The UK’s plan to arm its military has failed to adapt to a more dangerous world following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the government risks being unable to meet vital NATO commitments, an influential group of MPs has warned.
In a damning assessment of the Military of Defence’s (MoD’s) ability to purchase equipment, the Public Accounts Committee said it had “serious doubts” that a rolling, 10-year procurement plan is “agile and responsive enough to react to this more dangerous international situation”.
It called the whole system overseen by Defence Equipment and Support – the branch of the MoD charged with procuring kit – “broken”.
The MPs questioned an “optimism bias” behind the £242.3bn equipment budget for 2022-2032 given the impact of rising inflation and unfavourable exchange rates.
Much of the UK’s military gear is bought from the United States.
In addition, balancing the sums in the equipment plan requires the MoD to meet an ambition to make efficiency savings worth £13.8bn over the coming decade, even though it has not yet set out how it will achieve £5bn of the total.
Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, deputy chair of the committee said: “If the MoD does not act swiftly to address the fragility of its supply chain, replenish its stocks, and modernise its capabilities, the UK may struggle to maintain its essential contribution to NATO.
He added: “Neither taxpayers nor our armed forces are being served well. There needs to be meaningful change of this broken system. The department needs to break from this cycle of costly delay and failure and deliver a fundamental, root and branch reform of defence procurement.”
MoD’s equipment plan ‘failed’ to adapt to volatile world
Another problem, again caused by inflation, is the impact on the government’s ability to retain defence staff, particularly in high-skilled areas such as technology, given the value of public-sector salaries is being eroded. This makes private sector careers more alluring.
The MPs drew on an assessment by the National Audit Office – the government’s spending watchdog – as well as evidence from senior officials within defence to deliver their verdict in an annual report on defence’s vast plan to buy equipment, from warships and jets to computer chips and codes.
“The Ministry of Defence’s approach to its equipment plan has failed to adapt to a more volatile world,” the committee said.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine a year ago triggered a refresh of the UK’s defence, security and foreign policy.
“However, we have serious doubts about whether the department’s equipment plan process is agile and responsive enough to react to this more dangerous international situation,” the report said.
“We are concerned that the department lacks the urgency required to develop and deliver promptly the enhanced capabilities that the armed forces need.”
This includes the rapid purchase of more ammunition and weapons to replenish stockpiles that have been given by the UK to the Ukrainian armed forces in support of their fight against Russia as well as to grow the UK’s own stockpiles.
Capability gaps in the army were focused on in particular, such as delays to the delivery of new, multi-billion-pound armoured vehicles, such as the Ajax mini-tank and also critically important communications gear that is meant to be fitted to all the kit.
This impacts the UK’s ability to deploy force, particularly in support of NATO allies.
Sky News revealed earlier this year that a senior US general privately told Ben Wallace, the defence secretary, that the British Army is no longer regarded as a to level or tier one fighting force.
Mr Wallace, the longest-serving Conservative defence secretary, has already admitted that the UK has not been able to field a war-fighting division for many years.
The provision of a division – of up to 25,000 troops – is something NATO allies have looked to the UK and other powerful member states to be able to deliver in a crisis as part of the alliance’s collective defence and security.
Equipment plan out of date given Ukraine war
A summit in Lithuania in July will see allies finalise updated commitments to bolster NATO’s defences and deter Russian aggression as Russia’s war in Ukraine rages on.
The Public Accounts Committee said the MoD’s current equipment plan is already out of date given the Ukraine war.
“Equipment arrives into service many years late and significantly over-budget, with depressing regularity,” the MPs said.
“Neither taxpayers nor our Armed Forces are being served well. There needs to be meaningful change of this broken system. The Department needs to break from this cycle of costly delay and failure and deliver a fundamental, root and branch reform of defence procurement once and for all.”