Just days before we took evidence on the Ministry of Defence (the Department)’s 2021–31 Equipment Plan (the Plan), Russia invaded Ukraine—a reminder about the threat from Russia that we cannot take global security for granted. A number of potential adversaries are rapidly developing new military technology. Notwithstanding the 2020 Spending Review’s £16.5 billion increase to the Department’s budget to 2024–25, these developments make it even more important for the Department to ensure that the Plan delivers equipment to the Armed Forces at the right scale and pace.
We are concerned that the Department may not have identified all the modern battle-winning capabilities our armed forces need, and also that it is not developing its existing large programmes with sufficient urgency. The Future Combat Air System, for example, has concept and development stages which are set to take many years before manufacture can begin.
We are also frustrated to see the complacency with which the Department assumes its Plan is now affordable for the first time in four years. This is despite its worrying inability to control costs in its large programmes, including the Dreadnought class of nuclear submarines, and its reliance on billions of pounds of future cost reductions, many of which have no plans supporting how they might actually be delivered. The prospect of rising inflation will only make pressure on affordability worse.
As we have reported many times before, the issues undermining our confidence in the Department’s grip of the situation are deep-rooted. The Department’s corporate culture is still too traditional and resistant to change or criticism, and it still does not have nearly enough people with the financial skills to effectively manage one of the government’s most challenging portfolios. The Department must not duck these issues any more and must set about tackling them with the vigour and dynamism that it has too rarely shown in the past.