Afghanistan: Improvised Explosive Devices — Question

– in the House of Lords at 2:37 pm on 22 February 2010.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Addington Lord Addington Spokesperson for Defence, Spokesperson for Culture, Media and Sport , Deputy Chief Whip 2:37, 22 February 2010

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether British troops in Afghanistan have the same equipment for detecting improvised explosive devices as their NATO allies in the International Security Assistance Force.

Photo of Baroness Taylor of Bolton Baroness Taylor of Bolton Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Defence, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Defence and Security) (also in the Ministry of Defence), Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence) (International Defence and Security) (also in Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

My Lords, first, I am sure that the whole House will wish to join me in offering sincere condolences to the families and friends of Private Sean McDonald of 1st Battalion The Royal Regiment of Scotland, Corporal Johnathan Moore of 1st Battalion The Royal Regiment of Scotland, Warrant Officer Class 2 David Markland of 36 Engineer Regiment, Lance Corporal Darren Hicks of 1st Battalion Coldstream Guards, Lance Sergeant David Greenhalgh of 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards, Rifleman Mark Marshall of 6th Battalion The Rifles, Kingsman Sean Dawson of 2nd Battalion The Duke of Lancaster's Regiment, Sapper Guy Mellors of 36 Engineer Regiment, Lieutenant Douglas Dalzell of 1st Battalion Coldstream Guards and Lance Sergeant David Walker of 1st Battalion Scots Guards, who were killed on operations recently in Afghanistan.

I turn now to the Question. For operational security reasons, I cannot comment in detail on the equipment used by UK Armed Forces and our allies to detect improvised explosive devices in Afghanistan. A range of technologically advanced equipment is in service, including metal detectors and explosive ordnance disposal robots, to ensure that our troops can operate.

Photo of Lord Addington Lord Addington Spokesperson for Defence, Spokesperson for Culture, Media and Sport , Deputy Chief Whip

My Lords, I associate myself and Members on these Benches with the condolences just expressed by the Minister. Does she agree that it is imperative, when we are operating closely and in similar circumstances with our allies, that any information derived by our allies when testing equipment should immediately be made available to us, and that that should be reciprocated when we test equipment of our own?

Photo of Baroness Taylor of Bolton Baroness Taylor of Bolton Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Defence, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Defence and Security) (also in the Ministry of Defence), Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence) (International Defence and Security) (also in Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

My Lords, a very comprehensive memorandum of understanding is in place between ourselves and the United States and, indeed, with other allies on counter-IED measures. It includes everything from intelligence to the equipment that can be used, although I would point out that equipment is only a small part of our defences against these particularly obnoxious devices. We do of course include our allies in terms of sharing information and we use the information that they give us, but often we are operating in somewhat different circumstances, so we cannot always bolt on what others may use. However, we take into account the experience and daily evidence that we can get from our allies.

Photo of The Earl of Onslow The Earl of Onslow Conservative

My Lords, bomb disposal officers and NCOs are highly trained and extremely valuable. Is the noble Baroness satisfied that the casualty rates among bomb disposal officers and NCOs are not too high, and are we having difficulty in recruiting and training enough members of those units?

Photo of Baroness Taylor of Bolton Baroness Taylor of Bolton Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Defence, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Defence and Security) (also in the Ministry of Defence), Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence) (International Defence and Security) (also in Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

My Lords, it is true that unfortunately we have had several casualties. These soldiers are highly trained, very brave and take a great number of risks on behalf of their colleagues. Those who undertake this kind of work are volunteers, and it has been possible to find volunteers to undergo the training at present. We are continually in the process of trying to expand the skills that we have in this area. However, we should be under no illusions about the dangers that these people face. We should all be very grateful for the work that they undertake.

Photo of Lord Craig of Radley Lord Craig of Radley Crossbench

My Lords, can the Minister tell the House how many urgent operational requirements for the detection of planted IEDs have been placed by the MoD since our deployment in Afghanistan was increased last autumn? Has the Treasury agreed that these UORs will be financed from the Consolidated Fund and not met by defence budget funds?

Photo of Baroness Taylor of Bolton Baroness Taylor of Bolton Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Defence, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Defence and Security) (also in the Ministry of Defence), Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence) (International Defence and Security) (also in Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

My Lords, the urgent operational requirement estimate has now been uplifted by £101 million based on the forecast spend on UORs in the current operational climate. That brings the total estimated expenditure on UORs for the year 2009-10 to £736 million, and that does not include the plans to spend over £700 million on protected mobility vehicles. The Treasury has recognised this particular area, and I think that the Prime Minister's Statement last year made it clear that for everyone in Government, countering the IED threat, which is so important in this campaign, is a very high priority indeed.

Photo of Lord Luke Lord Luke Shadow Minister (Also Shadow Minister for Defence), Culture, Media and Sport, - Shadow Minister (Also Shadow Minister for Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow Minister

My Lords, first, we associate ourselves with the condolences read out by the Minister concerning the casualties in Afghanistan.

Given the very grave public concern surrounding the improvised explosive device threat, can the Minister be a little more specific about the work being undertaken in the UK, and with our NATO allies, to deal with the IED threat, and the timescales to which they are working?

Photo of Baroness Taylor of Bolton Baroness Taylor of Bolton Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Defence, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Defence and Security) (also in the Ministry of Defence), Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence) (International Defence and Security) (also in Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

My Lords, I cannot be very specific about the work that is going on, because by its nature it has to be kept somewhat confidential so that we do not put our troops under unnecessary threat. However, I can assure the noble Lord and indeed the House that everything possible is being done. One of the most significant initiatives was the tiger team set up by the MoD last year to bring together the best brains from industry and the scientific community, inviting new ideas and then evaluating them. That is a very exciting project. It is ongoing because the threat is developing all the time. Although we are sharing that information with the United States, which is very interested in it, it is important to realise that this is not a one-off event of trying to find something that will counter all IEDs in future. We have to adapt our technology because the nature of the problem that we face is evolving, and we have to try to anticipate what the next steps should be. It is an exceptionally high priority for everybody in the military and the MoD.

Photo of Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord Wallace of Saltaire Deputy Leader in the House of Lords, Spokesperson for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

My Lords, I understand the Americans have found drones very useful as a means of watching when people are likely to be placing IEDs in Afghanistan. Are we doing the same thing, and do we have enough drones for the purpose?

Photo of Baroness Taylor of Bolton Baroness Taylor of Bolton Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Defence, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Defence and Security) (also in the Ministry of Defence), Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence) (International Defence and Security) (also in Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

My Lords, drones are extremely important in that area as well as in other areas. By the end of last year we had increased very significantly our capability in terms of the hours that we have available for drones: by 33 per cent for Hermes, 50 per cent for Desert Hawk, and 80 per cent for our Reaper capability. We acknowledge the very real importance they can play, but I emphasise that the equipment we have is only one part of the battle. It is also about our tactics and procedures, and the training we give our troops. Overall, taking all those things into account, we have made real headway, and we are working very closely with allies to share our experience and indeed to learn from them.

Photo of Earl Attlee Earl Attlee - Shadow Minister (Maritime and Shipping), Shadow Minister

My Lords, will the Minister pass on the thanks of this House to the scientists and engineers at various MoD establishments who do such brilliant and diligent work in developing the countermeasures?

Photo of Baroness Taylor of Bolton Baroness Taylor of Bolton Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Defence, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Defence and Security) (also in the Ministry of Defence), Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence) (International Defence and Security) (also in Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

My Lords, the noble Earl raises an important point. Very often the people who do this essential and vital work are behind the scenes and we should take every opportunity to commend them on the efforts they make on our behalf.

Photo of Lord Ramsbotham Lord Ramsbotham Crossbench

My Lords, returning to the point raised by my noble and gallant friend Lord Craig, does the Minister agree that the question is not so much about how much urgent operational requirement money has been provided by the Treasury, but about how much is then going to be clawed back from the defence budget?

Photo of Baroness Taylor of Bolton Baroness Taylor of Bolton Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Defence, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Defence and Security) (also in the Ministry of Defence), Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence) (International Defence and Security) (also in Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

My Lords, an agreement was reached on UORs some time ago and is in the public domain. Over a certain limit the MoD will make a contribution, not least because the equipment developed under urgent operational requirements is now becoming mainstream equipment for everyone in our Armed Forces.