8th REPORT OF 2016–17: 'SDSR 2015 AND THE ARMY'

Army’s new Warfighting Division will depend on Manpower and Equipment Goals which have yet to be reached, says Defence Committee

Defence Committee Press Notice – 29 April 2017

In a major Report, the Defence Committee today welcomes the decision of the 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) to establish a warfighting division of 40,000 troops and associated support which will be able to deploy at speed. However, this ambition will not become a reality, unless the next Government and the Ministry of Defence (MoD) provide the funding, manpower, training and equipment required.

The achievement of the new formation is based upon a standing army of 82,000 Regulars. Even though this is an historically low target, the MoD has yet to recruit these numbers. There are also serious doubts about its ability to provide the envisaged 30,000 trained reservists by 2019.

Appropriate training for the new division is vital for it to be able to counter the threat of a peer adversary. Therefore, the MoD must protect, and probably increase, the Army’s training budget.

The division will also require an extensive range of new equipment and vehicles. The MoD has announced an impressive equipment programme to address this need, but it is not clear whether the funding to pay for it is in place. While welcoming the commitment to the new AJAX vehicles, the Report highlights the decline in the numbers of Challenger 2 main battle tanks and Warrior vehicles available to the Army. Any further reductions – either due to budgetary pressures or programme delays – would be fraught with risk.

Chairman of the Defence Committee, Dr Julian Lewis MP, says:

“The creation of a warfighting division is designed to counter the increasing threat of state-on-state conflict identified in the 2015 SDSR. No longer are counter-insurgency campaigns top of our agenda. To be a credible force, the division must be fully manned and fully equipped. The MoD’s future equipment plans are heavily dependent on identifying and achieving billions of pounds in so-called ‘efficiency savings’ over the decade ahead. So, while the Army’s ambition is laudable, the MoD and the next Government must make it a reality.

“As in many other areas of Defence, the work of the Army is constrained by the fact that Defence expenditure has fallen to an unacceptable level in GDP percentage terms: until the mid-1990s, the UK never spent less than 3 per cent of GDP on Defence. Until we accept the need to spend more than the 2 per cent NATO minimum, the timely establishment of the warfighting division, and the attainment of our manpower and equipment goals, cannot be taken for granted.”

[To read the full Report, click here.]

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REPORT SUMMARY

The 2015 Strategic Defence Review (SDSR 2015) sets out an ambitious plan to restructure the British Army. It is the latest in a series of recent reforms which began with the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) and the controversial reductions in Regular Army numbers. At the heart of SDSR 2015 is the creation of a warfighting division, which will be constructed to meet the resurgent threat of conflict with a peer adversary. It will consist of 40,000 troops comprised of two Armoured Infantry brigades and a Strike Brigade, together with associated combat and combat service support elements, which can deploy at speed.

The warfighting division represents a significant advance on the Army 2020 strategy capable of deploying a division for a non-enduring warfighting operation at “best effort” with appropriate warning and additional resource. However, we have identified a number of significant risks and challenges to the delivery and affordability of this new capability.

The delivery of a warfighting division relies on the recruitment and retention of both 82,000 Regulars and 30,000 Reservists. However, despite the fact that the size of the Regular Army has been set at an historic low, the MoD has yet to recruit to even that low total. In addition, its ability to achieve the target of 30,000 trained Reservists by March 2019 has been met with scepticism, most notably from the independent UK Reserve Forces External Scrutiny Team. If the MoD fails to address its problems with recruitment and retention, the capability and credibility of the warfighting division will be undermined.

The Army has acknowledged that recruitment and retention is a challenge and the need to widen the pool of recruits to include those from non-traditional areas, in particular, women and individuals from Black and Minority Ethnic backgrounds. It is also committed to changing the culture of the Army through initiatives on employment, talent management and leadership. Successful implementation of these initiatives should attract greater numbers of soldiers and provide them with a structure within which to achieve their full potential. However, in its desire to reach the full complement of Regulars and Reservists, the MoD must ensure that entrance and training standards are clearly sufficient for preparing an Army to be able to participate in state-on-state conflict.

The warfighting division will require access to appropriate training facilities and environments both in the UK and overseas. We welcome the Army’s reassessment of its training requirements to meet the threat of a challenge by a peer adversary. However we remain concerned that the MoD is unable to provide data on the costs and spending trends of training investment. Without that information, activity levels in training will remain threatened by wider budget pressures on the MoD.

The warfighting division will require an extensive procurement programme for equipment if it is to provide the modern ground-manoeuvre warfighting capability envisaged by the MoD. The MoD is committed to the procurement of 589 new AJAX armoured vehicles and 50 Apache Attack Helicopters. In addition, the MoD has also begun the process of developing a new family of Mechanised Infantry Vehicles.

Programmes are also underway to extend the life of the Challenger Mark 2 main battle tanks and to upgrade the Warrior fighting vehicles. However the MoD could not confirm the number of tanks and vehicles to be upgraded under these programmes. We currently have some 240 main battle tanks compared with more than twice this number in 1997. Further reductions would be fraught with risk.

Together these programmes and upgrades represent a significant financial commitment and it is deeply concerning that the NAO has identified that SDSR 2015 contains an additional £24.4 billion of new commitments to the MoD’s Equipment Plan. It also made clear that the programme for the new Mechanised Infantry Vehicle remains uncosted. The MoD must be clear that the financial settlement is sufficient to deliver this vital equipment – on time and within budget – without raiding other parts of defence expenditure. Inadequate funding of these programmes would seriously impair, if not fatally undermine, the Army’s ability to deploy either the division or the new Strike Brigades.

SDSR 2015 also highlights the importance of the Army’s contribution to defence engagement and national resilience. These are important roles in countering instability abroad and providing reassurance at home. However, meeting those commitments has resource implications for the Army. Demand for defence engagement exceeds the available funding; and it is not yet clear how the allocation of personnel to national resilience will impact on the warfighting division.

A fully-manned and fully-equipped warfighting division is central to the credibility of the Army. At present, it is a work in progress but there are clear risks to its affordability and delivery. The MoD must address the challenges of funding and recruitment. It must set out a timetable with full cost implications for its delivery so that proper scrutiny of progress can take place. Failure to establish a realistic and affordable equipment programme for the Army will mean failing in the critical task set in SDSR 2015 for the Army to provide a warfighting division.

As in so many other areas of defence, the work of the Army is constrained by the fact that defence expenditure has fallen to an unacceptably low level in GDP percentage terms, bearing in mind that, until the mid-1990s, the UK never spent less than 3% of GDP on Defence.