LONDON — Britain’s defense ministry is failing to adapt its equipment-procurement processes fast enough in the face of a more volatile world, a powerful parliamentary committee has warned in a report published April 19.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has changed assumptions about future military capabilities, but the Public Accounts Committee has questioned whether the MoD has the ability to adapt its rolling 10-year equipment plan fast enough to reflect new requirements.
“We have serious doubts about whether the Department’s equipment plan process is agile and responsive enough to react to this more dangerous international situation. We are concerned that the Department lacks the urgency required to develop and deliver promptly the enhanced capabilities the armed forces need,” said the panel.
The government’s rapid assistance effort to Ukraine has demonstrated that the British can respond quickly to operational demands when required, but the lawmakers said they were “not convinced that the Department is showing sufficient urgency to deliver the new capabilities that our own armed forces need.”
The House of Commons Public Accounts Committee reviews the 10-year defense equipment plan every year as part of its role scrutinizing how the government spends taxpayers’ money.
It’s one of Parliament’s most influential committees to shine the light on shortcomings, but it has no actual powers to bring change.
Over the years, the committee has regularly cast doubt on the affordability of the 10-year equipment and support plan and the MoD’s ability to deliver programs on time and on budget.
The latest review by the PAC was no exception.
The plan, which covers 2022-32 and rests on financial data of March 2022, was budgeted by the MoD at £242 billion, or $301 billion. Defense officials reckon the figure exceeds forecast spending by £2.6 billion.
While the MoD maintains the equipment plan is affordable, the committee argues the department’s assumptions are too rosy.
“It relies on the equipment plan budget exceeding forecast costs by £5.2 billion in the plan’s final three years, to rectify a forecast deficit of £2.6 billion in the first seven years,” said the PAC.
The MoD’s affordability claim also assumes officials will be able to reduce costs by £30.4 billion during the next ten years, says the report.
More clarity on what that might mean for equipment procurement could arrive in the next few weeks.
The government published an update of its 2021 integrated defense, security and foreign policy reviewed earlier this year, and the MoD is due to release an update of an associated defense command paper in the next few weeks.
That paper will look at what the UK military can do and will do going forward, likely flagging priorities for equipment programs like air defense and long range artillery and possibly action on Army manpower levels.
Budget pressures aside, the problem is the MoD’s ability to deliver equipment and support efficiently primarily through its Defense Equipment and Support organization, dubbed DE&S.
The committee examines the equipment plan every year and sees the same problems recurring with major, often multi billion pound, defense-procurement programs.
“Equipment arrives into service many years late and significantly over-budget, with depressing regularity. Neither taxpayers nor our Armed Forces are being served well,” said the PAC.
The committee has been highlighting MoD’s procurement shortcomings for years and as recently as February released a report heavily criticizing the Department’s ability to complete critical IT programs.
The remedy, said today’s report, is a wholesale reform of the acquisition regime.
“There needs to be meaningful change of this broken system. The department needs to break from this cycle of costly delay and failure and deliver a fundamental, root and branch reform of defense procurement once and for all,” said the PAC.
Andrew Chuter is the United Kingdom correspondent for Defense News.