Select Committee on Defence Thirteenth Report


Military assistance and training

60. Military assistance and training for the armed forces of overseas countries is one of the elements of the defence diplomacy mission set out in the Strategic Defence Review.[130] This role is fulfilled in different ways and on a varying scale in each of the countries of the Gulf region which we visited, but typically includes British personnel on secondment, assistance and advice on training, and joint exercises. Statistics for military assistance to Gulf Co-operation Council countries in financial year 1998-99 are set out below.

Overseas personnel trained in the UK
UK personnel providing assistance overseas
MoD subsidy
Saudi Arabia
United Arab Emirates

Source: Ministry of Defence Performance Report 1998-99, Annex G


61. The MoD works with the Bahrain Defence Force to provide military assistance tailored to Bahrain's requirements. One Loan Service Officer is on attachment to assist with course formulation at the Shaikh Isa Military College which was set up in 1997 to provide basic officer training[131] and the Bahraini Minister of Defence told us that UK assistance with NCO training had been particularly valuable. Bahrain is a regular port for British ships from the Armilla patrol[132] and, earlier this year, the UK was involved in Exercise Neon Falcon, a joint exercise with the US and Bahrain in which Royal Navy vessels including the carrier HMS Illustrious, the nuclear submarine HMS Triumph and the destroyer HMS Gloucester took part.[133]


62. There has been a British Military Mission in Kuwait since 1993, providing advice and assistance to the Kuwaiti armed forces and government on a wide range of military activities. The team now involves 47 UK personnel. The UK has also, at the request of the Kuwaiti government, set up and assists in the running of a Joint Command and Staff College to train and educate senior officers who now come to the College from all the Gulf Co-operation Council countries. A number of Kuwaiti Service personnel also attend Royal Navy and Army training courses in the UK.[134] In an effort to rebuild Kuwaiti armed forces after the Gulf War, the United States undertook to set up an exercise programme involving coalition forces, for which Kuwait would provide host nation support. UK participation in such exercises had been minimal but, following Kuwaiti representations, plans were put in place for UK armoured forces to exercise alongside US and Kuwaiti personnel in a regular series of exercises which began last year.[135]

63. The Kuwait Programme Office (KPO) provides UK assistance to the Kuwait Defence Forces in the procurement of defence equipment. This service is provided at no expense to the UK, and the work is carried out by a mix of civilian and military staff based in the UK, with a small detachment in Kuwait. Business is conducted under government-to-government agreements through Letters of Offer and Acceptance (LOAs). KPO projects include: a 254 fleet of Desert Warrior Armoured Fighting Vehicles; Sea Skua anti-ship missiles; refurbishment of Hawk jet trainer aircraft; and naval personnel training.[136]


64. Saudi Arabia provides one of the UK's largest defence markets.[137] Current defence exports arise from the Al Yamamah agreement, a government-to-government programme, based on a Memorandum of Understanding, agreed in 1985, for the supply of aircraft, ships and support. The MoD's Saudi Arabian Projects (MODSAP) office, part of the Defence Exports Sales Organisation (DESO), acts on behalf of the Saudi government to ensure that BAe, as the prime contractor, meets its contractual arrangements. It is staffed by RAF, Royal Navy and civilian personnel. Almost all the equipment contracted for in the agreement has now been delivered and MODSAP's role now focuses on in-service support for the equipment in service in the Saudi armed forces.[138] The precise arrangements under which Al Yamamah operates are sensitive but we were given an in-depth briefing by MODSAP on a wide-range of current issues connected with the agreement when we visited Saudi Arabia. We also discussed these arrangements briefly in our Report last Session on the appointment of the new head of the DESO.[139]

65. UK military assistance projects in Saudi Arabia include a British Military Mission to the Saudi Arabian National Guard, providing advice on such issues as officer training and developing basic military skills, and in more specialised areas such as anti-terrorism. In addition, a separate, specialised team is assisting in the procurement and commissioning of a new communications system for the National Guard. A small Royal Navy liaison team provides support to the King Fahd Naval Academy at Jubail.[140] Joint exercises between UK and Saudi forces are not a regular occurrence but HMS Illustrious took part in exercises with Saudi vessels when the Carrier Task Group was in the region earlier in the year.

Increasing the level of UK assistance?

66. In the Secretary of State's view—

We agree that our Forces can make a significant contribution to enhancing defence relations and were concerned that the UK could be doing more in this respect. When we were in Kuwait, we were told that the Kuwaitis would welcome assistance with expanding their Staff College. We asked the Secretary of State about this—

    I think there is every prospect that we can develop further training assistance for Kuwait and it is something that we are actively pursuing.[142]

67. We also raised with the Secretary of State concerns which had been expressed to us that the UK was losing out in opportunities to increase training and other assistance to Gulf countries because, unlike the US and France, the UK charges for such services. His view was—

    ... the kind of training we provide is of the very best quality. That is very well recognised and people are willing to pay for it. I accept that there is competition both for equipment and for training and we will have to look carefully to ensure that we maintain the right kinds of relationships. Certainly the training experience that a number of people have had in the United Kingdom does mean that they remain lifelong friends of the United Kingdom very often and I would be very reluctant to see that benefit lost because, for example, we were not able to attract people because of the costs of training. I have to say for the moment that is not the case, we have no shortage of people coming for training. Whilst there is competition around on price I still remain absolutely confident that what people are getting from training in the United Kingdom cannot easily be duplicated anywhere else. I think you will find that most other people recognise that fact.[143]

We believe it would be regrettable if the UK was to lose influence because of the MoD's policy of charging for assistance which other countries are prepared to offer free, or at a lower cost. We agree that the UK provides very high quality training but the MoD cannot rely on this to convince overseas governments to send their personnel here rather than elsewhere, or to seek UK assistance when it is more willingly offered by other countries. We recommend that the MoD examine very carefully the balance between the financial benefit it receives by charging for military assistance and training and the less evident but real benefits which might accrue from offering such services at lower or no cost to those countries with whom it is in our interests to retain good relations.

68. An important element of defence relations is defence sales and there is undoubtedly a link between the commitment countries are prepared to make in offering military assistance to friendly nations and their ability to sell defence equipment to those nations. The Secretary of State was reluctant to accept that there was a direct correlation between the two[144] but this probably reflects the rather ambivalent attitude the UK has to defence sales, compared with our more up-front allies, such as France and the US. The impression we gained during our visit was that host countries have great respect for the UK's approach in keeping military assistance separate from defence sales and it is obvious that there is a delicate line to tread here. Decisions about defence procurement, in the Gulf countries as elsewhere, are frequently political decisions. The MoD should be prepared, on occasions, to be more direct in linking the promotion of UK equipment to military assistance. Otherwise it risks the UK defence industry being disadvantaged to the benefit of our less coy allies and competitors.

69. Our visit provided us with an opportunity to meet the Chief of the General Staff in Saudi Arabia; the Crown Prince, the Prime Minister, and the Ministers of Defence and Foreign Affairs in Bahrain; and the Foreign and Defence Ministers and the Chief of Staff in Kuwait. These meetings provided us with an opportunity to discuss a wide range of defence and foreign policy issues and to hear the views of the host countries on their relations with Iraq and their other neighbours. In addition we visited the consultative Shura councils in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain and the National Assembly in Kuwait and had valuable discussions with our fellow parliamentarians on their work and how this might develop in the future. We believe that contacts of this kind are a vital part of the work of select committees and that through visits of this kind we are able to make a significant contribution to defence diplomacy.

130  Strategic Defence Review, Cm 3999, July 1998, pp 14-15 Back

131  Ev p 24 Back

132  Ev p 24 Back

133  Ev p 31 Back

134  Ev p 25 Back

135  Ev p 25 Back

136  Ev p 26 Back

137  Ev p 22 Back

138  Ev p 23-24 Back

139  Second Report from the Defence Committee, Session 1998-99, The Appointment of the New Head of Defence Export Services, HC 147 Back

140  Ev p 23 Back

141  Speech by the Secretary of State for Defence to the RUSI Conference on Gulf Security 2000, op cit Back

142  Q 87 Back

143  Q 91 Back

144  See QQ 84-85 and 92 Back

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