Ready for War? – Report Summary

This is a House of Commons Committee report, with recommendations to government. The Government has two months to respond.

Author: Defence Committee

Related inquiry: Armed Forces Readiness

Date Published: 4 February 2024

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Summary

Readiness is the ability to deploy personnel and equipment within a set timeframe, for the personnel to be trained to use that equipment effectively and for the Armed Forces to be able to sustain the deployment until the mission is accomplished. We have examined each of the following in respect of the UK:

  • operational readiness—the ability to deploy a force for a standing commitment or respond to a crisis. We find this to be proven, but with issues of overstretch.
  • warfighting readiness—the ability to deploy and sustain a force that can fight at high intensity in multiple domains for a prolonged period of time. We find this to be in doubt; and
  • strategic readiness—the ability of the state to identify and utilise all the tools available to it to support a warfighting effort. This appears still to be more of a concept under debate within Government than an agreed policy with measurable deliverables.

It is unacceptable that for much of this inquiry, we have been hampered in our attempts to assess readiness by a lack of Government transparency. Key information that was readily available a decade ago is no longer published for reasons that are unclear, and the Government has taken excessive time to respond to our requests for information. We have held one informative and useful exchange with the Government at a classified level, but we are unable to reflect this in a public Report. We cannot adequately fulfil our duty to the House of Commons and to the electorate to hold the Government to account for its decisions without fuller and more timely access to information about these sensitive but vitally important issues that are central to our remit. We expect the Government to work with us to design a more balanced framework to allow us and future Defence Committees to scrutinise readiness.

The UK Armed Forces have deployed above their capacity in response to the worsening security situation, but all have capability shortfalls and stockpile shortages, and are losing personnel faster than they can recruit them. They are also consistently overstretched, and this has negatively impacted retention as well as delaying the development of warfighting readiness. Either the Ministry of Defence must be fully funded to engage in operations whilst also developing warfighting readiness; or the Government must reduce the operational burden on the Armed Forces.

There is no easy answer to these problems. We recognise that the Government is considering options for improving recruitment and retention of personnel whilst also aiming to reform its procurement system with a view to building industrial capacity so that munitions stockpiles can be replenished. We welcome these initiatives, but are aware that previous reforms have not had the desired effect. It is clear that the Government will never achieve warfighting or strategic readiness without a thriving industrial base and without an offer that can attract, develop and sustain enough service personnel skilled to meet the increasing and evolving military challenges that we as a nation face. These reforms need to work, and at pace.

Despite the United Kingdom spending approximately £50bn a year on defence (plus more for Ukraine) the UK’s Armed Forces require sustained ongoing investment to be able to fight a sustained, high intensity war, alongside our Allies, against a peer adversary.