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

1  Introduction


1. The Defence Committee conducted the bulk of its inquiry into readiness and recuperation of the Armed Forces in the first half of 2009. We had intended to publish our Report before the Summer recess. However, on 7 July 2009, the Secretary of State announced the start of a process enabling a Strategic Defence Review to take place early in the next Parliament, preceded by a Green Paper in early 2010. As many of the issues of importance to the readiness and recuperation inquiry will also be of crucial importance to the Strategic Defence Review, we decided to delay our Report and take further evidence on the Green Paper process and on the latest position on readiness and recuperation. Because of the length of time between the start of the inquiry and the production of this Report, inevitably some elements of the evidence have been overtaken by events as different demands have been made of our Armed Forces, new equipment has been provided and the financial background to this evaluation has changed. The broad thrust of the evidence nevertheless remains both valid and valuable.

2. The UK's Armed Forces are under heavy pressure. They have been involved in operations in Iraq and Afghanistan for many years while maintaining key standing tasks such as the strategic nuclear deterrent and UK air defence. The manpower of the Armed Forces has been stretched: significant parts of the Army and key parts of the other Services are being deployed and away from home more frequently and for longer periods than the Ministry of Defence (MoD) would wish.[1] The ability of the Armed Forces to be ready to perform contingent tasks—that is, those over and above current operations—is low. More than half of the different force elements are reporting serious or critical weaknesses[2]. Performance against readiness targets has been declining over several years. In April 2008, 55% of force elements had no critical or serious weaknesses against a target of 73% for peace time contingent tasks. This compares with December 2005 when 81% of these elements had no such weaknesses.[3] In 2008-09, readiness had fallen further with only, on average, 43% of force elements reporting no critical or serious weaknesses.[4]

3. Readiness is defined as the varying levels of preparedness at which the MoD holds it military forces in order to respond to emerging operations. The MoD measures the readiness of individual force elements and then aggregates the results to determine overall readiness. The readiness of an individual force element such as an armoured brigade in the Army, a ship in the Royal Navy or a squadron of aircraft in the RAF is measured under its four constituent parts: manpower; equipment; training and sustainability. A critical or serious weakness in the readiness of any force element can result from a failure in one of the constituent parts. For example, a shortage of spare parts to repair a particular piece of equipment would be a weakness in the sustainability of a force element thereby reducing its readiness for contingent operations. Similarly, having equipment available without sufficient Armed Forces personnel trained to operate that equipment would result in a weakness in its readiness.

Our inquiry

4. We announced our inquiry into the readiness and recuperation of the Armed Forces in December 2008. We were concerned that readiness had fallen to low levels and wished to examine why and to identify the attendant risks.[5] We aimed to assess the Armed Forces' current state of readiness; the reasons for the fall in readiness; the nature and extent of gaps in readiness; and, finally, how force elements will be recuperated back to target levels of readiness, including the timetable and costs for this recuperation. We also considered the practical aspects of recuperation.

5. On 3 February 2009, we took oral evidence from those responsible for the frontline commands within the Ministry of Defence: Vice Admiral Paul Boissier, Deputy Commander-in-Chief Fleet Command and Chief of Staff (headquarters); Lieutenant General Sir Graeme Lamb, Commander Field Army, and Brigadier James Everard, Director of Commitment, Land Command; Air Marshal Iain McNicoll, Deputy Commander-in-Chief (Operations) Air Command; and Brigadier Kevin Abraham Director Joint Operations, Permanent Joint Headquarters.

6. On 10 February 2009, we took further oral evidence from those in the Ministry of Defence who support the frontline and are thus substantially responsible for the recuperation of equipment and support: Vice Admiral Sir Trevor Soar, Chief of Materiel (Fleet); Lt General Dick Applegate, Chief of Materiel (Land); Air Commodore Doug Gale, Customer Support Team, (Air); and Air Vice-Marshal Kevin Leeson, Assistant Chief of Defence Staff (Strategy and Plans).

7. On 28 April 2009, we took oral evidence from the Rt Hon John Hutton MP, the then Secretary of State for Defence. We were also provided with further information from the MoD. As already noted, we decided to have a further oral evidence session with the new Secretary of State for Defence, the Rt Hon Bob Ainsworth MP, on Tuesday 24 November. He was accompanied by Rear Admiral Alan Richards, Assistant Chief of Defence Staff (Strategy and Plans) and Mr Terence Jagger, Director Financial Management. The session covered current readiness levels, the progress made on recuperation and the processes employed by the MoD to produce the Green Paper.

8. The first two evidence sessions were held in private to allow those giving evidence to be open about classified and sensitive information. However, the transcripts of these sessions, redacted to exclude classified information, are attached to this Report as are the transcripts of the hearings with both Secretaries of State. 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.

9. In this Report, we deal first with the current readiness of the Armed Forces, and then with the Strategic Defence Review. Finally, we cover recuperation issues as many of these will depend on the results of the Strategic Defence Review.

1   The ideal frequency and duration of operational tours varies between the Army, Royal Navy and Royal Air Force but is broadly that Armed Forces personnel should not be away from home for more than 6 months in any 24 months. These aspirations are called harmony guidelines. Back

2   Force elements with serious weaknesses fall significantly short of performance criteria or funded readiness. There is a medium risk of failing to provide the capability within the required timescales. Force elements with critical weaknesses are unable to meet performance criteria for funded readiness and there is high risk of failing to provide the capability within the required timescales.  Back

3   Ministry of Defence, Annual Report and Accounts 2007-08 Volume 1, HC 850-I, p 48 Back

4   Ministry of Defence, Annual Report and Accounts 2008-09 Volume 1, HC 467-I, p 13 Back

5   Defence Committee, Fifth Report of Session 2007-08, Ministry of Defence Annual Report and Accounts 2006-07, HC 61 and Fifth Report of Session 2008-09, Ministry of Defence Annual Report and Accounts 2007-08, HC 214 Back

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Prepared 10 February 2010