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Operations in Iraq: Lessons for the Future


Key Lessons

  • The successful and rapid generation and deployment of a balanced joint force of 46,000 personnel was an exceptional achievement and confirmed MOD's ability to deliver the UK's expeditionary strategy.
  • Given the unpredictable nature of emerging operations, the Department needs to review its methodology for effectively generating appropriately trained and equipped forces at the necessary readiness to meet UK defence needs, consistent with this expeditionary strategy.
  • Urgent Operational Requirements (UORs) were a key part of the planning process for the operation and contributed significantly to its success.
  • Not all capability gaps can be filled quickly under UOR action. We need therefore to consider key war-fighting capabilities and review the Equipment Programme to ensure that we can deliver them within planning timescales.
  • Development and evaluation processes required for task-specific equipment on more complex platforms should, where identified, be undertaken in advance if possible, to facilitate the achieving of operational capability in compressed timescales.
  • To be effective, the UOR process must deliver not just equipment, but operational capability. UOR procurement must therefore allow sufficient time for integration and training.

Force Generation

2.1   The successful generation and deployment of a balanced joint force of 46,000 personnel confirmed MOD's ability to deliver the UK's expeditionary strategy - indeed, the deployment was at a larger scale and completed in shorter timelines than were allowed for in the way the Armed Forces are structured and resourced. This achievement was despite the complications of the uncertain diplomatic and political process in the run-up to the start of the operation and changes to the campaign plan which meant UK forces would operate in the south, not the north. Both factors had a significant effect on the smooth provision of deployed forces, ready for operations. Forces were generated in reduced timelines, using mechanisms and pragmatic solutions that by-passed readiness and resourcing assumptions, reflecting the commitment of our Service and civilian personnel.

2.2   The preparation of force generation options for all three Services was influenced by the need to provide 19,000 personnel for an emergency firefighting capability during the Fire Brigade strike. Indeed, this was MOD's main priority until the final decision to begin the Iraq operation was taken. The Spearhead Battalion Group also had to be maintained as the UK's Strategic Reserve. Force generation was also complicated by uncertainty over the northern option (under which UK forces would enter Iraq from Turkey), which was not finally discounted until early January. The southern option required a different UK land force package, with an extra brigade. The final force composition was not therefore confirmed until mid-January and resulted in some units, such as 16 Air Assault Brigade, having only a short time in which to prepare to deploy. Consequently, the Brigade generated its forces in less than its mandated Notice To Move time-scales.

2.3   Current UK force readiness states do not include the time it takes to deploy the force or conduct in-theatre training. Moreover, each Service has a different approach to preparedness for operations. While ships and air force elements should be capable of war-fighting shortly after arrival in theatre, it may take considerably longer for forces that operate on land to conduct in-theatre training and prepare the force logistically. This is because operational location and local environment are more influential factors for such forces.

2.4   The current methodology for determining required readiness times is based on a model which assumes a linear transition from peace, through transition-to-war, to actual war-fighting. However, recent operations suggest that this model is less suited to expeditionary strategy in an era where provision has to be made for a range of unpredictable contingencies. We intend review the generation of force elements at readiness and the implications of Notice to Move.

Implications of Operations in Iraq for Force Structure

2.5   The lessons from Iraq and other recent operations are being considered in continuing work to re-balance the Defence programme. The results of this work are expected to be announced 2004.

Urgent Operational Requirements

2.6   Most equipment procured specifically for the operation was obtained under well-established Urgent Operational Requirement (UOR) procedures, but some capability gaps were filled by advancing delivery of existing equipment programmes. The very considerable success in delivering equipment against very demanding time and performance criteria owed much to the excellent contribution of contractors in the face of relatively late changes to the force composition and constraints on early consultation with industry. It may be necessary to review the constraints on earlier industrial engagement to minimise procurement delays in future. Delivery of equipment was also complicated by some deployment dates being advanced once the date for the likely timing of the operation became clearer, requiring some equipment to be delivered direct to theatre. While delivery was still achievable in most cases, some equipment was not able to be fitted prior to operations as a result.

2.7   The UOR process is intended to provide a cost-effective solution to specific capability shortfalls related to a particular operation. This avoids the need to stockpile equipment andstores for all conceivable contingencies. During the pre-deployment phase of this operation, over190 UORs for equipment capability were approved, at a cost of some 510M. Some UORs were required to fill previously recognised capability gaps which, for reasons of affordability, had not been funded in the Equipment Plan. Some of these sought to increase existing weapon stocks to meet the requirement of a large-scale operation. Other capability shortfalls (e.g. those involving more complex systems such as warships and aircraft) were not filled by UORs because of the long lead times involved. We need therefore to consider key war fighting capabilities and review the Equipment Programme to ensure that we can deliver them within planning timescales. The delivery of other capabilities was enabled by the re-allocation of equipment from other platforms, due to the long lead times for critical assets. Ships and aircraft may therefore need to be 'fitted for' a new item of equipment, with trials and clearance work complete, in order to make it possible to provide the required capability within the sort of timeframe in which we prepared for this operation. The procurement of equipment at short notice for the operation highlighted our reliance on other nations for our security of supply. The risk associated with such a dependence may need to be reviewed.

2.8   The establishment of the Defence Logistics Organisation's Logistics Operations Centre was instrumental in ensuring that equipment, including UORs, was delivered to theatre in accordance with the priorities of the Permanent Joint Headquarters. Even so, tracking UORs from the emergence of the requirement, through approval, to delivery from industry relied on a multitude of information systems, databases and reporting mechanisms. This led to some difficulties in obtaining complete and accurate information on the progress of UOR action. An effective shared data environment for UORs to provide all stakeholders with a common picture of the progress of each UOR may help to resolve this problem. Furthermore, as with all equipment and supplies, in-theatre tracking proved difficult (as discussed further in Chapter 8).

HMS ARK ROYAL transits the Suez Canal
HMS ARK ROYAL transits the Suez Canal

2.9   The initial assessment of our First Reflections report was that the new equipment nonetheless added valuable capabilities during the operation, albeit that the compressed timescales for UOR delivery meant that personnel did not always have time fully to train or become familiar with the new equipment. Subsequent analysis has shown that, in some cases - especially Communications and Information Systems equipment - users did not have complete confidence in their ability to use the equipment. Commanders were not always able fully to appreciate the additional capabilities available and how they might be used in combination to deliver an effect. UORs intended to close capability gaps with the US (such as airborne surveillance equipment) were only effective once training had been completed. In some cases, where training occurred only in theatre, this delayed the achievement of full operational capability.

2.10   However, the majority of UORs were very successful in rapidly delivering enhanced capability. The dust mitigation modifications made to the Challenger 2 main battle tank were instrumental in the tank's very high availability rate (see paragraph 5.7). The Minimi light machine gun (see paragraph 5.11) proved to be a very popular and effective weapon. At sea, new Shallow Water Influence Mine-Sweeping equipment was leased to counter the threat of Iraqi mines laid in its coastal waters and rivers (see paragraph 4.7). Protection for UK troops was improved by the lease from the US of the Blue Force Tracking system, which enhanced the situational awareness of UK land forces, and other combat identification equipment. UORs were also successfully used to increase the number of aircraft capable of delivering precision-guided bombs and provide a range of medical modules and additional stocks of precision-guided bombs and other weapons. Since the end of the combat phase, air-conditioned accommodation for over 5000 troops has been installed to improve living conditions. The Department is now considering which of the equipment bought specifically for this operation it would be beneficial to retain for future use.

 Chapter 1 - Introduction
Chapter 3 - Lessons from the Operation 

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