View Full Version : MoD Accused Of Risky Arms-Buying Spree

10-17-2009, 03:38 PM
MoD Accused Of Risky Arms-Buying Spree

Friday, October 16, 2009

A devastating report that ministers tried to suppress warns that the Ministry of Defence has embarked on a potentially catastrophic weapons-buying spree, endangering British troops by wasting huge amounts of money on kit unsuitable for current military operations.

The report, by a former ministerial adviser, accuses the MoD of running a "substantially overheated" equipment programme; it refers to "endemic" failings, years of "political fudge", and a "sclerotic" acquisition system which is benefiting the Taliban.

It paints a picture of ministers and officials refusing to take vital decisions and being unaccountable for equipment delays estimated to cost £35bn.

"As well as producing equipment late and over cost, there is a concern about whether the system is adapting sufficiently to the changing nature of combat in the 21st century," the report says.

It adds: "It would seem that the forward planning system has not proved agile enough to adapt to a rapidly changing geo-political situation, and that the slow pace of western defence acquisition systems is harming our ability to confront emerging military challenges, and to conduct difficult current operations."

The report does not contain a specific reference to the Taliban, said to be in earlier drafts of the document.

The 296-page study, written by Bernard Gray, who was once adviser to the former Labour defence secretary Lord Robertson, was due to have been published in July, before the summer recess.

When the MoD sent it to 10 Downing Street, it was immediately suppressed. Parts were later leaked and the government bowed to the inevitable after James Arbuthnot, chairman of the Commons defence committee, filed a Freedom of Information Act request for its release.

However, ministers provoked a fresh controversytoday. Bob Ainsworth, the defence secretary, was accused by the Speaker, John Bercow, of "rank discourtesy" for publishing it an hour before MPs began a debate about defence policy.

The shadow defence secretary, Liam Fox, described the government's handling of the report as a "despicable and cowardly act".

The problems and the sums of money involved "have almost lost their power to shock, so endemic is the issue, and so routine the headlines", says the report. It adds: "It seems as though military equipment acquisition is vying in a technological race with the delivery of civilian software systems for the title of 'world's most delayed technical solution'. Even British trains cannot compete."

It warns of confronting "new threats which will not wait for our current development timescales to evolve answers, such as the emerging threat of cyber-attack. Those who would attack us in new or unconventional ways are unlikely to wait for our sclerotic acquisition systems to catch up in order to adequately address their threats".

The MoD might have been partly excused by the fact that when the biggest weapons projects were approved, it did not anticipate British troops fighting a counter-insurgency campaign in Afghanistan. Yet they had been deployed there for more than seven years, notes the report, "and sooner or later the extraordinary ought to become business as usual".

Overheating arose from the three branches of the armed forces competing for scarce funding, sharing "a systematic incentive to underestimate the likely cost of equipment".

Since the MoD almost never cancelled an equipment order, the process of over-ordering and under-costing was not constrained by fear, on the part of those ordering equipment, that the programme would be lost, the report points out.

The weapons procurement is "unaffordable on any likely projection of future budgets", it adds. Too many different types of equipment were being ordered, and the range of tasks demanded of them was too large .

As one example, the report notes that delays in the navy's air defence programme meant that the UK could not have carried out a Falklands-style mission over the past 20 years without risking significant casualties and the costs of acquiring adequate equipment at short notice, "or the embarrassment of not fighting at all". The report continues: "Our blushes have in part been spared by the fact that we have not generally been called upon in recent years to fight the kind of campaigns that have required the services of some of our most expensive and delayed weapons systems."

There was worrying evidence to suggest that the problems were not just an endemic burden but an accelerating problem. "When faced with such an acceleration, a natural question is to ask when it will start to compound at a catastrophic rate."

The report comes at a time when ministers and defence chiefs are confronted with what to cut among projects, including two large aircraft carriers and a replacement for the Trident nuclear missile system.

Ainsworth told MPs yesterday that the MoD was making changes in response to the report – adjusting the equipment programme "to bring it into balance with future requirements and the likely availability of resources".

He rejected a main recommendation in the report which advised that the weapons equipment organisation be put at arm's length from the ministry as a government-owned, contractor-operated body.