LONDON — Britain’s Ministry of Defence is next week expected to lay out what the military will look like in the future in a new review aimed at reshaping the armed forces.
On the long list of things to be addressed in the report, known as a command paper, is a plan to tackle weapon stockpile shortages, according to James Heappey, minister of the armed forces.
“Stockpiles are to get you through the first phase of a war. Nobody has made any secret of the fact the stockpiles we hold are insufficient. Maybe there is an announcement about stockpiles in in the [Command] paper next week,” Heappey told the audience at the Global Air & Space Chiefs conference in London on July 13.
Low weapons stockpiles held by the British military have been exposed by London’s support of Ukraine with substantial supplies of missiles, ammunition and other weapons since the war started last year.
The U.K. sent 100,000 unspecified artillery rounds to Ukraine in 2022, plus more than 300,000 so far this year.
The bulk of those were 155mm rounds, but it is likely 105mm artillery shells have also been supplied.
The stock level issue has generated questions here not just about the levels of spending to replenish war stocks, but also about how to sustain defense industrial capacity to meet the demands of the military.
“Stockpiles are only half the equation,” Heappey said. “You have got to have either the defense industrial base or the wider civilian industrial capacity that can be repurposed because stockpiles are supposed to last you until such time as your production equals your consumption in war.”
How you meet requirements is a question not just for the MoD but the wider government, he added.
“When you are in a post-industrial, largely service economy, it’s quite challenging. It doesn’t mean you necessarily have to regrow home industry, but you need to rethink very carefully,” he told an audience of senior air force officers and industry executives.
The MoD and industry have already started down that track.
On July 11, munitions maker BAE Systems announced it had sealed an agreement with the MoD to start rebuilding British Army stocks with the supply of artillery shells and other munitions in a deal which could eventually be worth £400 million.
BAE Systems said the deal will significantly increase production of 155mm, 30mm medium caliber rounds and 5.56mm small arms ammunition at facilities in the north of England and south Wales.
The industrial expansion includes a new machining line for 155 mm shells, a new explosives filling factory and the restarting of a 30mm manufacturing capability.
Thales UK is already benefiting from a stock rebuild deal signed last December with its Belfast, Northern Ireland factory, replacing British Army NLAW anti-tank missiles handed over to the Ukrainian military.
But the British are not just considering how they can retain sovereign capabilities in the sector.
Heappey indicated the British are looking at partnerships with other nations to maintain production capabilities.
“Who are your friends? How defensible are the sea lanes and air lanes to bring that stuff from the point of manufacture to the U.K.?” he asked.
Heappy said it’s “inescapably necessary to look at the size of your stockpiles, and also look at how you can scale industry quickly to meet the challenge of a national war.”
Andrew Chuter is the United Kingdom correspondent for Defense News.