Select Committee on Defence Fourth Report


1.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. (Paragraph 10)
2.In our report into the Defence White Paper of December 2003 (Delivering Security in a Changing World), we identified two broad areas of potential risk from the MoD's policy analysis: a lack of resilience in the face of changing operational demands and too narrow a focus on the range of operational demands which the Armed Forces of the future may face. In this report we intend to look more closely at how the Future Capabilities proposals have addressed those areas of risk. (Paragraph 21)
3.MoD must press ahead with the full implementation of its plans to re-invigorate the Smart Procurement initiative, which it continues to maintain will deliver equipment projects to time and cost. Only if these plans are successful will it be able to exploit the forecast savings from reductions in existing equipment. MoD must also ensure that its efficiency programme delivers its targets as useable additional funding. Those funds will be needed to deliver the ambitious programme of transformation set out in Future Capabilities within the proposed timescales. (Paragraph 33)
4.Service accommodation across the defence estate is too frequently of a poor standard. Although the Future Capabilities proposals focus on operational needs, MoD must not lose sight of the necessity to find funds to bring accommodation for all service personnel up to an acceptable modern standard. We recommend that MoD commits itself to a clear timetable within which the necessary improvements will be made. (Paragraph 36)
5.None of the four naval standing commitments in the Atlantic Ocean and east of Suez is a Cold War legacy undertaken on behalf of NATO. It is hard to see which could easily be dropped. Since the decision on which it is to be has not yet been made, it appears that the Government has decided that a specific number of commitments can be cut, without knowing which they will be. But ships are already being withdrawn. The commitments cannot be sustained if the ships are not available. We recommend that MoD announces a timetable for the decision and for withdrawal from the chosen commitments. (Paragraph 44)
6.We welcome the announcement of the Physical Integrator for the Future Aircraft Carrier as an indication that progress is being made with the procurement strategy for the future carriers. We emphasise again the importance of de-risking the project ahead of final contracts being signed. But it is equally important, particularly where the contractual arrangements are as complicated as in this case, that the responsibilities for the various elements of the programme are clearly defined and allocated. (Paragraph 56)
7.There is little evidence in Future Capabilities that MoD has factored the risks of attrition into its calculations for a number of key future equipment programmes, particularly in the maritime environment. (Paragraph 61)
8.We believe that Admiral West's concerns about the availability of the SSN fleet must be addressed. If there is a risk of further delays to the bringing into operational service of the Astute submarines, serious consideration should be given to postponing the withdrawal from service of HMS Superb and Trafalgar. (Paragraph 63)
9.There are compelling arguments for ending the arms plot and we strongly endorse and welcome the decision to do so. There are, however, a number of issues relating to the practical implementation of the decision which have not yet been resolved. It is incumbent on MoD and the Army Board to provide answers to these as soon as possible. Additionally further information is required on the means by which career soldiers in two and three battalion regiments will be given a breadth of experience comparable to that they could have expected under the arms plot. (Paragraph 74)
10.We believe that it would have been helpful, both for our inquiry and for wider reassurance of the fairness of the decision-making process, if MoD had been prepared to publish not only the raw manning and recruitment statistics for individual infantry battalions but also its own analysis of those statistics. (Paragraph 76)
11.The infantry was subject to two separate processes: the first to determine the details of the restructuring of the regiments and the second to decide on where the reduction of four infantry battalions would fall. In practice these two processes were conducted together. The Secretary of State announced both the proposed new structure for the infantry and the decisions on battalion reductions at the same time. Much public commentary has also combined these two processes, but they are distinct and the arguments for each are quite different. (Paragraph 80)
12.We regret that the Secretary of State has refused to publish the minutes of the Army Board's deliberations on the future Army structure. A more open approach, which might have demonstrated that the Army Board had arrived at its recommendations on the basis of sound and objective arguments, would have reaped significant benefits in terms of support from serving and retired members of the Army for the proposals overall. (Paragraph 81)
13.We are concerned that if the size of the Army is only just enough to man the proposed force structure a similar lack of resilience, to that experienced in the Army in the past, may be experienced in the future. (Paragraph 85)
14.If since 1998 the strains have principally been felt among the supporting elements, in the future they may be more apparent in front line units. We remain concerned that the current emphasis on expeditionary operations, on what we termed in our earlier report 'the projection of force,' risks undervaluing the continuing need to be able to deploy a presence of significant numbers of 'boots on the ground'. We have also previously expressed our concern that MoD is giving insufficient priority to the role which the Armed Forces may in the future be called upon to fulfil in respect of defence of the homeland. MoD's emphasis is on an expeditionary strategy under which the threat from international terrorism is 'dealt with at source'. (Paragraph 86)
15.We conclude that many front line units in the Army have for some years been experiencing an operational and training cycle whose intensity is unsustainable over the longer term. We are not convinced that MoD's statement of average tour intervals is an accurate or fair reflection of the strain on particular units or on individuals. The strengthening of support elements proposed in Future Capabilities is welcome and deserved, but we are concerned that that strengthening has been achieved at the expense of the total establishment of the infantry. (Paragraph 90)
16.We regret that disputes over the outcome of the restructuring of the infantry seem to have been fomented by the perceived lack of transparency in the Army Board's deliberations and decision-making processes. (Paragraph 93)
17.We urge the Army Board to bring forward recommendations on measures to maintain the 'golden thread' of regimental heritage, as soon as possible. The identity of individual regiments is derived from more than just cap badges. It depends rather on a complex fabric of related elements. As well as the range of local links and the matter of accoutrements, these include issues such as museums, recruitment and the siting of headquarters. How these are to be preserved is still unclear, but that preservation will be central to the successful implementation of the future infantry structure. (Paragraph 95)
18.We recommend that MoD sets out its proposals for the long term military commitment in Cyprus, including the purpose of that commitment and the force levels required to sustain it, in its response to this report. (Paragraph 99)
19.The increase in military capability, derived from the whole package of proposals for the future army structure, will be delivered as much by the reinvestment of the lost infantry posts into more robust unit establishments and 'hard-pressed pinch point areas' as by the ending of the arms plot. (Paragraph 103)
20.We support the Secretary of State's proposals for retaining Challenger tanks following the re-roling of the brigades. The combination of the unpredictability of future military operations and the proven value of the Challenger 2 would, in our view, make any decision to dispose permanently of a significant number of them, before the introduction of an effective and proven medium weight capability, foolhardy. (Paragraph 110)
21.We conclude that the decision to re-role one armoured brigade to medium (and the consequential re-roling of a medium brigade to light) is consistent with the experience of recent operations and the assessment of the future security environment in Delivering Security, but that assessment also identified the requirement for a medium weight capability. We are concerned that even the initial delivery of the equipment to provide that medium weight capability (ie FRES)will not take place for some years after the re-roling of the brigades. (Paragraph 112)
22.If FRES encounters significant further difficulties or delays the Army will have no choice but to acquire new, currently available, vehicles to replace the existing out-dated and increasingly unserviceable fleet. (Paragraph 114)
23.If, as now seems the case, MoD is content to pay off the Jaguars two years before their replacement, because upgrades to the Tornado F3 and Harrier (including the Storm Shadow, Brimstone and Maverick missile systems) have considerably enhanced their capability, is a new aircraft to replace the Jaguars necessary? (Paragraph 122)
24.The capabilities of the Typhoon will be fully demonstrated as it begins to enter service and as, at some point, it sees operational action. If, however, it delivers its advertised capabilities, it will clearly represent a very significant increase in the firepower available to the RAF. (Paragraph 123)
25.We note that 'substantial progress' has been made to identify ways of reducing the weight of the STOVL variant of the Joint Strike Fighter, but that has been at the expense of a two year delay to the programme. And it seems that there may well be further delays. (Paragraph 129)
26.We recommend that MoD sets out in its reply to this report when it now expects the first JSF-equipped future carrier to be operational. (Paragraph 130)
27.We welcome the announcement in Future Capabilities that the four currently leased C-17s and a fifth will be purchased. (Paragraph 131)
28.Air to air refuelling (AAR) is an essential enabler to extend the range and endurance on station of combat aircraft in attack and defence and is already in short supply in coalition operations. Carrier based expeditionary operations will be severely constrained without access to AAR. We are encouraged that a decision on the Preferred Bidder for FSTA has finally been taken, but we are concerned at the amount of work which still remains to be done before a final decision to proceed will be taken. (Paragraph 133)
29.We are concerned that the significant reductions in RAF manning in the short term ignore a predictable increased requirement in the medium to longer term, with the effect that a short term gain may undermine longer term resilience. (Paragraph 137)
30.We are concerned that the recognition in Future Capabilities of the operational value of helicopters does not seem to be matched by the priority or urgency which MoD gives to their future procurement plans. (Paragraph 143)
31.We welcome the commitment of MoD and the Armed Forces to the successful introduction of Bowman. Recent operational experience has demonstrated the Army's need for a modern communications system. If MoD's ambitions for Network Enabled Capability are to realised, the effective and timely introduction of the programmes which will support NEC is essential. (Paragraph 149)
32.Despite the efforts made to move to a more joint procurement process, the principal items of network enabling equipment due to become available in the next few years still seem to bear the hallmarks of single Service procurement. We recommend that MoD sets out in its response to this report how it plans to move from the connectivity of communication and surveillance programmes to their integration by 2015. (Paragraph 150)
33.If MoD is to exploit NEC both as a central element in the transformation of the Armed Forces and as a contribution to its strategic objective of bringing 'real weight' to large scale US-led operations, it will need not only to ensure that adequate resources continue to be devoted to it but also to develop a coherent and joint doctrinal framework, compatible with that of the United States, without which it will not be possible to realise the benefits of fully integrated NEC. (Paragraph 152)
34.The end-to-end logistics review identified a range of major changes with the aim of improving logistic effectiveness and securing substantial efficiency gains. Although MoD appears to be making progress in implementing the review, we note that future improvements will be dependent on the continuing achievement of efficiency targets. We recommend that MoD sets out a timetable for the full implementation of the review. (Paragraph 157)
35.We note that there are a range of programmes and initiatives in the logistics area which are expected to deliver substantial efficiency savings. However, we are concerned that only some of these will be re-invested in logistics and to hear that 'life in the logistics area will not get easier'. We have previously noted that the measures to strengthen logistic support for land forces, by providing additional personnel, are to be resourced by reductions in infantry numbers. Given the crucial role of logistics and the shortcomings noted in recent operations, we are concerned that MoD is continuing to resource the total logistics effort in a piecemeal rather than a holistic manner. (Paragraph 162)
36.We find it surprising, given the substantial investment to create a state-of-the-art aircraft repair facility at DARA St Athan, that MoD has announced that support of Tornado GR4 aircraft will be moved to the Main Operating Base at RAF Marham. We expect MoD to work closely with all interested parties to ensure that DARA St Athan has a future and we expect MoD to keep this Committee informed of the current study reviewing the strategic options for the future of DARA St Athan. (Paragraph 179)
37.We are aware that the revision and concentration of Tornado maintenance in the RAF was driven by a need to reduce both costs and manpower, as well as to improve procedural efficiency. If these drivers are not to have an adverse impact on operational effectiveness, the new arrangements at RAF Marham will need to match, if not exceed, the high standards set by the skilled workers at DARA St Athan. We expect MoD to monitor this closely. (Paragraph 180)
38.We find it of real concern that if problems are experienced at RAF Marham, MoD may be dependent upon the original manufacturer of the aircraft to undertake repairs. One of the reasons why DARA was created in the first place was to provide 'assured access to repair capabilities and a capacity for surge workloads in times of crisis'. It is not apparent how the proposed arrangements at RAF Marham will meet this requirement. (Paragraph 181)
39.A key logistics lesson identified from Operation Telic was the need for a robust system to track equipment and stocks both into and within theatre. MoD is now investing in a system to deliver an 'in-transit visibility system to help us from the deployed location to the front-line'. However, it is disappointing that MoD could not assure us that such a system would be fully functioning by 2007. We look to MoD to set out a clear timetable for the early introduction of the system, and to ensure that the required number of personnel with the appropriate training are available to operate the asset tracking system. (Paragraph 187)
40.We support MoD's determination to maintain a strong defence relationship with the United States. We note the assumption that the most complex large scale operations will only be conducted as part of a US-led coalition. It will be important to ensure that the Armed Forces's commitment to maintaining a capability for large scale operations is strengthened by this assumption. (Paragraph 193)
41.We are encouraged by the progress NATO has made since the 2002 Prague Summit. We welcome the declaration of Initial Operating Capability of the NATO Response Force. We note the Secretary of State's belief that in some areas NATO is still wedded to Cold War structures and tasks. We recommend that the Government makes the pursuit of continuing NATO transformation a key priority. (Paragraph 204)
42.Whatever the UN's perceived shortcomings in recent years it is in the UK's interests to promote its reform in line with the recommendations of the High Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change. MoD must play its part in that effort. (Paragraph 209)
43.Historically the Armed Forces have had difficulty recruiting to their full manning levels. Failure to do so in the future could seriously undermine the sustainability of the force structure set out in Future Capabilities. The MoD needs to recognise that, under its proposals, there will be very little, if any, fat left in Armed Forces manning figures. Full recruitment will be a necessity rather than an aspiration. (Paragraph 218)
44.The Future Capabilities proposals have been driven by a particular vision of future operational requirements. It may take another decade before the capabilities to deliver those requirements are in place. In the meantime equipment withdrawals and personnel reductions may leave gaps in capability. Those gaps, in turn, may create risks. Some of those risks, in our view, need not have been taken. (Paragraph 219)
45.  The longer term vision is for an expeditionary, high-intensity and network-enabled package of forces, capable of contributing 'real weight' and thus influence to US-led operations. Its achievement depends on the timely delivery of a range of new and sometimes unproven equipment programmes. We believe that that vision takes a somewhat narrow perspective on the range of demands which our Armed Forces might be expected to meet in the future. The decision to commit the Armed Forces to the realisation of that vision is a demonstration of the Government's confidence in the enduring relevance of the analysis of the future international security environment in Delivering Security. (Paragraph 220)

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