Select Committee on Defence Thirteenth Report


83. Our visit to Iraq gave us an opportunity to see for ourselves the work of the UK Armed Forces and the difficult conditions in which they operate. Our admiration for the courage and dedication of our troops was enhanced by what we saw on the ground. We are conscious that we saw only a fraction of the tasks undertaken by our Service personnel, and that our exposure to the environment and challenges in which they work was fleeting.

84. Our visit gave us some insight into the new challenges which UK Service personnel are facing in supporting post-conflict governments as they seek to build their democratic institutions, specifically those relating to security. The role they are playing in peace making and peace building is as challenging as anything they face in more traditional war fighting roles. They of course build on long years of deployments in Northern Ireland. To fulfil this role fully and effectively, and indeed to meet the duty of care for their security, procurement of the equipment they must become smarter and more flexible in response to emerging requirements.

85. This report has focused on the issues raised with us during our visit, many of which require urgent action by the MoD. Some of these issues raise important questions about the MoD's broader policy and priorities.

86. Some of the difficulties currently experienced by our Services in Iraq stem from deficiencies in equipment. Our predecessor Committee published a report into the Future Capabilities White Paper in March 2005. That report highlighted the concern that:

    Across the Services equipment is being withdrawn over the next two to three years, but new (and significantly more capable) equipment in the same areas will not enter operational service until after 2010…We are concerned that these programmes may be delayed or may fail to deliver the full range of planned capabilities. Other important requirements (eg for new helicopters) seem still to be some way from crystallising into specific programmes.[56]

87. Over recent years, the MoD has been quick to implement changes that produce savings but it does not appear to have addressed the growing number of capability gaps with the same or sufficient urgency. Long-term procurement projects are failing to deliver mission-critical capabilities on time. Capability gaps are opening up and these need to be met by the MoD as a matter of urgency, even if that means opting for interim solutions. This may well require more money—not just a reshuffling of priorities. We intend to return to this issue when we take evidence from the Chief of Defence Procurement in October.

88. The Defence Industrial Strategy seeks to make a quantum difference to procurement on time and to cost. Given the tasks which our Armed Service personnel now face, it is vital that it should succeed. However, the DIS will take some time to deliver the capabilities required.

89. The issues raised in this report give rise to a fundamental question: are our Armed Forces structured, trained and equipped to fulfil the role envisaged for them in the Strategic Defence Review and its successor policy documents? This is a question of very great importance, going to the heart of the Government's defence policy. We believe this question needs to be addressed: we will return to it.

56   Defence Committee, Fourth Report of Session 2004-05, Future Capabilities, HC 45-I, p 3. Back

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