Submission by Iain Paton

Summary

I would like to raise certain issues upon which the Iraq Inquiry should focus. My experiences are perhaps not central to the critical issues arising from the Iraq War but I hope this submission will fit alongside others as part of a ‘jigsaw’ picture which will illustrate the critical issues and support a narrative of events. In particular:

– I believe, from my experience, that the decision to attack, invade and occupy Iraq was taken in mid-2002, evidenced by secret operational war planning from that time onwards.
– I believe, from the above, that there are grave doubts about the legality of the Iraq War and these must be investigated.
– My experiences in the planning and procurement processes have left me with concerns about the way that secrecy regarding planning and preparation for war was driven by a political agenda, and that this caused problems with mobilisation, supply and procurement which may have put lives at risk. With regard to my own experience, I was left with an urgent operational requirement underpinning systems interoperability which was not authorised in time for operations.
– I believe there was endemic underfunding of defence, that the assumptions of the 1998 Strategic Defence Review were completely ignored, and that the Armed Forces were operating at an unsustainable tempo, equipped on an ad-hoc basis, and that this situation persists to this day.

I was sufficiently concerned by the circumstances of the Iraq War, and the lack of political accountability afterwards, to resign my commission in the Royal Air Force through the premature voluntary release procedure, although I made no comments on this motivation at the time of my resignation.

Submission

My role was in the planning of JTIDS/Link 16 networks. JTIDS is the acronym for the Joint Tactical Information Distribution System datalink. Such datalinks allow the real-time encrypted exchange of tactical data, using the UHF band. Capacity within this band is limited so pre-planning is required for all UK and NATO platforms. At the time, these included [various platforms] and a ground-based situational awareness capability for the XXX system which was used to provide situation awareness for the headquarters of the land component formations during Operation TELIC. Networks for Operation TELIC were developed in conjunction with the United States services, in particular the US Navy Center for Tactical Systems Interoperability based in San Diego.

From September 2001 onwards, I was involved in support of planning of UK and US operations in Afghanistan and elsewhere, with the UK codename Operation VERITAS. This support was primarily in ensuring that US designed networks had capacity for UK platforms and that UK platforms were provided with the datasets they required. On one occasion I was tasked with identifying line of sight coverage for potential radar locations in sites being studied for use by XXX, to be used in support of air-air-refuelling in Afghanistan. This activity continued throughout 2001 and 2002, in parallel to other duties including support of NATO meetings, support (and expansion) of networks used in the Iraq no-fly zone (Operation SOUTHERN WATCH) and the roll-out of UK datalink capability, primarily through the reallocation of the JTIDS/Link 16 terminals that had been procured for the Sea Harrier FA/2 (designated URC-138), and also the trials of the Sea King ASACS Mark 7. I also underwent Developed Vetting in 2001, mainly in order to allow closer co-operation with the United States Armed Forces, who had requirements regarding security clearances. I was subsequently cleared for unrestricted access to TOP SECRET protectively-marked material although such access was only employed on two occasions.

In mid-2002 (September) I became aware of secret operational war planning for Iraq, which the Joint Force Air Component Headquarters was running under the codename of XXX. This was strictly need-to-know and I was aware that my superior was involved in the planning. It was in contrast to the support of Operation VERITAS and in other military tasks during my career, which were less highly classified. In theory there was no need to involve myself or my team in core planning, as tasks could flow downwards (as networks themselves were unclassified due to the separate encryption of data) but in practice I was concerned about the prospect of UK platforms being left out of future coalition operational networks. Also, at the time, there were a series of initiatives to bring forward capability to operational platforms including the C-130 Hercules using the URC-138 terminals, as well as ongoing rapid technological developments driven in particular by the United States. Of particular note was the upgrade to the NATO network design software standard which would affect our own network design tool, the Tactical Datalink Network Design System, supplied by XXX.

For myself and my team, there were three main consequences of this activity in mid-to-late 2002. These should be described prior to a narrative recollection of events.

Firstly, I was further security cleared to XXX in order to be ‘read in’ to XXX. The fact of this indoctrination and the associated procedures were, at the time, UK CONFIDENTIAL. In practice I did not require to be ‘read in’ to the operation and this was satisfactory from a “need to know” basis given the security precautions employed. Again, I found this level of secrecy to be unusual, particularly given my experience in other military tasks as, from my
general military knowledge and training (including service as a unit security officer) this level of secrecy was rarely employed or encountered except for extremely sensitive matters such as intelligence, cryptography or strategic nuclear deterrence.

Secondly, I arranged a meeting in San Diego to discuss network capacity with the United States Navy Center for Tactical Systems Interoperability. This meeting involved myself and [RN Liaison], and followed on from an earlier meeting in Norfolk, Virginia, concerned with routine non-operational JTIDS matters. This meeting occurred in late October/early November 2002 and lasted some 2-3 days. The main outcome was that we were able to include capacity for what we called “basic” or “austere” platforms (such as the C-130 and air-air-refuelling tankers) which only required to synchronise in the network to broadcast a Precise Participant Location Identifier (PPLI) to designate their location and “friendly” status. Some other platforms (such as ground units) would simply receive broadcast surveillance “pictures”: one example of this was the broadcast of the Sea King ASACS Mk 7 to a ground unit in support of 3 Commando Brigade operations in the Al Faw peninsula.

Finally, I prepared a case for an Urgent Operational Requirement (UOR) to upgrade the software of the Tactical Network Design Station, the software tool used to design these networks. This was authorised by my superior, and passed up the chain of command.

From November 2002 onwards, I also provided advice to the Tactical Data Links IPT to support the fielding of various equipment types including the C-130, the VC-10 and Tristar platforms, and Royal Navy Type 42 and CVS ships. This involved fit of the URC-138 terminals to the platforms – ironically, the ships and VC-10/Tristars had been fitted with the earlier Class 1 JTIDS/IJMS (Interim Joint Message Specification) terminals during Operation ALLIED FORCE in the Balkans, and these terminals had been removed at the cessation of this operation. This activity was at its most intense in December 2002 and January 2003.

From what I recall, there were staged deployments to the Middle East from February 2003 onwards. My superior officer deployed at around this time and, prior to the commencement of offensive operations on March 19 2003, we had arranged for network data to be supplied to all participating UK platforms, including the short-notice supply of the appropriate cryptographic material to the Royal Navy vessels, and for a system of liaison involving [superior officer] in theatre, myself in the UK to liaise with UK-based headquarters and units as well as the Defence Procurement Agency, and the [Royal Navy colleague] in San Diego liaising with US the network authority. This arrangement was vital to allow dissemination of network changes (which occurred on a number of occasions) to UK Armed Forces platforms, which often required some pre-preparation in the UK or in forward operating bases. The network data was usually sent by unclassified email, including to personal email addresses, even (as I recall on one occasion) briefed over a mobile telephone by myself for manual input into a terminal in theatre. I was in regular contact by email, by satellite telephone and even by mobile telephone to personnel supporting platforms in theatre, particularly where this involved new capabilities, such as the deployment of our [Army colleague] in support of land forces situational awareness. I was also in communications with the Sea King ASACS Mk 7 fleet, and the collision and loss of the aircraft and crews was deeply saddening, as I knew one of the crew members lost. During ongoing liaison and other contacts, I heard of concerns expressed from those I knew in the Middle East and in Cyprus during the prelude to operations regarding shortages of equipment, in particular Nuclear, Biological and Chemical (NBC) individual protective equipment (IPE). This was at odds with the stated “Weapons of Mass Destruction” (WMD) threat which had been so prominent.

As there were ongoing network interoperability and management problems, personnel deployed from the Ministry of Defence, the Defence Procurement Agency and support contractors to carry out system testing and monitoring from main operating bases. To the best of my recollection, these problems were not entirely resolved and were largely integration or management issues, rather than network design issues.

The UOR I had initiated was not delivered until after operations had commenced. In the interim period, we had to modify networks manually without any guaranteed level of validation. This involved opening the network file as a text file and manually overtyping values. This was entirely unsatisfactory and was wholly the result of delayed authorisation of the UOR, although the contractor XXX worked very hard to implement the upgrade once authorised and deserve every credit for their efforts.

During the period from March 2003 to (approximately) June 2003, I was on 24/7 mobile telephone call, and we had arranged a rotational programme whereby we would rotate UK to US to in-theatre support, using myself and my [Royal Navy colleague] to swap between the UK and US in the network planning task, and rotate in a theatre role. However, only one US deployment was required and the rotation through the in-theatre role ended (as I recall) in June 2003.

During mid 2003 I was offered an upgrade to a permanent commission and some latitude in preference for posting. I accepted the permanent commission and requested a posting to XXX was posted at the end of that month [September 2003]. I followed the Hutton Inquiry with great interest and, towards the end of 2003 I submitted my application for Premature Voluntary Release from the Royal Air Force.

Although I did not state this on the exit application (because personnel at my unit were deploying to Iraq) my main motivation for resignation was distrust and anger following the Iraq War, in particular the 2002 claims regarding WMD capabilities, which were found to be non-existent, the legality of the war (which I believe was a fait accompli based on highly secretive pre-war planning) and also the equipment and procurement inadequacies and supplies which were evident in my field and reported more widely in the media.

In conclusion, I trust that the Iraq Inquiry will look at the evidence in light of the recollections of personnel who served at the time when considering the evidence of the principal witnesses, particularly politicians and their advisers who set the political agenda and take the decisions for which the Armed Forces are ultimately responsible

7 comments to this article

  1. John Bone

    on March 11, 2010 at 5:09 pm -

    If the objective had been to enforce compliance with UN resolutions by the threat of the use of force, it would have made sense to give maximum publicity to military preparations to show that the threat of the use of force was real. This would, of course, have to have been accompanied by clarity about when force would be used, and when it wouldn’t. It was Blair’s unwillingness to be clear what he had agreed with Bush, and under exactly what conditions he envisaged using force, that led to the secrecy about preparations.

  2. chris lamb

    on March 14, 2010 at 5:17 pm -

    Would your role, Iain, have given you any insights into what was going on in Northern Iraq from about November 2002 onwards when one of the “coalition of the willing” partner, Turkey, made military inroads into Kurdish held territory with apparent backing from UK and US air forces?

    Were the earliest military incursions not in the final months of 2002?

  3. John Bone

    on March 15, 2010 at 6:20 pm -

    Iain: do you think that the UK could have pulled out of military operations in March 2003? What would have happened if parliament had not voted to support the invasion? Some people might say that the UK was involved in military preparations in 2002 in order to put pressure on Iraq to comply with UN resolutions and then took another decision in March 2003 to actually invade. However it is far from clear to me whether or not the die had been cast 9 months earlier because it would have been difficult to disentangle Uk from US military operations.

  4. Iain Paton

    on March 15, 2010 at 9:39 pm -

    Chris:

    Any Turkish ground invasion into Kurdish Iraq would have been a nightmare from a Coalition perspective, given the intended role of Kurdish fighters in Northern Iraq, fighting Iraqi forces. Turks have been across the border on a few occasions, in operations against the PKK. I’d suspect they would have been encouraged to hold off rather than to attack.

    I didn’t see anything from my role which was more to do with UK/US ops anyway. From this perspective, Northern Iraq was covered by Op NORTHERN WATCH, which provided ‘air policing’ for the northern no-fly zone, based in Turkey. This was a coalition operation (UK/US/Turkey and NATO I think) arising from the no-fly-zone resolutions.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Northern_Watch
    http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/ops/northern_watch.htm
    http://english.aljazeera.net/news/europe/2007/10/200852512222284121.html

  5. Iain Paton

    on March 15, 2010 at 9:54 pm -

    John:

    At some point, it would have been possible for the UK to pull out without delaying the war, but not at that stage, and evidence to Chilcot supports this view.

    The reason is not any essential UK military contribution – the UK’s main value to the US was as a diplomatic fig-leaf and to US domestic public opinion. This does not diminish the achievements and courage of those involved in the operation, but it is a fact that the US could have done it anyway.

    Rumsfeld was half-right when he said the US could go it alone in early March 2003. But, at thet point, the UK was completely embedded into the order of battle, particularly from an air power perspective, with an incredibly complex arrangement of missions and taskings, callsigns, codes, procedures, command and communications etc. It would have taken months to unpick and restitch (my guess…the lack of the Turkey ‘Northern Option’ led to a delay as evidence has shown). Also, as some military commanders have stated, the idea of the UK sitting on the sidelines and picking up the pieces after the Americans had kicked in the door was the worst possible option…. although with hindsight, the aftermath and occupation was a disaster anyway.

    So from a military point of view, the UK could not have simply ducked out of the invasion in March 2003. The whole invasion would have been postponed by six months. This makes the question an entirely political ‘what if’?

    – Would Blair have heeded a ‘No’ vote from Parliament? Constitutionally unthinkable for him not to and prevailing opinion is that he would have resigned.

    – Would this defeat have been dressed up as a ‘give Saddam more time’ decision, with a potential UK/US war later in the year, or would the US have done it alone? I think it would have been a US only effort later in the year.

    This shows how the decision to go to war was delayed until it was too late not to go to war.

  6. John Bone

    on March 16, 2010 at 8:08 am -

    Iain: by what date do you think it was impossible for the UK to militarily withdraw without serious implications for US military planning? Was a decision taken at that time? Do you think that there was a clear step that meant that the UK was integrated, or did it happen imperceptibly?

  7. Iain Paton

    on March 16, 2010 at 8:31 pm -

    I can’t say for certain, but I estimate Christmas 2002. This was when the UORs were authorised and being purchased or fitted at short notice. So, by the time the Treasury released the purse-strings, the preparations were too far gone to simply duck out of the war. There was a flurry of general activity in December anyway, including a Blair interview on BFBS (British Forces Broadcasting Service).

    http://www.number10.gov.uk/Page1741

    I don’t wish to portray myself as anti-war, as I was in the RAF after all, but the misuse of intelligence as propaganda and the misleading of Parliament were unforgivable, and I have the slightly old-fashioned view that war is a nasty business that kills innnocents, own troops and enemies alike, and should be avoided unless absolutely necessary.