Committee of Public Accounts

Press Notice (A) of Session 2002-03, dated 29 April 2003


Mr Edward Leigh MP, Chairman of the Committee of Public Accounts, announced today that the Committee would in future further examine the progress being made by the Ministry of Defence to reduce the risk of death by friendly fire.  The Committee will do this on the basis of a further report by the Comptroller and Auditor General.

As the tragic incidents during the recent Gulf conflict have once again highlighted, one of the most profoundly distressing aspects of war is death by friendly fire.  As the MoD has said, no solution whether procedural or technology-based will ever entirely eliminate the risk of death from friendly fire. Nevertheless, we must still make every effort to minimise the risk as far as we possibly can.

In our recent Report on Combat Identification 1 the Committee of Public Accounts drew attention to the slow progress which the MoD is making to develop ways to minimise the risks of friendly fire. We recommended that the MoD should "increase the tempo of its efforts".

In recent weeks I have questioned the Secretary of State for Defence as to:

  • why the MoD had made such slow progress in developing friendly fire solutions; 2

  • what progress has been made in collecting and analysing information about incidents of misidentification to bring about overall improvements to
    combat identification; 3

  • what steps he is taking to ensure that procedures to prevent friendly fire incidents work effectively in high intensity warfare; 4

  • whether United States vehicles in the Gulf have been fitted with more technologically advanced equipments to help to prevent friendly fire; 5

  • whether sufficient, commensurate resources have been put into dealing with the problem. 6

In response the Secretary of State told me that the MoD is pursuing vigorously the programme of work to improve Combat Identification which it outlined to my Committee last year.  The Comptroller and Auditor General has also said that, as part of his regular programme of follow-up work, he will look in due course at the progress the MoD is making. 

Mr Leigh said today:

"We've all been horrified by the repeated friendly fire incidents during the recent Gulf conflict.  Following my repeated questioning, the Secretary of State for Defence tells me that the MoD is now vigorously pursuing a programme of work to minimise the risks of friendly fire. My Committee plans to follow up this work.  We will be looking to see whether the MoD has pursued potential solutions with the vigour promised."

1  56th Report from the Committee of Public Accounts Ministry 
    of Defence: Combat Identification (HC 759, Session 2001-02)
2  Hansard 26 March cols 300-301
3  Hansard 3 April col 1076
4  Hansard 7 April col 9W
5  Hansard 7 April col 34
6  Hansard 7 April col 34