Readiness and recuperation of the Armed Forces: looking towards the Strategic Defence Review - Defence Committee Contents

Conclusions and recommendations

1.  We are grateful to the MoD for its co-operation in allowing most of the evidence taken in private on the readiness of the Armed Forces to be publicly released. (Paragraph 8)


2.  We recognise that the Armed Forces have for some time been operating above Defence Planning Assumptions. We consider it unsatisfactory that readiness levels have been allowed to fall to the extent that they have. There are encouraging signs that readiness has improved since the withdrawal from Iraq. But the Strategic Defence Review will have to determine how the readiness of the Armed Forces should be balanced with the importance of maintaining a broad range of defence capabilities which are appropriately resourced. (Paragraph 16)

3.  The Strategic Defence Review must address the procurement, capabilities and personnel issues, including harmony guidelines, arising from the resources which the Navy has been contributing to operations in Afghanistan. In particular, the Strategic Defence Review must determine whether further delays to procurement of essential equipment for the Royal Navy, such as the Future Surface Combatant, can be justified and whether the recent improvement in recruitment and retention should be used to reduce the level of undermanning in pinch point trades. Furthermore, consideration must be given as to whether the number of Royal Navy commitments should be reduced. (Paragraph 23)

4.  The Army has been working at full stretch. If readiness is to be improved, then the Army must return to being deployed within harmony guidelines as soon as practicable. (Paragraph 31)

5.  We are aware that the MoD was unable to bring back the Harrier fleet and replace it with the Tornado as originally planned because of problems with the apron and the runway at Kandahar. We are pleased to see that this issue has been resolved and that the Harrier force has been returned to the UK. We expect the MoD to use the opportunity presented by the return of the Harrier Force to return to training the required number of pilots to fly off the carriers. (Paragraph 34)

6.  The MoD should, both in advance of and through the Strategic Defence Review, focus on regaining balance in the RAF, reducing the pressures on pinch point trades and reinstating essential training and exercises. (Paragraph 36)

7.  We fully support the policy of offering continued productive employment to those injured on operations who wish to continue their careers in the Armed Forces. Whilst the MoD is content to fund continued employment and the cost of replacing those injured and killed on active service, we consider that it should apply for support from the Reserve as the number of personnel so employed increases and the costs of training replacements rise. We further call upon the MoD to ensure that all those injured while on operations have a real choice, after an appropriate period of rehabilitation, as to whether to remain with the Armed Forces or to seek employment elsewhere. We also recommend that, as part of its consideration of the size and structure of the Army, the MoD factors in an increase in the required size of the Army to enable continued employment of injured personnel without diminishing the capability of the Army to conduct operations within harmony guidelines. (Paragraph 39)

8.  The MoD was unable to tell us how long it would take before the Armed Forces return to satisfactory levels of readiness. As we expect the MoD to have now further developed its recuperation planning, we invite the MoD, in response to this Report, to show us the expected trajectory for improvements in the readiness of the Armed Forces and the point at which it believes readiness levels will be satisfactory. We recommend that the new methodology and system adopted for the reporting of readiness should provide the same level of transparency and accountability to Parliament and the public as obtained in the past. (Paragraph 42)

The Strategic Defence Review

9.  Defence Planning Assumptions are planning guidelines in support of force generation work. Nevertheless, since they form an important part of the calculations leading to the structuring and resourcing of the Armed Forces, we are concerned that they have become so out of step with what has been happening in reality. The MoD should review the Defence Planning Assumptions as part of the Strategic Defence Review This will provide the opportunity to review the utility and definitions of the Defence Planning Assumptions and of readiness in the light of current and continuing high level of sustained deployment. It should also look again at whether operations in Afghanistan should be treated as a standing task or at least whether account should be taken of the existence of enduring contingent commitments and the need to factor these into defence planning. (Paragraph 50)

10.  We understand that the MoD wishes to analyse the issues concerning the size of the Army thoroughly and in depth—and to await the Strategic Defence Review—before making decisions about the configuration of the Army. However, given the high tempo of operations over the last eight years, it is not surprising that some senior Army officers think that there needs to be a bigger Army. This could limit the extent to which harmony guidelines are broken and permit the deployment of more complete units on current operations. It would also ensure that the Army was able to meet its future tasks and commitments. (Paragraph 56)

11.  The MoD is now delaying much of the work promised to us in its earlier evidence sessions until after the Strategic Defence Review. We accept that many areas such as decisions concerning the future size and structure of the Armed Forces will now await the Strategic Defence Review. However, we see no reason why the MoD cannot provide us with the current Defence Strategic Guidance and related material on national security. The MoD should provide us with the results of its current work on the future size and structure of the Armed Forces. (Paragraph 57)

12.  It is vital that the Strategic Defence Review is set in the context of a coherent UK Strategy, reflecting long-term strategic interests, encompassing UK foreign policy and the National Security Strategy. The Review needs to take full account of the MoD's relationships with other relevant Government Departments such as the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Department for International Development and the Home Office. (Paragraph 61)

13.  The Strategic Defence Review needs to cover the use of the Comprehensive Approach including the need for an augmented capability to promote stabilisation and post-conflict reconstruction. In this area, it will have to encompass the role of the Stabilisation Unit and relationships with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department for International Development. (Paragraph 62)

14.  The next Government will have to accept the financial realities of the day, but we must warn against the risk that an early stringency budget might prejudge the outcome of the Strategic Defence Review. If the Review concluded that the country faced a particular significant threat, the Government would look foolish if only a few months earlier it had rendered itself less capable of dealing with it. It is easy to lose sight of the fact that one of the core businesses of Government is the defence of the country and of national interests, and that is every bit as true during difficult financial times as during more settled ones. The thinking of easier times (when public spending on health, education and social security was increased by much more than that on defence) must not be allowed to continue into these troubled times. The defence of our country must be maintained whatever the circumstances. (Paragraph 63)


15.  We agree that there needs to be a wider sharing of the burden in Afghanistan amongst NATO Member States, and we support the Prime Minister's efforts to achieve this. We are, however, concerned that any significant increase in the size of the UK's forces in Afghanistan, or any new operation, will destabilise the MoD's efforts to recuperate the Armed Forces. The MoD should estimate the impact of sending additional personnel to Afghanistan on both readiness levels and recuperation plans. It should identify ways to minimise such impact such that any increase in the tasks demanded from our Armed Forces does not undermine the planned programme of recuperation. (Paragraph 69)

16.  As the drawdown from Iraq is now complete, the MoD should provide us with a detailed breakdown of the estimated costs of the drawdown from Iraq. (Paragraph 74)

17.  The MoD needs to plan the recuperation of the Armed Forces taking note of the lessons learned from operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, and drawing fully on the nature of past operations and the views of senior commanders. This planning needs to be done as part of the Strategic Defence Review which will identify future threats and propose a structure for the Armed Forces to face those threats. (Paragraph 79)

18.  The MoD has now reached agreement with the Treasury as to some £300 million funding for the first stage of recuperation which will provide readiness for a small-scale operation. Whilst recognising the need to determine appropriate force structures before committing significant expenditure towards recuperation, it is worrying that the MoD has plans to recuperate only to readiness for a small-scale operation within a five year period. It is as yet unclear as to the provision of funding for the remaining levels of recuperation nor when this will be decided. Recuperation that is required as a direct result of operations should be funded by the Treasury on the same basis that the operations themselves are. (Paragraph 82)

19.  As the MoD made clear to us, recuperation could be derailed very easily by any additional commitment of Armed Forces personnel. We add that it could also be seriously affected by financial decisions designed to reduce the budget deficit. It is worrying that the timetable for recuperation has already slipped to accommodate the Strategic Defence Review. (Paragraph 85)

20.  We recognise that the MoD is conscious of the need to tackle problems with retention and recruitment in pinch point trades. However, we are very concerned at the extent and range of operational pinch point trades—in particular, those in the operational medical service where the Armed Forces are already very dependent on the use of Reserve Forces. The MoD should, as a matter of priority, identify solutions to the shortages of emergency medical personnel and ensure that such shortages do not hamper recuperation targets. (Paragraph 87)

21.  The MoD recognises the impact of breaking harmony guidelines on Armed Forces personnel and their families. However, we sense that the work so far on recuperation has focused on equipment and sustainability. We expect to see the recuperation of personnel put at the forefront of future planning for recuperation and likewise to see improvements in the achievement of harmony guidelines, especially for those sections of the Armed Forces most severely affected to date. The MoD should update us regularly with information about improvements made in returning to deploying Service personnel within harmony guidelines. (Paragraph 88)

22.  It is predictable, given the high tempo of operations, that non-theatre specific training would suffer. These gaps in training have resulted in falls in readiness levels and certain capability gaps, for example, in the training of fast jet pilots to fly off carriers. The MoD has acknowledged that there are difficulties with providing training on equipment procured under the UOR process. Notwithstanding both the Secretary of State's recent announcement on reducing training for the Army and the forthcoming Strategic Defence Review, the MoD should make training for those capabilities which have not been exercised in recent or current operations a priority for recuperation. We expect to see detailed plans for such training reflected in the further recuperation directives likely to be produced after the Strategic Defence Review. (Paragraph 92)

23.  The UOR process has produced some very capable equipment, most of which is not so theatre-specific that it would not be useful elsewhere. The MoD should make value for money decisions about which UORs to incorporate into core equipment and should not be overly influenced by short-term funding difficulties. Recuperation plans should address the problems of managing fleets within fleets. (Paragraph 94)

24.  The practice of cannibalisation is inefficient and poor value for money. The MoD should make strenuous efforts to stop the practice. (Paragraph 95)

25.  We recommend that the MoD should determine a timetable for the recuperation of necessary missiles. (Paragraph 96)

26.  Despite assurances, we remain concerned that the additional work needed for the recuperation programme as well as the continuing UOR programme will put pressure on DE&S. The MoD should ensure that DE&S has sufficient and appropriate staff so that the work on recuperation will not adversely affect the equipment programme. (Paragraph 99)

27.  We welcome the Strategic Defence Review which is expected to follow in the next Parliament. However, it should not be solely a defence concern and it needs to be set in the context of a UK Strategy, reflecting long-term strategic interests, encompassing the National Security Strategy and UK foreign policy, involving other Government Departments as appropriate. The Review should take account of the current readiness levels of the Armed Forces and the need for their effective recuperation. It provides the opportunity for the utility and definitions of Defence Planning Assumptions and of readiness to be reviewed in the light of the current high level of sustained deployment. The Review should also codify the use of the Comprehensive Approach and propose an augmented capability to promote stabilisation and post-conflict reconstruction. We would expect our successor Committee to take an active interest in the progress of that Review. (Paragraph 100)

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Prepared 10 February 2010