WEDNESDAY 6 NOVEMBER 2002

__________

Members present:

Mr Bruce George, in the Chair
Mr James Cran

Mr Mike Hancock
Mr Kevan Jones
Jim Knight
Patrick Mercer
Syd Rapson
Mr Frank Roy

__________

ADMIRAL SIR MICHAEL BOYCE GCB OBE ADC, Chief of the Defence Staff, Ministry of Defence, examined.

Chairman

  1. Sir Michael, I apologise for the slight delay in your appearing. I suppose it did give the fire authorities a chance to exercise any action that might have taken them out of reality and not fantasy! Thank you for coming. Our questions will largely centre around the New Chapter of the SDR. It has now been two years since I and Mr Hancock saw you last because the last time you came was in front of the old Committee as opposed to the present Committee. Is there anything that you would like to say by way of introduction?
  2. (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) No, thank you, Chairman.

  3. What was your personal and your staff involvement in the work of the New Chapter?
  4. (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) The Ministry of Defence work in teams which work on the New Chapter and make sure that the Chiefs of Staff and the committee which I chair were being apprised of the work as it progressed. Of course, many of the team working in New Chapter are uniformed officers as well as civil servants and of course there is my membership and co-chairmanship with the Defence Management Board which also finally approved the work for the Secretary of State. Clearly, that particular Committee was totally involved. So, Chairman, I think the answer really is that I am involved in the root and branch of the whole process.

  5. Personally, did you sit in on any meetings or did you have to approve the framework and then approve the final document?
  6. (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) Yes, we approved the framework and then the teams would come back as the work was being developed and it would be iterated as it went through the Department and, at an appropriate level, we would take it when it came to the Chiefs or before the Defence Management Board.

  7. The New Chapter identifies a number of new and additional things that the Armed Forces might be called upon to do and it considered what changes in force structure and equipment they would need. When you appeared before our predecessor committee 18 months ago, you said that you very much saw your job as being to keep an eye on the pressure - budgetary, quality of life, operational and legislative - which our Armed Forces have to live with. Do you believe that these pressures have increased on your watch?
  8. (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) Yes, they have. It has been an extraordinarily busy 18 months. We have had a variety of operations to undertake both outside this country such as in Macedonia and the Balkans and Afghanistan obviously, all the events on from September 11th, and Sierra Leone, as well as domestic pressures, if you like, in the Armed Forces such as foot and mouth disease which we contributed towards and currently, for example, standing by to help on the Fire Brigade side of life should we be required. So, it has been a very busy time for our people and certainly all the things you mentioned there are what I keep my eye on. The reason I keep my eye on those is to fulfil what I believe is my aim which is to make sure that my people remain fit to fight or, if not actually fighting, discharging whatever duties they are undertaking in a highly efficient, competent and grownup sort of way.

  9. Have the budgetary pressures been eased, slightly eased or increased? I know we have had a small increase but has that made things any better or has it made any difference because, with the increased budget, you have additional functions to undertake anyway?
  10. (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) Yes. I think the very fact that we have the best defence budget for some 20 years in the Summer of this year as part of Spending Round 02 was an enormous fillip to the morale of the Armed Forces. It was a recognition of the hard work that they are doing and they felt because of it, but you are quite right, it has not taken away all the pressures that are on us budgetary-wise particularly in the light of the way we need to address the new challenges that we have been looking at since September 11th of last year and how we are going to conduct what we call sometimes the global war against terrorism which requires us to focus on attributes which we had not previously been giving the sort of attention they deserve.

    Mr Hancock

  11. When you came last time, you talked about the pressures on the Armed Forces and the need for us to realistically assess the commitments and what-have-you that we were facing and, since September 11th of course, there has been more pressure and the New Chapter suggests that we are going to be doing more of that, that there are going to be more frequent operations. Are you confident that we are actually doing the right sort of training to ensure that we can actually deliver on that commitment?
  12. (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) Yes. We need to watch the balance of commitments against the resources, in other words the manpower and kit we have, and that is why we try very hard when we get involved in operations to complete them in an expeditious way and pull out as soon as we sensibly can, and I think the brilliant operation that was conducted in Macedonia last August was a very good example of that and likewise in our operation in Kabul when we actually ran the first of the ISAF operations, the international security system operations, which again was an outstandingly well conducted operation. We try to draw down when we can and that is why, in working in the Balkans at the moment, trying to treat the Balkans as a region rather than as separate provinces, we have been able to reduce one battle group there in the last few weeks and have pulled another 1,000 people out. So, we are looking the whole time to cut our cloth, if you like. Also, yes, we will have to be learning new techniques to deal with this new threat because the nature of the terrorist threat is that you have no build-up in the way you have with the conventional operation. You will have a very fleeting opportunity given to you through intelligence or whatever and you must react very, very quickly when that fleeting opportunity occurs to take the action required to dowse it, snuff it or whatever the case may be. So, we need to be a little more agile and we have to have the right equipment to allow us to be more agile.

  13. There has been a widespread reduction of the number of exercises right across all three services and that must be having a serious effect on the ability of people to actually train for this new style and commitment that you want. What plans do you have to ensure that the competence level of these young men and women who are taking on these operations for us are getting the training that they really need?
  14. (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) You have put your finger on one of the dichotomies I have in saying that I want to be 'fit to fight'. One of the challenges which I find are there to stop me realising my aim actually are operations themselves because, if you are very busy doing something such as Sierra Leone, what you are doing there is an excellent job in training, for example, the Sierra Leone army, but what you are not doing is your battle group training with your infantry battle group or your brigade above that or, if you are on a ship on counter-narcotics operations in the Carribean, you are doing a cracking job, as we saw a couple of weeks ago pulling in 100 million worth of cocaine or whatever it was, but what you are not doing is any anti-submarine warfare. So, it sounds a dichotomy, it sounds counter-intuitive, but operations can be very much against my requirement to make sure we are fit to fight on all fronts. We have had to draw down on our exercise because of the pressures in going to Afghanistan, for example. We must try to make sure that we measure very carefully where our people are falling behind in their training schedules and try and make room in the programme without further wrecking their quality of life. You must actually manage the pace.

  15. Who is exercising the right control over that? Five years ago, we had more service personnel and less deployments. We have now less personnel and more deployments. We have ships on sea on active deployments undermanned, dramatically undermanned. We all know that we are pilots short on many squadrons in the RAF, but we now have a serious undermanning on our ships at sea, ships that are about to be or that could be involved in action, if they were required to be, fairly quickly.
  16. (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) The management of this is done by myself through my single service Chiefs of Staff and in turn from them through their Commanders in Chief. They have to watch on the one side the balance of quality of lives so that people are not working their socks off 24 hours a day and, on the other hand, to recognise that they must be doing a certain amount to make sure that their skills are being maintained. So we look at the exercise programme, we judge it against the operational programme and try to do the best we possibly can.

  17. Some of these exercises have been cut at very short notice. Some of the people have been deployed kit ready and some of the logistics of that operation has taken place and then the plug is pulled and there is then no real thinking about how they are going to reschedule those exercises. Some of these exercises appear to be terminated for good.
  18. (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) They are and of course we are not in control of events which sometimes cause them to be stopped. The current 19,000 people who are standing by to do duties for the firemen is a good example of the many activities that have been stopped in order to release these people to be available. Each of the services have their own criteria for measuring readiness and measuring fitness to fight. They report on those levels through their Single Service Boards to the Chiefs of Staff on the Defence Management Board as to where there are shortfalls and, at the front line level, Commanders in Chief are constantly reassessing where people are falling behind the power curve in being fit to fight and we are looking for chances at the first opportunity to bring them up to standard.

  19. Do you think then that the political wish list of our active involvement is now putting so much pressure on the Armed Forces that training is undoubtedly suffering and that that in turn is causing a retention problem where people are becoming dissatisfied with the fact that they are on one deployment and are then due to come home and then, within hours of being told that they are on their way home, that has been cancelled and they are moved off somewhere else? Do you think that that is having a very debilitating effect? Do you think politicians are taking enough note of what service people are actually saying about what is happening at the present time?
  20. (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) I think they are. The Chiefs' advice is listened to very carefully by the Secretary of State when a new requirement comes up as to whether this will be unbalanced but, in the last year, there have been circumstances which have been impossible politically not to actually deliver: the firemen's strike is one example and Afghanistan to a certain extent is another. As to the pressure of driving people out from retention, on the whole, my impression is that, yes, retention is not as good as it should be and I freely acknowledge that. In fact, it is an area that we need to keep on working at. Interestingly enough, I find that if you say to people who are leaving the service, whether they are officers or other ranks, "Why are you going?" generally speaking they say, "I have had a fantastic time for the last five, six or seven years. I am now aged 29" or whatever it is, late 20s/early 30s, "and I want to go and try something else. I look back on a very happy time. I have been thoroughly professionally satisfied but actually I want to go and try something else." That is not uncommon across society as a whole; people tend to do something for about five to ten years and then go and do something else, particularly when they have developed families and have domestic interests which are not necessarily compatible with long periods of separation. I do not think they are leaving because they are unhappy, they are leaving because there are new pressures which they want to accommodate.

  21. Were you unhappy that the New Chapter really did not tackle that issue clearly enough?
  22. (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) I do not think that the New Chapter was designed to be a root and branch survey of all that we do in Defence. It was a new chapter and the key word is "chapter". We had the Defence review after September 11th, the 1998 Strategic Defence Review, and decided by and large that what was in there was broadly sensible but that it was missing out on developing our ... There was some immature thinking if you like, immature in the sense that it had not been fully matured, on terrorism and really the New Chapter was designed to look at this new global threat which is now apparent to us following September 11th. It was not going back to all the activities we do in Defence and reviewing all those, so I would not have expected to see the New Chapter dealing with such things as people issues and so on.

    Mr Jones

  23. Just on that point, Admiral, when we had the Secretary of State before us prior to the New Chapter coming out, in response to a question that I asked him, he actually said that part of the preparation for the New Chapter would be a review of all existing commitments. We had Mr Simon Webb before us a couple of weeks ago and I asked a question in terms of the extent of that review and that decision has been taken in terms of things in light of the New Chapter and for 'new look Civil Service' speaker, expect Mr Webb! What has actually happened in terms of that review? Have we actually taken some decisions in light of the events of September 11th that we should not be doing certain things, or is it the fact that the MoD have just had an increase in the budget and think, 'Christ, the heat is off' in terms of ensuring not only that we are getting value for money in what we are spending but also possibly still continuing doing the same things we were doing before September 11th?
  24. (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) No. I think that there are things that we started to do emerging from our work on the New Chapter. One of the things which the New Chapter looked at was to balance between what we should do overseas and what we should on the homeland front. For example, on the homeland front, you will know that we have looked to see how we can use our reserves to help us in the new environment in supporting the civil authorities in a terrorist type of situation. Other activities emerging from the New Chapter really will take slightly longer to put in place, but we are actually engaged in looking at what equipment is required to give us this greater agility to be able to deal with the sort of fleeting threat that we identified in part of the terrorist modus operandi and, in particular, to speed up the process where between a sensor or a device detecting something going on, that information getting back to the person who has to make a decision as to what to do about it and then that decision being transmitted to the vehicle for dealing with the problem, which sometimes acts as a sort of sensor-to-decision-maker-shooter cycle which is sometimes called network centric. We are very busy looking at these sort of detector elements at the moment to see what kit will be required, but that is not going to come in overnight.

  25. Are there any areas where it has been decided that we want to move away from something that we have been doing to actually put concentration on what you are talking about?
  26. (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) We are working on that as well at the moment because, even since 1998, there has been a further evolution on our appreciation of the strategic context and, certainly during the course of the next year or the next few months perhaps, we will be looking to see whether there are some legacy systems which may or may not be appropriate for where we see our primary effort being placed in the future and there will be a balancing, if you like, going on -

  27. Is there a timescale on that process?
  28. (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) I think the Secretary of State has said that he would wish to put a White Paper out by the summer of next year so, at the very latest, one would expect to see these ideas captured in that White Paper.

    Chairman

  29. If our Armed Forces are overstretched, I would say grossly overstretched, so that small operations have repercussions on what remains not just for training but probably other elements within the Ministry of Defence, what will the consequences be and this is potentially a difficult question for you to answer, Admiral? Is it 19,000 troops who have been taken out perhaps to act as firemen. Now, 19,000 out of just over 100,000, if you throw in the Navy as well - how is our ability to mount even a small operation going to be affected? Are they going to come from those elements within the Armed Forces such as the Royal Navy and we hear of ships being unable to operate temporarily because their crews are fighting fires. I am not trying to ask you any stupid questions but I am just wondering, if you take out 21,000, what the consequences will be.
  30. (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) The consequences are already serious as far as I am concerned. It is 19,000 out of closer to 200,000 with the Army and the Air Force. Those people have been taken out already; they have been busy since September training to do the jobs that they may be called upon to do in knowing how to work these green goddess fire-engines or learning how to become breathing apparatus wearers and so on. So, I have effectively lost those people as of two months ago and, to find those people, we have had to strip out frontline units and the Navy have provided about 3,000 or 4,000 and the Army 12,000 and 6,000 organisational people as well, so ships are alongside without their crews because they are busy standing by doing fire-fighting. Likewise, the Air Force and the Army have had to take people from operational units and the situation at the moment is such that if there were an operation, a medium sort of operation, going on, we would have great difficult in coping with that. A small operation, we do have reserves to do that.

  31. Without seeking to lead you into an area that might be delicate, if a strike takes place - we all hope it does not take place - and if it lasts as long as the last strike, will this put severe constraints on the Government's ability to make decisions that otherwise it would take or not take should there not have been a strike?
  32. (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) We are trying to balance our efforts such that certainly for a couple of months or so, we can cope with other eventualities but, if this runs on into next year or well into next year, this will cause us extreme difficulty.

    Patrick Mercer

  33. After the Gulf War, we suddenly had manoeuvre warfare introduced as a mantra which was introduced to the British forces as if it were something new, now we hear that the Americans are looking at fire rather than manoeuvre - they are trying to rebalance their thinking - and they have come up with the concept of a network centric warfare philosophy whereas Britain is looking at a network centric capability. What is the difference between the two?
  34. (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) You need the capability to deliver the philosophy and I do not think there is any difference between the two. The Americans will have a network centric capability which will deliver a philosophy which is, as I have already described ... It sounds a little bit jargonish but it is really to have a sharper process of passing information around and to be able to take action on something very, very fast as soon as you detect it.

  35. There has been some criticism of this as I am sure you are aware and, looking at Jane's Defence Weekly, it talks about responsiveness reach, resistance, survivability of (?) decision, interruptability, affordability, etc. Group Captain Anderson, who I gather is the Deputy Director of Equipment Capability in the MoD, makes it clear in his statement that the United Kingdom will not be able to afford anything as all-embracing as this. Is the British contribution going to be half-hearted following definitely in the wake of what America can deliver?
  36. (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) It certainly will not be half-hearted and we certainly do not have the sort of budget that would allow us to do probably as much as our United States friends, but what is going to be very important to do is to make sure that what we do get is inter-operable with the United States and indeed with our other potential coalition partners. We will be using such money as we have to improve our capability in this particular area and a lot of the effort will be devoted to making sure that we remain inter-operable with our allies.

  37. You referred earlier on to fleeting targets and striking of these. You will recall the fuss that went on at the lack of adequate strike against Serb armed forces in Kosovo which could be argued were also fleeting targets. Are we not behind the curve on this? Should we not have been looking at attacking these sort of targets some several years ago?
  38. (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) Maybe we should have done but that is what we are doing at the moment. September 11th has focused our effort on the non-state actor which is what produces the fleeting target and that is where our efforts are going into trying to do better what we cannot do at the moment.

  39. We have touched on equipment programmes already, but what equipment are we going to sacrifice in order to produce more equipment for this style of ...?
  40. (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) Firstly, as I said, we have been given more money in the spending round to see how we can modernise ourselves in this particular aspect. It is too early for me to say what we are going to do in addition to that in terms of rebalancing what is no longer relevant or no longer necessary against the strategic context in which we are working. That process is going on at the moment. It is too early for me to make any sort of comment about what sort of equipments might or might not be hung onto.

  41. I suspect your answer to my next question will be the same with regard to the training demands. If we do not know how equipment is going to be balanced, how is training going to be balanced?
  42. (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) The training will follow on once we understand exactly what we need and we should make sure that the right regimes are put in place to make sure that people can use it properly.

    Syd Rapson

  43. The Secretary of State, when he launched the New Chapter, talked about the benefits of network centric capability - a new buzz word for us - and he gave a long quote which said that everyone should work together and be involved instead of one after the other. At the end of the quote, he said that old decision-making structures, whilst providing safeguards which we must always find a way to keep, will be too cumbersome and too slow in the years ahead. So, they envisaged a change of speed and direction in the chain of command. Can you just describe the principal changes in the doctrine particularly in respect of the chain of command which you expect to flow from this increased network centric capability.
  44. (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) It is the speed at which things will happen rather than necessarily a change in the structure themselves. We will have to have sharper understanding of what our rules of engagement might be, which means that we have to get the legal processes properly sorted out and use some really quite clever forward thinking about what sort of action we think we might be required to take and make sure that we are legally clear to do it. That would help out with the process. As I said also, getting the information back to whoever the decision-maker is, whether it is the Commander on the ground or whether it is back to PGHQ in Northwood or whether it is back to the Ministry of Defence for Secretary of State clearance or whatever. That process is moderately cumbersome and we really need to improve our communication and the way we actually pass information, which is all part of using this sort of windows capability in a sense really and then getting the message out again to whatever the vehicle is that is going to actually deliver the strike against some sort of target. It is a process of speed rather than actually changing the structures.

  45. How would we develop these new ways and how would they be tested because it is a new way of thinking and a new way of delivering the information?
  46. (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) To a certain extent, some of these structures are in place already and it will go very much hand-in-hand with the work we are doing on what the Army sometimes call digitisation of battle space, in other words you can see the realtime picture all the time which will allow the decision-making process to be that much faster. How will we test it? We will do exercises to test it.

  47. Exercise after exercise. The other thing that worries us is speed and the increased speed in making decisions and the chain of command being shorn and the new information coming in and the time between sensor-to-shooter is reducing all the time. How can we be sure that our philosophy is correct and that we are doing things the right way when the technology is making things move so much more quickly?
  48. (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) We have an organisation called our Doctrine Centre which will be providing advice on how doctrinally we want to use all this equipment which will be going alongside the policy side as well. So, as our policy has now been set, so we will now start developing our doctrines which will match the equipment which we will have in order to actually execute the doctrine.

  49. Is there a difference between the American way of shortening this time - and the sensor-to-shooter is a very critical point in this - because they have a different philosophy of approach than we would have? We have said in the past, rightly or wrongly, that the British tend to check back to make sure that things are correct whereas the Americans are more likely to go ahead and do it because it is more beneficial to strike first and think afterwards. Is there a difference in philosophy or are we just being a little romantic in thinking that we are much more superior in our decision-making?
  50. (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) We do not think we are superior in our decision-making. Technically we will be working similarly, along sort of similar lines. So far as the decision-making process and the authority for action to be taken is concerned, we very much hope to be working to compatible rules of engagement, which is what it comes down to.

  51. Is there intra-operability between us and the Americans over this difficult field?
  52. (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) That is what we are working on. The Americans are a long way ahead of us at the moment and a long way ahead of our allies as well and we have to try and make sure that we stay in touch with them otherwise we are not going to operate together.

  53. Presumably we are the only other country that can be linked in with the Americans as closely and that the other allies are somewhat distant from that.
  54. (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) The Americans are very conscious of the fact that they need to pay attention to what I would call backward inter-operability. In other words, they have to be looking over their shoulders the whole time to make sure that people are there because I am quite certain that our United States allies would not wish to be in a coalition framework for any activities they undertake and you can only have a coalition which is effective if you can actually talk amongst each other.

    Jim Knight

  55. Yesterday we visited an RAF base and, when we were talking to some of the people who do the reconnaissance work there, they talked about some of the information they were getting and feeding and that strategic decisions were now becoming blurred towards tactical decisions. It raises the issue that we might get to the situation where we have too much information, particularly where we get to a point where it is coming right back here to the centre and these tactical decisions start to be made in too much detail. Is that a concern?
  56. (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) This is the President telling the soldier in the trench to do something.

  57. Yes.
  58. (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) It is a concern and we have to ensure that we have protocols or procedures in place which do not allow what you might call long screwdrivering and which is sensible. Your point about too much information is a very, very valid one. What we are seeking to achieve is knowledge superiority which is very important. What we can do without is knowledge overload and knowing how to sift data is a whole new science really because there is so much data that is available and it is in fact already a problem in working out how to use what you have and we are now having to teach our people to be far better pullers of information: you are sitting in front of your screen, we can be pushing out tons of information at all times which would completely overload the operator. He has to be taught how to know that, within his screen, there are tons of information and he must be very adept at knowing what to pull out of it which would be useful to him and that is a whole education process which we are currently engaged in.

    Mr Hancock

  59. I take your point about knowledge overload, but how far up the chain of command does that knowledge have to go for someone to actually make a decision to fire? You said earlier that you wanted to shorten the time frame between seeking and striking and to cut out part of the equation. Knowledge overload or too much knowledge makes that a difficult decision to call and surely it now has to go too far up the line for a decision to be made.
  60. (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) I agree with you entirely and of course there is always a great propensity for the people at the top to want to know all the detail that is going on, which they do not need to know at all, because it is fun, apart from anything else. I think we are actually quite good at delegating in the UK in our Armed Forces and in giving local Commanders quite a lot of authority to go ahead and do things, and we must make sure that we continue to remain sophisticated in that sense and we are and, right down to the corporal level, we are pretty good at giving people responsibility and we will actually make sure in this new regime that we continue to exercise that type of discipline.

  61. Will the critical decisions about whether an aircraft drops a bomb or not be speeded up or will they be slowed down because you have so much knowledge available to tell you that there could be a potential problem and that there needs to be a political decision made, and are the structures in place in order that, once you have this knowledge very quickly, the procedure for actually making a decision is going to be speedy enough for it to be effective when it is actually delivered?
  62. (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) We have such procedures in place now and, in the future, the better equipment that we have will allow us to be speedier. The process is there now and it passes decisions up the chain. There are levels of responsibility which are delegated and the chain process pushing things up is well-established which will ensure that in the future it will be operated far more quickly than it is at the moment.

    Chairman

  63. Maybe the MoD can practise information overload with the Defence Committee! They have not honed their skills on that yet. Maybe, Admiral, you are offering hope for the future!
  64. (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) I am sure we can do better!

    Syd Rapson

  65. In the supporting documents of the New Chapter, it did say that you were going to produce a new document, amongst all the other things you are doing, to wind down "... to capture the key elements of the UK military approach to counter-terrorism." Is that document being produced? What will it be called? When are we likely to see it?
  66. (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) This is the work that I spoke of going on in the Doctrine Centre. I do not know what it is going to be called yet because it has not been produced and, as to when you will see it, I think it will need to be in place during the course of next year and I am sure there may well be some sort of chapter in the White Paper on this particular subject, but I do not know yet because we have not developed the final product and we have not come round to thinking about how it will actually be produced.

    Chairman

  67. Why the delay? We have been facing terrorism for some time, it is 13 months since 9/11 and the document on how the Military deal with terrorism seems to be a matter of urgency, not something you can handle slowly through the processes.
  68. (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) I am looking for a final product here, that is not to say that nothing is actually going on at the moment in how we should conduct our business, it has been going on since 12 September. So we are working on, if you like ad hoc procedures which we are getting on with for the moment and those are being refined as the work is going on in the doctrine areas.

    Chairman: That is reassuring.

    Jim Knight

  69. I want to go back to an area that Mike Hancock was questioning you about earlier on in terms of personnel. The New Chapter has, as you have said, come with new resources. Some would argue that rather than there being a shopping list for nice new bits of kit, we should be spending more of that money on our personnel in dealing with some of the issues which Mike Hancock raised and, in response to that, you talked about quality of life and the problems of the pace of activity in the Armed Forces at the moment and, certainly in my Dorset constituency when I talk to the families of service personnel, it is a real problem. I want to hear more from you about what the New Chapter can do for retention and should we be looking more at using some of those new resources to deal with personnel issues?
  70. (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) Perhaps I muddled the Committee on the new money and the New Chapter. The new money was not just tied to the New Chapter; it came out in Spending Round 02; that was a hike in Defence spending. Some of the money we expect to spend on developing our new thinking within the New Chapter. Other parts of the money will be spent on other parts of the Defence programme. In that context, you are absolutely right to mention people. We can have the best kit in the world but if we do not have the people to man it or the right sort of people to man it, then we are in deep trouble. We are already spending a certain amount of money on our people and we probably need to do more certainly in areas such as accommodation, looking after families properly and making sure that people's welfare is being properly supported when they are on these long tours of duty. It is something into which we are putting a huge amount of effort. We have a whole framework which has been developed over the last couple of years which will be called the Armed Forces' Personnel Strategy, which has an action matrix in it and is being constantly scrubbed over, if you like, by the Defence Management Board and by the Chiefs of Staff Committee to make sure that we remain constantly focused on where we can make improvements for our people.

  71. Does that include a conclusion to the Armed Forces' Pensions Review, which you may have quite an interest in shortly?
  72. (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) I am afraid that whatever Armed Forces pensions come out, it will not affect myself or most people currently serving unless they choose to change it. Yes, we are hoping to produce a report on the Armed Forces' Pension Review in the coming months and I very much hope that that will be welcomed by people in the Armed Forces and particularly seen as attractive by people who want to join the Armed Forces.

  73. When you are addressing these personnel issues, are there particular services and specialisms within services that you think you need to address?
  74. (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) Yes. I think the Chairman mentioned the fact that we were heavily overstretched in the Armed Forces. I would qualify that slightly. I am a great believer in stretching the Armed Forces because that is what people join the Armed Forces to do. They do not join to be sitting on their backsides in some barracks or some dockyard, they actually join to be doing something. So, on the whole, I do not believe that our people are overstretched although we are going through a peak at the moment and I mentioned that we are probably going through a blimp at the moment because of standing by for the fast track, but there are categories of people who are definitely stretched and we are focusing on those areas very hard indeed and we need to work out ways of trying to persuade such people that what they are doing is being properly valued. Whether that is done through some sort of financial retention incentive or whether it is done through a non-financial retention incentive, we balance those things and we try to do something about it and indeed we are in close consultation of course with the Armed Force Pay Review Body who look at these matters very closely indeed and will no doubt give us the wisdom of their advice in their report next February.

  75. I am very happy to accept the intentions to address these issues but, at the same time, the New Chapter includes proposals that clearly envisage greater demands on certain key sectors of enablers, high readiness light troops, ISTAR and so on. How do you and you successors deal with those conflicting aims?
  76. (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) I think it comes back to the rebalancing process, that we see it as being a necessary activity which we are going through at the moment and which will be revealed later on. We are very much in the process of seeing how we actually put more emphasis into something, and I think you mentioned enablers in particular, and where there are errors in the programme which are not so important nowadays, but that is something that we are actually still undergoing at the moment. It is about the thinking process that is under way at the moment.

    Patrick Mercer

  77. One of the constant feedbacks that I get from former service colleagues is that not only is there a tremendous problem in terms of keeping up the manning levels as a function of both poor recruiting and poor retention, but one of the bedevilments at commanding officer level is the level of unfitness, soldiers who are unfit to serve, ranging from crazy details like dental problems through to, particularly in the infantry, lower leg problems. Do you have any comments or thoughts about that?
  78. (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) If I may just pick up one point first of all. You say that recruiting and retention are bad news at the moment, but actually we are having quite a good year in recruiting terms at the moment and we are very close to our targets across all three services. So recruitment at the moment is reasonably healthy. On the subject of fitness, we certainly find that fitness can provide us with a problem in what we call 'gains to training strength', in other words getting people through the initial training establishments. A lot of effort now is being put into making sure that we do not challenge people too rigorously on the first day they arrive, that there is a paced increase in activity levels throughout the training course and that people are tested when they are fit rather than when they are actually unfit. A huge effort goes into making sure that people are brought along as far as possible. I do not think that the sort of problems we had, say, three or four years ago where people were being failed for fitness reasons is quite as big now as it was then because of this new regime that has been put in place which actually brings people along rather than banging them within two days of arrival, finding that they are unfit and then firing them. They are actually now encouraged to come along at a sensible pace, so that they are fit when they actually leave their training establishments and pass the necessary fitness tests.

  79. Is there a suggestion of a confidence problem? If we are going to go to war in Iraq, there is going to be some sort of difficulty in the context of the International Criminal Court and how much cover or not our troops and servicemen are going to get in a putative campaign in the Gulf. What are your comments about this?
  80. (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) In any conflict that we might be called upon to become engaged in the future in the context of the International Criminal Court, I have been reassured that there is no likelihood of any British soldier, sailor or airman being dealt with other than through the British system. They will not go in front of the Criminal Court; the British Courts will be dealing with them.

  81. You have been comprehensively reassured on that point?
  82. (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) Yes.

    Mr Hancock

  83. May I just come back to your answer to Patrick Mercer's question which I think you addressed in part but not entirely. The question was about the ongoing fitness levels within the Army, not about the troops being stressed very early on in their training. I can accept entirely the change in philosophy there. The problem that we face is that in answer to Parliamentary questions month after month after month, the ongoing fitness levels, the number of troops and other service personnel who are not fit to serve has increased and there is a significant problem: 10 per cent of the Armed Forces at any one time are not fit for duty.
  84. (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) I am sorry, perhaps I did misunderstand. All members of the Armed Forces are required to conduct a fitness test, which is a physical fitness test, and I am not aware of there being any particular problem about that. However, on any one day of the week, you are absolutely right in saying that there are large numbers of people who are unfit for medical reasons of one sort or another and that is something which is undesirable and which we need to better in driving down, but it is not a function of people being unfit in the context of not having made themselves fit, it is a case of medically unfit for whatever reason.

  85. It is the length of time. Surely the real problem you are facing is that many of those service personnel would have been normally treated in service hospitals and would have been treated and discharged in the course of this, but the problem at the moment is that many of them are having to be dealt with on long waiting lists at their local hospitals during which time they are not actively in service and they are not doing any service duties whatsoever. Some of it is for very long periods of time when a reasonably easy operation would have put the soldier or sailor right very quickly. What are you doing or what is the MoD doing to bring about an improvement in that situation?
  86. (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) Firstly, I think that, as a percentage, the number of people who are unfit is probably not vastly different to the days when we had dedicated service hospitals. In those days, however, we had more fat in the system in people terms and people being absent or downgraded for medical reasons were not felt as keenly as they are today where we are very, very tautly manned and one person missing is a serious deficit, whereas in the past he might have been absorbed because we were more generous in the way we actually manned our ships, air squadrons or army regiments. A lot of the people who are unfit do not necessarily require operations, they require such things as remedial care, physiotherapy and that sort of thing, and we are putting money or putting effort into coalface remedial capability which would reduce the manpower build of people who are unfit quite significantly. We are also looking at fast tracking some of the people who require to have some sort of medical treatment. We are spending money on it and looking at how to improve it but it is not a situation which I find satisfactory because there are lots of people there who are not being employed in the way they should be.

    Chairman: If we had had satisfactory answers from the MoD witnesses who came a few weeks ago, maybe we would not have to ask almost the same questions to you, Admiral, but we visited Saif Sareea and we observed what was going on. We have read the National Audit Office report; we have read the documents that the Ministry of Defence sent to us, but we have a few additional questions.

    Mr Roy

  87. Last year's exercise was designed to test the Joint Rapid Reaction Force. Your appraisal report on the exercise concluded that "the ability to sustain a medium skill war fighting force on an operation of extended range is questionable and the exercise did not test this rigorously." Why did not the exercise test the war fighting capability more rigorously?
  88. (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) You will have to remind me what report you are talking about. The exercise tested our people extremely rigorously. We need to remember why we do these exercises. This was an exercise conducted to give our people the opportunity to take part in something which was at a reasonably enlarged scale level. I do not mean that in the context of the totality of numbers but large scale in the sense of what they had been exposed to in the past. The purpose of this exercise was to give our soldiers, sailors and airmen a chance to see what a battlefield is like or what a brigade is like or a squadron and so on, and also to do it on an away from home basis to see how we manage. Indeed, we achieved that and I think the NAO report made it perfectly clear that this was a highly successful exercise, which I subscribe to. The 25,000 or so people who took part in it gained immeasurably. We do not do these exercises very often because they are very large and also we do not have the capacity to do them on a regular basis. It was an exercise which probably no other country could do, possibly with the exception of the United States, on that scale and I am very pleased about the way it went. I recognise that a lot of lessons were learned but that is why we do exercises, to find out how well we are fitted out in terms of our training, in terms of our kit, to be able to deal with an operation. There are certain components that we will not put into an exercise because we want to make sure we do not use up all our kit allotment pending a real operation but I think the exercise was a success.

  89. Was the exercise not meant to test people or machinery to their limits? That did not happen with, for example, tanks where there were problems. We were told that what they wanted to do was to make sure they got them there rather than tested them to the limit. What is the point in doing that particular exercise if you do not test to the limit?
  90. (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) If you spoke to the people working in the desert at temperatures of 50 degrees, they would probably consider they were being tested pretty much to their limits. You cannot make it tougher than that.

    Chairman

  91. The document, "A Directorate of Operational Capabilities Appraisal of Exercise Saif Sareea", was presented to the Defence Committee. This was the document.
  92. (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) If I can refer to that particular document and other documents of that genre which we produce, we are probably light years ahead of any other armed force that I know of at being self-searching in the way we are, actually going out and doing these exercises in order to examine exactly where we have any difficulties, faults or whatever. I have been involved in my 42 years in the armed forces continuously in a process of reassessment, exposing where we find we have difficulties and getting on and trying to improve on that basis; rather than not to expose them and hide behind some shimmer or some imagination that we are better than we really are. No one else puts themselves through this self-flagellation in the way that we do and we are very proud of it. I would not do exercises if I did not think we were going to get honest lessons learned. I certainly would not want to be in the position where every time we do something in order to find out where our weaknesses are we get beaten up by everybody for having exposed those weaknesses in a way which no other country does, and probably no other government department, as far as I am aware.

  93. The only thing that concerned us was that if we spent 97 million to show how we could get there, we have noticed there is a lot of sand in Oman and we know that Challenger 1's record in dealing with sand was less than perfect. What bemused us was the answer. Frankly, we could not believe that the MoD would be so negligent as not to have an appraisal of the equipment performance. It seems to me, spending all that money in proving you can get there, it would be fairly logical that you test the case whilst you are out there. How much does it cost to see if tanks operate successfully in sand or not?
  94. (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) The whole of that money was not spent just on the tanks. As far as the people were concerned, they all gained immeasurable experience from the exercise, of operating first of all in large formations which they would not normally do for many years. The young people who did that will carry that forward throughout their careers up to becoming NCOs or senior officers and they will look back on that as a most rewarding experience, to understand what large formation operations are like, whether they may be Army or Air Force. You have had technical advice from other people who have sat before the Committee about ----

  95. That is a very sensitive point because they did not send people who were technically competent. They sent two policy people, essentially.
  96. (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) The problem about the workability of the Challenger 2 tank is not something which gives me particular concern at all. We found out that we had made a mistake in assessing the number of filters that we required to run in the particular type of dust levels that were encountered out there. We did not place on the tanks the type of armour that we would normally have for an operation because we only had a limited number of sets and we did not want to use them on an exercise. Had we put that armour on, it would have significantly mitigated the amount of dust congestion that happened. I am absolutely certain that we under-estimated the requirement for filter use but such activity as we got out of our tanks, when we started to preserve our filters in order to get training benefit as opposed to just a logistic exercise, was significant. All tank crews got some training benefit out of working in very unpleasant, very hot, sandy conditions. All those people who were in those tank regiments will have learned a huge amount about what they should do in the future in any desert type campaign. The logistics organisation has learned an awful lot about what it should require in terms of recognising what type of sand it is and how many filters you will need. I believe that this was a hugely rewarding process. Yes, we made mistakes but that process makes us all the more confident, if we are engaged in an operation in those circumstances in the future, that we will be able to deal with the situation very well.

    Chairman: We are not criticising the tank, which is a fabulous tank. We wish more countries wished to buy it. Our criticism was not even of the armed forces. Our criticism was against the people who were telling us what did or did not happen on the exercise that we were able to observe and draw our own, not professional, but common sense judgments.

    Mr Jones

  97. Congratulations for that answer because it is a very good answer in terms of admitting that mistakes were made and also pointing out that the exercises are to look at weaknesses and to learn from last ones. I think that is a good response. What does not help this Committee and I do not think helps the press either is when you get people like Simon Webb coming before us a couple of weeks ago, trying to make excuses, coming up with the nonsense which he did, saying that the real test of the exercise was to take the tanks there, not actually to use them when they were there. Your approach, in terms of openness and saying that things went wrong and you learned from them, is a far better way of dealing with it than trying to come up with the Civil Service speak that we had last week. In terms of unjustified criticisms, your approach is better. Can you say to civil servants, "Do not come before this Committee to try to somehow hide and say that things are all right", because it leads to lack of confidence in us and also there is the idea that there is something to hide. On the desertisation of Challenger tanks, I take the point you make about the armour, but are there going to be any steps taken to desertise Challenger? I was at a company in my constituency last week who said that they had been asked to look at this issue. Are we going to learn from the problems which you quite rightly identified as part of the exercise?
  98. (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) We have increased our stocks of filters, for a start. We have the armour which we can desertise the tanks with and we are looking at a programme of desertisation at the moment.

    Syd Rapson

  99. We do not want to give the wrong impression because we do believe that exercises are good. They should be increased and they are a great thing. Saif Sareea was a good exercise but the planning for it at slow time because it was an exercise was not real and we had two years. A lot of it was logistics and getting stuff prepared, getting the right number of spares, stores and everything required over slow time. If we planned for two years for the exercise and there were significant failures which we are learning from, what will happen in short term, urgent operation planning, because it is the logistics in getting prepared and having the back-up in this country ready to go out that worries me. Can you bridge that gap? I know it is not real and that it is an exercise.
  100. (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) I think it is a very fair point. If we are going to spend a large amount of money on any exercise, relative to whatever size it is - Saif Sareea was a very expensive exercise but there are many smaller exercises - and if you are going to get the best benefit from the exercise to identify where you are going to be looking for lessons to learn and so on, you want to make sure that you get maximum value out of the exercise and out of the money you are about to spend. Your planning process is going to be artificially long because you are trying to make sure you think of all the angles. If we are going to do that, what can I get out of that particular activity? Where can I look for lessons to be learned? Is our doctrine going to be right? Are the soldiers going to put up with it? Are they properly fit to do it? Is the kit going to work? You think up all the angles you possibly can. Additionally, if you are going to involve a third party in the exercise - in this case, for example, the Omanis - they must be brought along as well. Their pace may not be the same as ours in terms of getting ready for it. Yes, any exercise is probably going to show what your speed of response can be in a real situation. I would therefore ask you to look at what happened in December last year when the Bonn conference, I think on the 12th, decided that there would be something called an International Security Assistance Force based in Kabul, completely alien territory as far as we were concerned. No one had even heard of Afghanistan other than back in the 1800s. On 12 December, we were told to take charge of this International Security Assistance Force. In the space of three or four weeks, we had assembled a force of 5,000 from 19 countries. We had people on the streets of Kabul by the beginning of January bringing calm, comfort and security to that city. It was a brilliant operation done in absolutely unprecedented speed and when the chips were down we delivered because we had practised that sort of thing in exercise in the past and we had learned our lessons.

    Mr Jones

  101. Can we go to Afghanistan? What principal lessons have you learned from Afghanistan? The difficulty is, as you have already indicated, about a peace keeping operation and also to have a fighting situation, a combat situation, side by side. Did that pose certain difficulties and challenges?
  102. (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) We certainly thought very hard about it because we could see that potentially it could present difficulties, particularly if you are trying to do a peace keeping operation in one part of the country and you are doing some direct, aggressive action in another part of the country. The countrymen might take a dim view of the peace keepers who might be perceived as being rather aggressive in that area. We put quite a lot of effort into deconflicting the activity that was going on in Kabul with what was going on with the activities outside the International Security Assistance Force. We made it very clear to the Afghanistan people themselves that we were there operating under a United Nations mandate, that we were very much a security assistance force. We made it clear to Mr Karzai, who was the person in charge of the administration there, that we were there to help him very much with security in the town of Kabul. All I can say is it seems to have worked. No one has levelled charges at us for having double standards. The effort we put into getting that right is a lesson we learned. The effort was worth it and the fact that there has not been a negative response shows we probably got it right.

  103. What were the principal lessons you learned from that?
  104. (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) You have a lot of talking to do with all the various players, particularly with the incumbents of the country, in this case, Mr Karzai, and indeed talking as far as possible to local warlords as well.

  105. In terms of the combat side in Afghanistan, there was a great emphasis in terms of special forces. I do not expect you to talk about the operational side of it but has that skewed your thinking in terms of the balance between the peace keeping role and also concentrations in terms of special forces for future missions that possibly could face us next year in Iraq?
  106. (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) The New Chapter made clear and we recognise that in the future strategic context the role of the special forces and the activities the special forces are engaged in are going to be even more important than ever. That is why there has been emphasis on that. So far as commenting on what, if any, special force activity is going on, that would not be appropriate.

    Patrick Mercer

  107. Whilst endorsing the speed and the efficacy of the initial operation of getting into Afghanistan and the reaction times that we achieved, is it not a bit surprising and disappointing, the length of time it took 4/5 Commando Troop to put together the combat operations?
  108. (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) That was not a thing which particularly concerned me from this end of the telescope. One of the reasons it did take a long time was to get the infrastructure right in Bagram which is where was where they flew out to. It was important also that we dove tailed in with the American commander, under whom they were operating, to get his times right so that we appeared on the scene when his troops were ready for us and not before that. Although it did take about four weeks or so to get the whole Commando troop out there, I was not particularly dismayed that they could not get out there earlier. It was a function of what was going on in the theatre rather than a function of our ability to get them out there earlier.

  109. Was the criticism of the American military press unfair?
  110. (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) What criticism was that?

  111. There was extensive criticism in the US Marine Corps paper about the length of time the Royal Marines took.
  112. (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) Perhaps the Americans should have spoken to the American commander who was the guy who was driving the ----

    Jim Knight

  113. In the context of Afghanistan, it draws me back to an exchange that went on a bit earlier about rules of engagement. You said that the Americans were way ahead of us in terms of network centric capability and the rules of engagement that follow from that. In Afghanistan, we saw one or two incidents, most memorably the wedding incident, where things went wrong. I am interested in how rules of engagement to junior ranks would work if we had Predator type UAVs in Afghanistan style operations. Are they predelegated to carry out targeted attacks on individuals?
  114. (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) I did not say the Americans were ahead of us on the rules of engagement. I said they were ahead of us in terms of their technical network centric capability. We do not normally comment in detail about what our rules of engagement are but in broad terms the answer is that there are differing levels of authority given as one cascades down the command chain. At the very bottom level, literally the private, he has a particular set of rules which he applies, his intrinsic right to self-defence being the most fundamental. There are different levels of authority given to different ranks as to what they might or might not be allowed to engage with, given certain criteria. The reason I cannot go into too much detail about it is that it depends on the different rules drawn up for different circumstances. They are very carefully articulated and passed down the command chain. They are briefed on a twice, if not three times, daily basis to all the relevant commanders all the way down the command chain. If a local commander feels that he has been constrained in what he is able to do by his rules of engagement, he is absolutely entitled to send in what is called a rule of engagement request saying can he have more authority to do such and such. That will then go up the command chain and that authority will be given to him, if appropriate.

  115. Have you thought through the sort of level for unmanned vehicles?
  116. (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) An unmanned vehicle is in a sense no different from a manned one, in so far as pictures are passing back and one has to make decisions. The driver will be operating under some rule of engagement which may be similar to that of a person in a manned aircraft, as to whether he is allowed to press his button to release his bomb. I do not think there is much difference between unmanned vehicles and manned vehicles in terms of the application of our rules.

    Chairman

  117. We had a briefing a few weeks ago when we asked questions on whether the UAVs that we are going to procure eventually will be able to do more than take photographs and we were told that they were not.
  118. (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) I was replying to Mr Knight's question in the context of where we know UAVs have been known to drop weapons. Were we to have such UAVs that dropped weapons that currently exist, the RoE would not be given.

  119. I know you are not as totally involved in the procurement process as Sir Robert Walmsley would be but if we are going to spend a lot of money on UAVs to have a wide range of capability at this stage, when perhaps it is still possible to build into the specification the ability to do nasty things other than take photographs, it would be prudent that one should explore this more fully. Have you had any opportunity for looking at what is being planned? It might be a useful process for you.
  120. (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) I am afraid I have not had the benefit of reading the evidence.

  121. We will send you a transcript.
  122. (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) As far as my mind is concerned, on the subject of UAVs, it is entirely right to exploit the use of UAVs to the utmost extent and if that includes carrying weapons I would not close up that opportunity at all. I would see that as being very attractive to explore.

  123. Returning once again to Challenger 2, Kevin Tebbit has appeared before the public accounts committee and he said, "We have a number of options available to us, which we will adopt if necessary, which will ensure that our tanks have full protection against dust should they be required for questions." We have mentioned tanks. Could you give us some further reassurance that, should the Chancellor allow ground forces to be used - and I was not aware that the Chancellor of the Exchequer played a major role in developing strategy or tactics - can you offer us your personal guarantee that they will work and, despite what the MoD witnesses said to us, you do have that capability of making all the adaptations, be they large or small, necessary to make the tanks operational and effective?
  124. (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) Yes, absolutely. We do have that capability. We have the special skirts which are put on and special extra armour to put on. That is available. The extra filters are being bought and I would be confident that, if we had to operate in a desert environment for whatever reasons, our tanks would give us the type of performance we would wish.

  125. Have you given the Jordanians any guarantees that, should they use their Challenger 1 tanks, they will be able to operate? Do we give a six month guarantee to them?
  126. (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) I have not spoken to the Jordanians.

  127. Very wisely side-stepped, Admiral. With the other equipment that was used in the Gulf, less dramatic but important, the desert clothing, boots, uniforms, tented accommodation, communications -- big surprise that Clansman did not work very well - helicopter rotor blades, forklift trucks, AS90 artillery: when you visited Saif Sareea you probably saw some of these things not working as one would have hoped. You have read all the reports. Are you as the senior military person satisfied that we do have the capability within the Ministry of Defence genuinely to say, "Right, we must put it right"? Are there any principles involved? Every time our Committee looks at a war and lessons of a war, by the time we get on to the lessons of the next war, we find that some of the things that did not work previously still do not work. Are you satisfied with the process by which you can appraise success and failure? Do you have the mechanisms, the resources, to develop the technical competence and political will to derive the lessons from that exercise or conflict?
  128. (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) We have the processes and certainly I have the will. It is a factor of human nature that, for example, if you were to look at the lessons learned from the Falklands War and bounce those off the lessons learned from 1945, there is a depressing amount of similarity between the two. I would not guarantee that, were we to engage in some future conflict, we would not find that we were relearning whole lessons each time because that is the way it happens, largely because of the nature of turnover of people within the armed forces, memories are short and so forth. In pursuing the things which we think are very important in following up lessons and where we have asked the Director of Operational Capability, DOC, who wrote that report, you will see in that report that there will be a list of recommendations. The chiefs of staff are under my chairmanship. I demand that DOC returns to my committee every six months and takes us through the recommendations of any report he has written to show us what progress he is making.

  129. Can you make it every three months?
  130. (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) You have to give sensible time. I am just talking generically at the moment about how things operate. Were something to crop up which would want us to move ahead faster or to ensure that progress was fast enough on certain things which were relevant, clearly there would be more pressure to bear but, to answer your question about process, yes, we do follow up these lessons learned. I send for the DOC to explain what is going on and if we are not happy then we chase it up.

  131. If the troops are deployed and the same lessons are drawn six months from now, people like us will say, "Why was not proper action taken after Saif Sareea?" and it will be very embarrassing for those people to come in and tell us who delayed what might be fairly simple. I presume the question of army boots which has been bedevilling the Army for about 400 years, certainly as long as I have been on the Committee, is resolvable?
  132. (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) You would be fully justified in being angrily cross if we went into an operation and found we were living with some deficit or something which diminished our operational capability as a result of lessons learned as recently as 2001.

    Mr Jones

  133. I find it reassuring that there is a process to follow up these deficiencies. Would it be possible, publicly or even to this Committee, to let us know where you are up to because the response we got last week was defensive, trying to say there was nothing wrong with a lot of these things. I think that is part of the problem in terms of public perception and the media perception of the MoD. They do an exercise. One of the key things that happens is to learn a lesson in an exercise rather than in a combat situation. Would there be a mechanism whereby we could look at where we are at with some of these things because they have had a lot of publicity in the last six months or so. I think it would be reassuring to the Committee and certainly to me that some action is being taken.
  134. (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) I would need to take advice on that.

    Chairman

  135. One of the great things to console my colleagues who have not been around for 400 years is that, in the event of a crisis, the ability of the defence industry and the military to improvise is quite startling. Things that should have taken five years in the normal cycle tend to be done in a few days or a few hours. We hope, as we have perhaps had some notice of what is going to happen, that we do not have to rush once the command is given.
  136. (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) As soon as we are kicking into a new operation, one of the first things I will send for is the lessons learned from the last type of operation of that nature that we have done. As part of our planning process, I will be asking my team, "What have you learned about X, Y and Z from the last time?" We have to make certain that, should we be engaged in any future desert campaign, we will be turning back to those lessons to make sure we have dealt with all the criticisms that have been levelled at us.

  137. There may still be time to come back in before you retire.
  138. (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) I could not possibly comment.

    Mr Hancock

  139. I am slightly depressed by your response to Patrick Mercer about the question when the lessons are not learned and your analogy that, looking at the Falklands and the 1945 War, you would see that they were fairly similar. It is a very depressing tale that the lessons are not taken note of. I want to ask a specific question relating to the Apache helicopter because if lessons were ever going to be learned, if you are going to procure something which is so significant a development for the armed forces, you would certainly want to be sure that you had the capability of putting it into operation. Where was the failure there? I would be grateful if you could tell us when you, as Chief of Defence Staff, were first made aware that this was a significant problem that would take years to overcome.
  140. (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) So far as the delivery of the helicopter itself is concerned, by and large, that is meeting our expectation. What is holding up the programme has been the training of the pilots to fly the thing. I was extremely disappointed at finding out that we are not going to get this capability in as quickly as I would wish. I guess that probably I knew about it within the last year and that the simulator was suffering the delays that you are aware of.

  141. Why was not Parliament told? You were told a year or 18 months ago and the Ministry of Defence have an obligation to keep Parliament informed. This was a significant, major procurement development, running into billions of pounds.
  142. (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) I cannot answer that question.

  143. Was it kept just at your level?
  144. (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) I should not think so. It is not my direct responsibility to track what is going on in the procurement world. As a user, I have a very active interest in getting the capability I want in.

  145. You have responsibility for the training of the personnel who are going to operate this aircraft. Surely that was a significant flag waving exercise on the part of someone?
  146. (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) I will track any equipment coming in because obviously it will be factored into my appreciation of what our operational capability is. It is not my responsibility to drive the projects. That is another part of the department.

  147. We have made significant changes in the order of battle and all sorts of things to accommodate the role of these aircraft in the future of our armed forces. The capability to be able to fly them was the key factor. We do not buy new fighter planes without making sure the pilots are ready to fly them and the two things should have been working togther.
  148. (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) I agree.

  149. At the personnel level, the morale sapping situation must have been devastating in the armed forces.
  150. (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) I am seriously hacked off. How we got into the situation, I believe, is information that is available. The business of getting a simulator on line has been slower than it should have been for three or four reasons.

    Chairman: We are rather cynical. Two years and ten months' delay is almost normal. It does not come on the radar screen if it is five or eight years, I am afraid.

    Mr Hancock

  151. Why was it not possible to send our pilots to be trained in the United States on the simulator they use?
  152. (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) We have done a certain amount of that, certainly with our instructors, but now the simulator is on line and we are putting our pilots through it. We have reassessed the length of time it takes us to train our pilots as well.

    Patrick Mercer

  153. All of our operations, be they high profile operations in Afghanistan or lower profile operations continuing at a lower level, have involved special forces. Have we enough special forces and, if not, how are we going to increase them? Should we increase their size?
  154. (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) In the New Chapter, we recognise in the new strategic context the value of our special forces and we are looking to see if there are ways of enhancing their cpapabilities.

  155. We have met a fairly negative series of responses from a variety of different people about this, saying that it is just not possible. Every capable soldier, sailor or airman that can be moved into special forces is already there. Do you accept that?
  156. (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) The course to become a member of special forces is a very demanding course with a very high attrition rate so you do not flick your fingers and increase your size by five, ten or 20 per cent. It is a tough course and getting the right calibre of people through it is a lengthy process. Whatever our aspirations are about what we think we should have, realising them in practice will probably take a long time.

  157. Are you optimistic?
  158. (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) Yes. It will not happen quickly and we will work on our own internal PR to try and make sure that we carry the people forward through the course.

  159. Similarly, we see organisations like the Royal Marines being used time and time again. Is there a possibility to train line units for those specialist roles so that there can be more flexibility and the possibility of not just using the Royal Marines as the spearhead, with operations like Anaconda?
  160. (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) Yes, I believe there are ways of bringing our line units in to do some of the tasks that are sometimes more traditionally sent to the paras or the marines. I believe there are competent infantrymen around who could do some of this responsibly.

  161. What is being done about that?
  162. (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) At the moment, we are still looking to see how, given the amount of activity that is going on at the moment, in the army we have room to get the extra training in for such regiments. That is something we are still looking at.

  163. Is there a solid programme in place?
  164. (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) Not yet, no.

  165. That has not progressed very far?
  166. (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) No.

    Chairman

  167. We have asked hardly any questions on the Royal Navy and how, as a purple commander, you keep in touch with your own service. In terms of the size and shape of the surface fleet, what numbers are we operating on now? Is it 32, 30, 28, 21?
  168. (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) You mean so far as the destroyer and frigate forces are concerned, as opposed to the vast majority of the other ships?

  169. Yes.
  170. (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) At the moment we have 32 but we are going to have 31 when HMS Sheffield goes.

  171. Is that the base line?
  172. (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) Based on the Strategic Defence Review assumptions, we reckoned we needed to have broadly speaking 26 ships in the operation side to discharge the tasks perceived in the SDR. In order to deliver that capability, we needed 32 destroyers and frigates. With the introduction of the Type 33 frigate and the better availability we think we can get out of it and the improved maintenance processes that we have within our maintenance organisation, we believe that we have 31 ships and can still provide the 26.

  173. Just one last question, I did allude to it before, the story that appeared in the Daily Telegraph on 2 November, not written by Michael Evans, I understand. Is there any truth in it: "Brown warns defence chiefs war on Iraq is 'too expensive'", "Treasury balks at 15bn bill for attack on Iraq"? Is somebody whingeing inside the MoD? Is it speculation? Even in your student days - this IS going back a few years, not as far as me though - have you heard of a case where Chancellors do seem to impose their views on the conduct of a war?
  174. (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) I will start with the article in the newspapers that was referred to there. It is something outside my knowledge and it is untrue as far as I am concerned.

  175. That is a Hoonism. I would expect that from the Secretary of State.

(Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) Obviously, if we are going to be engaged in operations, the Treasury needs to be consulted on a variety of issues. This story about him blocking some activity is one which was news to me, another piece of fictional reading I am getting used to in some of my newspapers.

Chairman: Perhaps we should invite Mr Gilchrist and the Chancellor on to the War Cabinet because they seem to be having a big effect on the conduct of operations.

Patrick Mercer: That is not what he has just said, actually.

Chairman: Thank you very much. It was very interesting and very relevant.