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Act now to prepare our nation’s defences

Today, the Defence Committee publishes its report “The Integrated Review, Defence in a Competitive Age and the Defence and Security Industrial Strategy”.

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Increased number of challenges 

The Committee finds that the Ministry of Defence (MOD) faces a number of challenges following decisions made in the Integrated Review:

  • The likelihood of a capability gap, as equipment is retired before its replacement is introduced
  • A reduction in the British Army's heavy armour and mass at a time when tank and artillery are widely prevalent in Ukraine
  • A reliance on not yet tested, let alone proven, technology, to counteract that reduction in equipment and numbers. 

UK Defence must publish a review of timelines and decisions within defence strategy

The report finds that, despite the increasing number of security challenges, the impact of both the Afghan withdrawal and the Russian full-scale invasion of Ukraine are being seemingly dismissed as insignificant and there appears to be no intention to re-visit the conclusions of the documents. UK Defence appears as arrogant and unwilling to learn lessons. 

The Committee also finds that events of the last year, in particular events in Afghanistan and Ukraine, have demonstrated that the Government is unprepared for international crises. 

Capability gaps “no longer palatable” and procurement “track record abysmal” 

The report finds that the capability gaps which the Defence Command Paper saw as acceptable are now no longer palatable. 

The report concludes that the timeline of changes outlined in the Integrated Review and Defence Command Paper must be reviewed as capability gaps leave UK Armed Forces vulnerable. Proposed cuts to personnel numbers are particularly concerning and “perverse”. 

Additionally, the report finds that the MOD’s “track record in large and complex programmes is abysmal”. The Committee recommends that the Government identify those programmes which are critical enablers and ensure there is additional scrutiny of them, in addition to working with international partners on the technologically advanced equipment that the UK Armed Forces require.  

Budget “real terms fall” will “erode the Armed Forces”

The Committee’s welcomes the uplift to the MOD’s budget in 2020 and the four-year budget commitment. However, inflationary pressures and an increase in the scale of threat means that it is no longer enough. 

The Committee is concerned that a real terms fall in sustainment funding (RDEL) up to 2024-25 will erode the Armed Forces’ ability to maintain and train on military equipment. 

The report recommends a further, long-term increase to the budget but the MOD must ensure that money is not wasted.  

Backfilling and overstretch

The Committee is concerned by the tendency to use the UK Armed Forces, while also proposing cuts to troop numbers, as a 'backfill', employed to carry out civilian tasks by Departments which are seemingly unable to respond to crises themselves.

The Committee calls on the MOD to publish annual figures for the assistance provided to other Government Departments and to public authorities, including the number of personnel deployed, the length of deployment, the task they were deployed for, the cost of the task and the renumeration received by the Department. 

Chair's comment

Chair of the Defence Committee, Tobias Ellwood MP, said:

“In these uncertain times, our capabilities and readiness must be ironclad. With open war raging in Europe, widespread economic instability and the catastrophic Afghanistan withdrawal underscoring the Government’s lack of preparedness for international crises, we must be clear-eyed about the challenges ahead.

“Since the publication of the Integrated Review, the Defence Command Paper and the Defence and Security Industrial Strategy, our security and the threats we face have altered dramatically. When facts change on the ground, strategy must change with them.

“Worsening security means that once-tolerable capability gaps leave us seriously vulnerable. Timescales are tight and the Ministry of Defence’s track record of procurement is abysmal. Closing these capability gaps should be a priority for the Ministry of Defence, otherwise we place both personnel and the public at risk.

“Technological innovation has been placed at the heart of procurement. Yet technology is no panacea, and the Committee has serious doubts that an increased reliance on untested – and untried –  technology can compensate for dwindling troop numbers and outmoded equipment.   

“It is clear that now is not the time for personnel cuts or budget shortfalls in our Armed Forces. Promises to increase our defence budget to 3% of GDP are welcome, but inflationary pressures make this a real terms fall. 

“Public trust is easy to lose and hard to earn back. The Government’s disastrous handling of the withdrawal from Afghanistan exposed its lack of preparation for, and inability to respond to, international crises. Working with Parliament and increasing transparency will help rebuild the trust lost over the last year and our report calls for annual updates on the implementation of the Defence Command Paper and the Defence and Security Industrial Strategy.  

“We cannot afford for our Services to become poorer and weaker. We need to spend more, and spend it wisely. We must act now to prepare and consolidate our nation’s defences - anything less would be a denial of reality we face.”

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