The Future Capabilities statement
4. On 21 July 2004 the Secretary of State made a
statement in the House of Commons setting out a series of proposals
for restructuring and equipping the Armed Forces to enable them
to meet the policy priorities identified in Delivering Security.
The proposals were also published in an accompanying White Paper,
Delivering Security in a Changing World: Future Capabilities
(subsequently referred to as Future Capabilities).
5. These proposals have excited substantial interest
and debate. By choosing to divorce the policy proposals from their
force structure and equipment consequences the Government put
itself on the back foot in the debate that followed the Future
Capabilities announcement. As a consequence that debate has focussed
overwhelmingly on the reductions in manpower, reduced platform
numbers and delays to some equipment programmes rather than on
how to reshape the UK's Armed Forces for the tasks they are most
likely to face in the new security environment. We concluded in
our report on Delivering Security that a proper assessment
of the Government's proposals required that both the policy analysis
and the practical decisions flowing from that analysis be considered
together. In this report that is what we have tried to do.
6. In broad terms the Future Capabilities proposals
contained the following three elements:
- The paying-off or withdrawing
from service earlier than previously announced of equipment no
- Confirmation, with or without amendment, of existing
- Rebalancing of forces in each of the Services
(a) to meet the security challenges identified in the analysis
and (b) to reflect decisions on equipment.
No new equipment programmes were announced. Although
the amendments to existing programmes overwhelmingly represented
reductions compared to previous plans, the purchase of the currently
leased C-17 transport aircraft (plus one additional aircraft)
was announced as were unspecified enhancements to Special Forces.
7. It is a paradox of the Future Capabilities proposals
that, at a time of year-on-year real terms increases in the defence
budget, they are dominated by reductions in equipment and personnel.
And those reductions do not take place in an environment of acknowledged
over-provision (save in certain very specific areas), but rather
at a time when the Armed Forces, at least in their conversations
with us, claim to be operationally stretched and physically under-resourced.
We return to this issue below.
8. The implementation of the proposals, again in
broad terms, will, according to Future Capabilities, take
place in two stages. Firstly over the short to medium term (roughly
the next two or three years) the equipment that is no-longer required
is planned to be withdrawn and the principal changes to force
structures will be introduced. Secondly over the longer term (from
around the end of the decade) major items of new equipment, delivering
enhanced capabilities across all three Services, are planned to
9. This picture considerably over-simplifies the
product of a very large number of often inter-related decisions.
Typhoon for example is expected to have an initial operational
capability (albeit in its air defence role) before the end of
the decade. Nonetheless
it illustrates an important assumption under-pinning the proposals,
that recent technological advances coupled with a perceived reduction
in a number of conventional threats allow reductions in capability
now. According to MoD, some military tasks have become less important
(eg NATO commitments which were determined by the Cold War), others
may require less effort (eg anti-submarine warfare) and others
can now be performed by fewer better equipped forces (eg air defence
of deployed forces).
10. But neither Delivering Security nor Future
Capabilities itself concluded that there is likely to be a
significant increase in the overall threat in the foreseeable
future. Against that level background all three Services will
see a step change in military capability, between roughly 2010
and 2020, with the introduction of major equipment improvements,
such as the Type 45 Destroyers, the new Carriers and the Joint
Strike Fighter, the Astute class submarines and the FRES medium
weight land capability. As we have previously stated, we agree
with much of the policy analysis in Delivering Security.
We welcome the Government's commitment to modernising the Armed
Forces and to equipping them to face the security challenges of
the future. Inevitably much of the analysis in this report focuses
on areas where we still have concerns or questions.
11. As we anticipated in our report on Delivering
Security, the statement on future capabilities filled out
the detail of that white paper's policy proposals. It contained
the most important set of decisions on the organisation and equipping
of the Armed Forces since the SDR. Recognising this we immediately
launched this inquiry into the proposals.
12. We began by taking evidence from the Secretary
of State, the Chief of the Defence Staff and the Permanent Secretary
at the MoD in September 2004. We then held evidence sessions with
each of the three Service Chiefs in turn. Central to the proposals
is a focus on increasing deployability by strengthening support
capabilities, including crucially logistic support. We therefore
also took evidence from the Chief of Defence Logistics.
13. In a statement to the House of Commons on 16
December 2004, the Secretary of State announced further decisions
about the future structure of the Army. In particular he set out
how the previously announced reductions in the number of infantry
battalions and the parallel move to larger regiments of two or
more battalions would be implemented. In the light of this announcement
we held a final evidence session with the Secretary of State and
the Chief of the General Staff in January 2005. We are grateful
to all those who gave evidence to us and also to those who took
the trouble to write to us during the course of this inquiry.
14. We have discussed the Future Capabilities proposals
with a wide range of service personnel of all ranks whom we have
met on various visits both within the UK and abroad since July
2004. In particular we visited Iraq in December 2004, Cyprus in
January 2005 and Northern Ireland also in January 2005.
15. We are also grateful for the assistance of our
Specialist Advisers, Mr Paul Beaver, Professor Michael Clarke,
Rear Admiral Richard Cobbold, Air Vice Marshal Professor Tony
Mason, and Brigadier Austin Thorp.
1 Cm 5566-I, Introduction Back
Cm 6041 Back
A New Chapter to the Strategic Defence Review, Sixth Report of
Session 2002-03, HC 93, and Defence White Paper 2003, Fifth Report
of Session 2003-04, HC 465 Back
HC (2003-04) 465-I, paras 34 and 35 Back
Lessons of Iraq, Third Report of Session 2003-04, HC 57 Back
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