SDSR 2015 and the Army Contents

Conclusions and recommendations

SDSR 2015: Headline ambitions for the Army

1.The 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review sets out ambitious plans for the British Army, including a reset of its roles, a major reorganisation of its structures and an extensive new equipment programme. The headline ambition of recreating a warfighting division is of considerable significance in the light of the resurgence of state-based threats. However, this programme of change is accompanied by significant financial risks and challenges for its fulfilment. (Paragraph 18)

A new warfighting division

2.We welcome the Ministry of Defence’s commitment, set out in SDSR 2015, to re-create a warfighting division as part of the restructuring of the Army. We agree with General Carter’s observation that its delivery is central to the credibility of the Army. It is also a key part of the UK’s ability to contribute effectively to NATO’s collective deterrence and defence. However, the development of the division is a major increase in ambition when considered in the context of the “best effort” approach of SDSR 2010 for a deployment of smaller forces under Army 2020. Although the programme for the new division is in its infancy, the MoD needs to be alive to the challenges and risks in providing this capability—not least the importance of maintaining the Army’s budget. We therefore recommend that the MoD should provide us with detailed annual reports on progress towards the establishment of the warfighting division. These should include detailed timelines, regular updates on progress against each planned stage of delivery of the division, and financial statements to demonstrate that the Army’s budget is sufficient to enable the proposed timetable to be met. (Paragraph 28)

3.The new warfighting division will have to operate without the assurance of ‘owning’ the airspace, when it faces a modern state adversary. This presents MoD and Armed Forces’ planners with significant challenges. Whilst we note that air defence is a tri-Service responsibility, led by the RAF, we are greatly concerned about the level of detail and timescale of the plans to provide ground-based air defence for the new warfighting division. Addressing this vulnerability must be given the highest priority. The MoD has promised to provide us with regular updates on this matter. In its response to our Report, the department should set out the timetable for the decisions on replacement of both Rapier and the High Velocity Missile systems and by when these replacements will be delivered. (Paragraph 33)

4.We welcome the Government’s commitment to deploy UK Armed Forces to NATO’s eastern and southern borders as part of NATO’s enhanced forward presence. We also welcome the MoD’s work to resolve the challenges of deploying across NATO’s internal borders. This is a matter that must be kept under constant review, particularly given the re-emergence of potential threats from peer adversaries. In particular, the prospect of retaining some Army basing on the continent should not be ruled out if Russian assertiveness to the east and north continues to intensify. (Paragraph 40)

5.We welcome the Army’s intention to continue training overseas and the Army’s reassessment of its training requirements in the light of the increased threat of peer adversary conflict as described in the SDSR. We expect the MoD to update us on the outcome of the Army’s assessment of its training requirements. We expect the MoD to update us on the outcome of the Army’s assessment of its training requirements (Paragraph 46)

6.We remain concerned about the MoD’s lack of data on the costs and spending trends of training investment. As we identified in our previous report on defence expenditure, there is currently no mechanism by which such expenditure and projected future costs can be scrutinised. This is of greater concern given reports of possible reductions in training due to MoD cost pressures. Such reductions could potentially risk the Army’s capabilities, particularly those of the new warfighting division. In its response to our Report, we ask the MoD to provide the projected levels of spending on collective training for the constituent parts of the division for each year until 2025. The response should also include the number of overseas and UK training events cancelled since SDSR 2010. (Paragraph 47)

7.We welcome the Army’s development of an Integrated Action doctrine, which should provide the capability to deliver an innovative response to both conventional and non-conventional threats. However we note with concern the Chief of the General Staff’s warning that the Army does not have a sufficient number of linguists even though this is a prescribed competence for a company or squadron commander. We expect the MoD to set out how it plans to address this matter and the timescale for doing so. We also welcome the establishment of 77 Brigade and the integrated nature of its tasks. The challenge for the MoD will be to ensure that it is fully integrated with the other Services, UK Government Departments and UK allies. We expect the MoD to set out how it plans to address this matter and the timescale for doing so. We also welcome the establishment of 77 Brigade and the integrated nature of its tasks. The challenge for the MoD will be to ensure that it is fully integrated with the other Services, UK Government Departments and UK allies. We ask that the MoD keep us informed of progress in the development of 77 Brigade and other similar units within the Armed Forces as they progress towards becoming fully operational. (Paragraph 57)

8.We are concerned about the lack of detail on how the MoD could regenerate a warfighting division or reconstitute a greater force in the face of significant strategic challenges. In its response to our Report, we ask the MoD to confirm when the work to improve the mechanism for tracking, recalling and retraining the Regular Reserve will be completed. We also ask that the MoD set out the timetable for the completion of the work exploring the optimal regeneration and reconstitution framework necessary to deliver a capable second division. We are also concerned that there is no systematic strategy linking these two pieces of work. We therefore recommend that the MoD includes in its promised six-monthly updates on regeneration and reconstitution details on how the Army is fulfilling both ambitions. (Paragraph 66)

Defence engagement and national resilience

9.We welcome the establishment of the new specialised infantry battalions to deliver the MoD’s programme for defence engagement and the decision to fund it as a core Defence task. Given the positive influence these activities can have on conflict prevention and stability, it is essential that these tasks are funded sufficiently. However, this should not be at the expense of the Army’s, or the other Services’, warfighting capabilities. In its response to our Report, the MoD should commit to set out, on an annual basis, expenditure on defence engagement tasks (including associated training costs), together with expenditure on collective and individual training for warfighting operations to enable comparison. (Paragraph 78)

10.We support the MoD’s decision to designate national resilience as a core defence task. However, we seek assurances from the MoD that this task will in no way undermine the primary function of the Army—to succeed in warfare given the manifest constraints on Defence expenditure. We recommend that the MoD provides us with an annual breakdown of expenditure on national resilience tasks (including associated training costs) together with expenditure on collective and individual training for warfighting operations to enable comparison. (Paragraph 83)

Army personnel

11.We note the MoD’s view that the critical mass required by the Army to deliver a warfighting division will comprise the overall combined strength of trained Regulars and Reservists. This makes it critically important that the full strength of trained Regulars and Reservists is achieved. If it is not, the credibility of the warfighting division will be undermined. We also note the Chief of the General Staff’s acknowledgement that, at present, the capacity does not exist to replace the full division following its deployment on a one-off intervention. We recommend that the MoD and the Army undertake work to establish the critical mass required for the Army to be able to deploy the warfighting division on a one-off deployment and to be able to replace it with a capable second division. (Paragraph 89)

12.There is logic in the MoD’s decision to include, in numbers of Trained Strength, Army personnel who have completed Phase 1 Training so that they can be deployed on national resilience tasks. However, we seek assurances from the MoD that the target strengths for Regulars and Reservists set out in the Army 2020 plan—which were based on personnel who had completed Phase 2 training—remain unchanged. (Paragraph 92)

13.The target establishment of the trained Regular Army was for 82,000 trained soldiers by 2015. However, despite the fact that this target was lowered from 95,000 in 2012, the strength of the Army remains below 80,000. Although the MoD asserts that the current level of personnel is sufficient for the Army to meet current operational demands, we do not believe this figure is adequate to counter a sudden unexpected threat. The MoD has to address this shortfall. An Army which falls below the already historic low target of 82,000 makes itself dangerously vulnerable to external aggression. (Paragraph 98)

14.We welcome the MoD’s acknowledgement that its traditional recruiting grounds are no longer sufficient for the Army’s needs and that it must access a wider pool of talent. In its response to our Report, the MoD should set out the progress it is making to achieve its targets for women and Black and Minority Ethnic recruits. (Paragraph 99)

15.We are not convinced by the MoD’s assertion that missing its manpower targets for the Army Reserve “would not impact significantly on capability”, particularly given the Chief of the General Staff’s evidence that the critical mass to deliver a warfighting division will comprise the total combined strength of Regulars and Reserves. A failure to recruit the necessary numbers of Reservists is not so much a threat to the Army’s reputation but a threat to the credibility and competence of the MoD’s approach to delivering a revitalised Reserve. The MoD must conduct a review of its recruitment policy to identify the blockages that exist in the system which are hindering the recruitment of sufficient Reservists. (Paragraph 105)

16.It is unacceptable that the Recruitment Partnership for the recruitment of both Regulars and Reserves, which was signed in 2012, is still not fully operational and that evidence presented to us pointed to the Recruitment Partnership contract being not fit for purpose. In its response to our Report, the MoD must set out the problems which need to be addressed and the timetable for the delivery of the new ICT systems and for fully-operational status to be achieved. We expect urgent action from the MoD and Capita to resolve the outstanding issues. (Paragraph 108)

17.We support the Chief of the General Staff’s commitment to changing the culture of the Army through initiatives on employment, talent management and leadership. Successful implementation of these initiatives could provide a structure within which all soldiers can achieve their full potential. However, we recognise that this must not be to the detriment of the Army’s ability to undertake its core role of warfighting. We note the concerns expressed about cultural resistance within the Army to this agenda, particularly in respect of Flexible Engagement. In response to our Report, we should like to receive further details on how the Army’s various initiatives will dovetail, and how the MoD will ensure that resistance to a changing culture is overcome. (Paragraph 119)

18.We support the decision to allow women to undertake ground close combat roles, provided that standards of fighting effectiveness can be maintained. As part of the roll out of this initiative, the Army is revising its training policies and undertaking a review of the physical demands placed on all Army personnel. We believe that these changes can be delivered without diminishing the fighting capability of the Army and other Services. However, we wish to receive regular updates on the introduction of women in ground close combat roles. These updates should include the outcomes of the scientific research being undertaken into the physical demands placed on all Army personnel. (Paragraph 122)

Army equipment

19.We welcome the SDSR’s commitment to invest in the new AJAX vehicles and in the life extension of the Challenger Mark 2 as well as the upgrades to the Warrior vehicles and the Apache Attack Helicopters. Any reduction in the number of Challenger Mark 2 tanks would be fraught with risk. Therefore, we seek reassurance about the numbers of main battle tanks which will be retained. We believe that the challenge will be for the MoD, the Army and industry to ensure that these projects are delivered on time and within budget. The failure of previous programmes to achieve this must not be repeated. To do so will seriously impair, if not fatally undermine, the Army’s ability to deploy the SDSR’s envisaged warfighting division and the new Strike Brigades. (Paragraph 146)

20.It is disturbing that the NAO highlights the fact that SDSR 2015 has added an additional £24.4 billion of new commitments to the MoD’s Equipment Plan. This includes the Army’s, as yet uncosted, programme for the new Mechanised Infantry Vehicle (MIV). The NAO concluded that these new commitments had “considerably increased cost uncertainty in the Plan” and that the number of “immature cost estimates” had increased and would be in need of future revision. In response to our Report the MoD must provide a clear statement that all of these programmes are affordable, in each financial year, alongside an assurance that funding for personnel and training will not be used to address shortfalls. The MoD should also set out how the new Mechanised Infantry Vehicle will be funded and the impact it will have on existing projects. (Paragraph 147)

28 April 2017