoid pushing things to the right. Sir Jeremy,
you said there was perhaps a political dimension to the decision
making that overrode what might have been the natural conclusion
of the outcomes. Is there anything positive you can say about
the SDSR process or outcome?
Chair: Oh, come on!
John Glen: To get some balance into the
Vice Admiral Blackham: It showed
an ability to make decisions, which had not always been evident
in the past. It is just a pity that some of them were not necessarily
the right ones.
The idea of cancelling programmes that are performing
badly is in principle a good one. If I had had my way in 2000
or so when I was still in post, I would have cancelled Nimrod
myself, but that would not run with No. 10 at the time. There
are things that one could do. It was done; it was just a pity
that it was done on a programme with a capability that we shall
have to replace sooner or later anyway. There were some positive
things in the way that the culture was changed, yes, but I don't
think that removes the depression which you feel and I share.
Professor Lindley-French: I would
say that it is the beginning of a process that will lead the country
back to independent strategy making. For the past 50 or 60 years
we have basically tried to find the middle ground between American
grand strategy and a French European strategy in our diplomatic
and defence postures. As we develop this way of conceiving of
our role in the world, we will start to make more intelligent
judgments about how best to achieve our national interests in
a world in which we cannot always rely on the Americans to be
there, or we cannot always rely on alliances to work. There will
be coalitions as well. It will force us to build new partnerships
with partners we have perhaps ignored for the past generation
or two. The process of strategy-fying, if you like, is extremely
important and should be encouraged. I just do not think this was
done very well.
Wing Commander Brookes: The SDSR
is very good in so far as it has made us all realise that we have
to do better. Throughout my service career I have watched study
after study: defence cuts first, Denis Healey, front line first.
They have just gone. At least with this we are sitting down and
seriously revisiting, in the wider sense, as you say, how to do
it better. If it is a wake-up call that we have to do better,
it is long overdue.
Q490 Bob Stewart: I have
listened carefully to what you have all said. May I make a statement
and ask for your comment on it? The NSS is mad, unrelated to reality
and impossible to achieve. The SDSR is equally impossible to achieve,
is unrealistic, and to achieve it will cost us a lot more. Am
Wing Commander Brookes: I do not
think you are wrong. We could all argue about the words and the
emphasis. I think we all agree that the NSS in itself has not
provided the guidance we hoped it would. I do not see Syria, Libya
or anything else sitting there. I do not think the SDSR, which
came out literally a day after it was published, was anything
other than an economically driven document, which has seriously
affected the military, a lot of people and our position in the
world. I do not think that that is what it set out to do, but
that is what it achieved, so it is unintended consequences.
Q491 Bob Stewart: So
you would say that I am right. What about you, Professor?
Professor Lindley-French: I would
say that you are right in principle, but wrong in language.
Bob Stewart: That is normal.
Mrs Moon: That is not unusual.
Bob Stewart: Thanks, Madeleine.
Professor Lindley-French: I would
suggest that conceptually it is sound, but it is very poorly executed,
warped by factors that are really not strategic at all and driven
towards a conclusion that was established before any analysis
was undertaken. As a concept in its own right, as a way of turning
this country to thinking about its interests at what cost in this
world and future worlds, I applaud it.
Q492 Bob Stewart: I was
not talking about concept; I was talking about effect.
Professor Lindley-French: Well,
then I think we are very close to agreement.
Q493 Bob Stewart: So,
in effect, you agree with me?
Professor Lindley-French: I accept
Vice Admiral Blackham: I agree
both with Bob Stewart and Julian Lindley-French in the sense that
I think it is the right way to set about things. I have already
made some remarks about the NSS. It fails to do the things that
it ought to do, but that is not a reason why we should not continue
to do it and why the NSC should not go on getting better. I would
use slightly different language, but I think that the outcome
was unsatisfactory. It failed in its main objective and it failed
to give the right guidance to the SDSR, which consequently failed
Q494 Chair: Can we get
into some of the equipment programmes that were affected by the
SDSR, such as the decision to stop the Harrier and to pursue the
Tornado, and the decision to continue with the Joint Strike Fighter,
but the carrier variant rather than the STOVL variant? Do any
of you have any comments about that?
Wing Commander Brookes: The JSF
decision was exactly the right one. The carrier variant goes further
and carries more; it is far more potent and has much more utility.
Once you have decided to go for the 65,000-tonne carrier, you
don't even need the jumping bean up-and-down capability that the
other carrier had, so I think that is a very good decision.
Q495 Chair: Even with
the delay that it might cause?
Wing Commander Brookes: I don't
think it will, Mr Chairman. We are still looking at 24 by 2424
aeroplanes by 2024and I don't quite know what the carrier
alignment is, but we need to make sure that we don't get one before
the other. I suspect that that is the sort of framework you can
work on before the carrier is up and running. Sir Jeremy might
correct me, but I think to be up and running by 2024 with all
the people re-trainedlearning how to do steam catapults
again or whateverit will take until 2024 to get a decent
air wing on that carrier, so I don't have a problem with it.
Professor Lindley-French: This
is where I become positive, which will surprise you. There is
a very great danger that by default, if we hold our nerve, we
could end up with quite a sound defence strategy. There will be
two carriers, strategic mobility, Astutesnot enough, but
in time you could build more over 20, 30 or 40 yearsType
45s and Type 26s. It is a concept whereby there is projectability,
not globally but regionally-plus.
Almost 75% of the world's population lives less
than 100 kilometres from the sea. It is a defence strategy in
which, given the capabilities envisaged, no one owns land, sea
or airno single serviceso a genuine jointery comes
out of this. We could actually have a defence strategy worth talking
about, by muddling through and from the bottom up, which has nothing
to do with the NSS or the SDSR. The issue is, can we hold our
nerve over that longer investment period?
Q496 Mr Havard: A good
old British tradition.
Professor Lindley-French: There
you go. As a good Yorkshireman, I would say that is very sound.
But I would rather talk about Future Force 2030. If the carrierswhich
I believe are important not only because of what they can do but
because of what they say about our strategic seriousnessare
built, if we have the other assets around them, we have a deployable
military. Why is that important? Because I don't think we will
do more Afghanistans. I see no political appetite for engaging
all our forces in one place over long periods and losing them.
Q497 Bob Stewart: You
don't think we'd do another Libya?
Professor Lindley-French: We could
do Libyas, but even then, if you had a carrier off Libya, serious
people have told me that air sorties would double the time over
target and halve the cost. We are moving back, for want of a better
phrase, to a punish, strike and support short-term defence strategic
concept. I would definitely not want to build our future defence
strategy on Afghanistan or indeed Iraq.
Vice Admiral Blackham: I will
try to answer your question. First, with respect to the Joint
Strike Fighter, perhaps I should declare an interest. I was one
of the down-select panel. There were two Brits on the down-select
panel for the Joint Strike Fighter so I have had a long involvement
with it. I have always believed that the provision of a conventionally
catapult-launched aircraft added vastly to the capability of any
aircraft carrier. The payload is greater, the range is greater,
you can recover them more easily and so on and so forth. So I
think that decision is extremely sensible in principle, although
it does, to my mind, open the question as to which aircraft we
should buy, because the Joint Strike Fighter would not be the
only possible contender for such a role. But it is certainly the
Q498 Chair: The other
would be the Hornet, or what?
Vice Admiral Blackham: The F-18I
suppose, conceivably, Rafael. They would both be cheaper and are
proven, which the Joint Strike Fighter most certainly is not as
On the matter of the Harrier, I think it is
much more complicated. It is important to understandI fear
that some of my naval colleagues have slightly confused this issuethat
we are talking about an RAF aeroplane, not a naval one. This is
the aircraft procured by the RAF for close air support, now the
GR9. Interestingly, the Americans off Libya have used the AV-8B,
which is the equivalent aircraft, as the aircraft of choice in
preference for the work that they are doing in Libya. They have
a shipthe Kearsargebetween 50 and 100 miles off
Libya and are able, therefore, to generate a sortie rate, as the
Professor has said, which is vastly in excess of anything that
can be generated either from the UK or, indeed, from the airbases
ashore in Europe, which are rather further away than that.
By removing that capability, we have removed
our ability to get up close and dirty and do things at a high
sortie rate, which is a pity. I understandit is common
ground in the Ministry of Defencethat the decision to get
rid of the Harrier and retain the Tornado, which was a reversal
of a previous position in the early days of the SDSR, costs about
£5 billion across 10 years. That by itself is not the only
argument for reversing the decision, but it certainly makes your
eyes water. I cannot compare the capability of the two aircraft;
I am sure that Andrew Brookes can do that much better than I.
All I would say is that we need to remember that the Harrier was
procured for precisely the purpose of giving close air support
to troops on the ground, as the aircraft of choice for that purpose.
More importantly, the loss of the Harrier means
that there is now no fixed-wing aviation going off aircraft carriers
in the United Kingdom. There will not now be until the Joint Strike
Fighter arrives, unless we buy another aircraft. So there is going
to be a gap of between 12 and 14 years, when there will be no
aviation off decks at sea.
We also need to understand that the CVFthe
future carrieris on a wholly different scale of operation
from that conducted by the Invincible class. The last time we
did this sort of thing was in 1978, with the previous Ark Royal.
Rather than be retained, the range of skills would have to be
generated from scratch. The use of steam catapults and all that
implies would have to be generated from scratch and all this is
with a 10 or 14-year gap, when everybody who knows anything about
it will have left the Navy. Indeed, they are leaving now.
If we wish to maintain carrier aviationthere
are strong arguments either way and you will not be surprised
to hear that, on the whole, I agree with the Professor about its
valuewe are setting about it in a very curious way and
making it extremely difficult. It certainly means that it will
take longer to do than we currently envisage. I do not follow
the logic of that.
If we think that an aircraft carrier is a strategic
requirement for the United Kingdomwhich is what the SDSR
says on page 23 and it then explains what it can do in the world
in 2023, which the NSS tells us we cannot possibly predicthow
on earth do we not need to maintain the skills now, first to deploy
the same sort of capability at a lower level, and secondly to
maintain the ability to generate it when the time comes? I think
we have given ourselves an enormous problem for a Navy that may
well have only 20,000 or 21,000 people by then. Remember that
7,000 or 8,000 of the numbers given are Royal Marines. This is
a terrific burden to put on top of a small force at a time when
it will have lost the skills. So I think if we really intend to
maintain carrier aviation, we are setting about it in a very curious
Q499 Mr Havard: Do you
think that it was perhaps unwise to get rid of all the Harriers
all at oncemaybe retain some of them that operate off the
amphibious ships to help plug this capability gap in between?
Do you think that that is a recoverable thing?
Vice Admiral Blackham: We have
Illustrious, which has just come out of refit this week, I think,
and will be able to be in service for quite a long time yet, if
we wanted to do that. So it would have been possible to keep a
ship that was prepared, ready and able. Temporary detachments
to other ships work, but they are not the real thing. It would
be very difficult to maintain the skills that way. What I am saying
is that we have allowed short-term considerationsbecause
the SDSR is dominated by short-term considerationsto undermine
our long-term vision. That seems to me to be anything but strategic.
Wing Commander Brookes: Although
I hear everything that everyone is saying, we have probably gone
past the point of no return. I think you will find that the crews
who flew the Harriers are now going through Typhoon training.
Much as I agree with him entirelyit is a bit silly to have
an aircraft carrier with no aircraft on itI think that
that is past.
I just want to flag up for the record, if I
may, that the F-35 is a winnernot just militarily, but
for the UK Government and taxpayer. We have put so much into it
that we get something like 15% of every one sold. If they sell
in the numbers that the F-16 did, we will get them for nothing,
effectively, because the amount that the British taxpayer gets
back will cover the cost that we put in. I have to flag that up
only because a lot of people think, "Oh, this is very expensive.
This is a thing we don't need." If you bin that, not only
do we lose what we have put in, but we lose the jobs and, dare
I say it, all the income that will come from its success, and
a success it will be. It is 15 years beyond the F-22 in terms
of technology, and if I have one message to try to get across
to everyone, it is that this is a world beater, not only for the
military, but for the UK economy.
Q500 Mrs Moon: I wonder
whether we could return to your comment, Professor, about the
future being much more one of punish, strike and support. That
is not something that is detailed or seen as a future option within
the Strategic Defence and Security Review. Do you think that that
is a major gap? If we are going to look at punish, strike and
support, is the decision to cut, specifically, numbers in both
the RAF and the Navy quite savagely a major mistake that we are
making now, which we will have a long time to regret?
Professor Lindley-French: Two
excellent questions. My first point would be that it is never
a good idea to cut defence budgets when you are fighting one war,
let alone two. We are still in Afghanistan right now, and we have
the Libyan operations. Afghanistan is land-centric for the moment;
that is very clear for the rubric of the SDSR. Part of the problem
with the SDSR and the NSS is that they do not confront those realities,
because those realities are uncomfortable. The idea that the United
Kingdom would adopt a strike, punish and support strategyyou
might have to find a different wordingis the reality of
All the evidence from my own analysis as a strategist
is that we are indeed moving into a world of hyper-competition
of unstable states, naive states, and state competition again
over the next 50 or 60 years. That will be a reality in parallel
with fragile states and everything else. Stabilising will take
on as much of a classical form as a novel form, and that will
include flying the flag, riverine operations and putting big,
grey stuff a bit away from the littoral, but still being there
and supporting land operations for a time ashore. All those elements
require projectable capabilities.
May I tell a quick anecdote? I headed up a big
project for the head of the Royal Dutch Navy on riverine operations.
The idea was that although part of the problem with those operationsit
was looking at Africa, primarilywould be that there was
no infrastructure, air support or even land support, there are
significant numbers of commercial assets that we could use to
offset the cost per platform per operation. A lot of work went
into it. The Americans were interested; they are now taking it
up. The Dutch were interested. There were creative solutions involved.
The UK representativesI will not say whowere very
One of the things that frustrates me about our
country on these kinds of issue is that we do not explore creative
solutions. One issue was that Smit International and Mammoet were
represented in the conference, and the Brits said, "We can't
have civilians involved, because they don't take risk." The
chairman of Mammoet said, "Hold on a minutewe're in
Iraq," and his quote was, "We don't shoot, but we get
shot at all the time."
I am not suggesting that we are trying to rebuild
the Grand Fleet; I am suggesting that we need a Navy that, rather
like Fisher said, can launch the Army at times, with air power
supporting, and which can do so in support of the United States,
so that we can have influence in Washington, and lead European
coalitions when we need to do so. We also need to look at the
whole set of creative civil-military solutions to offset costs
that are relevant to this century. We are simply not thinking
creatively about how to solve these gaps.
Q501 Mr Havard: Two things.
The first thing you came out with was, you referred to strike,
punish andI think you saidshort-term support. That
is a really important point, because we get into things very quickly
and we spend a hell of long time getting out of them. There is
the question of who would do this stuff. Do you see the Reserves,
and the whole debate about what the composition of various forces
should be and about Reserve elements as opposed to standing forces,
as hugely important or not?
Professor Lindley-French: There
are two elements to this. Are we tough enough to be tough? In
other words, sometimes we confuse our values with interests. I
am treading on very dangerous ground, but I am going to do so
anyway. There are occasions when our interests are marginal to
a crisis, but we get involved anywayoften not on our own,
but with one or two allies.
Secondly, leadership is surely working with
allies, particularly with UN allies and partnersthose who
provide peacekeeping forcesto improve their quality, so
that there are more countries able to work with us and we are
not reinventing the wheel every time. So, if we are doing the
forced entry bitto get in there and set things upthere
is a much more natural synergy with potential partners, who can
follow on, stay in places longer and in some ways have regional
legitimacy, and perhaps more so than we do.
We have a strong leadership role that our Armed
Forces can play in a kind of strategic defence diplomacy, where
we are improving the quality of UN peacekeepers of EU colleagues,
so it is not always us taking the body-bags.
Vice Admiral Blackham: May I make
one comment on the remark about Reserves? Reserves are of considerable
importance. One of the difficulties, though, with the Reserves
isif I may put it this waythe intensity with which
you are going to use them. It is important to remember that the
Reserve has another job and another career, and another set of
career expectations, and as and when the economy improves those
expectations will probably grow. The difficulty with Reserves
is to know not whether you can use them in a crisis, but how much
you can rely on them in the longer term to do routine things over
a long period. I am not saying that you cannot do that, but I
am saying it needs quite a lot of thought and quite a lot of protection
of the people concerned in terms of their careers, promotion prospects
and so forth, so there are difficulties.
The task of riverine warfare, which Julian mentioned,
is an ideal one for Reservists, but if you give it to them, you
want to be sure that they can do it for, in the case of Iraq,
eight or nine yearsin other words, a long period. It needs
to be thought about with some care.
Q502 Mrs Moon: You talked
a lot about the importance of allies and partners. One of the
things that has not been factored in is what are the implications,
having made the cuts that we have made, if America decides that
it does not want to pay 80% of the cost of NATO, and wants to
come back to 75% or 70%? What are the implications for us, and
are we going to be at far greater risk in terms of our defence
and security if that happens?
Professor Lindley-French: My answer
is that the alliance would be in very grave danger indeed, and
the United Kingdom would be in grave danger of losing influence
within it. A very, very senior person told me on Friday that the
trajectory of these two documents could mean that the United Kingdom
loses DSACEURto the French, on current trajectorybecause
we are perceived as an unreliable ally, which is unfair but that
is how it is.
The Americans will not go on funding this bill,
and there is going to be a row over missile defence. Congress
has not woken up to the fact yet that the missile defence system
currently proposed is one that the Americans will pay for that
can protect Europe but cannot protect the United States. Already,
a high-level congressional delegation last week at NATO asked
the specific question, "Are there any US enablers being used
for operations over Libya?" The US MilRep jumped in and said,
"No." That is not the correct answer, and Congress will
soon learn that. There are all sorts of implications. Whereas
for the US, alliances are extremely useful but not critical, for
the UK our influence in functioning alliances and international
organisations is absolutely critical.
Q503 Mr Hancock: There
is a serious problem, isn't there? If you talk to French politicians
in the Assemblée Nationale, they believe that French defence
policy will change dramatically if there is an incoming Socialist
president. Their priorities will change dramatically. The Americans
must be factoring that into the situation. If they abandon us,
they cannot readily accept that the French are going to be there
to take our place, can they?
Professor Lindley-French: No,
I think they would abandon Europe. They would say, reasonably,
"Look, Europe, you're a strategic backwater right now. If
you are not prepared to work with us to stabilise the world and
our grand strategic mission, you can look after your own neighbourhood."
The logical consequence of that is that this neighbourhood is
rough. We would end up spending more, or we would take a much
higher level of riskprobably the highest level of risk
we have taken since the 1930s. That is the choice that we face.
Q504 Penny Mordaunt:
Leaving aside the Secretary of State's point that to reopen the
SDSR you would have to reopen the CSR, and the points you have
made about the strategic vacuum, if there were one area of the
SDSR that you would like the Government to revisit, what would
it be and why?
Wing Commander Brookes: If I can
start, it is to provide the money that they promised initially.
I don't think we are going to get anything coming back that has
been lost. Already we are seeing it in the SDSR. If I can remind
you, there are three tasks that are laid down: an enduring stabilisation
operation, a non-enduring complex and a non-enduring civil interventionthat
is, an Afghanistan, a Libya and rescuing everybody out of Zimbabwe.
We can no longer do the third; the third is beyond us. We already
do not have the funding to do what is in there. If I had a magic
wand, I would just ask, "Please can we have the money to
do the SDSR?" Not to bring back Harriers or anything like
that, because I know that is a dream too far. It saddens me that
if we have a major crisis in Africa there is not a military aircraft
that can go and help. Basically, the Air Force is so hollowed
outso Potemkin villagethat there isn't anything
there to go and do what is required, which is a great shame.
Q505 Chair: I have the
impression from what has been said so far that it is not a question
of the Treasury failing to provide the money that was promised
by the SDSR; it is a question of subsequent analysis of the Ministry
of Defence budget discovering that there was a huge amount of
money not there already. Is that right?
Wing Commander Brookes: All I
know is that there is a gap that was not identified before. Who
did not identify it, I don't know. You are right, Chairman, it
is still a £4 billion gap after the SDSR that still has to
be filled. It is being filled as we speak by hollowing out personnel
and overstretch. All those good issues are having to take the
Professor Lindley-French: My response
would be the "I would say this anyway" response. The
SDSR is not going to be revisited before 2015. I would invest
in defence education. We have a world-beating asset in Shrivenham.
If we can't afford new kit over the interim, we should improve
our ability to improve the quality of our people. The 30% cut
proposed for the UK Defence Academy strikes me as extremely short-sighted.
There are new concepts of lifelong learning and distance learning,
reach back to knowledge and strategic communicationsall
areas that are cost-effective but have an impact on influence
in the field in the short term. That is what we have to discuss
now: how to mitigate the more extreme impacts of NSS and SDSR
on our own people. Defence education strikes me as an area where
we could do that. Under current planning we are moving away from
education to training; that shunt strikes me as very short-sighted.
Vice Admiral Blackham: I agree
that it is not going to be reopened, but I would like to think
that we could re-examine the scene from a rather less short-term
perspective than we have been doing. The whole exercise has been
seriously skewed by the Afghanistan operation, and the skewing
has probably been reinforced by the Libyan operation. That has
prevented us from looking more long-term.
Why does that matter? It matters because it
is important to understand that the wars we are now fighting are
being fought with equipment and with training that was provided
15 or 20 years ago, which is the gestation period. We owe it to
the perspicacity of our predecessors that we have things with
which to do these operations.
If we are going to stop providing the levels
of training and the equipment that we need, our children are going
to be in a pretty poor pass. For the most part, the equipment
we are talking about is not going to enter service until 2020
or later. We are creating a gap for our children that they will
be unable to fill. Not only that, we are creating an industry
that will be unable to fill it, because the industry cannot survive
on the current level of activity. I would like to see a different
take, a longer-term vision, in which the short-term has much less
skewing effect on the process.
Q506 Penny Mordaunt:
If I understand you correctly, although you might wish things
were different for Harrier and so on in the SDSR, those concerns
about immediate capability gaps are much less than your worries
about the future and about being able to deliver what is in the
Professor Lindley-French: Hobson's
Vice Admiral Blackham: They are
serious concerns, but I am much more worried about the longer-term
and the legacy we are leaving.
Professor Lindley-French: One
plea if I may. We so often present defence acquisition as a burden.
The carriers, we have them. If you look at the way those carriers
are being built, they are innovative and world-beating. Tell that
story to the public. Strategic communication at the highest level
of Government is appalling. There is a great story to tell.
I was in my pub in Yorkshire a couple of weeks
ago, and there is a desperation. People want to be proud, and
the Armed Forces are still at the centre of what makes us proud
as a people in this country. I see so many missed opportunities
for telling a great story. Turn it around. There are good stories
to be told about certain programmes, and we should be telling
Q507 Chair: But doesn't
that innovative way of buying an aircraft carrier go against what
you were saying about the failure of the Ministry of Defence to
adopt creative solutions?
Professor Lindley-French: The
actual construction programmethe way the carriers are being
built with the sections being brought together in a very innovative
wayis a good story about British industry, and I think
that story needs much more telling. For me, it is almost the rebirth
of a Navy. Living abroad and travelling around as I do, the one
thing I find is that the British Armed Forces, not least the Royal
Navy, are a brand that still has a lot of traction internationally.
One of the things that a French admiral told me in Paris recently
is that the carriers will announce that Britain is back.
Q508 Chair: You are sounding
more optimistic minute by minute.
Professor Lindley-French: If you
last long enough, I might get even more optimistic, but I cannot
Q509 Mrs Moon: One of
the things that has worried me considerably since the demise of
the Nimrods is our capacity to look forward, gather information,
and make intelligent choices and intelligent decisions before
we deploy anything anywhere. With the Nimrods goneat Northwood
we were told that one Nimrod is the equivalent of 12 ships in
terms of our capacityhave we lost our ability to project
forward, look forward and make intelligent decisions for the future
of our forces? As you have described, they are already using outdated
equipment and will be doing so for some time.
Professor Lindley-French: I was
at RAF Kinloss the day that the Assistant Commander in Chief,
Air Ops, came up and announced the closure. As he was speaking,
an American P-3, which happened to be there, took off looking
for two Russian hunter-killers that were messing around on the
edge of our water space. For me, the tragedy of the Nimrod was,
first, the nameit was a tainted brand. Secondly, the system
on board the MRA4 was extremely capable and the corporate knowledge
of those three squadrons was genuinely world-beating. They were
finding things very early on in the competitions in which they
Q510 Chair: Should we
have just shoved that equipment on to an Airbus?
Professor Lindley-French: A representative
of a certain American company asked me whether its platform could
take that equipment, and the answer would appear to be yes. Again,
what saddened me was that I approached the Dutch and spoke to
the French about offsetting operating costs with potential multinational
forces. The initial response was very interested; the French told
me that they would even offer the Breguet Atlantics that they
had in store if we upgraded their electronics suites. I don't
know whether that is possible, but the point is that of the seven
military tasks in the SDSR, the MRA4 could have played a very
important role in all of them. It was the loss of the enablers,
because the single services were forced back to defend their own
core competencies by the process, which for me was the biggest
failing of the SDSR process. Forget all the strategic stuff: there
was a haggle at that last weekend, which was utterly unacceptable
in terms of the national strategic requirements.
Wing Commander Brookes: There
are 15 security priority risks. I have gone through and listed
the ones that require the maritime reconnaissance, and eight out
of 15 require that. Here we have over half the tasks, and they
are not being met because the MPA aren't used. I remember the
Falklands; we only retook the Falklands, arguably, because we
had the Nimrod and we had the Victor with its radar in the front
that could sweep everywhere around the Falklands and South Georgia
to make sure there were no naval vessels in the area. That capability
is gone. We're a maritime nation, and we do not have that capability.
That seems the biggest sin of all.
Professor Lindley-French: Protection
of the deterrent.
Q511 Chair: I should
allow an admiral to answer this question, but I'm afraid I'm not
going to, because there are still some other questions that we
have to get to before 4.15.
Vice Admiral Blackham: I was only
going to say that it is worth coming to this just to hear Andrew
Brookes say that we are now a maritime nation.
Q512 Chair: The question
I want to ask is about the three-month review that the Secretary
of State has announced. What is that about, what is it going to
come up with and what do you have to say about it?
Vice Admiral Blackham: My understanding
is that it is like a wire brush scrubbing of the various capability
areas to see how we can best deliver them, but I do not think
that we should be under any illusion: the aim of it is to find
a substantial sum of money ahead of the next spending roundto
clear the decks, so to speak. These reviews are looking for ways
in which capabilities can be delivered either more cheaply or
possibly not at all. In other words, they will be attacking the
SDSR, inevitably, because they will be bound to water down, dilute
or remove capabilities that the SDSR has put in print. The reason
for this we have already been overnamely, the need to save
a great deal more money. These exercises are trying to do at high
speed what the SDSR didn't do.
My guess is that there would be decisions to
remove further aircraft. For example, I would not be surprised,
although I would be shocked, to learn that the Tornado was going
to follow the Harrier into oblivion. Maybe I am wrong, but I think
there will be one or two things on that sort of scale. I hasten
to add that I don't have any information that tells me that last
thing will happen. There will be, I think, large-scale recommendations
to remove or dilute capabilities ahead of the next spending round
to make that planning round more palatable.
Q513 Chair: What do you
consider to be the risks of such an exercise, and how do you think
it is going to pan out?
Vice Admiral Blackham: The operational
risk is self-evident: the further erosion of the capability of
the Armed Forces generally. There will be substantial financial
risks, too, because it will not be possible to calculate in the
period involved what the savings actually are, what the implications
are for industry, what the implications are for the sharing of
overheadssomething I mentioned earlierand what the
implications are for manpower in that time. Typically, a three-month
exercise has to end after about five weeks in order for it to
be processed through the system, written up and approved. It will
be a very rapid dirty dash at some pretty drastic things. They
will all have to be low-hanging fruit; they will all have to be
things that can be taken and really will lead to savings. Consequently,
there will be no strategy informing itthat would be my
assumptionand savings will be taken where they can be found,
almost irrespective of whether they meet or do not meet the philosophy
of the SDSR.
Q514 Chair: So the issue
of coherence will be sacrificed.
Vice Admiral Blackham: The issue
of coherence will inevitably be sacrificed, and we will have growing
incoherence and a greater mismatch than we have at the moment.
That would be my assumption.
Professor Lindley-French: If it
once and for all establishes the true level of unfunded commitments,
and therefore produces a baseline upon which proper planning can
be established, it will have some merit. But from what I am hearing,
it is a kind of SDSR 2 with even less strategic input.
Wing Commander Brookes: As you
said, the only low-hanging fruit are things like the Rivet Jointthe
Air Seeker, as it is called. We are currently converting crews
on to that. One option would be that we do not take the aeroplanes
any more and just have joint manning with the Americans. But the
strategic impact of that would be, again, that we get rid of our
independent eyes and ears and become even more dependent on America,
which would be the upshot of trying to scrabble around to save
a billion here and a billion there.
Chair: We will now spend two minutes
on the issue of the French alliance.
Q515 Mr Havard: There
was a more general question about other bilateral arrangements.
This is a bilateral arrangement, but what does it do? Does it
help us with immediate capability problems? Under the treaty,
there is also the letter of intent and the programmes that go
with it, which are meant to be much longer termunmanned
vehicles and a whole series of things. What is your take on the
bilateral relationship we have with the French and how it helps
us in the immediate and longer terms? Are there other bilateral
or trilateral arrangements?
Professor Lindley-French: I have
close links in Paris and the feedback I am getting is very clear.
The French are becoming frustrated with London. They are very
serious about the relationship. They are concerned about the briefing
by Downing Street not to expect too much from the treaty. They
are concerned that, by the first anniversary of the treaty in
November, there will be nothing to show for it, other than the
Libyan operation. The French are serious about this, because of
the reasons we have discussed. They face similar assessments and
believe the partnership vital not only for their own security,
but for bringing Europe to strategic seriousness. Their sense
is that London is not taking this relationship seriously, which
we should be so doing.
Wing Commander Brookes: On the
air side, the French are way behind in many respects. People talk
about maritime patrol, for example. We got rid of the Nimrods.
The Breguet Atlantics are different. We had two air shipping disasters
recently and I think that the French pitched up for a couple of
hours and went away. That is because, out of 26 aeroplanes, they
have, I think, seven serviceable. They are also hollowed out,
like we are, so, on the idea that, somehow, they are going to
come, they arecertainly on ground attack capabilitiesway
behind the RAF. So yes, they are up for it and are very keen to
do it, but again, I think we are leading in a lot of areas. Of
course, when you are leading, it is very difficult for the French
to follow. Quite often, they are quite happy to get on board as
long as they are allowed to lead. In many areas, they are not
the ones who are equipped to do it.
Vice Admiral Blackham: I am rather
more upbeat than that. We have long experience of operating with
the French at sea. I am leaving aside the question as to whether
we can find political agreement about what we should be doing
and so forth, because obviously there are areas where the two
countries have very different sets of interests. Operating together
in naval terms presents no problems. It has been going on since
World War Two without much difficulty. Trying, for example, jointly
to man equipment or something like that is a completely different
storycultures are different, training is different, equipment
is different, command systems are differentand that would
be several steps too far.
On the other hand, the French could undoubtedly
give us great assistance in bringing the aircraft carrier into
service, because they are operating one and will be able to help
us train not so much the air crew, but the deck crews and the
command crews and so forth. So I am a bit more upbeat about it.
I think that one of the important things is to keep expectations
at a realistic level. Operating together is fine, but
Q516 Chair: That was
four minutes. You now have one minute in which all of you can
tell us what you have failed to get across during the rest of
the afternoon. [Interruption.] You do not even have that.
Vice Admiral Blackham: I have
already aired my major concern, which is what we are doingor,
more particularly, not doingfor the next generation.
Chair: That point has come across clearly,
so thank you.
Wing Commander Brookes: The pressure
on waiting for decisions on RAF base closures and thrashing the
trade groups is corrosive of morale. That is the point that I
want to get across. We talk about kit and strategy, but we must
not forget about the people.
Chair: Let me say to all three of you
that this has been an absolutely fascinating afternoon. It has
been extremely helpful to us and has given us a lot of things
to put to the Ministry of Defence to say, "Answer this if
you can," so we are most grateful.
1 Ev 122 Back