Defence Committee also warns of capability and stockpile shortages.

A report by the House of Commons Defence Committee has concluded that the UK Armed Forces have key capability and stockpile shortages and are losing personnel faster than they can recruit.  

The report finds that Government will fail to achieve the desired level of high-intensity warfighting readiness without rapidly accelerating reforms to increase and sustain a thriving industrial base and to improve its “offer” to Service personnel.  

“Ready for war?” finds that, while it is correctly a matter of national pride that whenever the Armed Forces are asked to carry out a task, they find a way, overstretch has negatively impacted high intensity warfighting readiness due to the sheer pace of operations and other commitments. It has also had a personal cost for Service personnel, impacting retention.  

This has created a vicious cycle. The Committee urges the Government to act to break this cycle, and do so swiftly, to ensure that the UK is ready to face the increasingly challenging threat environment. 

Recruitment and retention  

The Committee is increasingly concerned about the crisis in the recruitment and retention of both Regulars and Reservists in the Armed Forces.  

The report concludes that the demands of operations make recovery and training harder to achieve. As a result, the Committee says it is unsurprising that more people are leaving the Forces than joining them.  

The report finds that the Government (while acknowledging the issue and laying the foundations for improvement) has not yet moved at the required pace to address issues around recruitment and retention. 

It calls on the Ministry of Defence (MOD) to produce an implementation timetable with measurable deliverables based on the recommendations within the Reserve Forces 2030 Review and the Haythornthwaite Review of Armed Forces Incentivisation.  

Stockpiles and retaining capabilities 

The Committee is concerned to hear that the £1.95 billion awarded as part of the Spring 2023 Budget may instead be used to meet budget shortfalls, instead of being used to replenish and increase stockpiles.  

The Committee calls on the MOD to reconsider and produce a breakdown of the allocation of the awards from the Autumn 2022 and Spring 2023 Budgets. 

The Committee also welcomes the likely announcement before Easter of policy changes intended to improve procurement processes, so as to sustain and increase the UK’s industrial capacity. The Committee underlines the importance of production of munitions, both in the context of Ukraine and any future war.  

The Committee finds that, in the event of a prolonged high-intensity war, equipment which is even halfway viable for regeneration is better than none. The report calls for capabilities to be retained even after retirement, including exploring the use of alternative storage solutions which may be more effective at lower cost such as access to US reserve storage facilities. 

Chair of the Defence Committee, Sir Jeremy Quin MP, said: 

“Our Armed Services are a world-class fighting force. We are fortunate that they contain highly trained, skilled and experienced Service personnel. When undertaking their duties, they demonstrate immense bravery and flexibility, responding to a range of crises and threats worldwide without hesitation, never wavering in their commitment to protecting our nation.   

“However, a steady, continuous drip of operations and ongoing commitments has meant the military is unable to devote sufficient training and resources to high-intensity warfighting. While able to deploy at short notice and to fulfil commitments, our inquiry found that readiness for all-out, prolonged war has received insufficient attention and needs intense ongoing focus.

“On top of this, the high tempo of operations and unrelenting pressure on our Services has led to a drop in retention, compounded by a period of low recruitment and difficulties introducing and maintaining capabilities, thereby creating a vicious cycle. 

“It is welcome that 20,000 UK Forces will be deployed as part of the NATO Exercise Steadfast Defender 2024. It is through exercises such as these that we can better understand our readiness and train for effective working alongside our NATO Allies. This is the largest such exercise since the end of the Cold War: regular exercises of this nature will be invaluable and will need to be accommodated on an ongoing basis.

“Today’s report calls on Government to start making difficult choices: either invest fully in our military or recognise that proper prioritisation of warfighting will mean less availability for other tasks.  We need to be strategic about the resources we have, including how to maintain and replenish stockpiles, and consider how to ensure that equipment – even after retirement – does not go to waste.  

“Importantly, the MOD must address its problems with recruitment and retention head on. We are calling on the MOD to publish the recommendations it plans on taking forward from recent reviews, including the Haythornthwaite Review, and provide Parliament with a detailed implementation plan.  “We are used to the Armed Forces consistently delivering whatever is asked of them, we need to ensure that in doing so we are not depriving them of the time, resources and training they need to fight and win a high-intensity prolonged war alongside our allies.  Readiness is essential to provide the confidence we need and effective deterrence to our adversaries.”